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 Gary Coff, who has been involved with health design almost as long as I have been alive. Gary has helped improve the way health services are delivered to the community from Adelaide around Australia and across the globe. Gary's experience covers all aspects of the healthcare. Ranges from design for remote Aboriginal community facilities to master planning for the rural Brisbane and women's hospital covering emergency medicine, mental health, and age care, service, delivery, planning, and design. Today we welcome Gary to discuss the importance of sustainability in healthcare. Welcome Gary. Thank you for your time to be here.
Thanks David. Good to see you.
For those that dunno how old I am and how long you have been in the, I'm just gonna give a warning that it's decades and decades and decades of experience that you have.
Sure. If you like . David Cummins: So what actually Are you an architect or are you a, a, a clinician. What, what actually is your background? Architectural technician. I did a drafting course years ago and then added into that interior design. Based in, in Sydney. I did that in Sydney. and it was a very fortunate point in time where, where the architectural and interior design industry in commercial terms was very alive because of the the main line constructions crash and the empty, the number of empty buildings that were scattered around Sydney looking for tenants. So that was in what the. To late seventies, eighties? It was, Yeah. Early, early to mid seventies. Yeah. And I, I stayed on there until about 1980 and then moved to South Australia.
Yeah, right. And so in that time, basically from my understanding of hospitals, it was very simple construction, very simple design, very, very cookie cutter. Simple rectangular rooms to get the job done with minimal interaction with the patients and their needs been very much based around the clinical needs of the patient to get the job done. Is that a good summary of the seventies of construction or?
The the hospital system back in that period of time was pretty much limited particularly in South Australia, I found to taking people off the street who were potentially down and out, giving them some good food and a, and a safe place to sleep and putting 'em back to work. And the hospital planning was very much off a standard plan. They were all pretty much the same.
So back then, keeping in mind sustainability, was this word? Sustainability, even around then, Like how, how was it even considered?
No, no, definitely not. We've, we've got in, in South Australia, we've got a number of hospitals that were, that were all built about the same period in time. They were all designed as 400 bed hospitals. None of them got above 200 beds. Some of them ended up as 50 beds, like at Port Lincoln. But they actually built the lift shaft for a four-story building and then only ended up building the first floor. So that was typical. That was typical, the kitchen big enough to to feed a, a war ship and a laundry big enough to cover the whole community and the, and surrounding townships. But very basic,
But that sounds like bad planning, more than bad sustainability practices. Was that, was that just the way it was done then? Someone came up with an idea, People did it, and minimal. Minimal thought was given to the future proofing of the area, and also minimal impact to the patient care?
Absolutely. the issue was never energy consumption or or, or indeed any sort of consideration of the long term planning other than the fact that they were all gonna end up as 400 bed hospitals. They were very They were very optimistic about the the populations that were gonna grow in all these regional areas. And so they just put 'em together. Like they did big ships, they had big boiler rooms, They had huge air conditioning equipment that was pretty awful. But, but basically it was it was extravagant and a lot of the, a lot of the facilities the big issue has been to kind of wind all that back and trim them all back to something reasonable. Specifically designed,
So when did the word sustainability and sort of evolve in your career? Was it the eighties, nineties, later?
I guess it, it, it crept in in the eighties, late eighties because we were starting to look a, a lot more at a lot more different styles of construction and, and it became evident that, that the hospitals for. Low dependency sort of care didn't need to be over, over designed. Whereas prior to that, there were a lot of money spent on facilities where there weren't appropriately trained doctors to actually perform the tasks that were being designed for. So yeah, that, that, that was where it started to, to happen. It's really kicked off in the 2000's. And obviously, we're, we are in a different world now. But sustainability becomes quite the, quite the key issue in both, both the future development and an ability to maintain a, an updating process which wasn't in our minds in those in those days.
Yeah, I think the statistics show that Australia's got one of the worst carbon footprints for healthcare as an industry in the world behind America. It's almost double what is in the UK at the moment, and it's certainly above the global average. What do you think are some of the reasons why the Australian healthcare footprint is, is so dramatic?
A lot of our design was, was based around the British model. And the British climate, of course, is incredibly different to, to the Australian climate. So you start from behind the eight ball right at day one, and then, peddling as hard as you can to catch up. Where we are now, at least at a position where we, we have. Economies of, of of scale and operation. And we are designing more appropriately to shut sections of buildings down and to make sure that they're efficient. And in some locations where the climate is fine. You don't need air conditioning. We've actually started to recognise that you can, you can be flexible about that sort of thing.
Yeah. And keeping in mind design. I would argue design over the. Probably 30 years, certainly last even 10, 15 years, and even more recently, last four or five years. There's been a stronger emphasis on sustainability in design. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, it's very hard to beat the very basic guidelines of orientation. If you get the sun in the right spot, it's not about moving the sun. It's about putting the building in the right spot and facing at the right directions and, and a little less concern about the view and a bit more concern about energy consumption and the quality of the space.
Yeah, I, agree. would, I would say my career, which is only a fraction of yours, I've still never built a hospital with double glaze windows, and for me, that's a concern.
It could be a bit of a worry. The hospital buildings are, typical they require a lot of window there's a lot of external wall and there's a lot of window required. And of course, that pushes you towards the solutions for not just to, to keep the heat out, but the solutions to manage your, your temperature and glare factors and all sorts of things that double glazing can take care of. So, yeah, so it is a bit scary. I know there's a lot of high, performance glass out there in, in multistory buildings, and actually in giving the, best to the external factors that are gonna influence the way the building will work.
So what do you think are some of the, resistance and the barriers towards why Australia is so far behind the global average for our healthcare sustainability footprint? what do you think some of the, major challenges have been? And, and how do we overcome those challenges?
Well a lot of it is, about the fact that you can overcome, you can Basically build an igloo in, in, in the middle of the desert if you, if you go about it in the right way. Dubai is a good example of being able to do that. So we Australians in, in general like a challenge and if it becomes an issue of you really want that view, well we'll make it work for you. It's it's, it's, it's really a matter of settling back and recognising the long term impact of the cost of that view and actually recognising. we are using a lot of energy that we don't need to use. It really is, just a natural thing that we seem to try and take over what nature's providing. So it's a futile sort of Argument really to actually go on doing that. However, we still see examples of that. So it's not gonna be easy to to change people's thinking, but really there's a lot happening in that direction right now, which is great.
Yeah, I agree. And I also think the turning the tide is, has changed dramatically where it is now a priority for people in development and construction and, and, and their projects to actually have sustainability as a, KPI which probably wasn't really around, well, certainly when I started my career, it wasn't really around to have it as a priority. It was a word that was very quickly squashed and, and not taken serious.
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I, I have a client that has and, and really I need more of these, but I have a particular client who, who really wanted to go with a passive building and, and he, he managed to secure a really good site in the middle of what used to be the old Mitsubishi manufacturing or vehicle manufacturing plant here in Adelaide. And he secured a Prime site. And he wanted to build a four-story, Medical center, right in that spot. And he wanted to be off grid. Totally off grid. And, and it, it, it is, it is a real example of what you can do. But it does, you, I suppose you, you, you look at it and you say, Well, we're making some concessions, but the fact is this building really does run on it. the smell of a I won't call it an oily rag anymore. , let's, let's call it a, a disinfectant cloth . And so, free air, really free air conditioning is, is, is amazing. And we've ended up with a design of a building that could. a lot of people's thinking, but it does need some funding. So we're, he's, he's currently sourcing the funding to go forward with it. So, but the design's been done and we have a magic solution if we can just get the right interest in it.
So is that a health project?
Yes, it is. Yeah. It's, it has a it has four operating theaters with a suite of day surgery facilities. It's got it, it, there, there's a a level of General practice consulting, which is effectively specialising in skin cancers and dermatology sort of issues. It has a, medical imaging facility proposed in it with a MRI pet pet CT and PET/CT scanner. It includes a pharmacy, it includes a dentist. it's quite an array of equipment and materials and engineering that you wouldn't expect to find in an off-grid building.
So my mind is boggling. Just with that last 30 seconds of conversation, how is that possible to have a passive hospital with such critical, crucial. Clinical care. Do you mind just talking through some of the principles of that, especially like with theaters and MRI, like, that's just mind boggling that that's possible.
we do have some pretty fascinating people involved in the planning. Trust me. it's not it's not an amateur's process. the principle's simple. it's an esky. It's built like a, it's designed to be an esky. It's completely sealed. It's completely insulated by the very nature of the materials. There are, timber and cement block of, of huge proportions, really quite a large setup. It's, it's faced on the outside with solar panels. The roof is fully absorbed with solar panels. It has a car park with solar panels on the roof. And of course the other part of that that makes it all possible is there's 600,000 liters of water storage in the basement. In, in bladders, not, not just running free, but in bladders in the basement of the building. So that becomes the source of being able to manage the air conditioning and the generation of, of heat and power by managing that, combination of panels, storage the qualities are, stored within the water. The water provides the heat exchange. The air that comes into the building is limited to coming in through the plant room where it's all filtered. It's all de humidified. It's then re- humidified and distributed without pressure to all the floors of the building. It comes into each of the rooms of the building at a low level, and the air is expelled through a central atrium that before it is expelled out into the into the atmosphere. It goes through a, an evaporative process where the energies well returned, returned to the water if you like, so that we actually generate heat from the water, from the air as it's expelled. So you have incoming evaporative, air conditioners, bringing the air in. You dehumidify the air, you circulate it through the building and it goes back out and you take the heat back as it goes.
Yeah, that, that's phenomenal. Obviously theaters and MRI are, are extremely energy consuming and extremely critical. How do you compensate for the criticality of, those areas when, the elements may not work? Is there, I assume there's generat and backup for, for such things, correct?
there is a backup generator but there is plenty of power on board. And the issue is that you, we do have to have stand, we'd have to meet standards with air conditioning and, and with the medical imaging and the heat resource that comes out of the medical imaging process, there's batteries and, and inverters involved in all of that. But basically we are feeding energy into a system that runs chiller sets and boiler to actually manage the temperature control and quality of air and the number of air changes that are required throughout the the operating theater zones. So it's, it's actually quite. It's, it's just a matter of balancing the power and the demand and being able to run a, a proportion of the building with that as an additional component to what you would call the low tech area, I suppose the low tech area issue is the fact that the air conditioning is not forced. So what we're doing by running. Air and water through, through the floors we're actually calling and warming the building, not the air. And it's not the air that's doing the cooling or the warming, it's actually the water that's in the slabs and the and the fact that the system that provides that temperature stays at 22 degrees basically all the time, 24 hours, seven days a week.
I bet that hospital has got arm double glaze windows?
Absolutely. Triple . It does have triple, Yeah. Yeah, you're absolutely right. And the blocks themselves that, that form the walls they, they are they are high, they have a very high R rating. They're, they're, they're actually very very energy efficient. But the big deal is it's sealed. It's completely sealed.
So for someone who has worked in health for a long time, both of us, the absolute benefit of a hospital like that, not only does it reduce the carbon footprint, it's self-sufficient. It actually creates less pollutants in the air, which ultimately is what a. Hospital building should do, it should actually be there to provide health and almost as a preventative. So what would be some of the other benefits of a building like this? If, if every hospital in Australia was, was such, was like that?
Well, I guess you're right. This is one of the things that I've always been quite concerned about is the fact that hospitals become incubators for disease. They, if you're gonna, if you, if there's something out there, you'll catch it at the hospital. It's for sure. It's, it's, it's bound to be there and it'll, it'll come and get you. So we go looking for it by going into hospitals and as hospital designers get into a bit of strife with that sometimes, I think, however, you're right, the thinking is clean. The thinking is, this was all started well before Covid, but when you look at it in the context of Covid, it's got a lot to do with the infection control and the separation and the ability to, to keep the quality of the air very high and to get a, a good proportion of of air through the. Through all parts of the building. So, you're trying to keep the whole building at the same temperature all the time.
Yeah. Very, very interesting. So why have not we done this earlier?
There's a lot of reasons. our engineer. If you like, our, the engineering processes are very radical in comparison to what is actually out in the marketplace. We would be putting at risk a lot of businesses that manufacture air conditioning equipment and, and support the industries that, that are actually. Driven by all of that. So you've got a lot of other interests involved that, that are not necessarily gonna be very warm at, at taking this sort of approach along with it. Well that's one of the reasons I guess I can't be too critical about that. But ultimately it's, it's different to the, to the way people normally think. It's, it's a new paradigm, it's a different approach and to change the trend of, of what people trust is hard work.
Yeah, I think, I think that's really the, I think that's really the point. It hasn't been done before, so why change it?
We have to change these up.
You're right. You're right. But, but we, we didn't do this without some research and some in depth planning. So there has been a building built which replicates these principles. It's a medical center, but it's, just a medical practice, so it doesn't, go to the extremes of medical imaging and, and operating theaters, but it works in principle, the things that were probably critical about that, that that aren't acceptable. That there wasn't enough windows. Yeah. The building lacked in windows, and the windows were small. And they were, not providing much of an outlook. They were providing some incoming light, but not a lot of out ward view. And that it was re it was, it was actually constructed using styrene type refrigeration wall panels, but on a pretty good scale, three story building. and the the issues that came with that were, it was difficult to lease so as, as a commercial proposition. So we've introduced a, a whole different approach to that by putting the. Health issue on the line to see what it might develop into.
So just to dig a little bit deeper before we finish up, how much would this building have cost without all these sustainability initiatives versus how much does it cost? You don't have to give exact figures, maybe just a percentage, and then I assume what would be the payback? My understanding is most sustainability initiatives are about 10 to 15% above the total construction cost with a payback of about, five to 10 years. For a 50 year building, you're making money within, year 10, year 50. Would that be similar to, to your findings for this passive hospital?
No, it's rather surprising actually. Because, because the tone technology is actually quite basic and quite simple. We're using air and water where we, we have to use good quality materials, but we, we are trans, we're using a lot of heat transference. In, in a, in that takes up space that's, that's actually internal. So the leasing capabilities, you, you have a fair proportion of area that is plant that is not able to be leased. Now, that still happens in modern hospital design. We have quite huge plant areas and quite large engineering spaces. And of course they don't generate any sort of positive benefit other than maintaining the standard of the, of the accommodation with the, with the obvious issues of 24/7. So, The cost, the initial cost is, is quite low other than the building materials are, are a bit of a challenge in as much as they, they are new to Australia. The concept of sealed esky style building is, is, is foreign. We have, we have a lot of air leaks and, and We, we accept a, a pretty low standard of, of seal building seal. The issue of the insulation's not a no, no difference really. If we did proper insulation, we'd be doing the, spending the same money. The fact that it's different materials and, and no one wants to be the first to try is, is a challenge. But the technology's very simple and the amount of replacement equipment is, is way lower. You still have the operating theater components. You've still got the equipment, you've still got the air conditioning and the chiller and that sort of, But it's not for the whole building, it's just for a proportion of the building. So you can isolate that element. You can run the operating theaters in, in timelines where you have excess energy, and you can manage the functionality of that to meet what the, what the energy consumption is at the. So really it's a surprise. No, it, it, we're talking, we're talking four stories with the, as I described, the fittings and the, and the type of work. It's a specialist consulting floor in amongst that. But j as a general exercise, it's, it's in the, it, it, it's, it's probably more like $5,000 a square meter than 10,000. And in hospital design these days, that's that, that's. Probably a real challenge for people to believe, but there you go.
Yeah. Very, very fascinating. Just before we go, cause we're running out of time, how would you like to see sustainability in healthcare change? You've been in the industry for over 30 years obviously I don't think you'll be around doing it for the next 30 years, although, I'm sure, I'm sure the industry would benefit from your knowledge, but how would you like to see the industry change in reference to sustainability over the next 30?
One of the key elements that, that, that I struggle with is, is that we, we, we've started building hospitals bigger and bigger. They just, they just get bigger and bigger. We, we actually end up with, with things that are quite out of balance with, the cycle that we're trying to be part of. And, and that fits into the categories of saying, well, okay, every time we add more diagnostic and treatment, a more sophisticated diagnostic and treatment. Tend to add more beds. And, and the cost of building the beds and running the beds is where all the money goes. So you'll end up with a, with a high cost inpatient CAPA capacity that doesn't actually need to be there in that form if you, if you decentralise so that your. high cost and high technology areas are grouped and may be smaller, but more accessible to the communities. And then if you looked into the communities and put residential accommodation in a, in a more acceptable way, you could perhaps end up with more of nursing capability rather. Clinical capability in those outlying accommodations. So therein lies. Are millions of saying, Okay, we work the clinical area 24 hours, seven days a week, and we process, but we move people fairly quickly out into lower cost facilities. still driven by lack of nursing staff and skilled qualified people, but nevertheless in a more comfortable and more residential style of accommodation. So that would be a really big change. But it, but it would be, it would. Better perhaps than, than these mul monster buildings that we are focusing on at the moment, which are, which are huge and all areas are expensive to run. And, you end up operating lots of, lots of beds generally accruing a number of them that are long stay, that, that aren't, that don't need to be in a hospital, but they're there because there's nowhere else for them to go. So yeah, there's a few ideas in there that can be unpacked but you can see it's a decentralised model and it's suggesting that we minimise the high end cost of the technical spaces.
Yeah. Very interesting. I could listen to you all day. Well, we're running out of time, so something tells you we should have another podcast soon. So thank you very much, Gary. I find you very fascinating and thank you for all your hard work you put into the last 30 years to help improve the Australian healthcare.
Thanks for the invitation, David. it's a pleasure to talk with you.
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.
welcome to the ah HDC podcast series, Health Design on the Go. I'm your host David Cummins, and today we are speaking to Florence Wong, who is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales in Australia based in Hong Kong. Florence has a background in architecture from the Hong Kong University and has grown her career in the world of sustainable architecture. Florence is currently doing her PhD on mass timber construction and investigating its feasibility in hot and humid southeast Asian cities. We look forward to speaking to Florence today about her research in the world of sustainable architecture. Welcome Florence. Thank you for your time.
Hi. Hello, David. How are you?
Good, thank you. . The world of sustainable architecture relatively new in the global scale. For some countries. They have been talking about sustainable architecture for decades as it is probably just growing to a, to probably more mass understanding and mass. I suppose group thinking towards sustainable architecture in Australia, but how long have you been interested in the world of sustainable architecture?
I've been working for many years in Hong Kong with a developer and but all the time, I mean, since after 2000 I think. I got myself involved in Hong Kong, the Institute of Architects and joining Green Tours. To take a look at what sustainable architecture is talking about. So I, while I'm having my full-time career, I'm paying attention to the development of this sustainable architecture and buildings. . Trying to learn from overseas.
So that's very interesting. So when you say overseas, are you talking about are you talking about Southeast Asians countries or Australia or Asia Pacific? What, what do you mean by overseas countries?
I think we went to see North Europe, I mean Scandinavia and Germany, and we also went to Singapore and Japan and a few places. Where because there are sustainable building conference every three years. So we tried to take that opportunities and go and, and see the buildings also. . Site visits and then to meet the professionals. There. . So it is a way of having our own CPD I mean, continuous professional development.
That's interesting. And what was your research showing, or what was, what have you found so far in reference to how countries that like Hong Kong have actually changed in, in its architecture in comparison to those European.
Oh, quite a big question. . But what I can say is, sustainable building is a big topic, but these days I'm focusing more on the mass timber construction. And from my early days that I learned from the sustainable buildings overseas, there was not we are not paying attention to timber yet at all, I would say. And in Hong Kong we are focusing on our own projects day to day. I understand the government is trying to, I mean, the industry is trying to learn from everyone of us to upkeep our knowledge and hence to how to contribute to the people that the industry here in Hong Kong. But, and then I think the chance is not that much because of the highland price here, and then the time and the cost. That we need to deliver in a very short period of time for all the projects. So we sort of following some part dependency in a way to deliver our projects. And there is comparatively with overseas countries, there is not many completed projects that I can say to can achieve this. Because currently this day, for example, in in Singapore we learned that there are 19 zero carbon buildings. . Not zero buildings, but in Hong Kong we have one zero carbon buildings by public. And then we, the, the industry is trying to work on it. But we are facing with a lot of constraint. The government is also trying to push it and with the policy in place. But I think if we need to compare, , we still need to do more. I can't speak on behalf of the government, but I mean from the industry, as architect, I think group of fellow architects are very eager to help and then to pursue further and sustainable construction in Hong Kong, but we need to have the chance. So I'm lucky enough to have the chance to step. As I, not to involve myself in full time projects these days. So I have the chance to learn more, and that's why I take up this PhD research in Australia. And, and what is that research showing at the moment? So I know you've, I know you're halfway through your PhD. What, what exactly are your findings thus far? Firstly I need to understand . How this sustainable. Construction is coming because in Hong Kong we do not have a much history of this. And I want to see what's the good thing of this construction. And then I find that is it a direction that worth going to? And then if it is so good should I bring it to Hong Kong? And also to see how it will adapt itself before we can. Have it been in Hong Kong? I think because all this country situations are different, not just the government's policy, but also the industry, the people's experience and also the physical environment, maybe the climate. That's why you see My topic includes the heart and human climate here, because this day I find that the mass timber have flourished in the Western country, like Europe uk, North America, in the US and Canada. Those are more of a tempered climate. Dryer and cooler and, but in also in Australia it's picking up very quickly and it, it has a Queensland , and also Brisbane, which is quite closer in the climate as, as in Hong Kong and Singapore. That's why in my research I have chosen to compare these free cities. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Brisbane, trying to see how this timber construction can really be feasible in these places. And I can see that the, the market in Europe and North America is very busy with timber. They are very busy already, and in Australia they are Picking up very quickly too. And then they are having tall buildings to timber buildings proposals in Alan and in Perth, Not just those already built in Brisbane. . As type like the 25 King. And also, in Sydney there is another one, the Altassian Tower in Central Station. That is going to start the construction work this year. , they got approval. . Going to start construction work this year. It's up to 40 stories high, it's a hybrid building. So all these trends of the mass timber construction overseas and then because in the southeast Asian country, like Singapore and Hong Kong, we have a lot of development construction, property development. We have a lot and but we are using a lot of concrete and steel that. Carbon emission is very high. If we can learn to see to bring the mass timber construction into our cities, we hope we can help to reduce carbon emission in our, in our industry. I think this is the, the big thing. . How to build it. Sustainably. And also another thing is most construction is helping the industry to modernize the way because through digital construction digital design, and then construction, we are moving from a construction site into a proof fabrication, like, like a industrialization of the construction industry. We talk about a construction 4.0. And so this is a way to help to build efficiently too, and with a high quality and, and precision. And this is a whole, whole new thing that I think we should grasp the opportunities to to learn things and then to try it out here, say using some pilot projects or at least before that, to bring the knowledge into our industry. So that more people here will be aware of the world trend and then will will step outside their, their regular practices so that they can learn how the world is moving. And then what is more suitable in Hong Kong. This will take a lot of time. In Singapore, they have the governments pushing it with incentives and policies. But in Hong Kong, we, we are still trying to discuss it with the government. So I think, , we'll do it step by step. , we are not pushing it too much, but we know we know there's a lot to do.
So I have to ask the obvious question. I understand the benefit. Timber construction in comparison to concrete, and I understand the lower embodied energy and the lower carbon emissions that that takes, but at, at the moment there is so few trees out there and obviously trees and planted trees helps reduce carbon emissions. How do you recommend, or how do you find that balance between using more trees? And planting more trees, like how do we, how do we make that more sustainable, that loop?
Okay. This is interesting because when I always talk about it and with my colleagues architects here, I got this question always being asked. And the other is about fire and durability, but just talk about the timber supply. . In fact, Why I myself, I need to convince myself that this is the way to go. So I think we are not going to talk about cutting down trees, deforestation, This is the old way of doing things. But now because we have those certification of timber materials, we have the ever C and the PFC or record the responsible wood in Australia. So this is a process. There's already a well established protocol. It's just a matter of growing it, going the certification of timber into more forests and working forests. And, and the way is we are not doing a deforestation and cutting the trees and using, but in fact, if we are going to deploy or use more timber, the forest industry will be encouraged to plant more trees. Plant more trees and also to have a controlled logging. To have a controlled what? Harvesting. . And then the, the trees being. Half is, it will be used in more valuable building products instead of cutting down and just they, they have been working for us in Europe and America, lots of them. And they're using the forest material mean timber materials to do paper and pops and, and even. Neuro, I mean Scandinavia, there are a lot of commercial forests. . But we are, in fact they're diversing their products in the construction timber. So I think there is not a way of people thinking deforesting cutting down trees. But in fact, we are working with the sustainable forestry and to make it a, a, a continuous supply of timber materials. And the thing is, if we have. Timber materials, construction in the buildings and store the carbon in the buildings. The next thing is we need to have the building designed as, as good as possible to make it durable, to keep the sequestered carbon long as possible. And the third thing is when the building is to be demolished in 50 years time, for example. Then the design. Now we better design it, that it can be dissembled at the end of the day, and there is. Process called cascading of timber materials. That's the larger beams and columns can be cut down into smaller pieces for say, furnitures and finishes, and then an even smaller pieces into small item art crafts. And then even at the end will become mounting or, and being burns as energy. So we are lengthening the whole, the whole, the usage of team materials. It's a whole life cycle. Management of the building materials and at the same time of the forest industry, they cut down the timber and then they grow more. So the first thing impression is if a forest every year they cut 2%, then it needs a rotation of 50 years to complete a one, one cycle of that forest. This is a. Layman growth some to me, but this is quite convincing to me when I first started to look at a timber. But I understand there are lots of practices in sustainable forestry, and there are lots of other experts that can talk about this. But I, I mean, this concept is already. Letting me know that we are not, we are not doing harm. . At all. We need to spread this knowledge out. That's why, that's why I said not until I get into the study of this, then I will research and discover, Oh, this is real thing. This is not just greenwash, this is not resolving, I mean, answering to people's query or the, their worries. Your PhD
is actually way bigger than just a sustainable building. It's actually, trying to change government policies, trying to actually change the way people forest, and it's, it's actually huge and a very, very important piece of data in research, which, According to me, almost has global implications. So in that situation, what do you think are some of the changes that have to happen and where is it at the earliest phase of the planning and the feasibility of the, the building? Or is it even further to that to change policy, within your government and other governments, Like, how far back do you think your research implementation has to occur?
I said, it seems very big, but my research have a time limit. And also I think we are thinking step by step, and this research is initially as a systematic auditing of what are the barriers? Say, what are the government's policy these days? What are the rules and regulations? How is the industries looking? And that's why we have that in survey. In the national survey, want to understand people's perception and, and what's their knowledge of or their experience in timber construction. Whether there will be a difference where for the people in Europe and, and Australia and North America, that they have built timber. And with those people who have known nothing about it or very little knowledge about it, will there be a perception difference already? So we are starting from. Small steps and then afterwards we, we can miss out what's the government's policies. We are not thinking we need to change it now. No, sorry, I don't have the ability to change it. But we are just as a mirror just to show to the government that this is what you are now and this is what other countries, other cities are now. This is what they're doing. This is what we are doing and we are just tab tabulating all this factors. And then. Let the policy makers think about it. . And because I think the government and us are eager to modernize the construction industry. For the safety reason and also, , for carbon emission and reasons. So I, I think they, they will put their mind in it when they know the situation. This is what I'm looking forward to. So, I'm, I, my, my PhD cannot do everything. I just want to give an account, then to list out to show the findings. . , David Cummins: I mean every, Hopefully someone else will pick up from where you've left off as well with further research. you mentioned earlier about the challenges of timber construction for like such large scale buildings and, fire and obviously, What a lot of people think of timber and fire do not go well together. Do you mind just touching, touching a bit more based on, on that, that comment?
In fact all the buildings that be protected from fire, alright, And strangely, timber is protecting itself by fire, by char. . Still members, you need to have fire coat things. Protection coatings on the outside and timber by charring is protecting itself. It's insulating the heat from the internal, so they're protecting themself by sacrificial charring. And if we need a, a columns, say 200 by 200. So we need to increase the, the size the structure engineer can calculate for us how for one hour or two hours fire, how thick we need to add. To the size of the structural timber, I think many people you will use another comparison is when you're doing a big queue in Sydney. In Australia, we always do big queue. If it is a small sticks, two by four timber frame, like wait frame sticks, you can burn it real very easily. But if you are putting a big lock in it, it will not be burned so easily. So this is the difference. light weight frame and then the mass timber, and that's what I see the merits of mass timber, in their tackling the fire problem. . And so this is not, , I think people would be scared by the big fires in Chicago, in London. . Those things. And even the dreadful fire of London, it has nothing to do with timber. When they see this, they will relate it to timber. So this is a misconception you can say. So one of the things that we wanna find out from the survey is also to see how deep is this misconception and for the fire it's as controllable, it's predictable, and then even if the timber. Structure itself being burned locally, it can be removed. I mean, the, the damaged parts, the charring can be removed and then repaired, and by adding on new timbers to, to protect it later. The other thing is there are other ways to protect the timber structure. Before the building regulations can change so quickly. For example, in Canada or in , and even in Australia you see some buildings say the first early one is Forte. And also at the Monterey, they are protected by fire resistant boards. Giving them the one hour fire rating that, that's the building required for the government approval because at the very beginning, it's a bit hard to convince the government too. And this is another way we call it encapsulation to protect the timber. But this is not as good because it's, it's hiding, covering the timber structure, which we really want people to see. The timber itself. So it's just like the 25 king in King Street in Brisbane and in the National House and Amaroo House in Australia. These are exposed timber and also we understand many researchers and big companies, Arabs, and even with solutions in Australia, they are doing five. For open plan offices. . And, and for real one to one scale office floor and things like that to, to demonstrate to the government. Through authority and also to gather data to see how the fire will perform in this CT building. I mean, mass timber buildings. So there are many things being carried out in the R&D, and so they, they proposing larger and larger scale timber buildings. It's based on real research and calculation. So it is, it is. They're building on, , they're building on this data. So this would be safe. The government will also have a FAI on it. And the last thing is people will say that, okay, we will have the building protected by sprinkler. Okay. But I think sprinkler can be one of the protection, but we cannot rely on the sprinkler because we always know that the sprinkler can more functions. . So, so it'll be good to have it just to stop the initial spreading of fire, but we are not relying on it. I mean, the building structure design itself should be sufficient to cater, to stand for an hour. And so that's the Fire Brigades can come. One interesting thing is that (I heard it from, from North America or Europe), they said that the fire brigades the people when they get into a timber building, they feel safer than getting into a steel building because they know the behavior of timber in the fire. But for steel structure, they said there is a point that the steel will. And then we'll collapse. I just hear about this. And I also see some pictures comparing this, but I think the fire specialists, they would tell us more.
That's very, very interesting. Some of that data. When you say it like that, it makes sense. But I do think there's a lot of education that is required in reference to this because as you've just said, the research is showing many, many benefits in, in that type of construction. So just, just before we finish up where, what, what more do you think you going to learn in your research? Where do you think your research is going to land and, and how do you think you'll be able to implement that? And where would you like, your research to make it its greatest impact?
Oh, okay. I want to mention a bit of my history is when I was very small. My father owned a timber workshop, but then not, not long then timber is being looked at as a inferior material and people moving from timber squats to concrete high rise apartment blocks, and then housing assets. So I think this is one reason why I'm getting into this study of a mass timber construction. I want to see. We see, find out the issues of how to use this timber more wisely, more correctly. I mean with the good design, detailing and specification, so that, I think timber is a gift from nature. In fact, people inherently like to get clothes to nature and want to touch wood. That's why you see a lot of mimicking timber patent.
It sounds, it sounds, I was gonna say, it sounds like you've got no time because you've got so much research happening, but I mean, it's, it's just very, very impressive. I've tremendously enjoyed listening to you today. I think that your research is world changing and I also think that it has tremendous implications, not only for the Hong Kong and and Asia Pacific region, but for Australia and the world. And I do wish you all the best with your research, cuz I think it's amazing and I can't wait to read it when it's finished. Thank you for your time, Florence. Thank you. 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.
David Cummins: 0:09
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 Siobhan Leach, who is a group sustainability officer at Ramsay Healthcare. Siobhan has been working with Ramsay for over two years as a qualified Civil Scientist, Siobhan has continued her studies to achieve a Masters of Environmental Law and Science. Siohan now leads the way in the private healthcare sector for improving sustainability in all Ramsay Healthcare hospitals globally. As part of the Australian Health Sustainability Committee, Siobhan has been extremely enthusiastic and forthcoming with her work to help improve sustainability in healthcare around Australia and the globe. Welcome to Siobhan, thank you for your time to be here.
Thanks David. It's lovely to be here and talking to you about healthcare and sustainability. They're two good topics to link.
Yeah, they are. So this is part of the Australian Healthcare Sustainability Series for the podcast. And I thought, what better person to ask than someone who's literally at the forefront of it. Ramsay Health has done such amazing work in the sustainability space over the last few years and won many, many awards. What's it been like to be part of that journey?
I think it's been a really exciting time to join a healthcare organisation, particularly with the challenges that have been going on around Covid and, and . I don't think I need to restate any of those, but it's been exciting because despite all of those challenges, Ramsay still decided to continue on the sustainability journey and, and so, As a result of that, there's so much motivation to do more in this space. It's a, it's fantastic. So I think, yeah, that is the most exciting part for me in my role.
Yeah, I agree. Especially during Covid, even the NHS when they were really struggling to maintain patient numbers and beds in, in hospitals, they still made sustainability the priority. For the NHS and I believe Ramsay's done the same, you haven't actually lost focus on your sustainability goals, which has been amazing.
No, and it's been, really because we've been responding to what our people want, and that's really important to our board and our executive. And it's really, you know, the links between sustainability and healthcare are strong, so it makes sense that we, we do stuff more in this space.
Yeah, I agree. For for those who aren't necessarily familiar with all the great work that Ramsay does in the sustainability space, do you mind. Sort of briefly telling our listeners exactly what Ramsay do, and especially in the healthcare sustainability space and what you've done in the last few years, especially some of those awards that you've won, which I've been very impressed by.
Yeah, I you know, Ramsay's been on the same journey as a lot of healthcare organisations and, and in the past we really, you know, totally focused on patient quality and our people. So in recent times we've expanding that to make sure we're covering what we're doing from an environmental perspective. And so that's an area that, you know, is part of our focus. So, We've over the past couple of years brought together our regional businesses and developed what we call 'Ramsay Cares', our sustainability strategy, which is about caring for people, caring for planet, caring for community. And so that was the first time for us to really Focus on sustainability. Globally, we created a global sustainability committee and we started improving our reporting. But as part of that, there have been fantastic things going on in each of our regions around sustainability. And, for example, in Australia they've been really focused on trying to swap out single use plastics. And you know, there's a commitment to swap out. 50 million pieces over by the end of the year. So that's quite ambitious. But at the same time, you know, when you do small things, it could be a small thing. In healthcare, it does make a big impact because, you know, when you aggregate all this, the material that goes through hospitals, you know, across you know, more than 500 locations globally, it does make a big difference. So that's one of the key areas we've been looking at. We've been making sure we're putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to sustainability. So we've embedded a lot of our sustainability goals into our financing. So we've did a one and a half billion dollar sustainability loan. And so, you know, when you link your financing with your sustainability targets, it really. Focuses the organisation on delivering on those targets. So that's been a really fantastic thing. And in addition to that, I guess, you know, working around some of the, the other areas we've been looking at, greening out theaters looking at anesthetic gases and, and, and reducing the impact of that. So there's a lot to do in healthcare. I'm not gonna say we're anywhere near the end of the journey. I'd still say we're at the start of that journey. But it's an exciting time for us.
Yeah, I, I agree. And even though there is a long way to go, . Even though you're saying you haven't achieved all your goals yet. I would say Ramsay, especially . Are our leaders in this space, especially in the private sector space we've all worked in hospitals, officially private and public, where to even make a decision about a simple design is challenging. But you guys have got a global commitment and a global agreement, so that's very impressive. Where, where do you think that agreement came from? Was it more CEO? Was it from the ground up? Was it from the patients or the staff? Like how was that commitment made?
Yeah so, just before the pandemic, before my job was created, actually, they did some time talking across all our regional businesses talking to, hospital CEOs down to, hospital catering staff, trying to understand what was important to our people at Ramsay around sustainability. And so that's where 'Ramsay Cares' came from, and that's where, you know, there was. Obviously key issues around waste, climate, all those areas looking after our own people, mental health those key issues came through. So that's really where 'Ramsay Care' started. And then my role was created as, as part of that. So it's really, it's really been the executive and the board listening to our people is how I would say.
Wow, that, very impressive. I know through my research in sustainability healthcare, I think the statistics are about 75 to 80% of staff always wanna be part of the solution, and they constantly see opportunity for improvement in their hospitals, but it's very hard to make the change. So it's a very clear example of the research proving that, you know, the users want to be part of that change and the executives being able to implement that change, which is very rare, but also, very humbling to to hear I suppose.
Yes, there's, again, there's still plenty that people wanna do out in their hospitals, but, you know, we're trying, we're doing our bit.
It's very impressive, and you, you touched base before on your single use plastic removal which is very impressive. I assume that's things like water bottles, everything down to pharmaceutical medication holders. Would that be correct?
Yeah, so there's a range of areas they first started in, like the non-clinical space. So, you know, cuttlery, straws, medical cups for your tablets and those sorts of things. Some of the exciting. That they've been focusing on. You know, piloting across a few hospitals is the rigid containers to replace Steri wrap in our sterilisation process. So there's some really good initiatives that as they prove themselves up, hopefully we can roll out at scale. But, you know, all these things need a lot of thinking through and understanding, you know, the implications of that. But a lot of that's been led by, you know, really dedicated people on the ground, you know, CSSD, staff who've really sort of led the way and help design the solutions. So that's really exciting.
And would that also include throughout the supply chain procurement where some of your suppliers have to use, specialist plastic or, It's pretty much at the moment it's contained within Ramsay.
Yeah. At the moment it's been more focused on the things that we can swap out or change. Like sometimes it might be totally removed, so we were giving out a lot of water bottles, that's for sure. But now we've gone back to jugs and, and that has meant we've had to put in capital and put in more washing machines and there is a labour . Issue. in. terms of more staffing, but it's been a really positive initiative. In other areas, we're really starting to work with our suppliers around, you know, we require 80, you know, by 2026, we wanna have 80% of our spend. The supplies that make up. That to have an independent sustainability assessment. And so that's really the starting point for us to have that conversation with our suppliers around, you know, a whole range of issues, you know, from modern slavery through to, you know, our carbon emissions, our scope three emissions. So there's, yeah, there, we, we are trying to put a lot of the foundations in place so that we can then get into a more mature discussion with our suppliers in this space.
Yeah. Yeah, it's very impressive. You touched on before some of the resistance for change being a financial resistance where it does sometimes cost a little bit more money to create a more sustainable change. What are, what are some of the other challenges that Ramsay have faced in implementation of some of these changes?
Yeah, when it comes to things like waste, actually the biggest challenge is having space in your loading dock for extra bins. You know, we can put as many bins as you want and separate down to a degree, but if there's no room in the loading docks, you can't do that. So there's some sort of logistics and, and space challenges, so that's why it's really important to design these things. In. but overall, I guess it's making sure we are thinking about things from a whole-of-life cycle perspective rather than just, a short term, CapEx, assessment. That's probably the challenging part, you know, I'm sure everyone has that challenge.
Yeah. agree. you also just briefly touched on design where you mentioned that loading dock, which we've all been on a loading dock that doesn't have the capacity to. You know, achieve the operational functions of waste management and procurement and deliveries. So in reference to the design of a hospital, at what point does sustainability get involved? Is it during initiation, during the early phases of design or more than later phase?
Well, I think we understand the need to bring it in earlier, and we are working with our development team about how best we do that. You know, I don't think we have all the solutions on that one yet. And, and it also comes down to yeah, some of these things were designed quite a while ago and they're still, you know, yet to be. You know, built or so whether you can go back into these designs and change is a challenge, but I think obviously we all recognise that the earlier you can get in with these requirements, the better.
Yeah. I a hundred percent agree. A lot of research shows, even with way finding and sustainability, the sooner you get in the conversation and if you make that your KPI and your Target, the easier it is to create and design the hospital based on everyone's KPIs and everyone's goals. And especially if sustainability is a goal, whether it be the CEO or the designers or the sustainability team or the the nurses, then it's a much easier hospital to build and design around knowing that everyone's got that goal in mind.
Yes. And I think it's a challenge, you know, cause most of our developments would be, you know, extensions to existing facilities, you know, and, and I think if you're starting from a brand new Greenfield site, it's a different conversation as well. So I think these are the challenges that I think the whole sector faces, to be honest.
Yeah, I agree. What do you think some of the best teachings are from your personal career and also your work at Ramsay? Other people could learn from?
I think well from my career over time, I guess for me being in sustainability, it's a pretty exciting and sustainability at the moment. But in over the past, you know, decade, you had to be pretty persistent and, and stick to your principles when there's so many. You know, positive conversations. So understanding that sometimes it's just not the right time for these initiatives. And then actually you can go back and revisit these later and, and it becomes the right time. So I think that's a big story for sustainability. At Ramsay. I think it's been, for me, it's just been a very positive experience. People really wanna help, you know, they are people who care for people and they people are very motivated to do the right thing and, and try new ideas. So I think listening to the people on the ground and making sure, you know, their voices are heard in, in how you design these solutions is really important.
Knowing that the sustainability industry has been slow to start in comparison to the rest of the world, and those people in the sustainability industry have been really, really challenged over the last few years to get their voice heard. What do you think some of the improvements that other hospitals could be making right now and that they're constantly getting wrong when it especially comes to operations design rollout of new hospitals and refurb of hospitals?
Well, that's a very big question. David. I think an issue is is that people are used to saying no to sustainability initiatives and I think in more recent times, there's an appetite to do these things and, and bring them into projects but, everyone's mindsets might be, 'oh no, we won't do that'.... But so I think you have to challenge the status quo because I think the appetite is there now to make a change on, on these areas. So things that might not have got up 10 years ago will get up now. And I, I think that's across the board when it comes to, you know, from design of hospitals through to operations, so things that might have been tried in the past will have their, you know, their golden age now. So, so go for it.
Yeah. I think also the, the people in charge now, the people, the decision makers are 10 years older than they were, you know, 10 years ago, and they're that younger generation and the more-educated generation around sustainability and there's a lot of research now that just didn't exist 20 years ago, especially in health design. Especially in health sustainability, that what was a maybe without much evidence is certainly now a definitely with a lot of evidence. And that has proven even with climate change, where there were the naysay, but the research is irrefutable now. So I do think research has had a lot to do. With that change as well. And when you've got strong governments around the world leading the way it, it makes sense for, you know, our industry to follow as.
Yeah, and I in every industry being data-led is really important. Being data and customer-led is super important. So you're, right now we have the data on a lot of this stuff, but there's still lots of things out there where we don't have the data. There's a lot more to do particularly. around climate, around scope re emissions, trying to, you know, move beyond estimating your scope three. So actually, you know, being able to get hard data from your suppliers is an area that will evolve as well. So, this is not, done and dusted. Now this is still an involving still lots of areas that need to be improved on.
Yeah. Yeah. I hundred, a hundred percent agree. You are currently part of the Australian Health Sustainability Committee, which is a very passionate bunch of people who are leading the way in sustainability and helping reduce the carbon footprint. Within the Austral healthcare sector what was, what were some of the reasons why you chose to join the AHSC, and what would you like to achieve out of being part of the committee?
I think, again, being part of the change for the, in the sector, and I think there's lots of really good design ideas out there, but they need to be brought to life through, you know, Organisations like my own. So part of it for me is also learning to see what's best practice out there and what we should be aiming for. But also to make sure that sector moves together, you know, because it's hard when you are the. You know, moving on your own. So we do wanna see everyone move with us on sustainability in the healthcare sector.
Yeah, I agree. The, the benefit of benefit of the ah, HSC is we've got people literally from around Australia, all experts in their field, whether it be construction, design operations, models of care development, and everyone has this common goal and common passion to try and help reduce the carbon footprint of Australian healthcare, and everyone approaches it very differently, but that common thread that we have there is certainly a good uniting front for all of us. And then as we move forward as a team, it will certainly help not only us, but also Australia, but hopefully the private and public sector as well. So what would, have you been in this industry for several years yourself? What would be some of the things that you would like to see in the next 10 to 20 years in this sector?
I'd really love to see, more than, you know, what is Net Zero? What is the net zero hospital? You know, there, there is a few examples out there around the world, but really starting to see that come to life generally in the market. How we do that effectively from an existing facility perspective as well. There's loads of opportunities, particularly around moving to more renewable energy in terms of helping to reduce the impact of hospitals from a scope one, scope two perspective. So there's really good opportunity there, but seeing the whole sector move on, that would be fantastic. And the consumables, I think the waste and consumables is the biggest challenge for the sector. And, and how we solve for that. But whilst maintaining high quality patient care is really, you know, it's re that is a big challenge, I think.
Yeah, I, I agree. I'd love to see Australia's first carbon-neutral hospital. It's something that I think a lot of people have a vision for, and I think we're getting close, but hopefully it does happen in the next few. And finally, before we go today, what would be one of those take home messages for people in the industry and in the sector who are trying to make a change?
Yeah, small changes make a big difference in the sector. I would keep coming back to that. Small changes because it such a big sector. So if you can make those small changes, which you might might not be making a difference, but when you add them up across all those hospitals and all those healthcare clinics, it does make a big difference. And to, yeah, just don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Just keep going. You know? I think we just need lots of passionate people to really drive change in the sector.
Very wise words, and thank you very much. Thank you so much, Jovan, for your time. It's been a pleasure talking to you.
Great, thank you.
No worries. 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.
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.
Hello David. Thank you for having me. Very excited to be chatting to you.
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?
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.
For, for those that are only listening and can't have visual, and he has a amazing there.
Nude nut. Nude nut is is what I've been going with lately. Yes.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Yep. And a hundred percent.. you're welcome!.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Thanks, David. It's been fantastic being part of this and having a conversation with you. Really enjoyed it.
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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