When it comes to sustainable architecture, it’s easy to be wowed by the big end of town. Large firms with large-scale projects that are pushing the boundaries of engineering and offering ever-more adaptive and innovative use of sustainable technologies are plentiful. But, arguably, the quiet achievers are tucked away in our cities and suburbs, making incremental differences with the resourcefulness that only comes from the smaller firm.

It’s with that in mind that we’re looking at some of the sustainable practices and initiatives that are defining small practices across the country (and, arguably, the world). Small practices are those with 10 or fewer staff members, and what they lack in size they certainly make up for with big vision.


Housing is a leading determinant in 13 of the 17 Sustainability Goals set out by the United Nations, and as such, architecture and design firms have a huge role to play in integrating sustainability through the delivery of efficient solutions and the construction of a more equitable future. According to current projections, the global housing deficit is set to hit 2 billion people by 2030, and housing (apart from being a basic human right) is the first step in building community resilience, increasing social and economic capital, and breaking the poverty cycle.

Walking the talk

Truly sustainable firms practise what they preach. And that means going further than the outward focus on sustainable projects, to look inwards and see how they can better integrate sustainability principles and practices within their own businesses. Sustainable practices align themselves to the UN SDGs, not just their work - aiming to become more equitable, efficient, and reduce their impact on the natural and social environments they inhabit.

Renewable energy affordability

The UN aims to provide ‘affordable and clean’ energy to everyone, but as Australians know all too well, the cost of energy can be a fickle beast. Sustainable practices, however, aim to integrate suitable and cost-effective energy solutions wherever possible, in order to reduce costs for occupants further down the line. From rooftop solar to more energy efficient fixtures, to new innovations like water heat recovery systems, these solutions are making sustainability achievable for everyone - and small architecture and design practices are leading the charge.

Community mindedness

According to the UN-Habitat III policy paper, 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030 - and this means that there is a significant need for housing to be thought of as part of the bigger picture. No house is an island, and as the torch-bearers for residential architecture, small practices have been unofficially deputised with the responsibility for considering how our homes will integrate within wider urban planning. In addition, advocating for more affordable housing and contributing to the

design and the development of such projects is an essential part of creating a happier, healthier, and more sustainable environment for all.

The above list is far from exhaustive, but rather aims to give a very high-level overview of the characteristics and considerations that define a sustainable small practice. Through an unwavering focus not just on the more traditional environmental factors of sustainability, but the social, economic, and developmental aspects, these businesses are important contributors to our sustained wellbeing.

To become eligible for the inaugural awarding of the Small Sustainable Practice category at the 2023 Sustainability Awards, please nominate a practice here.


Image: Alex Symes of Alex Symes Architect.