Rory Martin, national sustainability leader at dwp|suters, is a judge on this year’s Sustainability Awards.

His role at dwp|suters  recently expanded to work more closely with academic, government and industry partners to develop research that affects meaningful change.

Architecture and Design  spoke to him about why he’s looking for more than just a good story in the Sustainability Awards, how sustainability is a way of thinking, and how designers can understand the implications of their design decisions.

Why is entering award programs important?

There are two main reasons for entering awards. First of all, it is critically important to create awareness around the great work being done by design teams around Australia. The A&D Sustainability Awards are a fantastic opportunity to promote the efforts of your team.

Secondly, it is important that we continually raise the bar for sustainability. By entering projects that are holistic in their sustainability and boundary breaking in their solutions, we can help drive that bar higher towards a more resilient, liveable and sustainable built environment.

What are you looking for in entries?

William Edwards Deming once said ‘In God we trust, everyone else bring data.’ In the entries I’m looking for more than just ‘a good story’ – I’m looking for validation. Sustainability can sometimes suffer from ‘green wash,’ therefore it is essential that true sustainability is backed up by real results that cannot be disputed.

I’m looking for projects that have created real tangible benefits across the triple bottom line for sustainability – ie. real social, environmental and economic benefits delivered via clever design and that are backed up by credible data and results.

What is a favourite project of yours that has won an award, either your own or another firm’s?

dwp|suters’ recent win of the Brickworks Living Building Challenge Design Competition has been a real highlight, particularly in seeing how far true holistic sustainability can be pushed when a crack team of specialists are brought together.

When judging last year’s awards I was particularly impressed by the overall winner, the Walumba Elders Centre by Iredale Pederson Hook, which was a design that not only celebrated the local culture, but was also innately in tune with its challenging climate.

Why is sustainability important to you?

For me sustainability is a way of thinking, not a service, discipline or value add. If everyone involved in the design, delivery and operations of the built environment thought sustainably then we would not be faced with some of challenges we have today.

It is important to me as it is a primary mechanism for our profession and industry to change what we do, to design and build smarter because at the end of the day, I firmly believe that sustainability is just good design. This year’s Pritzker Prize winner, Alejandro Aravena, captured it brilliantly when he said ‘sustainability is nothing but the rigorous use of common sense.’

How easy or hard do you think it is to incorporate truly sustainable design into a project?

Incorporating true sustainability is sometimes like setting out on a camping or fishing trip. Sometimes everything can come together, the sun will shine, everyone will know their task and the fish will sit ready to bite. At other times, it’ll pour rain, you’ll snag your lines and you’ll have to cast your line further to land a catch.

With integrating sustainability it’s the same – sometimes you’ll have the dream team in place, an engaged client and an opportune moment to deliver a highly sustainable project, and when this happens it’s easy. Other times you’ll have to work harder with your team, go further with your client and spend longer bringing everyone along. Either way it will be just as rewarding, whether easy or hard, truly sustainable design is ultimately what we’re trying to land each time we set out.

You say that architects need to assume greater responsibility for their designs and understand the implications of their design decisions. What advice can you give architects to ensure they do this more?

Design. Test. Validate. Repeat, and do so until you reach the optimised sustainable solution that is right for the client, user group and environment. BIM (building information modelling) is opening up a world of opportunities for designers to quickly and iteratively test designs throughout their various stages.

The second thing is to consider sustainability from day one. Sustainability is not a ‘bolt on’ or ‘value add.’ It should be fully integrated from a project’s inception, via careful analysis of opportunities and cost/benefit studies.

Finally, we should not walk away from a project once we hand over. The amount of things we can learn from post occupancy surveys and monitoring a building’s performance and comfort levels over a 12-month period can be invaluable to designers when it comes to designing the next project.