Australian architects and the movement towards carbon neutrality

Why the Architects Declare Australia campaign is going to change the face of the country’s architectural – and building – practices.

 

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Architect// Matyas Architects, Photography//Tatjana Plitt, Bricks// Daniel Robertson - Hawthorn London
Almost 900 Australian architects have joined a new campaign designed to ensure that the majority of our architectural practices are carbon neutral by the end of 2020.

Architects Declare Australia is part of a worldwide initiative by practitioners to address the twin threats of global warming and the loss of biodiversity on the planet.

Launched in December 2019 by a small group of like-minded architects, Architects Declare Australia has attracted 887 signatories in its first four months, with more firms joining every week. Founding members include such well-known names as Glenn Murcutt, Alec Tzannes, Greenaway Architects, Ken Maher, Hassell, Rick Leplastrier and Woods Bagot.
“It became abundantly clear that we first needed to get our own houses in order,” says Jeremy McLeod, founding director of Breathe Architecture in Victoria, and founding signatory of Architects Declare Australia. “We need to make sure that our own practices are not emitting carbon before then being able to stand in front of our clients and telling them to build carbon-neutral buildings.”

The new initiative, which highlights the key role played by the construction sector in contributing to carbon emissions, requires signatories to ensure that any new projects are energy efficient, minimise waste, use low-embodied carbon materials and incorporate whole-life carbon modelling.

In order to achieve carbon neutral status by the end of 2020, architectural firms must radically overhaul their own business practices by switching to certified green power, conduct an audit of the practice’s carbon footprint and, finally, purchase carbon offsets.

Melbourne architect Zoë Geyer, of ZGA Studio, says that while the requirements may look onerous, they are easy to achieve and don’t require major financial outlay. “In the scheme of an architecture practice, the cost is next to nothing,” she says.
More importantly, Geyer argues that by adopting a code of environmental practice such as Architects Declare Australia, the profession can speak with more authority on such a vital issue – and hopefully force change across the building industry.

“We see this as an opportunity for architects to regain a leadership role within the building professions which has been eroded since the 1980s,” she says. “It is time to become leaders again, rather than worrying about the bottom dollar or whether we’re going to lose a client if we say the wrong thing.

“People will come to us because we have the knowledge and information; we’ve done the research and we put the whole thing together effectively – which you cannot do if you purely plod along without a broader perspective.”

Ballarat architect Talina Edwards says it is important that regional practices such as hers sign the declaration and then use it as a platform to reduce carbon emissions across the construction industry.

“If we can change our buildings to produce 90 per cent less carbon emissions, we have a responsibility to do it,” she says. “And why wouldn’t we want to try do the right thing to make the world a better place?”

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