Listen to this 17-minute podcast about greener supply chains - courtesy of Sydney's Eastside FM and the Total Environment Centre.
"Whether you're a self-employed tradie or a huge development company - a revolution is sweeping the construction industry! Robin Mellon explains the online resources available through the Supply Chain Sustainability School covering the environmental and social impacts of waste, water, energy and more."
With thanks to Ruth Hessey from the Total Environment Centre / Eastside FM
This piece first appeared online in The Fifth Estate, 7 February 2017
Alexander Symes and Joanne Jakovich from Big World Homes have spent years developing the prototype of their flat-packed sustainable home, which launched last September in Sydney. At the small scale, they say it’s “a transitional housing product that aims to bridge the gap between renting and owning”. At the large scale it could be “one of the most progressive, socially oriented, community-driven housing projects Australia has ever seen”.
Whichever it is, I’ve long had a fascination with the tiny home movement and was happy to provide funding through their Chuffed campaign to help get this project started (although, to be clear, I have no financial interest in the Big World Homes business; I just admire what they’re doing). After reading dozens of books on small living, tiny homes, micro-green and nano-houses, it’s great to see reality coming to life.
So when the chance arose, early this year, to stay in the prototype home in its leafy Sydney suburb resting place of Leichardt, I jumped. Three days / two nights in the first Big World Home would give me an opportunity to put the place through its paces, experience the ‘small living / big life’ feeling, and provide feedback to inform the next version.
Oh, and just to liven things up (and since January is school holidays) I took my sons with me – Ed (Edward, then aged 7¾) and Jet (James, then aged 6¼). Let’s see how this 13.75 square metre flat-pack home copes with a sustainability wonk and two energetic children! Here are the five things that I learned:
1. The less stuff you have, the less there is to clutter the place up or put away
This might be obvious, but I could never have squeezed all the ‘stuff’ from my apartment into this home. That’s not the idea. This is not the home for people with lots of shoes, dozens of suits or a collection of vintage typewriters. This is, however, the perfect place for people with simple wardrobes and unpretentious furnishings, and for those who tend to put something away (toys, books, clothes) before they get the next thing out. I spent years living above a single car garage in Paddington, and they were wonderfully economical years because I didn’t have much room to put ‘stuff’ and so didn’t buy much. This home has one big wall with shelves and hangers onto which I could have squeezed my book collection, plants in pots, simple clothes, and toys for my sons, and that was enough.
2. Good design is everything
I’ve experienced roomy 50m2 apartments and cramped 100m2 units; it felt like Big World Homes have made an incredible effort to marry beauty, functionality, flexibility and style. The walls and shelving system look beautiful, and allow for display of plants, pictures or books, but are flexible according to occupants’ needs. As always with small areas, lighting is key; windows allow lots of daylight in, light-coloured interiors make it feel spacious, and ceiling LEDs allow for pools of light where needed. It takes two people working with a drill and a mallet a weekend to assemble the 39 structural-thermal-waterproof integrated panels, and since each panel weighs only 15kg it is lightweight and safe to handle; there’s just a few screws to fix into pre-drilled holes. The engineered polycarbonate exterior conceals a good, thick layer of insulation, with the plywood interior structure providing the great look and feel of wood. Or in technical terms, the walls and ceiling are made from 10mm fluted polycarbonate Danpalon sheet, 9mm vented air gap, 40mm high-density Polyisocyanurate Insulation that’s silver-backed on both sides, and 9mm Hoop Pine plywood sheet internal finish which altogether achieves an R rating of 2.0. Got it?
3. Small really is sustainable
So not only is this home made from the minimum of materials, but the roof is covered with 1.5kW of photovoltaic panels which feed the batteries beneath the home. The complex-looking but surprisingly simple ‘power panel’ converts the stored energy into a useable form for appliances, lights and pumps. Since this is uncovered, I could explain to the boys how this worked, and they found this logical rather than bewildering. The gutters around the sloping roof capture rainfall, and the prototype 1,400 litre underfloor water tank is large enough to provide a week or two of water-conscious washing up, showers, toilet flushing and laundry, and can be topped up or resized to suit your usage. The composting toilet is simple, and the shower cubicle big enough for my six foot one inch frame, with small gas cylinders feeding the hot water and stovetop systems. So, all in all, it should be possible to live pretty much off-grid. There’s one door at the ‘back’ and one along the side, onto which veranda areas can be built, so airflow was excellent as soon as there was any wind. The daytimes were warm, and the unit came to be as warm as the air, but an evening breeze and a single fan helped cool us.
4. We need to manage our expectations about where we live
At a starting price of $80,000, Big World Homes are a great entry point in the market. If you can find the right location, this would be a good way to get your foot onto the ladder, and the sustainability features I’ve outlined will help keep running costs and utility bills at a minimum while you save. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to want a huge house in a fashionable suburb on a single salary, but it’s not out of reach to locate a Big World Home in the right place and work from there. Less is, after all, more affordable. Maybe it’s time to examine traditional housing finance models too?
5. Lego still hurts when you step on it in the dark in a tiny home – so step outside more
Going back to my original point, putting things away is vital. What made this experience so amazing was the chance to ‘discover a new suburb’, and the great playgrounds, parks, cafes and restaurants around Leichardt. Once you realise that your back garden can be enormous depending on where you’ve located, suddenly interior space starts to feel less important. There’s so much more to do out there once we step (carefully) outside.
So, the big question: would I live here? Well, I can imagine using this as a stepping stone from renting to owning, having this as a granny flat or teenager retreat at the bottom of the garden, placing this on a hillside somewhere as a holiday cabin, or as medium-term emergency accommodation. I know this would have suited me just fine at periods through my twenties and thirties, but maybe not full-time with two kids. This does, however, offer a great, sustainable, affordable, comfortable solution for many different people at different times in their lives, so I’m hoping Big World Homes really will provide that ‘missing link’ in the housing market. We had fun, we learnt a lot; a great experience.
Recently I was fortunate to moderate a panel at the Sydney Architecture Festival entitled, appropriately enough, ‘Where does your stuff come from?’; the topic of one of my recent Sourceable articles and the core of my work leading the Supply Chain Sustainability School. Despite being the same day as the AFL Grand Final, the session drew a good crowd and promised to be an interesting exploration of the supply chains behind everything from foundations to furniture to fashions: http://www.sydneyarchitecturefestival.org/program/where-does-your-stuff-come-from
But what happened next was unexpected; whilst I thought I knew which direction the speakers and conversation would take, I was wrong. Each of the four panelists was asked to introduce themselves and outline what they do, what they’re passionate about, and why it would matter to them where their ‘stuff’ (materials, resources, skills etc.) comes from. Preliminary introductions unfolded smoothly. And then, surrounded by beautiful furniture and great minds, we disappeared into a fascinating world of stories. Stories of Aboriginal design, the links between sustainability, beauty, spirituality and function in boomerangs and buildings, heirloom products, handprinting and restorative development, and the development, evolution and skills behind the knowledge, routine and physical jobs around NSW.
Speaking in the session were designer, artist and film-maker Alison Page, architect and sustainable development advocate Caroline Pidcock, furniture design curator, storyteller and our host at the CULT showroom Richard Munao, and business strategist, design thinker and jobs-for-the-future advocate Tony Stephens. A gender-balanced panel – well played Sydney Architecture Festival!
Alison outlined concepts of design from an Aboriginal perspective, noting the materials used, the traditions embraced and how communities each have a unique cultural identity and spirituality that needs to be reflected in the built environment. Caroline talked of handprinting; where a range of positive business impacts from best practice products to sustainability programs can balance an organisation’s footprint. Richard referenced the importance of authenticity and longevity in design, particularly in the creation and passing down of heirloom products and pieces. And Tony spoke of the importance of the skills and narratives within engineering, architectural and technical services here in NSW and the need to build on infrastructure investment domestically and expand internationally; whilst the Jobs for NSW initiative focuses on fast-growing SMEs and start-ups, the real ‘wicked problem’ is how to transition regional SMEs away from older industries and into newer ones. Their challenge is to create 150,000 new jobs in the four years to March 2019, and these need to be sustainable, lasting jobs.
The session also focused on the issue of beauty, and how we need a bit more of it in all our lives. I’ve said many times that the buildings we love will last forever; Sydney’s Bourke Street Public School, the Brisbane Arcade and Adelaide Town Hall aren’t just functional structures but places of beauty and inspiration, brimming with stories of their development and survival, and for this reason they will be maintained, repaired and truly loved.
With CULT’s stunning furniture and design around us, and conscious of Alison Page’s words about Aboriginal design blending function, beauty, spirituality and sustainability, we also examined increasingly popular rating tools such as the Living Future Institute Australia’s (LFIA’s) ‘Living Building Challenge’. LFIA Board member Caroline Pidcock explained how the design and architecture fraternity is embracing the concept of not only doing ‘less bad’ but developing buildings with a positive, regenerative impact. The Living Building Challenge recognises and rewards buildings around not only categories of their Place, Water, Energy and Materials use, but also themes of Health and Happiness, Equity and Beauty – including elements of Spirit, Inspiration and Education.
And behind all of these themes were woven the stories – those stories of buildings we love, stories of materials and their sources, stories of crafts and traditions, and stories of history and heritage. The conclusion? That whether we’re talking developments, designs, dresses or desks, people are showing more and more interest, and attaching more and more value, to the stories behind their production.
Mass-produced items may be cheaper and easier to obtain, but there are rarely stories behind them; there is rarely a connection. Heritage pieces, crafted items, carefully sourced materials and truly sustainable developments hold more stories, and the market value of these is growing around Australia. More to the point, Australia’s ability to tell these stories (and to verify them) will stand us in increasingly good stead worldwide. The value of these stories lies in their ability to show the ‘provenance’ or chain of custody of the item or service, the demonstration of awareness of the supply chain, the emotional involvement which often outweighs any economic drawback, the knowledge that a higher quality product will last longer and therefore be a better long-term decision (“buy cheap, buy twice”), the awareness that something is line with our own inherent principles and, to be blunt about it, the ‘bragging rights’ that come with such a choice.
So the panel, audience and I got to a conclusion, confirming that there is a growing demand for stories, beauty and quality, as well as a better blend of all three. As architect Richard Buckminster Fuller pointed out so accurately many decades ago, “When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”
[Excerpts from this article first published in Sourceable online on 2 November 2016.]
By Tina Perinotto, published in The Fifth Estate, 20th August 2015
After eight-and-a-half years, Robin Mellon, the Green Building Council of Australia’s renowned chief operating officer, is heading off in a new direction.
First stop a long overseas sojourn in Sri Lanka to “see the elephants, the temples and the tea plantations, and do a lot of eating”, relaxing and to undertake a reboot. And then, who knows?
The Fifth Estate wagers he will land somewhere back in the industry, so deeply embedded does he seem to have become in the space.
But before Mellon can reset his internal computer, there’s a bit of defragging that needs to be carried out. Hence an exit interview to get a few things off his chest.
First, to be absolutely clear, now that he’s free from the constraints of the advocacy game, Mellon would like it known that he does not think much of this current federal government. It’s a “pathetic excuse” for leadership, he says. On climate, for example, the government simply “won’t take the lead”.
He says conservative British MP and former Environment Minister in the UK Lord Richard Benyon put it best recently when he said the Abbott government’s response to climate change was “incomprehensible” and “bewildering” (a sentiment the majority of Australian population seems to agree with, given recent opinion polls pointing to a surge in support for climate action).
“Abbott’s dismissal of climate science and his belief that Australia must choose between economic growth and tackling climate change speak to a distorted vision of what it means to be a conservative,” Benyon said.
“True conservative values include distaste for over-regulation and enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism. But they also include a respect for sound science and economics, a belief in protecting the natural world and a responsibility to do the best for the biggest possible number of one’s citizens.”
Mellon would have quite a deep understanding of conservative British politics, perhaps more than the avowedly Anglophillic Abbott could rightly lay claim to.
His background is as a valuer in the Department of Environment and Planning at the City of Westminster in London, marketing and property management at Woodhams London, and policy adviser for the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK, before moving to Australia fourteen years ago.
Mellon says Benyon is “as blue as they come”, and he’s nailed the issue.
The choice, Mellon says, is not between development and the environment.
“It’s not buildings or green buildings; it’s both. It’s about green building, a productive workforce and a sustainable economy. If you want to, say ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.”
The recent emissions reductions targets announced by the federal government were a “disappointing excuse for emissions reductions, making it 26-28 per cent by 2030 with Abbott’s ‘captain’s pick’ of 2005 when everyone else is at 2000 [levels] because that’s easier.
“When you couple that with the woeful emissions reductions fund, which frankly had nothing in it for buildings…” Mellon trails off.
The ERF could have been good for buildings, Mellon says.
Together with the weakness on same-sex marriage, it all adds up to more reason for people to ignore the federal government and simply “get on with it”, he says.
Certainly local councils are doing that.
Mellon says some are doing outstanding work.
“I take my hat off to them,” he says.
A recent workshop in Melbourne on resilience organised by the City of Melbourne’s new chief resilience officer Toby Kent, who is part funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, was particularly inspirational.
“Councils are leading the world, not just in Melbourne,” Mellon says.
In evidence, he says, was a load of commitment.
“Not just admiring the problem, but people putting things together, a spirit of collaboration that together we can achieve something much greater.”
Mellon also liked the broader sense of resilience in the discussion – a sense that a resilient community is critical to bouncing back after a disaster.
“Resilience, not just to floods and so on, but looking to having jobs, and residents and community in the future. It speaks to a better quality of life.”
Brisbane bounced back after devastating floods because it had a resilient community. In some places, such as the poorest parts of New Orleans, the community did not go back.
Mellon loves to visit places such as Gosnells in Western Australia and Melton in Melbourne where “world class buildings” such as civic centres, sports facilities, libraries and learning hubs have been developed by the local councils.
“The point is that Australian councils are really leading the charge now although I have no doubt the Abbott government would use these developments to say it means the market is working perfectly well without any intervention.”
What’s more important, he says, is that “any idiot” would look at these initiatives and say, “How do we create the best policies and market conditions to foster them and spread them around the country?”
There’s another issue he wants to bring up, and that’s the unintended consequence of success of the green building and sustainability sectors.
It’s around the fragmentation that’s happened with a growing host of organisations setting up and competing for the same space.
The industry, Mellon says, “will probably not sustain many more of these organisations.
“It’s not that the GBCA is an early mover and everyone should support the GBCA. But I see more fragmentation. There is a limit to the size of the market.”
If there are 200 organisations all after the same members, and all after the same pot of sponsorship, it’s going to be harder to make progress as a whole.
The answer, he says, is greater collaboration. If organisations are aligned then maybe they should start to work together instead of working on their own small patch.
The fallout is a waste of people’s energy, goodwill and trust.
Division may be what a very conservative federal government is going to rely on.
“I’ve never been prouder of Australia… as when the built environment put in one submission to the Emissions Reduction Fund” under the banner of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.
For the GBCA the path is inevitably one of greater collaboration – with other ratings systems such as Living Building Challenge, WELL and One Planet Living. Each has their own emphasis and part to play, he says.
And on the subject of ratings, Mellon is keen to say how important it is to keep pushing the ratings agenda.
If you design and build to GS standards, he says, “then prove it, otherwise you won’t be believed.”
He thinks verified ratings will be the future, countering the trend for companies to claim they’ve built to GS standards but have saved themselves the expense of official ratings.
In the future we will have more ratings, across a greater range of products, he says. You can already see the strong makings of this trend in third party certification for items such as furniture that is “mainstreaming” sustainability, he says.
As evidence, he points to IKEA, which now claims it will make its entire supply chain green. This means green products will be making their way “through to everyone’s living room”.
Besides, having the ratings is a way to stop accusations of greenwash that can emerge very quickly with items that are not rated.
What about the opposite – having a green building and not promoting your green credentials? This has been a trend picked up by people such as Danielle King of Green Moves Australia in an article penned for The Fifth Estate, There’s great value in green credentials, so why are commercial agents so shy?
That’s changing, Mellon says. Marketing for homes and communities are starting to show Green Star ratings in the collateral, often with descriptors of what a 6 Star Communities rating means, for instance.
What about his move then? We know it’s come about because of restructuring within the organisation.
Mellon totally endorses the evolution of the GBCA.
“Every business goes through a period of reflection and reassessment.”
He thinks what will happen is that the GBCA will increasingly turn outwards. He hopes the industry and aligned interest groups will do the same and be part of greater collaboration.
“Not just in Australia but internationally” in order to achieve greater objectives.
The GBCA is very well positioned for the next stage, he says. It’s strong financially, it’s got good transparency, it’s taking aboard feedback and it’s got good governance.
In fact, “some of the best governance I’ve seen in any organisation,” Mellon says.
That’s an attribute that Mellon has clearly had a role in creating, judging by the comments from industry observers hearing about his departure. And partly the restructure is a function of the leaner more efficient organisation that chief executive Romilly Madew recently cited after the departure was announced.
And that’s not a bad juncture to sign out on.
From Leonardo da Vinci’s bird-like flying machine to biomorphic Art Nouveau designs, for centuries people have been inspired by nature and applied it to their designs.
Nowadays, 21st century scientific knowledge together with cutting-edge technology and design tools enable us to examine nature and apply its genius in new and exciting ways.
This discipline, known as biomimicry, represents a rich and under-explored territory that can provide solutions to design challenges and deliver radical increases in resource efficiency. Biomimicry can inspire imaginative and beautiful architecture and provide solutions to complex issues such as water shortages and waste management.
While people of the past built domes over ecclesiastic structures that mimicked the concentric circles of sea shells, scientists today can examine the composition of these shells to make materials that are tougher and structures that are more enduring, argues British architect and biomimicry specialist, Michael Pawlyn.
The author of Biomimicry in Architecture, Pawlyn will be a keynote speaker at the Green Cities 2015 conference, and will explore his work on projects that take their cues from nature – from roof structures based on giant amazon water lilies to whole buildings inspired by abalone shells.
Pawlyn points to the work of professor Julian Vincent, a member of his design team, who is currently collaborating with company Swedish Biomimetics on a new form of bio sprinkler inspired by the bombardier beetle. This six-legged tank-like beetle fires a fine, high-pressure spray of hot, acrid gas that repels predators.
“Professor Vincent is looking to adapt this to create a fine-spray fire sprinkler that uses far less water, as water damage can far exceed fire damage in offices. And using less water means buildings don’t need massive water tanks in their basements,” Pawlyn said.
The work with the bombardier beetle also has the potential to help engineers develop more efficient fuel injection systems and medical researchers create super-fine needles.
So, how do we address the fact that many species have different drivers to human beings – such as tiny energy and water requirements or no desire for personal wealth or possessions?
And how do we build on the common sense ideas that we’ve heard at previous Green Cities conferences, including Gunther Pauli’s talk of creating 100 innovations based around materials, structures and resources that we already have – such as recycling coffee waste for mushroom farming or using maggots for wound treatment or animal fodder.
Pawlyn agrees that there are “some things that work in biology, but not in architecture,” pointing to work recently undertaken with world experts on termite mounds.
“We were looking to extract new ideas from the mounds, but found that they weren’t applicable to office buildings because the air quality that termites will tolerate isn’t acceptable to humans,” he said. “Biomimcry is not about slavishly imitating nature, but about looking at how things work in nature, and developing new solutions.”
“Looking at how we mimic entire ecosystems offers huge potential for rethinking the metabolism of our cities. Nature’s examples provide a guide to help us transform our cities from wasteful linear to resource-efficient, closed loop systems. This will help us make the shift from the industrial to the ecological age.”
See more at: http://sourceable.net/design-inspired-by-nature/#sthash.R54ZR1c9.dpuf
Robin Mellon is one of Australia’s experts on sustainability in the built environment and is determined to leave the planet in a better shape than it was when he found it. Robin believes in a Better Sydney – better buildings, better communities and a better quality of life.