Rory Martin, dwp|suters National Sustainability Leader, was recently named the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) 2014 ‘Future Green Leader’. 

Rory leads dwp|suters’ sustainability team and is responsible for strategic planning, environmental modelling, design reviews, policy development and marketing.

Architecture & Design spoke to him about liveability, grappling with sustainability issues in Oman and the biggest barrier to sustainability moving forward in Australia.

You were recently appointed the Green Building Council of Australia's 2014 Future Green Leader. What does winning the award mean to you?

Graduating from university with a Bachelor of Architecture, I felt like I was being thrown into the rat race. While I do get excited about architecture, I needed to discover an aspect that really captured my passion and would drive me when I got up every morning. Sustainability was it.

For me, winning the award reinforces my belief that fully embracing your passion, investing in yourself and being open to whatever opportunities arise can take you anywhere. The important thing is to fully commit to your passion, be honest and not to forget to take the time and appreciate why you are doing it all.

Your aim is to create communities that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. How much emphasis do you think there has been on social and economic sustainability in the property industry?

I think there has always been a drive to create better communities and deliver greater economic outcomes, but I find it’s only recently that these things are being considered as part of a greater conversation on sustainability.

I believe that the property industry realises the intrinsic relationship the environment has with social and economic sustainability and one word beginning to personify this is ‘liveability’. For me, liveability is ‘marketable sustainability’ – while some may not invest in sustainability, very few would fail to invest in liveability. Liveability has a fantastic ability to link social and economic requirements with environmental needs. The language of sustainability is changing and it is important we use it to maximum effect.

You previously worked in Oman. How is that country handling its sustainability in the property industry? 

As a high income, developing nation located on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman faces huge sustainability issues. With only a handful of critical local industries, Oman must import a huge amount of construction materials. This greatly increases the carbon footprint of the materials used.

Oman also has a shortage of construction waste recycling capacity and its public transport network is relatively weak. As a result ESTIDAMA and LEED ratings are difficult to achieve, resulting in less discourse on sustainable buildings.

Furthermore, Oman’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports, leaving their economy overly exposed to fluctuating prices. To counter this Oman is now focusing on using more indigenous building materials, such as locally quarried stone (better reflecting its environment and culture), improving its public transport infrastructure and diversifying its economy to sustain its growth and improve its society.

Could Australia learn anything from what Oman is doing?

With a similar carbon footprint per person to Oman, Australia could also benefit from greater economic diversification. This is even more apparent now with the slowing of the mining sector and the knock-on effect it is having on the wider economy.

Investing in greater public transport, improving walkability and reducing the amount of cars on the road will improve the liveability of our cities and reduce Australia’s carbon footprint. Focusing on locally available materials with low embodied energy, while reducing our need to import building materials, will help support local industries and jobs and will also reduce the carbon footprint of Australia’s built environment.

Finally, unlike Oman, we are fortunate to have a strong sustainability movement within the property industry and it is essential that we continue to communicate this effectively so that the momentum continues to grow.

Which country do you think is handling sustainability the best at the moment?

In such a broad context as sustainability it is difficult to identify one stand out leader. Germany, for example, has traditionally been a leader in environmental sustainability by way of the environmental performance of its buildings, with schemes such as Passivehaus leading the way. Germany has shown a strong sustainable and robust economy when most of Europe was losing its head during the GFC.

However, like much of the western world, socially Germany faces significant challenges with a large migrant population and a growing right wing push. How this will play out remains to be seen.

For Australia, it should be proud that its property industry at least is making huge efforts to improve Australia’s sustainability on all fronts. Just look at the latest GRESB results or any one of the 800 certified green star projects around the country.

What is the biggest barrier to sustainability moving forward in Australia? How should this be addressed?

The biggest barrier to sustainability is not government, arbitrary science or perceived additional cost. It is trying to get people to do something that they may not want to do or necessarily understand. Forcing the carbon tax upon the population, while a great effort to reduce Australia’s carbon footprint, was, without the popular support of the community, doomed to fail.

To break down this barrier people need to wholeheartedly want to be sustainable and understand the cause and consequences of not being sustainable. Therefore focusing on sustainability as a core part of our education system right from primary school upwards will help develop a sustainable society with a population who want to live sustainably and understand the implications of failing to do so.

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

Growing up in rural Ireland I was lucky enough to have a strong sense of community, but I also had a huge appetite for exploring and was fascinated by foreign places and people. During my years at university and in my first year or two out, I was able to travel to some extremely remote places and experience some unique cultures.

Based on knowing the importance of community in times of need I believe that if I was not in the property industry I would be involved in some form of community development or post-disaster humanitarian assistance program. Thankfully I have had some pro bono experience with helping deliver two orphanage buildings in Cambodia. Experiences like this are extremely rewarding, especially when working with people who truly understand the value of a strong community and it reminds me to want less and experience more.