So long and thanks for all the fish!

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This is my last contribution from the desk of Beacon’s CEO.  As some of you will know, I took the last six months away from Beacon to project manage the build of a family holiday home in Wainui Bay, northwest Nelson.  The Wainui house has been a pleasure, working with a clever architect and skilled, wise tradesmen.  They are an awesome team who willingly bring their knowledge to the build, and fiercely debate what they believe is the right way of building things.  I might be the project manager but they are making the key decisions.  End result is a home that, while still on the grid, is largely self-sufficient, and is only 6-8% over budget.

I have been working with Beacon for almost twelve years, and now it’s time for younger talent to move this unique organisation forward and for me to pursue new challenges.  It has been a fantastic journey.  It all started with Beacon Pathway Limited (2004 - 10), one of a small number of research consortia initiated by the then-Labour government to tackle big challenges facing New Zealand.  It brought together industry, research, local and central government to focus on the opportunities and pathways to improve the sustainability of New Zealand’s homes and neighbourhoods.

I learned very quickly that ‘in god we trust, all others bring data’ (thanks to W Edwards Deming).  The power of data was evident in the 2008 revisions to H1 of the Building Code, mandating higher insulation standards for new homes, based on monitoring results from Beacon’s NOW Home. 
Two years into the programme it became evident that, firstly, we had most of the knowledge required to deliver better performing homes and neighbourhoods, we just weren’t using that knowledge; and secondly, that the real challenge for New Zealand is the cold damp state of our existing homes.  Demonstration (showing what can be done) and advocacy (tell the story to the right people) became key tools for Beacon to push research into change.  We learned that working collaboratively across the sector was the key to achieving change, even though at times, it was hard and frustrating work, particularly as ‘business as usual’ is often the easier option.

In 2010, following the completion of the government research programme, Beacon Pathway Incorporated was established to utilise the knowledge gathered over the previous five years.  Highlights of the last six years have been the collaborative demonstration projects, particularly Build Back Smarter and the New Category of Home project.
Build Back Smarter was a Beacon-initiated response to improve the performance of quake-damaged houses.  Working with Christchurch City, government agencies, product suppliers and the insurance sector, Beacon demonstrated in a number of pilot houses that repairing earthquake damage was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to install insulation, upgrade heating, lighting etc.  The project was subsequently picked up by Christchurch City, supported by government agencies, providing advice to owners of quake-damaged homes.

The New Category of Home project was an industry initiative, project managed by Beacon, to design and build better performing homes, offsite, utilising modern methods of manufacture.  These collaborative projects were extremely demanding, involved multiple parties, each seeking their own outcomes.  Much was learned but the challenge remains; how do we bring about change in the sector to deliver better performing homes - both new and existing?

During my time with Beacon I have been fortunate to work with a fantastic team, including Vicki (who managed the Beacon Ltd. programme, working with me for almost a decade and now leads the Home Performance Advisor training), Verney (project manager, researcher and presenter extraordinaire), Glenda (project manager, home performance advisor and local government specialist), Andrea (who for the last 11 years has done a fantastic job of managing Beacon’s communications, including making sense of my ramblings), and lots of other talented researchers. 
Beacon Pathway Inc is fortunate to have an experienced and diverse Board, who have been very supportive of their CEO - my thanks in particular to the Chairperson, Lesley Jenkins, who has chaired the Incorporated Society over the last six years.

My special thanks to Beacon’s member and partner organisations - New Zealand Steel, Resene, Christchurch City, InZone Industries, EECA and IAG who have been active participants and supportive funders. I would also like to acknowledge all those businesses and individuals who have participated in Beacon projects, workshops and other activities, and taken the opportunity to utilise some of our learning into their businesses, homes and neighbourhoods.

The challenge remains. How do we incorporate the knowledge we have to build better performing new homes and how do we improve the performance of our existing homes and ensure all New Zealanders get to live in warm, dry, affordable homes?
Finally, the relevance of the sub title at the beginning of this column, which I have borrowed from Douglas Adams - So Long and Thanks for all the Fish was the title of the fourth book in Adams’ trilogy A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  As the Beacon team knows, I am very partial to a good fish and henceforth I may well be spending a lot more time in Wainui Bay, fishing!

Nick Collins
May 2017