Olivia Leal-Walker, sustainability coordinator at Frasers Property Australia, has been named 2016 Future Green Leader by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Leal-Walker studied a Bachelor of Science at Macquarie University and has worked on several 6 star Green Star projects, including Fairwater, the first 6 star Communities project in NSW.

Architecture and Design spoke to her about why sustainability is important, working towards a regenerative design, and her social enterprise work.

You have been involved in several 6 star Green Star projects. What key things have you learnt from working on these projects?

Working on a world leading project is about pushing the boundary and challenging current beliefs. You learn to look at things in a different way to achieve a meaningful outcome for the building and community users.

A great project requires people to work together collaboratively. The team must be committed and engaged, as well as ready to adapt to meet the needs of an ever-evolving project.

Do you think your generation of architects approach Green Star projects differently?

My generation is passionate about design with purpose. They want to deliver better projects which give back.

Why is sustainability important to you?

Sustainability encompasses so much more than energy and water, and can positively impact food availability, human health, social and mental wellbeing, productivity in the workplace, biodiversity – the list goes on. There’s overwhelming evidence that reinforces why sustainable buildings and communities just make sense.

Is there anything about how sustainability is approached that you would like to change?

We need to move beyond reducing our impact and work towards regenerative design. I believe an approach to sustainability that begins with a focus on connecting with nature, leading to changes in consumption patterns, is imperative. When people are disconnected from the natural environment, they have no drive to make a change. We need to re-engage and educate the people living, working and playing in our buildings through putting nature at the focal point of place-making design.

I commute past high-quality farming land that is being transformed into urban deserts with no access to amenity, transport, jobs or nature. We need to deliver projects that are socially inclusive, understand the needs and drivers of the community and are responsive to the community’s needs.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for sustainability over the next five years?

One of our biggest challenges will be enabling and encouraging low- to mid-tier developers to embed sustainability within their normal business practices.

It will also be important to bring ecology and urban agriculture back into our cities to ensure our growing population has access to healthy and affordable food.

Can you tell A&D about your social enterprise work?

Over 20 percent of fruit and vegetables are wasted before they even leave the farm due to unsustainable appearance standards imposed by the industry and supermarkets. This wastes precious resources and, when food is left to rot, emits large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. 

As a hobby farmer, I see the impact this has on our local community. I am looking at ways to develop a market for local imperfect fruit and vegetables and use the proceeds to empower farmers.

If you weren't involved in property, what would be your dream job?

Working alongside David Attenborough – what a career! If I didn’t work in property, I would still be working in an industry that promotes and protects our natural resources. As the built environment is responsible for 40 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, there is so much opportunity for positive change. I am hooked, and here to stay!