What is the relationship between design and the environment? What are the current trends, and what is essential knowledge for creating and maintaining sustainable design practices?

These are some of the questions that were put to me and my fellow panellists at ‘Designing for Tomorrow: Sustainable Design Solutions’ — a discussion that was part of the Design Show 2024 program. Sitting alongside Joshua Ellis — Brand Manager at Cultivated, Stephen Major — Business Development Manager at Workplace & Hospitality Tarkett, Alice Pamment — Builder and Co-Director at Pamment Projects and Bobby Gordon — Director at Robert Gordon Australia, we had a fruitful conversation about driving forward innovative solutions to create a more sustainable industry.

Intentional and holistic approach to sustainability

The panel emphasised the importance of moving beyond surface-level efforts and being specific and intentional about sustainability goals. With agreement that greater regulation from the government was necessary, we also discussed the responsibility of the design and construction industries to be across the detail in mitigating carbon emissions, particularly embodied carbon. Approaches for realising this include reusing existing structures, designing for disassembly, and minimising material use. This requires a systemic shift in our thinking, so that together we can implement circular design principles throughout a product or development’s life cycle, from initial design to end-of-life management.

Innovation in sustainable manufacturing and materials

The discussion highlighted significant advancements in sustainable manufacturing processes and materials across various sectors. Examples include the development of solar-assisted electric kilns in ceramics production, the implementation of circular recycling programs for flooring materials, and the use of digital product passports in the furniture industry. These innovations demonstrate how different sectors are finding creative solutions to reduce environmental impact while maintaining product quality and functionality.

Collaboration and education across the industry

Early collaboration between clients, designers, builders, and manufacturers is crucial for achieving sustainable outcomes. This includes educating clients about sustainable options, encouraging them to ask questions, and using tools like Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to make informed decisions.

The panel stressed that raising awareness and fostering curiosity about sustainability, drives innovation across the industry. The key is to make sustainability not just a technical requirement, but an integral part of the design story and client experience.

To foster real actionable change in the industry, our panel discussion highlighted that cross-collaboration is key. Through being clear in what the sustainability objectives are from the outset of a project, the expert team of consultants can work together alongside the client to develop and deliver truly innovative solutions.

With a Sustainability Action Plan in place, my colleagues and I at Plus Architecture work with project partners from the outset to agree sustainability goals. With a place-based design approach, we refine and integrate our sustainable strategies into the design and construction process as well as post-occupancy management systems — according to each project’s unique climate and site conditions. Focussing on using regenerative materials and promoting circular design practices, we are committed to helping shape resilient communities and ecosystems, employing passive design strategies that harness ambient energy sources including daylight, natural ventilation, solar energy, and regenerative water systems.

As members of Architects Declare, we are committed to working to reduce our carbon footprint and will continue to engage in cross-industry sustainability initiatives to ensure we deliver buildings that are environmentally friendly, economically viable and socially responsible.

By Plus Architecture Principal, Mark Ojascastro (pictured).