A decade of design: Sustainability

May 10, 2011
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Designer

Over that last 10 years we have seen a green building revolution that has been largely led by the market; and driven both by innovation and our commercial reality. The 2000 Sydney Olympics were a catalyst for the green building movement in Australia, where design and construction of infrastructure for this major, global event attracted creative individuals from all over, many of whom have since played a significant part in the market, and how our industry approaches green building and sustainable design overall. As an egalitarian society, Australia is concerned with the quality of our social environment and the broader community at large. This ethos contributes to a desire to build better buildings for people as a primary purpose. It has allowed us to move a sustainability agenda forward at a great pace, supported by both the government and the marketplace.

As an Australian design community, our collective effort and decisions are made with consideration for the best standards, making us competitive on the world stage. I think we aim for the most innovative design with the least amount of resources. One is always forced to be resourceful in this country.

Still, when I think of obstacles, the commercial sector’s scepticism of green design in the early days – which questioned the development of a business case for building green – was certainly an initial challenge to the movement. Now, a decade later, we have enlightened clients, developers and contractors who understand the benefits of ESD initiatives, and the business case no longer needs to be justified. Parallel to that, we have also seen how the increase of completed sustainable projects has driven cost down, in some cases, coupled with a wider range of useful products. The positive is that we’ve seen these attitudes become the norm rather than the exception.

That said, there is still a poor societal attitude towards waste; we’re somehow still willing to buy overly packaged goods, fruit with a massive carbon footprint and consumer items that we don’t really need. Therefore we – as a nation – need to explore different ways of changing society’s behaviour collectively and of course individually. These changes would be strongly propelled by revising government legislation, tricky as that might seem. We have, after all, seen how effective behaviour-change campaigns can be. With government behind such efforts, change will soon follow. The creation of the Green Building Council of Australia stands out by providing the framework and common language that in a sense has removed the scepticism and allowed competition to happen. The industry has also fostered a growth in innovative engineers and consultants that translate the green vision into a functional reality. With the introduction of Australia’s Green Star rating system, modelled on the global benchmarks of BREEAM and LEED, we saw an evolution of the blueprint tools, which has taken not only these tools, but the key issue of sustainability, to another level.

This has been assisted by international thought leaders like Bill McDonough; author of Cradle to Cradle and ‘German Greens’ like Christoph Ingenhoven, who have broadened our design thinking and provided a global influence in terms of social and environmental sustainability.

Young designers generally have a real awareness of sustainable initiatives, but it is not just about the application of renewables that is the solution, as poor design will negate the intent. Young designers must benefit from the example of past examples that showcase passive design, good orientation and construction. There is nothing more remarkable than a well-designed building. We have buildings from over a hundred years ago that show there is a lot to learn from our history. If any progress is evident, it’s the gained ability to learn from this history and design architecture that lifts one’s spirits, but also providing environments that match all the core objectives for both the planet and its people. We are now striving to achieve better outcomes at a heightened, holistic level.

Realising that by setting the highest possible standards and combining that with a desire to use lowest m2 rate, our design principles drive us to create a highly efficient, sustainable project. We now have access to technology to test these theories – modelling tools etc. In the past we relied on rules of thumb! We can now really test our ideas and continue to refine before building. I welcome the next decade and the years to come for Australian sustainable design. Thus far, some of us can be proud of having done our part to create change.

As Director of Sustainability and Global Director of Education, Science and Health at Woods Bagot, Mark Kelly is immersed in the latest research at the forefront of sustainability. He strongly believes that as designers, we have a significant role to play in creating a sustainable environment and future.

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