Navigating the megatrends for a better built environment

Richard Palmer, Director of Sustainability, WSP - 

A decade ago, as the green building movement was gathering momentum in Australia, conversations were focused on energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and improving our systems and processes for managing non-financial performance. Our premium buildings responded in style, leading the world in independently assessed and assured sustainability ratings.

Over this same period though, the sustainability challenges of our cities have escalated in the face of increasing densification and deepening understanding of the climate change crisis.

As we look forward to the coming decade, what might the trends in our sector be to navigate these issues in the built environment?

1.       Responding to the carbon bubble | We see a shift towards a prudential risk-management approach to climate change that considers the asset value risk of future emissions reduction policy as well as direct risks due to climate change.

2.       Navigating the complexity of urban intensification | As Sydney and Melbourne head toward eight million people by 2050, we see the intersecting challenges of land use, density, affordability, transport, resilience, infrastructure funding and urban competitiveness needing to be addressed in an integrated manner to deliver more sustainable outcomes for the environment and communities.

3.       Healthy cities | We see a shift from just good IEQ and productivity towards an overall urban response to current health priorities – the so-called lifestyle diseases like diabetes. An urban health framework will consider active living, nutrition, wellbeing, biophilia, healthy buildings and healthy work-styles.

4.       Urban ecosystems | The value of urban ecosystems in delivering amenity, ecological services and broader support for socio-ecological systems will become increasingly important. We see a transition from a conservation-focused approach to biodiversity to one which recognises the local urban eco-systems and identifies strategic interventions to support and enhance them.

5.       Getting sustainability value out of digital disruption | The smart cities movement has linked the world of digital innovation to the built environment, but not all innovation delivers on sustainability. We see a trend emerging of the critical assessment of digital innovation (connected and autonomous vehicles, smart grids, pervasive connectivity etc) to support preferred outcomes for cities.

6.       Reconciliation | Most Indigenous Australians live in cities and Australia’s future is urban. We see a sustainability trend in addressing both Indigenous participation in place-making and Indigenous procurement in supply-chain management to make cities better aligned with both their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

Responding to these trends is where sustainability practitioners need to focus to truly move the needle on making our cities more equitable, competitive and sustainable.

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