As the winner of the Emerging Architect/Designer category at the 2021 Sustainability Awards, David Coates lives and breathes sustainability. His business, Sustainable Building and Design Pty Ltd, specialises in sustainable renovations, and David works closely with his clients to achieve brilliant results that minimise overall energy consumption and reduce waste.

David’s vision is all about efficiency of performance and reusing and upcycling. But what exactly is ‘sustainable building design’ to him?

“In 2022, it can be a whole range of things. I think it's become a bit of a buzzword. I think it's a hot topic. I think a lot of corporations and governments like to attach the name to anything they do to kind of show the world that they're doing something, which I think leads to quite a lot of disbelief, and there's quite a lot of bullshit that covers it, if I’m honest,” says David. “But it's also something that I think is integral to humans surviving on this planet, and it's a serious issue.”

David’s take on sustainable building design is that it’s about working with the planet, and for the future. And fundamentally, it’s about respect for the earth. Unfortunately, while there are undoubtedly plenty of people and businesses making a real, concerted effort, greenwashing is rife, and the regulatory environment has a way to go before it’s truly fit for purpose.

“Our standards are pretty low,” says David. “There are mass amounts of housing that's being built with virtually no consideration for the environment. People need cheap housing, absolutely, but I think that we have some really minor regulations that could be lifted and improved, and standards that could be put in place for some of these mass housing developments – particularly where there are people making some serious bucks.”

In David’s eyes, sustainability matters even more where there are large amounts of money involved – like with those mass developments, or even higher end multi-million dollar residences. “Some of these places have little to no proper implementation of sustainable design. They don't charge their own power. They're not responsible for what they're doing. And I think that's a big thing. It's about putting some responsibility back onto people, putting it back onto the corporations that are making lots of money because, frankly, they can afford it.”

And despite the protestations that no doubt would emerge if the bigger end of town were required to reach a little deeper into their pockets, David is adamant that even with stronger regulation, their bottom lines wouldn’t take much of a hit. “If they're not actually governed a little bit stricter and a bit harder, then that's where it all goes pear shaped because I've proven that you can actually design and build houses for fairly low costs that can run themselves, and have a pretty minimal, if not positive impact on the planet. So it's not that it can't be done. It's just that it's not being done.”

David’s mention of minor regulatory improvement is not just some broad statement he makes off the cuff. He knows where to start, and what should be focused on first. “Things like lifting insulation by, you know, a few notches. What we’re using now is pretty basic. Limiting the size of buildings for their footprint. There’s so much red tape that needs to be dealt with just to be allowed to build something, it seems like they could pretty easily put a few sustainable hurdles in that process.”

This article is a synopsis of Talking Architecture & Design’s Episode 108: Builder, designer and sustainability advocate David Coates gives the hard truth about sustainability. To discover more about David’s journey towards a more sustainably constructed future, listen to the full podcast here.

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