Anyone involved in urban design needs to be aware of how quickly society’s expectations are changing. From an urban planning perspective, we see the three key drivers of change through the lenses of culture, technology and sustainability.
A recent report by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) cited that building and construction is responsible for 39 percent of all carbon emissions in the world. (Global Status Report 2017 cited in WorldGBC Embodied Carbon Report).
Which is why acting now is so important. The WGBC advocates for halving emissions of the building and construction sector by 2030 and the total decarbonisation of the sector by 2050. The expectation has been set.
As of this year, countries representing over 80 percent of the world’s GDP have committed to carbon neutrality. As more and more countries and states commit to targets of climate neutrality, our client’s aspirations need to change, from carbon neutrality being admirable to it being essential. There is now the very real risk that projects without ambitious carbon goals will compromise their value on completion.
Given any major city development decisions made today will take between five, 10 or even 15 years to come to life, designers must now be focused on understanding the future – or find, very quickly their projects do not meet the new global standard of expectations.
While the rationalisation of moving towards carbon neutrality is not new to us, below are just some of the reminders as to why all designers and developers must now firmly aim for this benchmark.
By 2030-2035, when a large-scale development nears – or has not long been – completed:
1. Australia will be nearing halfway to carbon neutrality.
This based on the Federal Government’s current pledge to reach this milestone by 2050. Most of the discussion, to-date, has been around how to manage Australia’s economy as coal exports will need to shrink. However, this masks the equally challenging need to reduce Australian’s per capita carbon emissions.
2. The Greta Thunberg generation will be the key market for products and votes.
While even Australia’s most conservative voters say they care about carbon emissions, it’s still not high enough on their agenda to change their voting preferences. This new generation of voters and purchasers will have different priorities.
3. Investments and companies that do not have strong green credentials will struggle to attract investors and funding.
Particularly with large scale offshore investors who already are expecting to see carbon reporting and certification of carbon neutrality.
4. The Indigenous voice will be visible in every political decision and policy change in the city.
While Australia does not have a legally-binding treaty like New Zealand, there is a growing shift for both acknowledgement and borrowed knowledge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. Those voices are unanimously ones of protection and harmony with regard to natural resources.
5. The petrol car will be on the decline and automated, electric, cycle and public transport will be dominant.
Significant investment is going into Australia’s charging infrastructure, with a variety of reports suggesting that between 25-30 percent of Australia’s vehicles will be electric or hybrid by 2030.
Operating efficiencies and reduced emissions have been a silver lining of the Pandemic, but staff will also be looking for EV charging solutions on the days they are traveling to work.
La Trobe Sports Park has a major focus on environmental sustainability with its stadium achieving 6 Star Green Star ‘Design’ and ‘As Built’ ratings from the Australian Green Building Council, photography by Derek Swalwell.
6. Photovoltaics and continued advancements in high performance building technologies will be ubiquitous in construction.
We will continue seeing low-energy technologies that are more accessible and affordable across the board.
7. Mass timber buildings will exist in every major city around the globe as a direct response to embodied carbon reduction.
While a mix of local and offshore timber product is currently being used here for mass timber projects, Australia’s existing forestry industry is well placed to be able to pivot and scale to produce competitive and high quality locally made product for the Pacific Rim.
8. The need for the protection of large cities freshwater resources will be more acute than ever.
Buildings will need to be increasingly efficient in their use and reuse of this precious resource. The lifestyle that Australians love is at risk of no longer being viable unless we move now to save those assets.
9. Across the country, green space, marine environments and biodiversity will be considered more precious than ever.
This, as we witness the damage that is being caused by pollution created today and yesterday.
10. Notwithstanding COVID-19 implications on migration, treasury estimates population growth in Australia will be at just under 30 million by 2030.
More people means more consumption and emissions, which is bad news considering Australia’s per capita emissions lead the world. Requiring greater emphasis on carbon reduction efforts.
11. It will just make more commercial sense to be carbon neutral.
Due to a combination of the above-mentioned benefits, being carbon neutral will reduce tax risk, border duties and operation cost, be more important to a wider number of stakeholders and, in turn, will drive an increase in revenue.
12. Last, but certainly not least, is the truth:
While it may hurt human pride knowing that in the name of progress we’ve made poor choices in the past, modern science shows going carbon neutral is now the right thing to do for the future of our planet and the generations that follow us.
Warren & Mahoney believes the best urban design evokes a sense of place and connectedness. The ability to embrace the natural environment is essential in experiencing a feeling of belonging.
We have worked hard to distinguish ourselves by operating at the absolute intersection of sustainability, design innovation, and indigenous engagement. We intend to stay firmly on this carbon neutral path and influence those we work alongside to make every project count.
The whole building and construction industry needs to do this – and to move faster – in order to both make the impact required and deliver work that matters.
Simon Topliss is a Principal Architect at Warren & Mahoney.