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Property sustainability conversation turns to carbon positive

Carbon positive

The world must move to net zero emissions by 2050 to avoid the most extreme climate change scenarios, but the property sector is hoping to do more, and more quickly, particularly with notoriously hard to engage tenants.

At an event last week, national tenant sustainability program CitySwitch announced a new tool to help office tenants visualise a pathway to net zero emissions while also laying down some tough new criteria for its members, and planting the seed for a shift to “carbon positive”. 

City of Sydney sustainability program leader – buildings Esther Bailey said it was time to increase the scale of ambition for CitySwitch signatories.

“At the end of this next three-year cycle of CitySwitch, we would like all of our members to have considered their net zero or carbon neutral pathway and have a publicly stated, timed, evidence-driven, costed and resourced plan to get there,” Ms Bailey told the audience of the Towards Carbon Positive event.

CitySwitch is also moving on from its 4 star NABERS target.

“We’re looking for you to move to 5 star NABERS Energy for your tenancies without GreenPower,” she said.

And for the first time the program is asking for a renewables commitment. 

“We are very clearly in this three-year period asking you to move to 100 per cent renewable energy for your electricity by the end of 2021.” 

Carbon Positive

Let’s start talking about carbon positive

There’s also a shift in thinking away from “carbon neutral” or “net zero” to “carbon positive”. 

“When we’re speaking about carbon positive, we’re not really talking about a standard or a certification,” Ms Bailey said.

“What we’re really talking about is that there is a place beyond zero. There is a place beyond neutral. There is a place beyond ‘less bad’. There is place where business starts to make a positive environmental contribution to the society in which it operates.”

Launching the event, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said carbon positive wasn’t a term currently used in the city’s strategic plans, but that the conversation needed to happen now for two reasons. 

“Firstly, the UN Paris Agreement requires all sectors to be net zero by 2050 at the latest. This is a must-get position to protect ourselves from the extreme impacts of climate change. Some sectors will be harder to transition than others, so those able to go further and move more quickly should do so,” Ms Moore said.

“Secondly, it’s much harder for people to argue that something can’t be done when other people are already doing it.”

As an example Investa general manager corporate sustainability Nina James said her company’s announcement of a net zero 2040 target caused a step-change in the industry.

“We set our target in 2016,” Ms James said.

We’re thrilled to see that a lot of our competitors then used that as leverage to go back to their organisations and say, ‘See. Now we really have to do something.’” 

Sydney looks towards 2050

Ms Moore also this week announced she was directing the city’s chief executive to begin work on the Sustainable Sydney 2050 plan, an update of the seminal 2030 plan released in 2007 that committed the city to cut carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030. 

“A decade has now passed since our strategic plan was first developed and in that time the effects of urbanisation, globalisation and climate change are increasingly challenging cities around the world, including Sydney, in more urgent ways,” Ms Moore said. 

“And while Sustainable Sydney 2030 provides us with the strategies needed to deal with most of these challenges – I believe it is time we look beyond 2030.”

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