Save the environment! Clean ponds!

It started so well, “Helping the environment needs a realistic approach”.  That seems like a really sensible aim.

It went on to talk about the ACT government plans for renewable energy – 90% renewable energy by 2020 and 40% emissions reductions.  Again, I say woot! somebody is taking this energy thing seriously.

And then she said that the new solar farm is so woefully inadequate and building more farms such an unrealistic pathway that the only solution will be to have the electorate pay unreasonably high premiums to import green power from interstate.  Certainly, just relying on solar farms might not achieve the target – but the emissions target included in the plan will certainly help. [1]

But I started laughing when her suggestions of “better, more achievable and practical pathways” were ” planting trees or keeping local ponds clean and viable”.

Read it and laugh for yourself here.

[1] A number of years ago I was really tempted by the solar PV panel deals that were available.  Then I looked at my electricity bill and thought that 17kWh/day was pretty high for our then family of five and would make the panels just a drop in the ocean.  I did an energy audit and reduced our consumption to 10kWh/day.  7kWh/day is a very good output from solar panels, but I didn’t have to install them. We had the same impact on the environment as installing PV panels might have done, but it saved me the cost of both the panels and the electricity.


Woot! That’s my project!

Kathmandu have finally announced to the world that they’ve signed up for Green Star and now I can tell you (with bonus fizzes of sparklers and fireworks) that I’m their ESD consultant.

It’s pretty exciting and has been for about 6 months as we did all the negotiating and client meetings getting them comfortable with the process and costs :).  Now we’re in the doing phase and I have my head deep in the submission guideline and setting up spreadsheets and project plans. Also learning heaps about retail projects.

I’m working on the project with Elsie + Betty and one of the nicest things has been arranging to spend one day a week working at an empty desk in their office.  When I’m here (mostly Tuesdays) we can talk about the project anytime, and I can be reminded of what it’s like to work in an office.  I love how productive I am sitting at a desk, and then I’m pleased to work at home again.

If you’re also working on the Green Star Interiors Pilot tool I’d be keen to share experiences and suggestions – contact me!


Bicycle Parking

This morning I lodged an objection to a planning application for a change of use to a gymnasium at my local shopping centre.  Wow!  The planning scheme only requires that the gym have 2 bike parking spaces for visitors and 2 for employees, even though the peak usage expects 50 patrons and 7 staff members.

The town planning report says that 50% of patrons are likely to live within 2km of the gym and the City of Yarra says that 80% of trips to work are by bicycle.  I think that means that about 20 bicycles will need parking for about an hour during the peak time.  And if they don’t, then the people attending the gym are dumb.

Here’s a photo I took of the local bike parking (council provided) at 6pm on a weeknight;full bike parking at the Hive

The 5 hoops are full, the nearby hoops are full and someone has locked their bike to a parking pole.  There’s no room for 4 more bikes, and especially not 20 more.

The stuff I couldn’t put into my letter, because it doesn’t obviously impact on me, is that I would hope that staff at a gym are even more likely to ride to work than the patrons.  What advice are consultants providing when they don’t include somewhere for gym junkies to park their expensive bikes?

It wouldn’t even be expensive or difficult to provide great bike parking for that gym.  There’s plenty of lovely secure space for bicycle parking in the foyer of the stairs to the gym.  Sillies!

When the shopping centre opened there was no bike parking provided and now there is none in the centre.  There doesn’t even seem to be employee parking.  But I’m sure the Yarra Planning scheme required them when the centre was built.  I guess this is another example of sustainability reports that don’t get followed through to construction.  What are we going to do about this?




Transport privilege

I’m procrastinating about a fee proposal, so have a blog post instead;

I live in the inner city.  I walk or ride a tricycle (my own) to do the local market and supermarket shopping (truthfully, my husband mostly does it).  I also ride the Food Know How tricycle between local cafes and the Collingwood Children’s Farm.  My daughter walks the 100m to school.  I can ride my bicycle to get almost anywhere and, around here, people of every socio-economic group can be seen riding their bicycles because that’s one of the easiest ways to get around.  When I’m feeling lazy and don’t feel like cycling I take the tram or the train into the city.

I live in a place where public transport, walking and cycling is easy (just as well, I’ll be car free in two weeks), and I have a very different view of life from people who live in places where the cars go fast and the distances to supermarkets, libraries and sports facilities are longer.

In my head, gyms, swimming pools and basketball courts serve locals who can walk or cycle there.  Schools, libraries and child care centres similarly.  Aged Care facilities should be staffed by locals.  Obviously, you would keep disabled parking spaces but how do you provide for people who don’t have disabled parking permits, but still need to use a car as a motorised mobility device? People like me when I was 7 months pregnant, or when I tore my calf muscle playing netball. I’ll keep thinking about that…

Anyway, this is just a long way of saying that it’s probably wrong of me to look at every project I work on and ask, “do we really need to include car parking?” and “What would we have to do to make that happen?”  I still do it though and then remind myself of my transport privilege and prejudice.

I will say though, that the child care centre in the heart of the City of Yarra (highest proportion of people who cycle to work in Australia) is a possible exception. I found it difficult to believe that the centre needed parking for so many cars – imagine how much more play space they could have had?  I certainly argued for generous bike parking, to accommodate all the ways people are carry children on their bikes these days.  And now, every time I walk past the site, I imagine working with the enrolling families to make sure that they don’t drive to get there – one way to deal with long waiting lists :-).

bakfiets to carry childrenBicycle trailer

What prejudices do you bring to your sustainability problem solving?


Personal sustainability and back breaking fun

One of the reasons I began working for myself is that a full time job with a consultancy didn’t give me the time to work on all of the interesting projects that are out there in the world.  I like what I do, but I want to do other things too.  Here’s what I did on my weekend.

Actually, it all started last summer. Or maybe 20 years ago…about twenty years ago I started reducing the number of things that go into my bin.  Each time I emptied it I took note of what was in there and tried to think about what I could do to reduce it.  For instance, I stopped using margarine because I was fed up with having so many  “useful” margarine containers.  I can put the paper butter wrapper into my compost.

Last summer, I realised that most of my waste was cans of tomato, so a friend and I got together and set ourselves up to make passata. It was a hard day’s work, but we’ve eaten 1-2 jars a week all year, and I don’t have to spend money to make pretty instant, fabulous  dinner AND there are fewer tins in my bin. The no money part has also been useful for this lean first year of business.

So this year, I’ve been thinking about how to get tomatoes.  And I have a friend with a backyard aquaponics setup that has been a bit neglected. Aquaponics is like hydroponics,  but the plant nutrients are provided by fish.  The water from the fish tank is pumped through the grow beds.  The plants and gravel clean the water for the fish, and the fish nutrients (aka poo) feed the plants.

So I started a project:  I’ve crowdfunded amongst my friends to get the greenhouse and fish production system going, some of us have been involved in working bees to do the work, and at the end of summer we should have 500kg of tomatoes and 100kg of fish. Also some greens and basil. I guess I’ll also have a much better idea of the practicalities of systems like the greenhouse on top of the supermarket.

This weekend we installed the cover on the greenhouse, collected and delivered the fish into the fish tank and weeded the grow beds.  See?fishytomatoes

With added bonus, kids preparing pots to grow seedlings. It was so hot in there, the kids soon lost interest and set up a beach party at the water outlet you can see in the background.  It was 10degrees outside – it works!


This morning as I got on the train to head to HubMelbourne‘s Coworking in the Lane, I met Ian Gardner of Wood and Grieve.  I’m so pleased. We only spoke for 3 stops but gee it was interesting.

He’s working on a building just around the corner from my house.  A building I watch and regularly fume at because they’ve left the lights on, again!  But they have a call centre on the top two floors – so it’s reasonable that they are operating then.  I’ll stop fuming about that.

I shouldn’t stop fuming about the poor design he also talked about.  That building was finished about 4 years ago, but its only 3 stars NABERS, despite being designed for 41/2 stars.  He described it as a building that was reasonably designed initially, but let down through the standard construction management process.  The facade looks promising, with good shading and reasonable glass – I guess we can thank BCA Section J for that.  But Ian says it’s very leaky and takes 2 hours at 100% to get the building warm on winter mornings.

Where does the council’s sustainable design assessment process fit with that – how do we make sure that the reasonably sustainable building that was designed, is the one that gets built?

Also, the mechanical services design is a VRF system.  It’s a pretty common low cost system and should be pretty good at managing the zoning in the building, to operate only when heating or cooling is needed in a particular zone.  But if you select a unit that’s too big you end up using a lot of fan power that isn’t necessary.

And here’s the bit that intrigued me.  Ian commented that the increased cost of refrigerants means that systems like this are unlikely to be installed in future.  On the other hand, I know that the governnment’s plan for the repeal of the carbon tax, has been discussed extensively on the Airah LinkedIn discussion group.  I wonder if that will change things again?  Based on the comments from others in the industry, they’re not keen to see the refrigerant issue go backwards – I hope they don’t.

Has it really been a year?

Ooops, long time no blog.

It hasn’t been a year, it’s been a year and a month or so.  It appears that I’m still paying the mortgage and eating, so it’s been moderately successful.

I’ve also found time to get gardening done and make stuff and start volunteering with Food Know How.

Each week i jump on a cargo trike, ride to two or three cafes, collect their food waste and empty the bins at the nearest composting hub. It takes about 2 hours and I get to ride a bike like this!

Food Know How cargo trikeIt’s great to get so personal with a sustainability measure I’ve spent so much time and effort advocating for.

In exchange for my time, each cafe I visit gives me a credit.  I currently have enough credit to take someone for coffee at Proud Mary.  Are you , or do you know an architect in that area of Collingwood? (there are lots!).  Cheers!

Fed Square East

Every Thursday when I check the tender page I look at the Fed Square East invitation for Industry submissions and I think, ” I wish there was some wild and crazy thing I could come up with and gather a grass roots movement around.  Something so weird, but public minded that it might just work”.

According to the website there is 2.3 hectares of railyards and one hectare of carparking.  (Yep, those cars are so important that we use 10 000m2 of prime inner city land to store them.)

It’s here –

View Larger Map

Some things I’m inspired by for the site:

  1. Every person in Melbourne buys 1m2 and we make it an orchard with viewing windows into the railyards below.  Maybe groups of friends or families could “own” a tree or three.
  2. A maze of linear park bridges, inspired by the Highline park in New York. Lots of different walking bridges above the railyards with views of the trains.  Maybe it could start/finish on the corner of Exhibition St and Flinders Lane so you could avoid walking up or down that steep hill between Flinders Lane and Flinders St.
  3. Build a real co-educational inner city high school with a school oval along Flinders St so everyone knows it’s there. (My local high school is a girls school, so there are mainly boys in the other “co-ed” schools, that’s what I mean when I say “real”)

Anyone else have a better idea? Tweet it to #crazyfedsquareeast





What I’m good at

It’s been a bit hard this week.  I haven’t had work fall into my lap as it has for the past 4 months and I have my first slow to pay client.

It’s also been good.  It’s been an existentialist week where I’ve had the space to ask; what am I doing, is it what I want to be doing, what do I like doing  and what do I need to do to do more of the stuff I like?

I thought today was going to be more of that, with a bit of an assessment I’m finishing and then organising a roast dinner for my friday night crowd. But I got a phone call from an old client who was nice enough to spend some time talking about the impact I had in dealing with them and the strengths that I brought to the projects we worked on.  Things like;

  • I’m good at Green Star, I really “know my stuff”
  • I’m really confident in talking to people and communicate well
  • I’m good at teaching people
  • I have a really broad general knowledge about buildings and their systems

He also made some good suggestions about marketing these skills and the work that would be a good way to develop the relationships I need to do more of the work I want to do and am good at.

Yeah, the past 6 months have been a good way to dip my toe in the water, but I think I need to enunciate what I want to do more clearly, and then I need to remind myself of it regularly and not get sidetracked into doing things just for the money  – it needs to build on my vision too.

Perhaps I’ve stepped I’m stepping up to the next level of self actualisation?




Public Transport and starfish

I’m a GreenStar Assessor.  I’m also a public transport geek and there’s nothing I find more frustrating than submissions that miss out on points because the GSAP can’t use public transport as efficiently as I can, unless it’s projects that don’t use the Building User Guide to encourage people to catch public transport and ride bikes.  Often it’s both, and then I start ranting, see below.

I think at this point I should also say that I’m a true believer.  Transport is one of the most significant greenhouse gas impacts people have and I believe that people who are working in the sustainability field are in it to save the world.  For me, if you don’t use public transport regularly, and you’re not riding a bike, you’re not really trying hard enough.  (Yes, I know, I appear much more forgiving in real life, but really, I’m judging you.)

Last week I went to South Morang for a site visit.  I have a theory that if you take a bike and a train you can get to most places in Melbourne within 20min longer than the same car journey will take, but you can read on the train so it’s worth it.  According to google maps, my South Morang visit would have taken about 35 minutes.  By train and bike it took about 50min and my theory holds.

Anyway, here’s how to get the maximum available points out of the commuting public transport credit for a building:

  1. Look up the building location using a map that shows all the nearby bus routes, tram routes and train stations.  In Melbourne the best of these is the Melways.
  2. Make a note of every transport option within a 1km radius of the site and look up their timetables.
  3. Discard the ones that have a travel frequency greater than 30min.
  4. Read through the timetables to identify every destination within a 15min travel time, particularly looking for shopping centres and train stations.
  5. Look up those destinations in your mapto identify buses, trams and trains that connect to your primary travel routes.
  6. Follow the instructions in the GBCA Transport Calculator Guide

So now you fully understand the public transport available nearby, COMMUNICATE IT TO THE BUILDING OCCUPANTS!!!  It’s great to get points for the location of the building, but what’s the point if everyone drives there?  Ideally, every building users guide includes a map showing the location of each bus, tram stop and train station, with notes about their final destination and what services that primary mode connects to.  This information should be included even when the project doesn’t get any points for the commuting credit – maybe people can combine a bike with a train that’s 3km away, and you could be the one who made the difference and got that car off the road.  That’s how I save the world, one starfish at a time.