Ep 120 - Future Foundations of Sustainability

17 min 55 sec

In this episode of Timber Talks, we chat with Kate Nason from Frasers Property. We dive into their sustainability goals and the allure of passivehaus design, a passion of Kate's. We discuss the balance between energy efficiency and embodied carbon, the evolving building codes embracing this design, and the role of modern construction methods. Kate also sheds light on the future interplay of sustainability in private and public sectors. This is the second time we've had Kate on the show and she's a genuine superstar.


Timber Talks Series 6

Series six of WoodSolutions Timber Talks, provides the latest informative and entertaining information about the best design practices, latest innovations and interesting case studies and interviews with world leading experts in timber design, specification and construction.

Episode transcript

Adam Jones (00:08):

So thanks so much for coming on the podcast for the second time. Kate, can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself for those who are just joining us and didn't hear the first episode and what you do?

Kate Nason (00:20):

Sure. Thanks very much for having me again. It's nice to be back on and not be in lockdown this time. So yeah, I guess I'm a sustainability advisor at Fraser's Property. I'm an architect by background, so I've dabbled in sustainability consulting as well. So I feel, yeah, I've touched a few different sides of the sustainability fence now. I got into sustainability just from working on a really cool project essentially, which, yeah, I think you've done a few podcasts on it already. The Gillies fall project, which was Mass Timber and Passive House. So that was a big game changer in my career. So I've just followed that interest ever since. I'm also the chair at the Passive House Association. I've been on the board for close to five years now, so it's time for me to step down soon. It's really flown by and yeah, I guess it sort of ties in a lot of the things that I'm quite passionate about, which are building performance, healthy buildings, energy efficient buildings. I get to double with that in my day job and in the volunteer role at the association as well.

Adam Jones (01:37):

Yeah, amazing. And since we last spoke, what are, in the topic of sustainability, what are some of the most recent trends and focuses and things like that at say the high strategic level from, in your opinion of the construction industry as a whole? And I'm sure you've got an opinion on behalf of FRAs as well.

Kate Nason (01:58):

Yeah, so there's lots happening at a board level in major firms. Sustainability is really up there on the focus areas for risk at the moment. We've obviously seen a lot of companies now commit to net zero carbon, and the more companies that do that, the more expensive the offsets get, essentially. So it's now become a real financial risk for companies. It's also being driven by the major banks. So if you've heard of a sustainability linked loan or a green finance, that's also a bit of an incentive at the moment to really double down on your sustainability efforts and curb carbon emissions. So yeah, it's a topic which thankfully has made it right up to the board level now, not just the odd initiative here or there. It's actually coming from a very strategic lens. And I guess there's so many different ways that we can address it and the way that gets implemented on projects, we have to work with a whole remit of experts to make sure that the accounting and the reporting and the implementation is all in line with international standards.


So it's becoming one of those quite regulated areas as well. But another trend, which is picking up quite rapidly is also the biodiversity, I guess impact mitigation. So we probably have heard of the dual crisis of the climate change and biodiversity crisis, which means we are losing an obscene amount of biodiversity each year, and it sort of one triggers the other as well. So the less biodiversity we have, the worse our climate resilience is, and the worse our climate or our global warming is the worst, that impacts biodiversity as well. So we sort of have to tackle both in parallel. So we are seeing, again, some banks and some financial institutions pushing for disclosure in terms of biodiversity impacts as well. And if you've heard of COP 15, which is different, there's a climate related one and there's a biodiversity related one. So in December last year we had essentially the Paris agreement for biodiversity get signed. So Australia is a signatory of that. So we'll just see this topic. It's off to a very, I guess rapidly, what am I trying to say? It's off to a very big start. So we'll see that area change a lot in the next few years.

Adam Jones (04:49):

Yeah, fantastic. And you're interested to learn more about green finance. So how does that actually work and how are the incentives better for say more sustainable buildings in that sense?

Kate Nason (05:06):

So in a nutshell, and I'm not an expert at this by any means, in a nutshell, banks just want or investors want to know that they're investing in something that isn't going to ruin the planet in a nutshell. So they will give incentives on say the interest rate of your loan. So when we're talking about big loans, it's obviously a big saving that can be made and then obviously reinvested in projects to create more, I guess, more impact. So what we're seeing is there's, I guess a global ladder, a competitive ladder, sorry, it's all good. There's a competitive ladder for essentially a sustainability ranking and it's called the GREs Ladder. And if you talk to anyone in corporate sustainability, they'll know what that is. It's essentially a big reporting mechanism. And in a nutshell, we have a lot of certifications that then feed into that rating.


So which is managed by the Green Building Council, that's a mechanism to help you get a ranking on that ladder. And that ladder is essentially what finances will base their selection on. So if you're in the top ranks of that letter, you're more likely to get finance in a nutshell. I'm sure there's lots of other little bits and pieces that I've skipped over there, but in a nutshell, we at Frass, for example, have a mandate to reach five star, green Star on all of our projects, and it directly feeds up into the ability to get better finance deals.

Adam Jones (06:58):

Yeah, amazing. And you also mentioned some consistency on reporting and things like that globally. Is there starting to be consistency across the board? Because I feel like when there's subjectivity is very easy to game and get the benefits of marketing and based on just some loose definitions and stuff like that. So is there much happening in that regard?

Kate Nason (07:20):

Yeah, I think that probably a lot more work needs to be done, but it's definitely an area that, again, it's getting cracked down on quite heavily and the way that you report and the metrics you report on, and there's a whole bunch of different regulatory bodies that are looking into it. And for example, the Science-Based Targets initiative is one that has become rapidly adopted for carbon accounting. So yeah, that's just an example. And the International Sustainability Standards Board, I think is the one that's driving it. But yeah, don't hold me to that. There's a lot going on in this space.

Adam Jones (08:06):

Yeah, Alice Heaps. So as the chair of the Passive House Association, we went deep into that space. Now, last conversation, can you tell us a little bit again about maybe for listeners what that is and how is that evolving as a design philosophy or a design? I dunno if you call it a philosophy or design strategy or whatever it is around Australia.

Kate Nason (08:30):

Sure. I guess passive house is one of the ways that we can reduce operational carbon. It's not going to solve the biodiversity issues and it's not going to solve the embodied carbon issues, but it's definitely going to help us reduce operational carbon, which at the moment, if we just built to the code, operational carbon is still the biggest chunk of emissions in our buildings because we have to account for it over 60 years of the building's life. So it's a big responsibility on designers to think how is that building going to operate for well until it's demolished, essentially.


So if we can solve the operational carbon problem, which we've got all of the tools and the strategies to do that, and passive house is one of those, then we can then focus on the embodied carbon and I guess solve this carbon problem in a holistic way. But the great thing about operational carbon and the passive house standard is that it doesn't just address the energy. It also addresses human health and wellbeing as well. So any building can be zero energy and operation, just don't turn any lights on and don't turn the air conditioning on, but it's not going to be the most livable building to be in. So we want buildings to be livable, healthy, comfortable, but also use no energy. So that's where the passive house standards sort of helps set a bunch of principles in terms of design and construction, and then it holds you accountable to, I guess, the planning and design of that building as a built product.

Adam Jones (10:18):

Yeah, that's for new buildings. I'm shooting from the hip here, and it might be just a silly question a little bit, but what about retrofitting existing buildings or homes for any sort of air in a shocker at the moment? I'm sure everyone listening right now is some buildings in Australia are like that. Is there any sort of hope to upgrade homes or larger scale buildings, which is I guess a bit different to what we're talking about?

Kate Nason (10:42):

It's definitely more challenging when you're dealing with pre peak, pre-constructed building. Obviously there's different strategies you can take and there's different things that you could focus on. The great thing, for example, with the passive house tool is that you could model your existing building and then understand what areas of the building are the most effective to upgrade and when. So there's a retrofit planner and essentially as long as you've got some costing information, you can figure out what's the best, most cost-effective upgrade to do when as well for the performance uplift. So you might model a few options for Windows and realize that windows are definitely the biggest, have the biggest impact on your thermal comfort. And then you can obviously tackle those first, or it might be something as little as just sealing up where you can visibly see cracks and put some more temporary measures in place until you can afford the windows, for example. So you can map out your retrofit plan over maybe 10 years because these things do cost a lot of money and you can't always tackle everything at once.

Adam Jones (12:09):

Yeah, yeah. Makes sense. One of the things that I interested in, is there trade-offs between solving for embodied carbon, solving for operational carbon or thirdly, solving things for human health? Are they sometimes is a bit like whack-a-mole, you solve one problem but you're ramping up something somewhere else?

Kate Nason (12:31):

Yeah, I mean every building will be slightly different, but I guess the direct, I guess, benefit of solving the operational carbon piece is you save money on your bills, you are more comfortable, that kind of thing. Obviously, there are nuances to that. If you create an airtight house and it doesn't have ventilation, you may not be solving the health problem there. There's definitely the right combination of each thing. The embodied carbon piece, obviously if you're going to put extra insulation in your building, you are using double glazing rather than single glazing. There will be an impact on embodied carbon, but you've also got to weigh up that 60 year-ish lifespan of the building to see what impact it has on the operational carbon because it might actually, in comparison be a really, really good upgrade to do. I think as well, embodied carbon is one of those things that is going to help us in the next generation and the generation after that.


So although we don't get a direct benefit from reducing operational carbon, we wouldn't know whether we were in a building with green concrete or normal concrete, for example. It's that doing something for the next generation is the benefit. So yeah, there's a few different ways to look at the equation, but health and operational carbon are very closely linked, and I guess that's where the passive house standard really sits really nicely and sort of solves both. But the embodied carbon being in the timber space yourself, there's lots of overlap between health and timber and embodied carbon reduction. So that's another sort of area that we could explore.

Adam Jones (14:31):

And what are your thoughts on, say, modern methods of construction? So mass timber being one of the ways of doing it, but essentially offsite construction, is that more well suited for more sustainable design like we're talking about now compared to say in situ?

Kate Nason (14:46):

I think both have their pros and cons, I guess, and it's just what the site conditions are, what the budget is, what the design, I guess constraints are. I've worked for a prefabricated architecture firm before, and for schools and those kind of large scale replicable buildings that you need to build a whole school over the school holidays or a series of buildings in a short amount of time, offsite construction is ideal. You can just build it and then the onsite time is reduced massively and you just have to install essentially. I think there are definitely benefits if you are going down the high-performance building route, you can really control the construction if you've got it in a factory. It's safer working environment for your staff as well. And yeah, I guess it shifts the design and the thinking upfront rather than solving it on site. So yeah, it makes you resolve all the details early on paper before you even start building, which is probably a huge benefit to the quality control on site as well. So you can design it all in from the beginning.

Adam Jones (16:13):

Totally. As we're getting toward the end now, Kate, what do you see is the future of sustainability and construction? Generic open question to end it on, where do you see things going between now and say 2030?

Kate Nason (16:27):

That's a tough one. I would like to think that we can all solve the operational carbon piece and the incentives to do so, I guess will really help us get there and that we share learnings as to how we've done that. The embodied carbon piece, I really hope we've solved that as well, but we might still be working through it, especially with some of those big material groups like Concrete, it's, it's going to be challenging, but you never know. There's some really smart people out there that might be onto something really innovative. And yeah, I really hope that nature and biodiversity have made their way into mainstream considerations and that all of the different topics of sustainability are, I guess, more integrated with each other because they all have inherent benefits and interrelations. So yeah, some more holistic approach would be great to see as well.

Adam Jones (17:36):

Yeah, amazing. If people want to find out more about yourself and what you do or anything we've been talking about, where should people be going?

Kate Nason (17:45):

You could contact me at phrases. I can leave my email address with Adam. Yeah, or I can

Adam Jones (17:55):

Find you on LinkedIn as well if you LinkedIn,

Kate Nason (17:57):

Yes. That's a way better option.

Adam Jones (18:01):

Some people have shared their emails in the past and it'll be interesting to see how

Kate Nason (18:05):

Maybe Doche,

Adam Jones (18:06):


Kate Nason (18:07):

Okay. LinkedIn.

Adam Jones (18:09):

LinkedIn's good. It's been awesome to chat to you again, Kate. Thank you so much. It's been great. So thanks for your time.

Kate Nason (18:16):

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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