Jeremy Spencer is director at design and building company Positive Footprints, and one of the judges on this year’s Sustainability Awards.
Spencer is also a registered builder and energy rater with a Bachelor of Arts and Teaching degree.
Architecture and Design spoke to Spencer about what has changed in sustainable design over the past few years, key points he’s looking for in this year’s entries, and what are the barriers to sustainability becoming mainstream.
What are you looking for as a judge?
In the first instance, I want to see sustainable initiatives permeate through the design and construction of the projects. Winning designs should address energy use, water use, materials selection, health outcomes, and landscape. Post occupancy evaluation where possible is also important. As is cost effectiveness.
Secondly we should also remember that sustainability is the minimum criteria that we want for our houses in the future. So beyond these metrics, I am looking for inspiring places and spaces, where people can thrive and find joy.
How much do you think sustainable design has changed over the past couple of years?
The biggest change I see in sustainable design at the moment is the move to the all-electric house. This is led by three factors:
Gas, with its fugitive emissions, is no longer seen to be as green, and with gas pricing going ever higher the desire to change to all electric is strong among consumers. (Beyond Zero Emissions publications, and the Alternative Technology Association advocacy have also been a strong impetus in this move away from gas.)
Reverse cycle air conditioners, once the evil monster of the sustainable housing movement, are now much more efficient, making electrical heating and cooling an environmental option.
More efficient electrical heat pump hot water units, and induction cooktops are also now available, potentially removing the need for gas connection.
At the same time, photovoltaic panels are cheaper than ever, and battery storage is becoming a mainstream option.
What do you think is the most pressing sustainability issue at the moment?
I think it is still de-carbonising the economy, closely followed by terrestrial and oceanic habitat and biodiversity loss, and then the fact we are drowning in plastic and have no idea what to do about it.
On the building front, we badly need more products that consider cradle to cradle impacts, and building systems that are designed for deconstruction, or at the very least, made to compost down in landfill. We must learn from nature. Designing structures and products that are on a one way trip to landfill, must become a thing of the past.
Do you think sustainability is still an add-on or is it incorporated holistically?
Sustainability needs to be holistic in the sense that it should be considered in each element of the design and each step of the construction.
So just like you consider cost, aesthetics, and function at each step, you should also assess sustainability, and then make the balanced decision. Adding it on as an afterthought will always yield an inferior outcome and miss the tremendous opportunities available when including sustainability considerations throughout the project.
Where do you see sustainable design heading in the next few years?
Predicting the future is always difficult, but I see the coming of the electric car, and ever better battery technology, as further strengthening the push to the all-electric house, as we come to see our homes as our private energy plants.
Home garages will need charging stations, and there will be a desire for bigger PV systems to supply the load. This in turn may see a push for more north sloping roof area, and (hopefully), more cost effective PV-integrated building products.
My hope would be that this may empower people to live within their own energy budget of the green power they produce themselves.