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Polyamorous marriage? It’s a must for sustainable cities

Polyamorous marriage? It’s a must for sustainable cities

We need multi-partnered relationships of trust and collaboration – equal to the very best marriages – to achieve the outperformance that will give us a sustainable built environment.

A polyamorous marriage between research, industry, government, and community is imperative if we are to continue to future proof our built environment for a sustainable, low to zero carbon future.

My reason for saying this is because during my time as CEO for the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), where this type of marriage has flourished, I have witnessed how research evidence can significantly impact change in the built environment. I have also seen how relationships between research bodies, industry, governments and community build power to create more sustainable cities and deliver this change.

This must continue in order to document evidence about how new solar energy systems and improved battery storage on both small and large scales can power our homes and businesses; how communities can work together to reduce their energy impact by utilising new technology and systems; how heat reflective materials, water and greenery can cool our heat ravaged cities; and what low carbon materials are best used in our buildings and streets.

By staying focussed on a common goal we can also continue to develop the best sustainable practice methods to develop and run our cities, for the good of future generations.

The work the CRCLCL has funded has already helped reduce carbon emissions in Australia’s built environment because we are on track to meet our founding goal of 10 megatonnes cumulative reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, enabling a projected economic benefit to Australia of $684 million by 2027.

Over the past six and a half years I have watched industry and government make core changes in their approach to the built environment, taking on board new ways to improve our cities’ liveability for the sake of its residents. During this time local governments of our major Australian cities have significantly increased their action on climate change and low carbon. 

Adelaide is a renowned carbon neutral leader with initiatives like the Adelaide to Zero our Carbon Neutral Challenge and low carbon living laboratories in Tonsley, Bowden and Lochiel Park – where the polygamous marriage truly exists and learning by doing is on the front burner.  Places like these will continue to grow and develop, so the research must go on.

The City of Sydney’s recent Resilience Strategy 2018 also mirrors my belief that such an unusual marriage is a necessity.  The City of Sydney has been pioneering in its approach to sustainability, investing time and resources towards understanding the city’s dynamics and what directions must be taken to strengthen its “ability to survive, adapt and thrive in the face of increasing global uncertainty and local shocks and stresses” which includes the effect of climate and carbon. Their strategy says it “calls for business, government, academia, communities and individuals to lead and work as one city” and I say: “All hail to that.”

The Cities of Perth, Freemantle and Melbourne should also be praised for their innovation in producing projects that are providing solid evidence that you can produce your own power, recycle and live a low carbon life by making changes, investing and taking up new technology – which in future will be less expensive than they are today.  It is the monitoring of these new technologies and the creation of evidence through research whilst in partnership with industry, government and community, that trust is built and uptake follows.

It is a credit to local city governments around Australia that they have taken note and action towards a more sustainable future.

But all this research and testing needs community engagement, where feedback from the consumer can gleaned and absorbed.  This also lets the people feel involved with sustainable change. This is no easy task and the help of local governments and other community focused organisations are the key, they, therefore, play an important role in the marriage.

There are many opportunities in the pipeline such as ensuring the new Western Sydney airport development maximises its sustainability potential, investing and implanting new technology.  This project must be planned and built with the long-term future in mind. Ensuring it is not limited by a lack of forethought or budgetary chains. Using the evidence that researchers, industry and governments across Australia have produced over the years must be referred to and taken advantage of. This evidence will support better design planning and necessary policy change.

As our climate continues to swing left and right, where heatwaves and floods abound, we need to use these opportunities and be clever in our approach, to ensure our children’s children can live in a world where they are not worrying about water or energy supply, and where their homes and surroundings are green and liveable. 

The challenge is ongoing but at least now we have a legacy of evidence and brain power that can take us boldly into the future. 

Professor Deo Prasad AO is CEO of the CRC for Low Carbon Living a national research and innovation hub that seeks to enable a globally competitive low carbon built environment sector.


Spinifex is an opinion column open to all, so called because it’s at the “spiky” end of sustainability. Spinifex may be inconvenient or annoying at times, but in fact, it’s highly resilient in a hostile environment and essential to nurturing biodiversity and holding the topsoil together. If you would like to contribute, we require 700+ words.  For a more detailed brief and style guide please email editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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