This year Britomart broadened its sustainability commitments beyond Green Star Performance ratings to work with Toitū Envirocare. Britomart’s sustainability director Mark Sinclair talks to Jeremy Hansen about assessing carbon emissions and establishing a plan to reduce them.

Jeremy Hansen This year Britomart is expanding its sustainability efforts, continuing to utilise the Green Star Performance Tool and also establishing a carbon assessment from Toitū to embark on a carbon reduction plan. What’s behind this decision?

Mark Sinclair It was a decision to look at not only Green Star projects but also at emissions to atmosphere. Our Green Star tools don’t measure carbon output – they track the energy efficiency of buildings and utilities. Toitū is more focused on emissions from our buildings: in other words, our carbon footprint and the impact we have in Auckland’s atmosphere and the greater world.

Are they complementary?

Yes I think so. One needs the other. All the data we capture in our Green Star calculations feeds through into Toitū and some the other way.

Why is this happening now?

We introduced it for our business at The Landing [the 1,000-acre heritage estate in the Bay of Islands that, like Britomart, is under the stewardship of Cooper and Company], and we thought it would be beneficial for both parts of the business to do it at the same time. 

What changes is the Toitū carbon reduction plan resulting in?

Our carbon reduction plan comes from the inventory that we prepare to work out our overall footprint. The carbon reduction plan looks at our year’s emissions and sets a path for continued reduction thereafter. It’s making the management team more aware of the impact our buildings have on the environment. 

Carbon is a much wider issue than the energy efficiency of a building. It’s bringing to light the impact that we have on the generation of CO2. I hadn’t realised, for example, what effect losing two kilos of refrigerant has on the environment. To cool our buildings, we use refrigerant gas in a vessel; accidentally discharging the gas to atmosphere has significant impact on our carbon measurement. This is how measurement and targeting raises performance, because it raises awareness. It improves the overall understanding of carbon dioxide and the impact we’re having. 

These measurements take in the diesel we run for our generators, the electricity we consume, the natural gas we use in heating. The better we understand that measurement, the more we also consider our impact on an individual level – the carbon emissions of driving to work, throwing out a coffee cup, the electricity we consume, the natural gas we might use in heating and cooking, our domestic travel. It all has an impact. 

Is Britomart running at a standard you’re happy with? 

I think we’re already running at a high standard, and our team understands the direction we’re taking. We can always do more and we are doing it. We are on a good path to making a positive difference to reducing our carbon and running our buildings as efficiently as we can. 

Buildings use diesel backup generators, natural gas for heating, and so on. Are the days of these technologies numbered?

Natural gas is of course a fossil fuel, and there’s a lot of talk about transferring to electrical heating through new design and technologies. They’re being developed now. That’s great for countries that produce electricity from a green environment, but it’s not so good for countries that burn coal for electricity. So we need a 360-degree view on all of this. We could look at photovoltaic cells, wind generation, there are many things we can add to buildings. Whenever there’s a crisis, there are new ideas to beat the crisis. We’re in that crisis at the moment so there will be new ideas coming out, new pathways to take to reduce it. This framework forces us to consider those ideas and keep an open mind about new ways of working.

This all comes in the context of the recent report by the IPCC which notes that climate change is accelerating. What’s your reaction to it?

It’s worrying and deeply concerning that we as a human race aren’t moving fast enough to save ourselves. We’re stuck in our habits of old and we can’t seem to develop new ones. I worry about it a lot, about what my kids will have to deal with as the weather changes and sea levels rise, and I think they are worried too about the long-term future. 

Has this process changed your personal behaviour? 

It’s made me more aware how much of an impact we make on a daily basis. I’ve been walking more, taking the bike. It has been enlightening for me. 

There’s been talk that the scale of the problem makes it hard to think that individual actions will make a difference.

If we all do our part, some of that will make a massive difference. We all look at it in a big picture, but that big picture is made up of a series of actions made by individuals going about their daily business. Tonnes of carbon dioxide mean nothing to the average person, it’s an abstract concept. But if we make it understandable in a unit like a block of butter, you have more of an understanding about what to reduce. Individual behaviour pattern changes will save the day, and all of us need to do our part. We hear about these the costs of climate change being priced into markets. That’s being driven by consumer change. The reason we’re pushing hard in these areas is fundamental: Britomart Group’s business approach has always been about the long term, and sustainability is a natural and intrinsic part of that.

NEXT / Read about our social sustainability initiatives, including our native tree giveaway and Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art.