The Property Council’s National Sustainability Roundtable has kicked a lot of goals lately. Vicinity Centres’ general manager of sustainability and roundtable chair, Melissa Schulz shares some key highlights.
Schulz has been an active member of the National Sustainability Roundtable for more than five years, and has chaired the group since 2019.
During this time, the roundtable has been involved in several industry game changers, from a platform to address modern slavery to a policy document that can guide Australia towards net zero buildings.
“One of the things that I’ve been really proud of is the Property Council’s modern slavery supplier platform,” Schulz says.
The supplier platform responds to the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act, which came into force on 1 January 2019 and heralded a new reporting era for larger companies operating in Australia.
The Act requires companies with annual revenues of more than $100 million to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains and to demonstrate the actions they are taking to address those risks.
“Sixteen Property Council players banded together to create a platform that gathers and collates information from industry suppliers on their modern slavery risks as well as actions to address those exposures in their operations and supply chains,” Schulz explains.
Suppliers complete a single questionnaire that is accessible through an online dashboard, enabling the participating Property Council members to collect, compare and share data, and saving suppliers significant time on reporting.
“We were really ahead of the game because we started working on a solution as soon as we knew there was a possibility that legislation was coming.”
Another highlight for Schulz was last year’s launch of Every Building Counts by federal minister for energy and emissions reduction, Angus Taylor.
Buildings account for more than 50 per cent of electricity use in Australia and almost a quarter of its emissions. Every Building Counts, authored in collaboration with the Green Building Council of Australia, contains 75 recommendations that can drive emissions reduction in line with Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments.
Schulz says the report is the culmination of many years of work within the roundtable and more broadly and provides a practical pathway to low emissions buildings.
The roundtable is a place of expertise, and Schulz says the group works closely with teams administering rating tools like NABERS and Green Star to ensure they continue to drive best practice sustainability outcomes.
“Our achievements to date are a testament to the members of the roundtable, which wouldn’t be possible without everyone’s willingness to put in the hard work.”
Schulz explains that climate resilience is the next big collective focus area for the roundtable.
“It’s an area the roundtable has been keen to work on together for some time, but Australia’s horror summer bushfire season has definitely heightened the groups attention and focus.”
Climate resilience has been of particular interest for Schulz, who has led Vicinity’s climate resilience work to date. This has included a portfolio-wide risk assessment of the company’s assets back in 2016 to understand the potential impacts of climate change and a deep dive into climate scenario analysis to understand the related financial implications. Vicinity has also invested $73 million into Australia’s largest shopping centre solar rollout.
After completing this work, Schulz agrees the industry must come together to standardise its approach.
“Vicinity is one of a number of companies who have undertaken their own climate scenario analysis, and it’s clear having been through this process that without the guiderails of agreed best practice standards and criteria to build such models, it’s very tricky to compare the robustness of one approach against another,” she says.
The industry has a long track record of collaborating on standards. Schulz says the roundtable is working with groups outside of the property industry to ensure “we are accessing the latest thinking and leveraging the great efforts already underway in this space to make sure our work aligns with other sectors facing significant climate change risks.”
After five-and-a-half years leading the sustainability function at Vicinity Centres, Schulz is excited to be taking up an executive role as general manager sustainability at QIC Global Real Estate.
“I leave Vicinity really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in sustainability during my time there. I start the new role at QIC GRE in October, and look forward to being part of the executive committee there and working with the broader team to embed sustainability considerations across the business, including in the most senior levels of decision making. It’s certainly a fantastic opportunity.”