Member evenings – Is less more?

22 Jun 2016

Our first round of member evenings for 2016 tackled whether ‘less is more’ and debated whether we have indeed reached “peak stuff” as coined by Ikea’s Global Head of Sustainability Steve Howard earlier this year.

In Sydney, 1 Million Women CEO and Founder Natalie Isaacs opened with a look at Australian consumption trends – confirming that we’re still spending $10.5 billion per year on stuff we barely use.

And, if this isn’t worrying enough, when we don’t want stuff, we throw it out – confirmed City of Sydney’s Hal Dobbins who said that waste volumes are exploding each year.

These spending and waste disposal behaviours fly in the face of ‘less is more’ and suggest we haven’t reached the summit.

The discussion in all states gave rise to questions – why can’t we have more? Why is less a bad thing? And how can less actually give us more?

In Perth, GHD Woodhead Design Director Mark Popplewell highlighted that reaching peak stuff is not as dramatic as falling off an edge.

The level is rather a cyclic event governed by the imperatives that necessitate change.

“The imperatives that will actually drive sustainability in property are climate changes, affordability and population,” said Mark.

Our panelists around the country provided evidence that this ‘less’ movement has already begun in response to constraints and values.

At our Melbourne member’s evening, City of Melbourne’s Prof Rob Adams AM explained that in Melbourne there isn’t the time or money to build what’s needed for the expected population growth so they’re having to make some smarter decisions on what needs to be done and explore what can be done with existing infrastructure.

Melbourne is not alone, this trend is already happening in the property space in Australia, and globally – think urban regeneration, compact living and shared economies.

“The sharing economy has already made an impact on the building industry, with tool libraries and car sharing being two examples of needing less space, less garage space and less things,” WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff’s Jenny Lewis said.

There’s also a shift from ‘stuff’ in buildings explained TRG Properties’ Tanya Trevisan.

“People more conscious of the space they occupy. The main thing densification is doing is utilising existing and established areas and trying to decelerate the urban spread,” said Tanya.

Tanya explained that in the apartment market we are looking at downsizing – reversing ‘peak stuff.’

Planet Ark’s Paul Klymenko shared that in order to initiate any kind of change we need to realise how damaging this accumulation of stuff is and if we can’t change the trajectory then perhaps need to consider consuming more intelligently.

Northrop’s Amir Girgis also followed explaining that to change the trajectory we need to identify the correct mechanisms to enable change – whether this be legislation, language or behavior.

On the above it would appear we have not reached ‘peak stuff,’ though there’s a movement towards ‘less’ that’s being necessitated by densification.

In Brisbane we addressed a different, but nonetheless intertwined topic – focusing on the resilience and sustainability of a ‘Future Brisbane.’

Conrad Gargett’s Anissa Farrell summed it up by saying we should be looking at resilience and we should be looking at climate change as a reality and adapting our cities to future challenges.

Anissa mentioned that good leadership is the cornerstone to changes in sustainability and we need to embrace cross-industry creative solutions to solving city challenges.

So is less more? If we can think smartly about ‘more’ then having stuff is sustainable – but it would seem less is really more when it comes to values and liveable cities for the future.

Thank you to our panellists:


  • Natalie Isaacs, CEO & Founder, 1 Million Women
  • Paul Klymenko, CEO and Executive Director, Planet Ark
  • Hal Dobbins, Acting Resource Recovery Manager, Cleansing & Waste Services, City of Sydney
  • Amir Girgis, Sustainability Manager, Northrop


  • Prof. Rob Adams AM, Director City Design and Projects, City of Melbourne
  • Jenny Lewis, Sustainability Consultant, WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff
  • John Gertsakis, Chief Sustainability Officer, Infoactiv Group & Ecoactiv


  • John Flecker, Executive Director CEO - Australasia, Brookfield Multiplex
  • Nicole Lockwood, Principal, Lockwood Advisory
  • Tanya Trevisan, Chief Operating Officer, Transcontinental Group
  • Mark Popplewell, Design Director, GHD


  • Anissa Farrell, Senior Associate & Sustainability Manager, Conrad Gargett
  • David Cowan, Senior Urban Planner, Urban Renewal Brisbane
  • Lisa Hinde, Sustainability Analyst, JLL

We encourage all our members to get along to our member evenings.