Jeremy Spencer is director at design and building company Positive Footprints, and a judge on this year’s Sustainability Awards.

Spencer is a registered builder and energy rater with a Bachelor of Arts and Teaching degree. 

Architecture and Design spoke to him about why awards make companies stand out, key points he’s looking for in entries, and why the political climate is a barrier to sustainability becoming mainstream.

Why is entering award programs important?

The Sustainability Awards are one of the pre-eminent environmental architecture awards in Australia and a great opportunity for those who are doing great work in the area to have their efforts recognised. Winning one of these awards also gives potential clients confidence in your practices green credentials to stand you out from the greenwash.  

The awards were particularly important to the success of our design and construction practice Positive Footprints in its early years, so I would really encourage other sustainable practices to put their projects forward, and enter the awards. It is definitely worth it.

You’ve been on the other side in terms of entering the Sustainability Awards in the past, but now you’re judging the awards. What are you looking for in entries?

I am looking for holistic responses that show that many different areas of sustainability have been considered and integrated. Does the design meet the brief in a space efficient manner? Has the design optimised its performance for the location? Have lower impact materials been considered throughout? Is there beauty or poetry to the design? Has efficient water use been considered? Is the budget reasonable for the outcome? Will it be a healthy nurturing space in which the occupants can thrive?

Why is sustainability important to you?

Quite simply, integrating sustainability as the bedrock of our economy and thinking is imperative. We only have one world, there are a lot of us, and unless we are willing to see the habitats and natural systems of this planet on which we depend continue to degrade, we must change the way we do business. 

You and your wife Chi Lu have both worked in the United States and Ireland. What differences did you see in terms of different global sustainability concerns in those countries compared to Australia?

While it was a while ago now, the main difference, especially in Ireland, and Europe more broadly, was the discourse and political recognition amongst major parties that there is a problem and action is required. Unfortunately, local politics over the last decade has put the brakes on significant environmental action. This is another reason why these awards are so important, to show that through creativity and passion real gains are achievable. 

I hope for the day when there are no special Sustainability Awards, because all awards require it. Until then, awards such as this continue to shine the light on what our future could be.

Your aim is to make sustainable building mainstream. Do you think this has happened yet?

Things have come a fair way since we started our business in 2001. So while definitely not mainstream yet, momentum is building and the market of customers seeking greener outcomes continues to expand. 

At the same time, technology improvements in onsite power generation and efficient appliances make carbon positive outcomes achievable. A vast expansion in greener and healthier product options can also significantly reduce the impact of the build itself. It’s definitely a good market to get into for a new designer, and a worthwhile pursuit towards a better ‪tomorrow.

What are/have been the main barriers to sustainability becoming mainstream?

The political climate, as mentioned, certainly has not helped. Likewise, companies who deal in greenwash or oversell their green credentials only lead to skepticism and apathy in the marketplace. But I am optimistic, at least in this field, as there are many talented, knowledgeable and passionate designers and architects who continue to shoulder the burden of pushing the agenda forward, and turning out wonderful, truly greener options.