This decade, we believe a deeper understanding of ‘natural capital’ – the economic value we place on our ecosystems – will shape new strategies to deliver sustainable, regenerative built environments that factor in material and water flows, as well as whole-of-life carbon costs.
Regenerative design is a framework of ‘thinking and doing’ that enables our interventions in nature to add biocapacity. It provides a foundation for a net positive outcome for the environment, health and society, while helping us to live within one planet’s worth of resources. Embracing this restorative, regenerative philosophy will be imperative if we are to meet the challenges of climate change, while respecting the natural environment.
The framework of regenerative design is also about total system thinking, at building and precinct scale. It prompts us to ask: can nutrient and waste flows support a local ecosystem? Are surrounding buildings and roadways the material bank for future projects? How do we neutralise the carbon cost of the building at its end of life? By addressing these questions, we link economic value to ecosystems and enable ‘natural capital’ to be a stimulus for change.
Borrowing from nature to restore our natural balance
The bewildering scale of our great oceans and how they function in a cyclical system is one of almost infinite examples of nature showing us how powerful and rational regenerative design is. Coral grows into a complex, adaptive and inclusive structure while absorbing carbon dioxide in the process.
Can we borrow from coral when we build our structures in concrete and glass? How do we close the loop on the carbon dioxide that is released when humans produce cement and steel? These are simple but important questions to ask of complex, multi-stakeholder building projects this decade and into the next. But like nature, the industry is getting on with finding the answers.
"Green steel, green cement, green bitumen – all of these construction materials must be fast-tracked this decade to leverage their potential to make a difference." says Tai Hollingsbee.
Unlocking biocapacity through connected thinking
In many parts of the world, where the effects of climate change are already being hard felt (Californian outer suburbs and towns along the Australian east coast being just two examples of communities recently devastated by wildfires), regenerative design is doing its part to guide the vision of important urban renewal and climate-resilient initiatives.
Regenerative design is a multidisciplinary story that needs a diverse team to tell it successfully. Thinking together, extending collaborative branches into the construction supply chain and creating the finance mechanisms to capture return on investment – in both economic and environment terms – are needed to make it work.
Green steel, green cement, green bitumen – all of these construction materials must be fast-tracked this decade to leverage their potential to make a difference.
As the tide of global carbon emission intensity lowers to the levels being discussed at COP26, cities that do not adapt will be stranded. Regenerative design is a powerful mechanism that can empower designers, incentivise the right behaviour and set a path forward for climate-smart communities.
Tai Hollingsbee is National Building Engineering Leader, GHD.