Kerryn Wilmot, the research principal at Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS is formerly an associate at Spowers Architects. Wilmot was the project leader for the industry-leading 60L Green Building in Carlton, Victoria that won a Banksia Award and influenced the uptake of sustainability in the commercial building sector. She says the concepts and methods to achieve regenerative development are set to become mainstream.

What are you looking for as a judge?

I am anticipating that award winners will demonstrate a deep, holistic understanding of sustainability that pushes beyond easy off-the-shelf products and design solutions. I am really hoping we will be inspired by projects that offer integrated infrastructure; biomimicry; net positive systems for energy, water, and community; and a sympathy for site and context. 

At the least I expect to see passive solar design, a concern for sourcing materials, low energy use and emissions, and a sense that proponents made a genuine attempt to reduce their planetary impact.

How much do you think sustainable design has changed over the past couple of years?

In the last couple of years mainstream design has adopted sustainability elements, sometimes without even realising it, because it has become much easier to do.  The products and equipment on offer have been improving, consultants have a much better understanding, and construction processes like waste management are embedded.

I think the recent focus on building the resilience of cities is bringing attention to how different urban systems interact, and this is informing understanding of design thinking. 

At the same time, progressive sustainable design has matured to a holistic, systems-based view of development that is sensitive to the social implications for its occupants and the community. The movement is towards regenerative (net positive) design and embraces ways of working with and healing the natural world.

What do you think is the most pressing sustainability issue at the moment?

There are so many aspects of sustainability that building projects can impact, but I think the stand-out pressing issue is energy, or to be exact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Because of climate change the future of the habitable planet is at stake. As well as being considered in the operational energy requirements, greenhouse gas emissions are also affected by embodied energy of materials, construction and operational waste, and transport to site.

Do you think sustainability is still an add-on needs to be incorporated holistically?

Sustainability is definitely inherent in good design – it requires creative thinking that takes account of the whole system.  If sustainability is being considered as an add-on, so many opportunities for improvement will be missed, and the building will cost more and be harder to execute.

Where do you see sustainable design heading in the next few years?

In the next few years, the concepts and methods to achieve regenerative development will become mainstream.  Currently there are pockets of inspiring and innovative work underway that will attract attention and accolades.

Owners and developers who have been leading the way in sustainability are already showing signs of wanting to retain their status at the forefront by being part of it.  We are also witnessing the health and well-being of building occupants becoming higher priority.

We are seeing rapid increases in renewable energy production. Radical new business models for energy supply and closed loop material supply will revolutionise the way we think about ownership and resourcing. 

China’s ban on importing waste plastic is concentrating minds on finding clever ways of dealing with our waste and alternative solutions to needing so much stuff in the first place.  Our world is changing rapidly and the built environment will be impacted on all fronts by new tools, approaches, materials and, above all, community expectations.  I think the industry is up to the task.