Pro-technology, pro-city and pro-growth

A bolder, more daring concept of ‘sustainability’ is stirring.

Traditional environmentalists demonise growth, rail against consumerism and scorn market forces.

A new breed of green modernists are pro-technology, pro-cities and pro-growth.

The roll call of iconic environmental activists who now embrace market-based solutions to ecological issues is striking.

Stewart Brand, a 1960s counterculture warrior, author of the Whole Earth Catalogue and Whole Earth Discipline, now agitates for densely populated cities, transgenic crops and … nuclear energy.

James Lovelock, godfather of the environmental movement and inventor of the Gaia hypothesis, says “only nuclear power can now halt global warming”. He supports fracking for natural gas, and calls sustainable development “meaningless drivel”.

Mark Lynas, notorious for flinging a cream pie at Bjorn Lomborg (author of The Skeptical Environmentalist), now refers to himself as a recovering activist. He champions genetic engineering and nuclear power.

All reject apocalyptic alarmism and the hectoring, middle class self-loathing of dogmatic environmental campaigners.
These modernisers remain emphatic about the need for urgent action to save the planet’s ecology.

Brand proclaims he is still an environmentalist: “Absolutely balls to the wall and pedal to the metal. I have been all my life”.
In The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, Lynas outlines radical programs for staying within nine “planetary boundaries” – defined as a “safe operating space for humanity”.

However, these green modernists concede finger pointing and scaring the bejesus out of people ultimately foments disillusion, a self-defeating “green guilt” and inaction.

Many see the innovative, competitive spirits of the marketplace as a more powerful force for simultaneously addressing the challenges of the planet and humanity.

Above all, they champion a pragmatic, positive and inspirational call to action.

Business perspectives on sustainability are also shifting in step with (and increasingly ahead of) the markets they serve.
Corporate citizenship is not yet a universal element of the free market’s DNA. However, business models and business theory now recognise the value of what some call ‘conscious capitalism’ – enhancing corporate performance by deliberately building community engagement and trust.

Green modernists:

  • Assert the best means of growing social capital while preserving natural capital is to foster economic development
  • Embrace growth because anti-growth policies harm developing countries and those at the margins of ‘first world’ societies
  • Recognise that the world’s biggest consumers will soon be those lifting themselves out of poverty. They also acknowledge that the short-cut to lower population growth is a middle class, urbanised world, where prosperity results in smaller families
  • See the urban (and its built environment nervous system) as a critical engine for opportunity and higher living standards
  • Recognise that ageing Western societies, with diminishing ratios of taxpayers to retirees, need growth to pay for a basic welfare safety net
  • Endorse open markets as the most efficient means of mobilising the capital needed to finance social and environmental programs
  • Invest in the optimism of technological solutions, believing the pace and scope of scientific progress represents a more persuasive bet than ever more (generally contradictory) regulation.

As this edition of Property Australia attests, the real estate industry is advancing on all green modernist fronts.

Australian property owners regularly top global studies of environmental performance. The standout companies in the most recent Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) were all Australian.

Spurred by Green Star and (some of) the NABERS rating tool targets, technology providers now offer an impressive clutch of products and services that drastically boost the eco-efficiency of buildings.

Advances in micro power could complement these innovations if governments adopted the Property Council’s regulatory fixes for co/tri-gen connection.

This green edition of Property Australia also spotlights an impressive commitment to corporate citizenship. Check out the legions of community engagement programs sponsored by property companies.

The concept and practice of sustainability now extends well beyond buildings and a narrow focus on single issue priorities, such as carbon reduction.

In short, the approach is pro-technology, pro-city and pro-growth.

The progress made in just one decade (including a GFC) gives confidence in a property industry that will maintain its momentum, especially if green and red tape barriers are toppled.

Yes, there is stacks more to be achieved. Governments can help by joining business and community groups in championing the green modernist movement.

Come to Green Cities in Sydney on March 6 & 7, 2013 for more on green trends and to debate the issues.

For more on green modernism, google Keith Kloor.