So you’re using Green Star, Living Building Challenge or a house energy ratings scheme to design and build a new high performance green building. Or maybe you’ve just done a round of sustainability upgrades.

It used to be enough to just make the changes. Simply hire a specialist consultant, add some sustainable design features and you’re away. But no longer. Because what our green building pioneers are discovering is that building features alone are not enough to promote enduring performance.

Enduring performance comes from something much deeper than well-intentioned design. To realise the potential of green building design and make a meaningful difference, organisations need to be willing, and able, to fundamentally shift the mindsets of building users.

Mindset: The source of our everyday performance

Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits drive the real world potential of your sustainability projects.

Real world sustainability performance comes from the inside out. It needs to be true to who your building users are and authentically reflect why they use their building every day.

Treating sustainability as a problem that can be solved using expertise, rating tools and building architecture won’t get you very far. Because, below the surface of any green building project – in what could be called today’s sustainability blind spot – are a number of deeply human elements that are often overlooked. In this article we focus on one of these important human elements – the mindset of building users.

Mindsets – our deeply held beliefs, values and higher purpose – are integral to enduring sustainability performance. In the words of Donella Meadows, “mindsets are the sources of systems.” They shape the lives we lead and the actions we take, which in turn drives the real world potential of green building projects.

What is a mindset? The different mindsets we can choose to adopt for ourselves can broadly be grouped into three categories:


Which mindset do you and your organisation regularly adopt?

What our sustainability pioneers are realising is that you can’t just focus on the physical architecture, because what’s going on in our inner lives – our beliefs, values and higher purpose – always finds a way through to drive building performance. Unless organisations are authentically aligned, inside and out, the potential of any green building project will fade. This means that regardless of how well-intentioned the design is, or which ratings you pursue, the building users need to be genuinely aligned and consciously living the potential of their development every day.

In particular, high-performance green buildings require a culture of everyday leadership – people who genuinely come to work to be of value – to themselves, others, nature and the future. People who see every day as an opportunity to question everything, promoting more sustainable ways of living and working.

These features are the hallmarks of a Benefit Mindset. Anything less is simply insufficient for nurturing the long-term potential of a high-performance green building.

Nowadays, people can see straight through you. They can tell if you’re not walking the talk, and walking the talk is where the business value of sustainability is. Therefore, if you’re in the business of creating a sustainable future – guess what, you’re also in the business of developing mindsets. It’s where the real leverage lies for infusing sustainability and everyday leadership into your organisation.

The key takeaway here is this: if you want enduring sustainability performance, what’s going on in people’s inner lives matters. It’s no longer enough to just build a green building – organisations need to also consider how they can best develop their people, and infuse everyday leadership into their organisation. The future of sustainability is becoming less about the building, and more about helping people discover how they can make an everyday difference.

Want to find out more about developing mindsets? Check out this post on becoming an everyday leader.

Ash Buchanan is director of adaptive development at Cohere.

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  1. Hi Tim and Anne
    I hear both of you, and thanks for sharing. I have worked in sustainable design for close to 15 years, and i also believe that there is often a gap between what is meant to be installed and what is. The point you raise goes a step beyond my article, from how building users think to the mindset of the whole industry itself. If you ask me, the issues you have raised are the viable symptoms of a much deeper problem – a mindset based on self interested rather than individual and collective potential. I wish you all the best with your efforts, and i will try my best support you by putting the importance of mindset on more agendas.

  2. Ash this is an excellent article. A big problem is that the Energy Rating scheme is often meaningless because what is written in the Building Permit documents is not what is necessarily built. In fact in 2011, the Victorian Auditor-General found 96% of Building Permits did not meet the minimum building and safety standards! Unbelievable, but true! The common ‘certificates’, such as for glass, is not what is actually installed – and as was the case with our house, seals around doors were missing!

    The business of building and sustainability are often more about business than anything else – and in a lawless industry, non-compliance is endemic. As for the end users, as the payers they rarely know that they have been cheated, with worthless certificates issued in lace of the real deal. No enforcement, no checks, no audits – self-certifying means commonly what the consumer pays for is not what they get – and this applies across all things ‘building’. Performance, or non-conformance side-stepped with the endorsement of the so-called ‘governance regulators’.
    We need more people informed and an outcry from consumers and the public. At present, the truths are hidden and few people know. Hence if uninformed they cannot become angry and express their outrage. Keep up the good work, Ash and Tim.

  3. Thanks Ash

    You spoke about “real world performance” and to “question everything”.
    What about supporting me – the only person in the building energy industry – constantly calling for real house thermal testing of all insulation materials, instead of short time laboratory tests.

    Yes its true. And I gave evidence in two Senate Inquiries and a recent Royal Commission. But nobody says anything to support me.
    Standards will not face the truth because you know who writes Standards…its Industry. Who just want to sell thicker and thicker batts into houses. Its an utter disgrace, particularly in hot climates where bulk insulations invariably incubate houses, as stated in Senate debates in 2010. And worse when airconditioning ductwork has had the wrong insulating materials for decades.

    For proof, see

    Please Ash….break the mindset and face the truth.
    Big insulation companies cannot be trusted to tell the public the truth in Rvalues of insulation materials.
    If you have any further doubt…then read the findings of the 2010 Senate Inquiry-Home Insulation Program.