Working in the property industry, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be coming into contact with many rockstars. Yet my crack of dawn skype calls with Gotham Greens (world-leading rooftop greenhouse operators from New York) and project purposed visits from Amanda Sturgeon (Seattle based CEO of the International Living Future Institute) would be evidence that I do.
My time spent discovering the movers and shakers of the sustainability world has included strategy sessions on the Bellarine Peninsula with the people responsible for implementing the world leading waste strategy for the athlete's village at the Sydney Olympics. I’ve also met with Australia’s leading recycling businessmen and a professor from South Korea who invented a pyrosis machine that turns soft plastics into a recyclable biofuel. I’ve drunk unpasteurised milk and sampled homemade honey at Joost Bakker’s recycled timber dining room table whilst discussing productive rooftops, eradicating waste and designing an 80m building façade from pot plants.
There’s also been more than a few early morning breakfast and coffee dates with some of Melbourne’s high-profile restaurateurs who are like-minded and share the vision of sustainable food and waste practices being the future of their industry. I have discussed bringing Green Day’s recyclable coffee pods to Australia with the Chairman of The Big Umbrella foundation, and I keep convincing myself Leonardo DiCaprio will help cut the red ribbon at opening…he just doesn’t know it yet.
I have always wanted Burwood Brickworks to be that kind of game-changing project.
A ‘new-to-market’ shopping centre was never going to be good enough. In my mind, it needed to define how the typical centre experience could be remoulded and elevated from what a tenant or a customer would normally expect. In fact, I try my best to avoid branding it a shopping centre. It needs to be about so much more than the transactions under the roof; the real commodity is the visceral experience it gives people that walk through the front door, because the better that feeling is, the more often people will seek it out.
With this vision, it means the ideas aren’t all generated in the initial brainstorming workshops, as it requires constant evolution, retrospective thinking, a malleable design and a patient team. Ultimately, you get one crack at submitting your development plan and subsequent planning permit with the council, often three or four years before completing the project. So much changes in this time, from what’s in vogue, to how your customers want to spend their discretionary time and dollar, and ultimately how you as a business, or as a project leader, want to positively affect the landscape you are developing within.
Everyone seems to have a PHD in hindsight.
The reality is that preferences, requirements and opportunities evolve as actively as your research, understanding and passions do. This can mean the goalposts you set yourself at the preliminary planning stage are no longer strictly relevant. Three years ago Netflix and streaming services meant everyone got his or her movie fix from their lounge room couches, ASOS meant people started to shop from their laptops and Tinder led to the closure of nightclubs around Melbourne. However, people are social animals, they need to get out and connect with each other, to foster experiences and create memories. Whether this is for a $3.50 coffee and a 35-minute chat or a glass of wine and movie, it is becoming less about the what and more about the how.
How do you accurately plan for success four years ahead? How can you shoehorn everything into the existing framework of your incumbent approvals? Often you can’t. How do you ensure the opportunities aren’t missed? Approvals, approvals and more approvals. Often at the same time, often out of sequence, and often without flexibility in the program.
I have met with Minister of Planning Richard Wynne MP and State Member for Forest Hill Neil Angus MP on site to brief them on our vision to develop the world’s most sustainable shopping centre. Both showed huge amounts of interest and support for the undertaking, but the pathway for our approvals wasn’t as easy as an attractive pitch and a handshake. Similarly, our team has spent countless hours working with authorities to seek grid approval to install a 1MW solar array, the ability to treat and repurpose all waste water back into the building, and the permission to grow productive agriculture on our building and land adjacent to the retail title. The innovators and the regulators often have opposed KPIs, and a regular challenge of my project team is to make sure that rules set yesterday can account for the ideas generated tomorrow.
What are the business benefits of a sustainable shopping centre?
If I were going to predict the future, I’d say you can be guaranteed of three things:
- shoppers will demand environments and experiences that are worthy of their time;
- sustainable behaviour will be unavoidable,
- and those that understand and embrace the human benefits of sustainability will have a unique selling point.
Sustainability needs to continue the shift from a being a financial trade-off for a corporate certification, to something that is highly viable, driven by its association with human experiences, quality retail offerings and healthy environments.
Whilst working on a new acquisition I was told by a senior architect that his clients “generally don’t develop sustainable practices into their shopping centres because it’s too expensive; sometimes they’ll put in some extra bike storage for easy Green Star points but energy generation and solar is too hard and costly”. An easy dispersion to cast for the unwilling, but for those who are prepared to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty, you might just find that PV solar is a leading contributor to discounted outgoings and our electricity income, which equates to 8% of the projected net operating income of the centre via an embedded network.
If Burwood Brickworks achieves a full Living Building Challenge certification as targeted, it will ensure the development reaches the zenith of sustainability for properties across all sectors on a global scale, and be the undisputed most sustainable shopping centre in the world.
What will keep people coming back?
On a corporate level, this is the pinnacle and from a marketing to launch perspective it should generate huge velocity in public interest, but once the fanfare is diluted over time – what will keep people coming back? What will make tenants want to lease space within our walls? A world-wide accreditation? Maybe for some, but in many conversations this year I’ve relayed the following.
We believe that designing a more comfortable centre, with access to an abundance of natural light, fresh air and living greenery will increase the dwell time and frequency of visitation, ensuring our retailers are more productive and our shoppers enjoy a positive experience. The rooftop urban farm provides a fascinating point of difference in a densely populated suburban environment which will resonate with our trade area when shopping selection decisions are made.
The urban farm, as well as the status of the centre, will hopefully add a supplementary uplift in visitation from people who will drive that extra mile to experience the self-sustaining feel-good features of our development. A higher conversion of the available retail spend is what we are after, and to achieve this, I constantly ask ‘will this make someone from Camberwell drive 10 minutes away from the city to share the experience?’
We measure success by people and their connection to the place. The more positive reasons we give people to visit our centre, the more successful we as developer and landlord, and subsequently our retailers, will be.
Frasers Property would like to acknowledge our collaborators and inspiration: Gotham Greens | Amanda Sturgeon - CEO of the International Living Future Institute | Joost Bakker | Oakland Coffee Works | The Big Umbrella Foundation | Minister of Planning Richard Wynne MP | State Member for Forest Hill Neil Angus MP