There are the five key things I encourage everyone to consider when they want to build more sustainably. Many of these might be applicable to your own work as a designer or builder and/or to other parts of your life.
1. Banking responsibly.
Most people who build or renovate borrow money to do so. Often, this money is borrowed on top of an existing mortgage. The interest paid on a home and/or renovation loan is likely to be one of the biggest spends in a person's life. That's a significant amount of consumer power.
Activist pressure means that the big four banks have agreed not to finance the Adani coal mine. But that doesn’t mean they won’t fund other projects that cause environmental harm. I encourage everyone to support a bank that works towards environmental and social justice. If they really can’t leave their bank, I suggest they at least use their clout as a customer to lobby them hard!
Regardless of whether you're a company or a sole trader, your banking choices can make a difference too. Most "more ethical" financial institutions offer business banking.
If you want to see how your bank stacks up, or to learn more about how you can contribute to campaigns to improve banking practices, visit https://www.marketforces.org.au/info/compare-bank-table/
2. Build small & well.
The smaller a building’s footprint, the lower its impact. I encourage clients to look for smart ways to minimise the size of their home.
Of course, size is only one consideration. We need homes to be built well, and that's where you come in. A well-constructed house is constructed of quality materials that are fit for purpose. It also has minimal air leakage and few opportunities for uncontrolled heat gain and loss. Practically, at a minimum, this means that measures to draught-proof, wrap and insulate buildings need to be top notch. I always recommend double glazing new windows and retrofitting extra protection for windows that are being retained.
3. Go solar & ditch gas.
Recent research by the Alternative Technology Association found that it’s economically preferable for people to buy as big a PV system as they can afford, regardless of their energy usage. Other research has shown that for many households, ditching gas (or not connecting in the first place) will not only impact positively on greenhouse gas emissions, but also on bills.
You can read more in Issue #140 of Renew magazine.
4. Join the dots & build community.
Community is all around us! Community can nurture, protect and provide the building blocks for us all to live more sustainable lives. There are thousands of ways to make a community stronger and more resilient – from shared gardens to tool libraries, communal meals to childcare clubs. Communities that acknowledge and celebrate diversity are the strongest, so we all need to look for ways to be inclusive and welcoming.
5. Support activism.
There are lots of reasons to work towards a more sustainable home. Apart from anything else, sustainability is just another aspect of quality, and we all want that for our homes. Buying more sustainable products can also support small businesses to develop their products and/or support the business case for environmental thinking.
These outcomes are all important, but – in and of themselves – they will not stop the juggernaut that is climate change. For that, we need big solutions that put planetary considerations before profit.
There are many different approaches to systems change and I’m not about to tell anyone what to think. That said, we all need to recognise that small consumer choices, while not unimportant, can never be enough. Please support activism towards a better world in whatever way you can.
My preferred activist organisation is Friends of the Earth (FoE). My family donates both time and money. Whatever we save in tax by donating money, we give to FoE the following year (in addition to regular monthly donating) ... it's the gift that keeps on giving.