The tallest tree

30 Apr 2024

Many of us are still processing the devastating news of Jeff Robinson’s recent passing, and this month I devote my column to a towering tree who sheltered many of us in the forest of sustainability.

Tragically, Jeff was walking not far from his home when he was involved in a fatal traffic incident on Sunday 7 April. He leaves behind a loving wife, Carolyn, and three daughters.

Jeff was Global Sustainable Design Expertise Leader with Aurecon for more than 20 years. He led the first Green Star refurbishment at Melbourne’s 40 Albert Road and many, many more ground-breaking sustainable buildings since. When Jeff spoke, our industry listened – and he spoke through his projects as much as he did through his words.

Jeff’s contributions to committees and associations are too great to list. Aside from his two-decade involvement with the Green Building Council of Australia, he was Founding Director of the Living Future Institute of Australia, a board member of the Australian Passive House Association, a member of the Materials & Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA), a member of the Property Council's Sustainability Committee in Victoria, and many more.

Jeff’s technical excellence, razor-sharp intellect and implacable enthusiasm were legendary. Jeff cheer-squadded our best work and lovingly told us when we could do better. He supported young people (and the not-so-young), nurturing careers and transforming lives.

Arguably Jeff’s greatest achievement was not designing projects that always challenged us to do better – which he certainly did – but his ability to lift people up. He was well known for asking the first question at every event and forum, and this reflects his relentless engagement at every turn. Jeff was always interested, and always asking for better. But he always asked with kindness.

Architect and advocate Caroline Pidcock called Jeff “one of the tallest and strongest trees” in the forest of sustainability, sheltering and nurturing other trees. It is heartbreakingly apt that, in lieu of flowers, a memorial forest is being planted in Jeff’s honour.

You can contribute to Jeff Robinson’s Sustainable Forest, which at the time of writing has attracted more than $47,000 (of a $2,000 target). Administered by Greenfleet, the forest will be legally protected for 100 years, and will honour Jeff’s passion and commitment to sustainability beyond this century. The forest will be planted at Ledcourt, located on Jardwadjali and Djabwurung Country, adjacent to the northern part of the Grampians National Park in Victoria. It will be a place to seek Jeff’s wisdom.

The outpouring of love and grief on social media as people learnt the news was overwhelming. Many people have shared comments on LinkedIn, but if you would like to honour Jeff's memory with a message for his family to read, please do so on Jeff Robinson’s Kudoboard.

I last had breakfast with Jeff just a few weeks ago, and he was so “Jeff” – excited about the future of the industry and what we could do when we worked together. (If you are looking for some light amid the darkness, we’ve had some key wins this month that would have elicited a pat on the back from Jeff, and which we share in this month’s Green Building Voice.)

The day after hearing about Jeff's death, the only way I could rouse myself was to remember his passion and determination to do better together for the benefit of all people and the planet.

As hard as it is, Jeff would want us to keep fighting for what we believe in, and what he believed in. There is no upside to Jeff’s passing. But we can take his attitude forward. Jeff understood that the tallest trees in the forest must shelter and nurture those beneath them. To make the changes we need, we must uplift everyone.