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Sustainability must be the focus in the Year of the Built Environment

By Caroline Pidcock - posted Tuesday, 16 March 2004

2004, Year of the Built Environment (YBE) is a collaborative initiative led by government, industry, environmental and community groups, aimed at fostering awareness about the built environment, its influence on our quality of life and directions for a positive and sustainable future.

The Year provides an important opportunity for Australians to question, reveal, appreciate and understand how various underlying principles effect the structures, buildings and streetscapes which form our built environment, and have a great impact on our lives and those of future Australians.

In this piece, I would like to imagine what our future built environment might be like if we put sustainability as the chief driver. The first major difference to the current path that is inherently unsustainable is that we would have a future!


But what would it be like? Let’s imagine……

There will be a National Strategic Plan that will assist all cities and communities to identify and maintain their true sustainable size – with regard to both population and physical boundaries. Together as a nation we will seek expert advice to help us work out how many people Australia can really support and the best places for people to live. The details of facilitating and enriching the proposed communities that will be based on best practice planning principals, will ensure such a plan is successful.

The pricing and demand managment of all utilities (power, water, petrol etc) will be set to properly reflect their true environmental cost. This will set the economic scene that will encourage the growth of industries that can provide sustainable alternatives to ensure our standards of living are maintained without damaging the environment in the process. Australia will become a world leader in this field and export valuable products and knowledge to all corners of the globe.

Instead of the current linear approach to materials, which results in so much waste, we will move to the more cyclical scheme that makes nature so successful. The current process where materials are extracted out of the ground, manufactured into product, used and then disposed of as waste, will be replaced by one where the outputs of any process would be designed to be inputs into another. Companies will take a “cradle to cradle” approach to their products and packaging – ensuring long life, recycling and profitability. The word “waste” will be removed from our dictionaries and replaced with “resource”.

We will recognise the great value of the rare resource called water. Instead of regarding rain as a waste product to be removed from the built environment as quickly and effectively as possible, we will collect and use it as efficiently as possible. All new and existing buildings will be assisted by way of rebates etc to either install water tanks to provide water for gardens and toilets or utilise larger communal schemes. Again, this will be another field that Australia could provide world leadership in and increase its export market.

It will be impossible to purchase power and water inefficient appliances and equipment. Manufacturers will have strong businesses in making efficient and effective hot water services, fridges and freezers and shower heads.


We will set up a think tank to reconsider how food is grown, manufactured and provided to the city. The current situation delivers food whose embodied energy far exceeds its calorific value and is unsustainable. Possible ideas could include converting some council flower gardens into community vegetable patches, including trees that produce edible fruits, nuts etc in public spaces etc.

Ten Per cent of road funding will be reallocated to the creation of bicycle paths and facilities in all cities and town centres. As happened in Amsterdam under a similar scheme, this will enable many Australians to replace many of their journeys in unsustainable cars with bike riding that increases fitness while reducing CO2 emissions.

Suitable public transport within and between cities and their connected places will be so successful that the use of private cars will diminish considerably. The excessive car parking spaces of the past will be converted to other uses as people no longer find they need more than one car (or even less) per household .

All buildings in Australia will undertake an environmental rating each year so that every Australian will have an understanding of the impact of their house and lifestyle on the environment. People will compete with each other to have the most sustainable buildings – which offer greatest comfort at least cost. Our concept of personal success will be inherently connected to how sustainable we are in our life as a whole.

I think such a scenario is not only worth imagining – it is well worth pursuing.

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Article edited by Katrina-Jae Stair.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 10 March 2004.

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About the Author

Caroline Pidcock is President of the NSW Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

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