The national conversation around sustainable development in Australia tends to focus on Melbourne and Sydney.
But two big innovators to watch are Adrian Fini and Ben Lisle through their firm, Hesperia, who are achieving a few firsts in sustainability.
In June, the firm was certified as a carbon neutral organisation through the federal government’s Climate Active initiative. And late last year, the company signed the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment and became WA’s first B Corporation in the property sector.
But what really sets the firm apart is the innovation in its projects, and its willingness to implement sustainability initiatives that push the limits of WA’s planning codes forward – even it means operating its own brickworks.
This has led to sustainability guru Professor Peter Newman citing the company as an exemplar of green development in the “wicked and wise west”.
Hesperia’s managing director Ben Lisle says he takes this kind of leadership for his company seriously.
“I am really keen not to window dress. I don’t like talking and not doing,” he tells The Fifth Estate during a recent wide ranging conversation.
This means hiring people to ensure the team understands global and national best practice and that it has a sustainability strategy “for every one of our projects. We are looking to minimise our carbon footprint.”
How Hesperia came about
Hesperia, which means “western land” in Ancient Greek, was formed in July 2020, after Adrian Fini and Ben Lisle merged their businesses, Fini Group and Linc Property.
At the time, the combined entity had around $1 billion of projects under development, with a strong pipeline of future industrial, commercial, and residential opportunities.
The pair met about 15 years ago through mutual philanthropic interests. They began working together and investing in each other’s projects, eventually operating from a common office in Subiaco.
“I approached Adrian as someone where I went: ‘I can do a handshake deal with you. You’re sophisticated enough to take the risk with me and here are the 36 ways it could go wrong.’ He said: ‘Okay, well I’ll back the jockey’. I said: ‘I don’t really like your analogy – I’m not that small!’” Lisle says with a laugh.
Soon Linc was growing rapidly and, over time, provided increasing back office support to the Fini Group. As Fini’s other partners became less active, he suggested they merge the two businesses.
Lisle had to weigh up a few issues: would he lose his independence? At the time he didn’t have to think about a partner, he made all the calls.
The quid pro quo is he would get access to “Adrian’s fantastic track record” he recalls.
A pioneer in WA’s industrial market
Before starting Linc, Lisle had a background studying engineering and physics at university, before moving into management consulting, finance, and eventually property development.
It’s shaped how he views the complex challenges that come with sustainable development.
“I guess for me, I’ve become an engineer at heart. I’ve had it beaten out of me a bit by management consultants, but I like to understand the first principles because that’s how you solve problems.”
The highly cyclical nature of the Perth property market – and its broader economy – led Lisle to focus on industrial development. It was an area where the only other developer focusing on it was the state government through Development WA.
“I got really interested in the cyclicality of the Perth market, and why it is the way it is. There’s a lot of talk about how we have a boom and bust economy,” Lisle says.
“Because of our isolation, we’re a slightly bigger version of the northwest shelf – when it’s on it’s on, and then when it’s off it’s really off.
“We have very, very large cycles and demand relative to the general size economy massive projects. And then we have quite poor supply responses in both people and property.”
Industrial development, said Lisle, meant dealing with a raft of what he describes as “hideously complicated” environmental issues.
These included managing pre-existing federal environmental issues, wetlands, bushlands, Indigenous heritage sites, heat, sensitive water issues, the major intersection of a six lane highway, high voltage feeders, pressure mains and pump stations.
And that was on just one industrial development!
“There’s not really anyone else in Perth who’ll deal with it,” Lisle says. And he means that literally.
“The state released their industrial land strategy that mentioned that private industry was stepping into that industrial space where Development WA has traditionally been, and they mentioned six estates. They were all ours.
“There’s not really anyone here who will deal with the complexity that we will.”
A growing force in sustainable development
Since the merger, Hesperia has secured a broad portfolio and pipeline of projects spanning commercial, residential, industrial, health, hospitality, retail and mixed-use developments.
By carefully navigating the GFC and pandemic, it has secured new opportunities and partnerships, while scaling up its internal team from about 25 to about 70 staff.
More importantly, to achieve its carbon neutral certification, the firm undertook an in-depth process to measure the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated by its business activities, and implemented several strategies to reduce them.
All Hesperia projects now start with clear sustainability goals, strategies and budgets, Lisle says.
“Foremost is that projects must be carbon neutral across both embodied carbon and ongoing operations. With our focus on acting immediately, we don’t see why all our projects can’t be carbon neutral now.”
As part of the strategy, it’s seeking out ways to have all project operate with renewable energy sources, from on and off the grid, as well as sustainable water sources for site irrigation that don’t involve draining Perth’s limited aquifers through mains water.
It is implementing best practices to reduce emissions across its supply chain, including by using low carbon concrete mixes, and helping staff to find more sustainable ways to commute to work.
On the circular economy front, it’s improving its waste management and recycling rates, plus finding new ways to incorporate recycled materials into projects.
And, going forward, the company is seeking third party accreditation for its projects, including through third party frameworks such as Green Star, EnviroDevelopment, and One Planet Living.
“We minimise operating carbon emissions through energy efficient design including thermally efficient construction, efficient heating and cooling solutions and low energy lighting and materials selection,” Lisle says.
Where the company doesn’t operate a building directly, it works with tenants to help them optimise their operations. If the carbon emissions can’t be mitigated, it buys carbon offsets from projects that sequester carbon whilst delivering broader environmental and social outcomes.
“At least 50 per cent of these offsets are sourced from Australian biodiversity-based projects that deliver high quality revegetation.”
Buying a brickworks
The firm’s 650 residential lot Rivermark residential master planned community is a prime example of the company’s willingness to innovate – even when that means operating a brickworks.
Nestled beside the Swan River in Viveash, in Perth’s west, the project has received an EnviroDevelopment 6 Leaf accreditation from Urban Development Institute of Australia for its sustainability performance across six areas: ecosystems, waste, energy, materials, water and community.
It has also been independently certified by WA’s Water Corporation as a Gold Waterwise development for its water efficiency and natural storm water management.
The estate is built across the site of Midland Brick’s brickwork, which had operated continuously on the site for more than 70 years. But much of the land had been either wasted, or used to store bricks.
To acquire the site, Hesperia and its partners bought Midland Brick off Boral – not just the land, but the entire company – in a deal completed in September 2020.
“We saw some angles around how to extract value out of the plants and equipment and stock, which allows us to make the land work, and then sell it to BCG,” Lisle says.
“We operated the brickwork for a while which is, again, an example of how we’re not standard property developers. We actually are running active brickworks, whilst then rationalising various bits and pieces of the assets, and then doing a sale.
While owning and operating the brick company, the development firm consolidated the brick production to the northern corner of the 83 hectare site.
This unlocked land for residential redevelopment, including tree-lined streets and more open space that allowed the public to access the Swan River foreshore.
Hesperia then sold the brickmaking business to BGC, including a lease on the land where two of Midland Brick’s three operating brick kilns are located, as well as brick inventory.
Rolling out the renewables
On the residential development side of things, one of the big challenges at Rivermark was rolling out batteries to each house for storing renewable energy – especially given the high state of batteries.
“The problem is there’s a really long payback. If someone wants to sell a house, what then? And so in the end, we said let’s grant it with a no downside position for people in the estate, where the estate would effectively subsidise the batteries as part of our green initiative,” Lisle says.
“That’s then a separate renewable energy business, which will provide the battery solution. And essentially, we’ll say to the customer: ‘You can see what your usage is, you can see what you’re saving by optimising your solar. If you’re not saving money, you can exit at no cost.’
“The hope is then that we can essentially have everybody in the estate on solar on a battery. We’ve got solar anyway, in the build, why would you not take the battery? You’re more green, and you’re saving money. And if you’re not saving money, just exit.
ROE / Roe Highway Logistics Park
The industrial land development legacy from Linc continues through projects such as the $500 million Roe Highway Logistics Park (ROE), which Western Australia’s first 6 Star Green Star – Design & As Built industrial facility.
ROE has received a $95 million investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) as its first direct investment to reduce embodied carbon in property construction.
Launched in early 2019, it is now home to top logistics and industrial services businesses including: Sandvik, CHEP, Silk, Northline, KTrans, and Expro.
The site was built with a range of low-carbon building materials, including a concrete from Boral that replaced an emissions-intensive traditional ingredient, Portland cement, with industrial fly ash and recycled aggregates.
Other sustainability initiatives include:
- use of building materials in existing warehouses to reduce energy use by improving heating control within the buildings, such as double glazing and specialist insulation
- reduced carbon concrete in five new major warehouses to be constructed in next 18 months
- on site water recycling and state-of-the art storm water management
- low energy lighting in buildings and across the estate
- 2 MW of solar PV that can be drawn on by tenants in warehouses owned by ROE
- grid-friendly technology such as smart inverters, smart metering, power factor correction and voltage control to enable a contribution to the WA South West Interconnected System
- strategic native tree planting across the estate
- conservation and enhancement of cockatoo roost area, bird monitoring, and complementary research into cockatoo movements across the metropolitan area, including the Adopt a Cocky Nest Project
Bigger things to come…
For other developers looking to go green, Lisle says it’s important to not underestimate the strength of consumer interest in sustainability and the shift towards demanding sustainable practices.
“Look at this change as an opportunity to differentiate yourself and your business to customers and staff. Sustainability is something you can build businesses on. You don’t always know the answer when you start, but that’s part of the new opportunities opening up in our sector.”
While some national firms operate out in WA, such as LendLease, Lisle says that Hesperia is unique in terms of local Perth-based development company.
“We want to keep pushing the boundaries and hopefully then share in what we’re doing and sharing knowledge, learning from other people and seeing everything get better.,” he says.
“We want to get the knowledge, we want to build the software, we want to build the systems while it’s hard while there are barriers to entry. So as technology catches up, we’re ahead of the pack.
“Hesperia has only been around a couple of years as Hesperia. We’re just at the start of this journey.”