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Photo of signage on top of the Woodside building in Perth, Western Australia.

Why I no longer write for Sanctuary Magazine

In the first half of 2021, I received a phone call from the editor of Sanctuary, who was interested in featuring the Geenunginy Bo residence in the upcoming issue of the magazine as the showcase project for Sustainable House Day. Needless to say, my clients and I were very excited to be selected for this opportunity. The clients and I sent through information and photos we had for the project, and a freelance journalist was engaged to write the article. I understand my clients exchanged some emails with the journalist to organise a time to meet up to be interviewed and for them to see the house in person.

A few days later, I received an unexpected phone call from the editor of Sanctuary. Renew, the organisation that publishes Sanctuary, had decided not to publish an article about the project. The freelance journalist they had engaged to write the article had taken issue with the fact that one half of my client works for Woodside and so had decided to withdraw from writing the article. Even though the article wasn’t really about my client’s employment, I understand it was suggested to Renew that there could be reputational damage to the organisation should information be discovered about my client’s employment. For these reasons, Renew subsequently decided not to feature the project. It is my understanding that the decision not to publish was not made by the editor, but by Renew’s leadership.

I then wrote a letter to the Renew CEO, expressing my deep disappointment and concern regarding this situation. You can read a copy of my correspondence here. To be clear, my disappointment wasn’t really related to not having one of my projects published (though there is probably a small part of my ego that is a little bit upset). My concern was more to do with the decision-making process (or lack of one) through which they decided not to publish the article. It was my perception that Renew had made a knee-jerk reaction and had not fully considered the moral and ethical ramifications, and instead had based their decision on the opinion of one individual outside of the organisation. I was also concerned that the editor of Sanctuary had not been allowed to exercise editorial independence in relation to this matter.

My client also wrote to the Renew CEO, expressing their disappointment. It should be noted that the half of my client that works for Woodside is in the role of Senior Environmental Scientist. One of his responsibilities is to assess the environmental impacts of Woodside’s projects and to ensure they meet (and sometimes exceed) regulatory approvals. He previously worked for the WA Government Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, and feels he is able to have a more profound impact through his role working for industry.

About a week later I received a phone call from the CEO, where he acknowledged my concerns. After some reminders, he also contacted my clients. He assured us that Renew would develop a clear policy on how these decisions would be made in the future, so as to ensure transparency and that all viewpoints are considered. I advised I would like to be kept informed about progress regarding this matter, to which he agreed.

Several months went by and I did not receive any further correspondence from the CEO. I would occasionally send follow-up reminders to the CEO, who would reply he was extremely busy and focussed on other priorities for the organisation.

By the time the 2021 Annual General Meeting was announced, I still had not received a meaningful response from the CEO. I submitted a request to the Board for my concerns to be addressed under other business at the AGM. I received a call from the Board Secretary who asked me to withdraw my request, but assured me he would help form a working/discussion group to address my concerns after the AGM. I agreed to withdraw my request to raise other business at the AGM.

Several weeks after the AGM, I still had not heard back from the Board or the CEO. I was also starting to receive the usual emails encouraging me to renew my membership. I replied to these emails that I wouldn’t be renewing my membership until my concerns had been formally addressed. Eventually I received a email from the CEO, saying he wasn’t sure what I was seeking in terms of a formal reply. I clarified with the following email response:

The formal reply which I seek is a clear position and/or policy on how Renew will select projects for inclusion in their publications – namely whether the nature of a homeowner’s employment is going to be used as one of the selection criteria moving forward.

When [the Board Secretary] and I spoke prior to the AGM, he indicated that the Board would be commencing a review of a number of the organisation’s policies at their next meeting, and that he would be in touch. He acknowledged it would be important for Renew to form a policy position regarding this matter – while it may not have come up before, he also acknowledged it will likely come up again in the foreseeable future. I have not yet heard back from [him] and I understand the meeting he referred to has already taken place.

The CEO wrote back to me advising the Board Secretary’s term had expired and he did not (or was not able to) stand for re-election to the Board (the Board Secretary did not mention this in his conversation with me). The CEO also wrote:

The Board was never going to be reviewing all organisational policies at their next meeting; that isn’t how policy reviews and Board meetings function.

Renew will be developing an ethical policy for the entire organisation next year. This will be led my [sic] me, with a number of people involved across members, staff and Board. It is in the queue but is not the most urgent policy for review – it must come after reviewing our Membership policy, for example. Policy review and updating requires time and attention from staff who have many other duties and have been facing the challenges of the Pandemic.

The ethical policy will cover large scale issues, such as how Renew would decide whether to accept a partnership proposal. It will provide a framework for individual decisions by staff qualified and empowered to do so. Policies do not go into operational detail. A policy will never be a rulebook for individual editorial decisions in a magazine. They will always be dealt with on a case by case basis by the relevant Editor and if necessary by me. We will never have a rubric capturing every facet of a decision, or that dictates how an Editor is to make specific decisions on each item considered for inclusion. It would be too long, to [sic] complex, and would never cover all situations. Most of all, it reduces the ability of a talented editor to shape the publication.

The response from the CEO confirmed my suspicions, that I was never likely to receive a clear decision-making policy about how homes would be selected for publication. I also found the last part of his reply a little ironic, as I believe that in the case of the Geenunginy Bo residence, the editor’s original decision to publish an article was actually overridden by the CEO and/or others. So much for allowing a talented editor to shape a publication.

My final correspondence to the CEO:

Thank you for the additional information and clarification. You have helped to affirm that my decision is the right one for me to make at this time.

I wish the organisation all the best under your leadership. Have an enjoyable festive season.

Up until this point, I had been contributing articles to Sanctuary and Renew magazine for over a decade, along with volunteering at events and providing design advice to readers when requested. I’ve never asked for or been offered remuneration for my contributions, though I do acknowledge I have received many enquiries from prospective clients after they have read one of my articles. While this has been very good for my business, after my interactions with the CEO and Board Secretary, I had to make the difficult decision not to renew my membership and to no longer contribute articles to Renew or Sanctuary Magazine.

I am passionate about improving building sustainability and as an architect I am working towards a low-carbon future for our built environment. But I am also a pragmatist and realist – the Western Australian (and indeed Australian) economy is heavily dependent on a number of carbon-intensive industries apart from oil and gas; the mining industry, along with cement, steel and aluminium manufacturing also have significant carbon impacts. Many, many Australians are employed in these industries. It will be a slow and gradual process to transform these industries to reduce their carbon and environmental impacts, but is currently underway. Companies like Woodside still have a lot of work to do, and I believe people like my client are helping to create change within these organisations, in addition to actions such as shareholder activism. Boycotting the publication of one Woodside employee’s house doesn’t make a meaningful difference. 

In a curious footnote to this story, last year I received word that the CEO I had been corresponding with had left the organisation in March 2022. They were then self-employed for around 3 months after leaving Renew. I have since reached out to the new CEO via the editor of Sanctuary to see if the organisation’s position has changed under its new leadership. I will update this post if/when I hear back from them.



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