GECA’s industry event centred around sustainable products, ‘Collaborate, Innovate, Celebrate’, was held on 3 March 2016 at the Lendlease Building in Sydney. It was great to see many professionals from the industry come to hear about the latest trends in sustainable production and consumption, the forthcoming ISO standard for Sustainable Procurement and GECA’s direction for the coming year. It was also a lovely day for those who stayed for a tour of the Barangaroo South Precinct to hear an overview of the key sustainability elements of the site.
Opening Address – Kate Harris, CEO, GECA
We need to take a “big picture” approach to sustainability, said GECA CEO Kate Harris in her opening address. We also need to find ways to cut through the confusion when it comes to navigating the jungle of claims and certifications when choosing a sustainable product. It all comes down to three main areas to focus on: what makes a product sustainable, how to navigate all the various approaches, and how to know who to trust.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals were established to direct sustainability efforts at all levels, from global to national, local to organisational. There are 17 goals to be achieved over the next 15 years, with GECA contributing towards Goal 12 (responsible consumption), Goal 9 (innovation and infrastructure) and Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities). It’s important to think strategically to contribute towards these goals through cooperation and collaboration.
Trends in Sustainable Production and Consumption – Anna Scott, MD, Orbis Environmental and former Director of Innovation, GECA
The event saw the official launch of the findings from Anna Scott’s research into sustainable production and consumption patterns in Australia, in the form of a report, ‘Key Insights into Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns in Australia’.
According to Anna, sustainable consumption and production has come a long way since the early 90s, with the focus shifting from a reactive/negative “do less bad” to the more proactive/positive “do more good”. Current trends include the concepts of a circular economy and collaborative consumption, which focuses on outcomes rather than consumption of products and is illustrated by the phrase “I don’t need a drill, I need a hole in the wall”.
Anna’s research was based on a collection of stakeholder perspectives gathered from interviewing 130 people, including researchers, businesses and thought leaders. The research project was initiated to explore additional ways to help grow sustainable consumption and production by listening and talking to people, and by developing and testing hypotheses using a number of tools and thinking approaches.
The research found that “followers” were most interested in pursuing sustainability for their own risk mitigation and compliance, while the “early adopters” were motivated by a belief that “it’s the right thing to do”. These “early adopters” also believed that sustainability should not come at a premium, and should simply be a part of how they did business.
Three key themes emerged when it came to the challenges faced by businesses in regards to sustainable consumption and production:
- Language: sustainability can mean different things to different people
- People: people don’t shop with their values and sustainability is not included in the business strategy of organisations
- External: businesses experience “tool fatigue” when there are simply too many different frameworks to choose from. Other external factors include the complexity of managing supply chain risks, a lack of “systems thinking” and a lack of certainty that sustainable products will be fit for purpose.
To combat these challenges, Anna suggests simplification of tools, harmonising various schemes, making sustainability meaningful, engaging more with people and greater collaboration to really move forward with sustainable consumption and production.
The new ISO Sustainable Procurement standard – Jean-Louis Haie, Director, Planet Procurement & Chair of Australian Mirror Committee on ISO 20400 Sustainable Procurement
Jean-Louis Haie of Planet Procurement spoke about the upcoming new ISO standard 20400 on sustainable procurement and its implications for the industry and government. The standard is designed to cut through the confusion of navigating hundreds of guidelines and manuals on procurement, by combining and compiling these into a single guidance document for use by any organisation anywhere in the world.
Jean-Louis pointed out that the standard is for providing guidance, rather than being a certification document, and language has been kept simple to make it accessible to all stakeholders and not just procurement professionals. The standard explains what sustainable procurement means, as well as the impact and methods of integrating sustainability into the procurement process. It will be structured into three major areas: strategy, organisation and process.
There are 49 countries involved in developing the standard, with Australia one of the top five contributing countries. The next ISO meeting in Sydney in May 2016 will include a Sustainable Procurement conference with international speakers.
In terms of impact, the standard assists procurement professionals with avoiding “greenwash” products, discusses what a sustainable product is, and includes techniques for setting priorities and requirements for sustainable products. Verification of sustainability claims and conformity assessment is also taken into account, and various types of sustainability labels and certifications and their associated costs and risks are discussed to provide greater understanding before making decisions on selection of particular products.
Release of the standard is expected for early 2017.
Ecolabelling in Construction Delivery – Charles Prior, Site Engineer, Lendlease
Charles Prior, graduate site engineer for Lendlease, was able to give an insight into the practical, on-the-ground impacts of organisations pursuing sustainable production and consumption. He spoke about the use of ecolabels in construction delivery and projects, including using ecolabelled products in on-site temporary accommodation for the workers, pointing out that “when you spend thirty years in temporary on-site accommodation, it’s not temporary to you”.
Charles also highlighted the value of a third-party ecolabel in vouching for manufacturer claims. Builders aren’t typically experts in sustainability, he said, so they rely on independent organisations to verify environmental claims of the suppliers.
Project teams tend to encounter ecolabels when a client has specified that they want a green building rating (such as Green Star, LEED, Living Building Challenge or WELL), or through their own company’s sustainability standards. Lendlease’s Site Sustainability standards set out minimum requirements for products such as paints, adhesives, timber, paper, appliances, furniture and cleaning chemicals used on-site.
Company sustainability policies can also act as a driver for third-party certification. Lendlease worked with a cleaning products supplier who had an environmentally-friendly product range and encouraged them to get third party certification for those products. It took two years to get most of the range certified and this accreditation has led to more conversations with some of their competitors, lifting the bar for the industry.
Closing Address – by Kate Harris, CEO, GECA
In her closing address, Kate encouraged all attendees to collaborate with GECA towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. She also touched on future directions for GECA, such as making it easier to get certification, while also going beyond an ecolabel and branching out into other related service offerings. Above all, she emphasised the need for industry to continue connecting, co-creating and communicating to build a community of leaders.