Transcript: Series 2, Episode 1 - AHDC - Clean and Green Health Design with Amir Girgis

Thursday, November 24, 2022 14:06 | Anonymous
David Cummins: 0:13

G'day and welcome to the AHDC podcast series, Health Design on the Go. I'm your host David Cummins, and today we are speaking to Amir Grigis, who is a Principal Sustainability Consultant at Northrop. Amir has been a Principal for the last six years and worked within the sustainability industry for over 18 years. Amir has worked in almost every sector within the field of sustainability and done a tremendous amount of work within. Amir is very passionate about sustainability, but also very practical, which I'm sure we'll hear about more today. Welcome Amir, thank you for your time.

Amir Grigis: 0:48

Hello David. Thank you for having me. Very excited to be chatting to you.

David Cummins: 0:51

For those that can't see you, you don't look like someone that's been working in the sustainability industry for over 20 years. You must have started when you were maybe a teenager. Would that be about right?

Amir Grigis: 1:01

Something like that. That's one way to look at it. The, I guess the other aspect is that the, the haircut doesn't usually help with the giving away real age, so I Can hide it away quite nicely.

David Cummins: 1:10

For, for those that are only listening and can't have visual, and he has a amazing there.

Amir Grigis: 1:15

Nude nut. Nude nut is is what I've been going with lately. Yes.

David Cummins: 1:20

So 18 years ago in the sustainability sec, so that's early two thousands about the time of the Olympics, I must admit. All I was at university then hadn't even really heard of the word sustainability and certainly as part of the Olympics, I don't really think it was really thought about within the construction sector of sustainability. And even now you talk about the Olympics, and you look at Queensland and it's all about sustainability. So, 20 years ago, what was the sustainability sector like within the construction industry?

Amir Grigis: 1:52

Yeah, I guess it might be worthwhile to reflect on my career journey and how it all started out. So I actually started out as a mechanical engineer back in 2004. And I got an, an introduction to a, a smaller organisation through our contact of mine to come and try it out and get a bit, a bit of an entry role into the field probably earlier on. And I guess by pure coincidence, there was an opportunity to jump into the Energy Consulting part of the business just because someone was moving on and I thought, not a bad opportunity to get direct access to the directors, quick chance to jump on an opportunity took progress. And I realised very quickly that this is something that I'm quite interested in and passionate about. And I guess, you've heard me say this before, but by way of defining sustainability, Modern environment. there are three core pillars, which, which often get referred to as the triple bottom line, which is the people planet profit. And I've typically found that I'm very much aligned to the economic prosperity part of the conversation, or at least that's how I started my career. the energy consulting it was all about. the investment that needed to go into rolling out different projects and initiatives and what's the return and the payback and just doing a bit of a cost benefit analysis. So I learned pretty early on in my career that talking the right language is probably the best way to be able to impact and influence and, and achieve outcomes. Yeah, so I did two years worth of energy consulting. Which largely revolved around looking at older, lower performing asset classes and coming up with strategies to improve those and reporting against different mechanisms and metrics like neighbours and the like. And also enjoyed being part of a team that looked at different funding schemes that were available that helped accelerate the, the conversation in terms of take up of sustainability initiatives or energy efficiency initiatives. And it wasn't too long before I, I realized that I needed to broaden the horizons a little bit more and think beyond just energy, and then started looking at all different aspects of sustainability. Anything from, procurement, construction, all the way through to looking at health and wellbeing and the impact on, on, on the occupants in, in an environment. as I was thinking about our podcast this morning, I was trying to reflect on, on my career journey. And my, my father is a builder and my mother is, is is a GP. She was circa, the equivalent of a Director of Clinical Operations overseas before he came to Australia. And it kind of made sense for me to be tying in sustainability with being able to provide consultancy in the built environment. It's kind of the best of both worlds without having a hard hat and boots on the ground, and at the same time, not, not wearing a white, a white jacket, walking around operating theaters as, as the stereotypical view you'd had of, of, of a doctor or specialist. so for me it made a lot of sense. To be involved, I guess, that way, and feel that that's the one way I could contribute to making a difference. And, and I guess what stems out of that, my interest in the health and wellbeing is obviously healthcare, buildings and, and, and hospitals. And I, I know we're probably gonna unpack that a little bit more in, in a minute. But reflecting back on where the was at, the core basics of sustainability is really going back to the fundamentals of having good design and capitalising on a lot of opportunities that, in the built environment that asset classes and, and different buildings are subject to. And at the same time, without using more than what you need to meet the operational needs of this particular building. So we're talking about strategies that were, implemented thousands of years ago by different civilisations, different, empires and the like, whether there's Egyptian, the Rome, and the Greek, there are all sorts of sustainability concepts that, that are now translated into modern age passive design principles when you look at designing a building. So it's really bringing it back to basics more than anything else. It's not, it's not all, leading edge or what some people. Think of as bleeding edge technologies and innovations. I reckon we've still got a long way to go by way of doing the, getting the basics right before we can think about the next unit. What's, what's next in the future of, of the built environment. And I, I guess, Yeah, 20 years ago the conversation revolved largely around rating frameworks and policies that were called upon and called for to demo, to demonstrate compliance with in, in the design and construction of the built environment. And then a lot of things stemmed out of that and obviously saw a lot of leaders in the industry who were taking charge by way of setting the path for the rest of the industry by wanting to make a change wanting. Make a difference. And that's typically, the large REIT groups in the, in the private property sector. And that, that usually, helps with shifting the dial and sparking a conversation. And then everything has been probably building up from, from that particular point. And now I, I'd like to think that there's a good realisation that, that we are heading towards a climate emergency. And I think there's, there's enough awareness now for it to be at the core and center for everything that we do, that it's no longer the hard and challenging role that it used to be gonna say 10, 15 years ago, that as a sustainability consultant, you have to spend a lot of time and effort in trying to prepare for how to, convince, at the design table of why we need to be looking beyond just minimum code compliance. I think we're way. Beyond that now. And very refreshing to see that everyone's taking a bit of ownership and responsibility.

David Cummins: 6:56

Yeah, interesting. So, did your passion or drive for sustainability come from the research you were seeing about climate change back in the early 2000s? Or did it just come from a understanding about the industry in the future, proof in the industry, or where did the actual drive itself come from?

Amir Grigis: 7:14

I guess? Yeah. The starting point for me was more about operational efficiency and understanding how to operate in the most efficient manner. Running a building lean from an energy budget point of view was something that I was quite passionate about. Obviously starting out the mechanical engineering space and mechanical systems consuming, the biggest portion of energy consumption in a building is, is probably, one of the main drivers of of why you would be looking ahead, to get the building to operate in the most efficient way. I guess by way of expanding beyond just operational efficiency, it was, it was about understanding 'what is the impact' that we're having on the environment? What is the impact that we're having on the occupants and on the people? And how do you come up with strategies that tick the boxes, across all those different areas without sacrificing one for the other? In particular, probably, more, the more challenging times around the GFC time where all the conversations were largely revolved around costs and the capital costs. And probably some of the more frustrating conversations is working with different asset classes that have owner operators where there is a long term, interest in the building, yet they're still sacrificing the operational efficiency aspect and only looking at how do we get this building, on time, on budget and on on budget bit. Is, is the one that that typically means that you value-engineer at, all the. News stories I suppose, that you'd have, you typically have in a building that would make it successful. So that, that was probably. A bit of a, a challenging period where we've seen also the nature of construction procurement change quite a bit. What would typically where we typically spend a lot of time thinking about the design of the building and giving it the time and attention that it needs to come up with the best solutions. We're shifting more towards the d and c design construct type environment where a lot of, the quality and the value that the consultants typically bring to the Table were overlooked. And yeah, it was just about the on, on time, on budget. But yeah, I think we've come full circle now and or we've come around quite a bit now. Not full circle. We're not, we're not quite there. But we've, we've been able to, to see the shift and the turn in the industry, I suppose towards trying to procure good buildings that are better for the environment, for the occupants. And it makes financial sense. It's, it's cost model.

David Cummins: 9:19

It's quite funny that you say that cuz I'm been doing my PhD research at the moment and that's exactly one of the main benefits of sustainability to actually have reduction in operational costs. Yet during the construction phase, as you correctly identified, everyone just focuses on the project as itself versus the life cycle of the building. So everyone's got the construction budget versus the operational budget. This is obviously over in every sector. So what are some of the strategies that you have come up with to try and reduce that barrier, knowing that it's a systemic problem in every industry? It has been for a long time.

Amir Grigis: 9:56

There's a couple of things. I think one, obviously as consultants, the biggest value that we do is, is be able to provide a different insight and provide advice that is. It's fit for purpose in terms of trying to achieve the right outcomes, whether it's for the client or for the building. And at the same time, on the sustainability side more than anything else, it's about trying to I guess, broaden the horizons when it comes to insight and understanding what kind of impact the, the, the end client. Is looking to make, and is it just about procuring a building or is it about demonstrating leadership? So we've found that we needed to change our approach and our language quite a bit to a b, talking the right language, but at the same time realise that more often than not, we'll we'll be invited to, get involved with a new project and turn up to the design table. And we, we'd think. Everyone around the table is quite clear on the objective that they want to achieve. But when it comes to sustainability, we've found that there's a lot of guidance, a lot of handholding that we need to do. And it's more about, you dunno what you don't know. And it's, it's about educating and raising awareness. So can't remember the number of times where we've walked into meeting rooms to kick off, ESD workshops and I've pulled out, extracts from what's happening in a big picture globe, global scale, what's happening, at the, at organizational level for the end client and some of the policies that they've committed to publicly. For them to, to, turn very quickly from the start of the meeting to wanting to, to, giving us the impression that they're all, they don't wanna be part of the conversation and looking at the watches and probably thinking, how long is this gonna last for to, 90 minutes later thinking, we need to do something. We need to do it today. And, and would, we, we are so far behind and I don't think as an industry we're doing. The best job in terms of the, with the raising awareness bit I think everyone is waiting for policies to come through, whether it's public, or planning controls or whether it's organisational policies to start dictating behavior at approaches. And I'm a big fan of, Not just working with a cream of the crop. There's, I've been involved with the Green Building Council for a long time, and, and I know with some of my peers there was a common perception that if you work with the top end of of town, which is 10 to 15%, then these are the leaders and they, they're the trailblazers and everyone else follows. This is fantastic and, and, and absolutely need to be pushing in that direction. But I'm also a big fan. No one gets left behind type approach. And, simplifying the message and dumbing it down to a large extent to talk, the right language for the, for the stakeholders and see what's in it for them. What are you guys looking for? What do you wanna achieve? And, just change around the approach and the language to suit those outcomes. And, and more often than not, nine outta 10 times it's been successful.

David Cummins: 12:33

Yeah. And to that point before we said, people are talking about it at one point and then they wanna do it. But I find one of the biggest challenges, especially in sustainability, is the conversation starts too late. And certainly on a lot of products I've been on where halfway through design development, Haven't even broken ground yet. And everyone's like, Oh, what about ESD? I'm like, Well, it's probably too late to, to really implement anything now. You know? And even though a lot of these stakeholders see a building to be produced in two years time, that, year plus of planning. When it should have been discussed has not happened. So what do you think some, some of the strategies to help overcome that?

Amir Grigis: 13:13

Well, firstly, in terms of, of how I feel about that I've built a bit of resilience in that, in that, in that kind of area. Cause there's a good period of four to five years, I reckon maybe from 2014, 2015 onwards where. I'm probably gonna say 60, 70% of our projects were sat in that basket. And I chose to see this in a positive light in that a lot of our clients saw, I said that as the trusted advisors in that there is. an issue, there's a problem, there's a, a framework, an obligation that they've got to meet and that they haven't been on top of. And coming to us to assist with that is one way of saying, We're in trouble. We need your help. We trust you guys to get us outta this mess. yeah, it was part of our everyday life for a, for a good period of time. But I think that's changing quite a bit. Again, some of those strategies I reckon that we are implementing now is raising awareness and. I think what we often do is probably forget to celebrate our wins. And in in particular, when you, when we look at an opportunity, for a new project to, to be involved with, and we propose, I don't know, let, let's call it 20, 30 initiatives, and if the client ends up taking five, more often than not, A lot of people get frustrated by what's not being taken up for me, that's a win. That's five more, improvements that were not there before we were part of this conversation. So that, that for me is a win. But we take this opportunity to, to, I guess, raise awareness and maximise the potential of changing mindsets for future projects more than, more than anything else. There's a recent example of, of a small project that we're involved with. It's a healthcare accommodation project, Regional New South Wales. Yeah, not, not, not too different of a story in, in that someone got in touch and said, We've got tender documents going out in three weeks and we've just realised we've got all those obligations that have not been considered. Can you come, come on board and help us? And we said, Okay, let's see what we can do. We joined the conversation, ran a couple of ESD workshops, and we spoke about what's the most cost, viable, I guess, approaches we can take up to, to deliver on those outcomes, but actually, get maximum impact as well. Noting that. There, there was not a lot of opportunities to reinvent wheels and send all the consultants back to, to redesign. That was not gonna be caused viable. But we made a point that this was not good enough. And I, I, there's one distinct slight that I, I remember that we had a good discussion about that I put up there is the, opportunity cost that gets missed out on when you don't get sustainability involved very early on, and it's the impact versus cost. You get maximum impact, minimal cost when you get sustainability, consultants or when you, when sustainability has been discussed very early on. And as you pray, Chris, through different design, construction, operational phases, it goes the other way around. You get very. Impact for maximum cost. So it's the right thing to do to, to, to, to start this conversation very early on in the piece. And we got, we, we got this one across the line and four weeks later we got invited to, to be part of a conversation for a, for another healthcare facility that was the, being considered for a feasibility analysis. So it hasn't even made concept design or development application. And, that's, that's the win for me. It's that there's a change of approach, change of.

David Cummins: 16:21

So you talked about the, the cost benefit of sustainability there as well. I've always found in my career that people actually just don't prioritise sustainability as part of their budget. Obviously, they, they prioritise scope. So how do people find that balance when you've got competing natures of a executive and nurses versus an operational budget. So what advice would you have for people who have that constant battle, especially with the start of a project?

Amir Grigis: 16:49

Well, I guess if we're talking about in the healthcare area in in particular what we often forget is, with new facilities that are being procured or refurbishments or, or, or even if it's existing facilities, the best stories that you get creative marketing teams to write fall out of sustainability . So by way of value engineering that out of missing out on all the good things that you can actually use to help promote this asset and, and the value that it brings. And it's and, and how you're positioned getting the market. I'm thinking purely from a, from a business and commercial point of view, if that makes sense. If you think about the, a healthcare facility, again, we often forget, At the end of the day, it needs to run as a business. And, and we need to be able to identify what are the right triggers to make, to make this a successful business and deliver on those. And in healthcare facilities, it's gotta, it's gotta be patient recovery and, and recovery times. And one of the first things that typical. get on the chopping block. When we're talking about value engineering, it's, well, let's get rid of all those different features that we've implemented to improve the indoor environment, quality and improve with patient recovery. And we're like, you're really shooting yourself in the foot. Cause if you wanna run a successful business, this is the kind of stuff that you want to be investing your money in. But it doesn't make sense if you can't promote it and if you can't celebrate it and you, if you can't make a big hoo-ha about it. So I guess some of the more. Recent successes that we've had is addressing those commercial aspects head on. Let's talk about your marketing strategies. Let's talk about how you want to promote this building. I've, I've gone to the extent of saying, have a look at this technology. I was, I'm, I'm sorry, tracking bit, but we were talking about onsite renewables. Generation of opportunities and in particular a new technology that's recently come back to the Australian environment, Australian market, which is wind trees, which is the alternative equivalent to vertical A as wind turbines. Well, it might not generate that much, but by way you're putting one of those outside the building or on top of a low-rise, mid-rise building that's making a statement. And I've often said, in the last three or four ESD workshops, trying to promote some of those technologies. I said, You get me this and I'll work with the architect to put it where it's some, somewhere that's visually striking and I'll get you an award. I'll guarantee you an award. And it's really about, nailing those commercial aspects of what makes a project successful more than anything else. And, and then everything else falls out of that.

David Cummins: 19:11

That is such a fascinating point that I had never considered before. But you're a hundred percent right because everyone knows, well, certainly in Melbourne. Everyone knows the building that is a six star energy star. Everyone knows the building that has the rooftop water treatment. It is a very common talking point for their lay people as well, that they won an award for this. It's a, it's a really good selling point and I'm totally gonna be using that selling point, future to be getting the marketing comms team more involved early, because I think that comes down to what the research says to making sure sustainability is a kpi. For the brief, for the initial brief, for the consultants, for the architects, for the sustainability, for the budget, for the directors, for everyone, it is to making sure that they use a KPI, whether that benefits marketing eventually, that's great, but I think having sustainability as a talking point at the very first point of conversation is really a strong key there.

Amir Grigis: 20:07

Yep. And a hundred percent.. you're welcome!.

David Cummins: 20:10

Hahaha, I love it. I love it. So, so, so what do you think are some of the challenges now knowing that you've pretty much broken ground where, almost full circle around. What do you think some of the biggest challenges are for sustainability sector within, within construction at the moment?

Amir Grigis: 20:27

Probably a few. I reckon we're still seeing a little bit of resistance across different camps, probably, if I can call them. For some of the veterans that have been in the industry for quite a while, who, who have been used to delivering buildings a certain way. They've been doing it. Same for the last 20, 25 years. So it's a little bit hard to change approach and, and shift a dial with typically with these, with these guys, but it's not, not impossible. So that's, that's potentially one challenge. I think this whole concept of whole of life thinking continues to and remains to be a challenge of looking at technologies and isolation in, in that, or looking at building performance in, in isolation to the cost of. That's, that's gonna continue to, to be a challenge. And, and like you mentioned, mentioned, that's something that's very coin across all the different asset classes. So I feel that it's very rare that we see some leadership from different organisations where they bring it all together. Not saying that it doesn't exist, it's probably a few groups that do it quite well. But it's not, it's not the common, it's probably the exception to the rule. I reckon there's probably a bit of an issue with talent. Across, across all different areas and how do you deliver on certain aspects, whether it's from a consultant consultancy or whether it's from an in-house capability point of view. We've recently seen that a lot of organisations are picking up momentum when it comes to ESG and have been building their own in-house teams more often. We see that, a lot of those groups are probably working a little bit in, in isolation. It'd be good to get, a full picture of, and particularly for, in the built in the business of procuring buildings, you probably wanna be talking with professionals in, in the building industry to form an opinion and not just think about, CSR and, and policies that fall out of CSR, not just ticking boxes. That's probably another challenge. In that a lot of the stuff that we're seeing is still ticking boxes. It's not, it's not very objective in, in the approaches. What else? Probably the only other thing that I'll say is hope i'm not gonna get in trouble on this, but public policies lacking quite a bit across a number of different asset classes. And this seems to be I wanna say a five to seven year delay in terms of seeing policies translate from, from one asset class to. To the other you can maybe use electrification as an example. And electrification is one of the key concepts you need to be looking at when we're, when we are talking about a low carbon economy and net zero carbon - carbon neutral building, you need to be relying solely on the electricity grid and phasing out burning of any fossil fuels on site. In the private sector, this is a conversation that's been happening since 2014, 2015. I've only learned. In the last three months that some of the public government departments are now asking for electrification to be analysed for feasibility and do cost benefit analysis for different asset classes before it's, it's implemented. So it's, it's a good change. It's a start. But, we were doing this five year, seven, seven years ago in the, in the private working with, with private sector clients. So lacking. Quite a bit and not enough commitment probably.

David Cummins: 23:31

Yeah, I, I totally agree. And especially if you compare us to somewhere like Europe or Scandinavia. The, the policy in the government need for, to prioritise sustainability just isn't, isn't here in Australia, certainly not to the level of policy making that is overseas.

Amir Grigis: 23:48

Yeah, and I think we're probably gonna see a lot of that change in particular with you know reporting at organisational level. Well, it's been voluntary. To date we're probably gonna start seeing the shift of mandatory, you know climate change risk top reporting being. Mandated by organisations. All, all different levels we've seen that happen in the UK. And I think Australia's not too far behind, so that's probably gonna drive significant change, I think.

David Cummins: 24:14

Yeah, I agree. So, knowing that you've been in the industry for over 18 years, where do you think the industry will go for the next 18 to 20 years?

Amir Grigis: 24:24

Oh, that's a interesting question. Well, I guess as an industry, we are all working with new science based targets and timeframes that we're, we're trying to deliver on. When it comes to the, again, the carbon economy conversation well that's any anywhere between 2025 and 2030 targets for different organisations. I know at, at federal and some states are committing to 2050 targets. There is a journey that we're on. I think we're gonna continue to see momentum being picked up in terms of, awareness being raised and sustainability being at the core and center for everything that we do. Informing part of the conversation very early on. I think we're probably gonna start seeing a stage where a number. Product suppliers are being phased out because the product that they are putting out there the demand for that is gonna start to diminish quite a bit. No, again, on the sidetracking, again on the topic of electrification, I was working, working with, with a client who, council have specifically asked them to consider electrification in their development. And he immediately pointed out to the fact that all their buyers, mm-hmm. , who happen to be from foreign backgrounds, are looking for stoves with, gas cooking stoves. And he said, Anything less than that will not, will not be acceptable. And, and there was a question that we had to ask. Okay, well let's talk about what is the percentage of buyers, foreign buyers that you're expecting to see in this development versus local Australian market? Cause we've got all sorts of research that's showing that, the Australian market is calling for developments that demonstrate, leadership when it comes to sustainability and. They want to, occupy spaces, work, live and playing spaces that address all those issues. There's a value there and we're trying to push for the messages that, the more you invest in this, the more premiums you can actually attract and the more value you can add to your asset part. They're quite stuck, I guess, on, on the ways. And I think a lot of that will be challenged quite a bit. And I think there's a little. Wave that's coming, that's probably gonna catch him by surprise. So we're, we're gonna start seeing a lot of products, a lot of product suppliers phase from the market who are not necessarily jumped on the bandwagon or, or are not playing the game.

David Cummins: 26:27

Yeah, very interesting times. I mean, I just wanna say thank you for all your efforts the last 20 years, no doubt been a challenge, but it's people like you have really helped break down the barrier for sustainability now, and certainly no, personally, you. Be on a few projects along the way, which is why I keep on referring to you as one of the leaders in sustainability in Australia. So thank you very much.

Amir Grigis: 26:46

Thanks, David. It's been fantastic being part of this and having a conversation with you. Really enjoyed it.

David Cummins: 26:51

Thank you, Amir. You have been listening to the Australian Health Design Council podcast series, health design on the go. If you would like to learn more about the AHDC, please connect with us on our website or LinkedIn. Thank you for listening.

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