13 December 2011 – The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Centre For Design is working with the UK entrepreneurial charity Bioregional to extend BioRegional’s portfolio of leading demonstration projects.

Following the landmark BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development) project in London, Bioregional has been building an international network of projects in Portugal, the United States, Canada, South Africa, the UAE, Brazil and China. It is also involved in Lend Lease’s Barangaroo project in Sydney.

A two-day event hosted by the CFD in September brought together Melbourne’s sustainability smarts from industry, government and the academe to discuss how such a landmark project might be realised in Victoria.

CFD director Ralph Horne said the workshop came out of the enthusiasm of Bioregional to foster sustainable development in Australia. Professor Horne said Bioregional’s honesty in reporting what didn’t work at BedZED as well as what did, was good for the sustainable development movement. CFD has strong industry research partnerships and Bioregional has major international success in raising BedZED profile as a landmark project, he said.

Challenges for Australia

Several speakers pointed to the problems of the existing model of suburban development. A refreshing though daunting perspective was offered to the forum by speakers from within the social services sector who are tasked with mending the social fabric that tends to follow the development of affordable suburbs.

Pru Sanderson (former chief executive officer, VicUrban and now global business leader – city development with GHD) pointed out eight “elephants in the room” and the challenges that need to be met to achieve more sustainable development.

These were:
• complacency and conceit ¬– the pitfalls of being the world’s number one livable city
• Civic pride – challenges of changing a much loved city
• Population growth – resistance to Melbourne becoming a lot larger.
• Densification – the need for a diversity of density, not only density through high-rise towers
• “The Castle” mentality – the Australian love of private space.
• Fear of the unknown: scarcity of good examples of new urban forms.
• Power, inertia and lines of least resistance – challenges of an industry geared to limited paradigms
• Fear of engagement – hard topics for political figures to address.

BEDZED achievements

Melbourne’s Point Cook emphasises the challenge for new residential growth

BioRegional’s first development BedZED pushed planning boundaries, provided significant important gains in building performance, and became a home for 100 households and space for 100 workers. Developed with the Peabody Housing Association it is the UK’s largest sustainable-focused mixed-use community.

More importantly, since its occupation almost 10 years ago, the development has been referenced the around world as an example of what can be done for reducing environmental impacts.

As a built project that offers tours twice weekly, the utilities performance and residents’ contentment provide proof to those in government, building design and just as importantly – the development industry – that lower impact living is possible, desirable and achievable.

A 2007 survey of residents found that residents use 45 per cent less electricity, 81 per cent less heating gas, and less than half the water than the average in the district. Beyond utilities, the life-styles choices of residents included less car ownership, lower impact food growing and consumption, and strong recycling.

The 10 principles of One Planet Living

10 principles for one planet living

Bioregional use the 10 Principles of One Planet Living that were developed in conjunction with WWF (formerly known as World Wildlife Fund) to drive the design of their developments. The simple concept of limiting environmental impacts to that of one planet has been developed into a 10–layered hierarchy to give “a framework to help us enjoy a high quality of life within a fair share of the earth’s resources”. The highest emphasis is placed on zero carbon, ranging through to the importance of designing for ‘health and happiness’.

Based on the 2007 report the average footprint for BedZED residents is 2.6 planets. BioRegional’s co-founder Pooran Desai said getting beyond the constraints of the building itself, better lifestyle choices by residents could reduce this footprint to 1.7 planets.

Other tools

Professor Horne said that BioRegional’s method were not a silver bullet but rather added “another string to the bow” of finding more sustainable solutions which complimented other tools such as the GBCA’s GreenStar Communities tool currently in development.

Where other tools focused on metrics, he said he saw BioRegional’s strength was in communicating high level messages about sustainable development.

Scott Willey is a Melbourne based sustainability writer and architect

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