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16 March 2015

Practical Steps to Transform our Built Environment

We are undermining our economy and lifestyle. I try not to paint too bleak a picture but everything I read points towards massive disruption and loss; we have taken oil and growth for granted and left little resilience in our systems. If we don't change, the change will come to us.

I've pointed toward the solutions, which focus on our relationship with nature, or at least the need to reconnect with our life support system rather than simply abusing it. If we can re-establish our ability to co-evolve, where we thrive with nature, then we can move beyond the fallacy of unlimited 'GDP growth' on a finite planet.

A restorative design model asks us how we might fix the damage done, whilst the regenerative model asks how we can make the world a better place with every act of design and construction. It's going to take concerted effort and discipline of acknowledging limits to get there, so I suggest some baby steps for starters.

I propose some practical and vital industry goals that we can all work on together, to move us towards success, engage us in the challenges and garner experience on the way so we can start to run!

Net Zero Energy Ready (NZER) buildings and infrastructure

The challenge of NZER is the discipline of designing or retrofitting our buildings to be mega-efficient. We (currently) have a friendly climate with bountiful sunshine – a perfect backdrop for using bugger all energy to make our buildings comfortable.

This means designing and then building for high performance, i.e. optimising the building envelope – insulating well with no thermal bridges, appropriate glazing in terms of enough daylight (but keeping heat transfer to a minimum), modest air-tightness, summer shading and in many places, internal thermal mass. Excellent commissioning of efficient and smaller sized plants (HVAC, solar hot water) and fittings/appliances all wired up to energy management displays allow people to use the buildings correctly. The marginal extra costs will disappear as NZER becomes a good practice and business as usual, and our designs become energy-smart.

A target of 75 – 80 per cent less energy used is not unreasonable, as examples like Tuhoe Te Uru Taumatua Living Building and the Certified Zero Energy House in Auckland show us it can be done. Adding solar electric arrays is now an affordable option for commercial buildings, but the real work has been done with NZER.

Materials – Divert 90 per cent of construction waste from landfill and eliminate all Red List chemicals from our built environment

The Red List identifies toxic additives that are harmful to life. Land-filling waste is stupid as it discards valuable energy-intensive and processed resources. Auckland Councils' refurbishment of the old ASB tower is an outstanding case study of reuse and diversion, as they achieved their 90 per cent goal with panache and minimal cost. Designing good accountable systems for managing 'waste' is the key here.

NZ materials manufacturers are already showing a strong appetite for the 'Declare' label, an ingredients disclosure tag, it demonstrates their products contain no carcinogens or hormone disruptors. Several have 'Declared', like Insulpro, Autex and Laminex's Strandboard, and are being chased by some very fast followers.

Green Infrastructure

I use this term loosely to cover critical 'interventions for good' in our built environment that create resilience and bring rich ecology into our cities and towns.

A cycling and walking infrastructure is critical to weaning ourselves off carbon rich oil. It's a health kick too, reducing stress on ourselves and our health system, and is equitable and fun for use by everybody.

Urban Ag or local grown food can be integrated in, on, around and between our buildings, on the streets and verges and in our reserves, reconnecting us with the source of our nourishment. This enables a culture of growing and eating local food that we cultivate, rather than relying on oil intensive centralised distribution systems.

And lastly – poor old battered nature needs a helping hand too! Day-lighting our piped urban 'streams' makes our cities and towns beautiful but allows them to manage increased flooding from a warmer climate and offer sanctuary to wildlife, with cleaner water running into our rivers and seas, filtered by gardens of native plants.

These three 'baby steps' will lead us to transform our built environment and support our transition to a Living Future.

Written by Jerome Partington, JASMAX.

Want to know more, get involved and be part of the solution?

Visit the Living Future Collaborative New Zealand facebook page.

'The Bullitt Centre – The Greenest Building in the World', is a series of two-hour training seminars delivered in March by Amanda Sturgeon, an Executive Director of International Living Future Institute.

The seminars will run at the Beca Auditorium Auckland 8.15 -10.30am Friday 20 MarchCPIT Christchurch 2.45pm Monday 23 March followed by Collaborative drinks and Victoria University 2.45pm Tuesday 24 March followed by Collaborative drinks.

Creating Living Buildings is a short course for Clients, Developers, Architects, Engineers Project Managers and other professionals from Otago Polytech Centre for Sustainable Practise. It is running in Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland in May and June 2015, followed by supporting webinars.

For further information contact [email protected].

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