Why settle for sustainable?
The creators of new green shopping centre insist that we need to demand more.
Sustainability. It’s the watchword of the modern era, the ‘it’ word of the decade, the hot topic for 2018. And rightly so – it’s never been more important to be aware of our human habits and to take the necessary steps to incite change. The evidence of our detrimental impact upon the earth is all around us – it’s in the changing weather and lack of seasons, it’s in the plastic and garbage littering the sand and lapping shorelines, it’s in the fresh fruits and vegetables that don’t have the same vibrant taste we remember from our childhoods.
Frasers Property Australia holds the health and the future of the earth close to its collective heart, and has set about building the world’s most sustainable shopping centre. Burwood Brickworks will aim to achieve the Living Building Challenge accreditation and has put sustainability at its core. Frasers development manager Jack Davis says, “Sustainability is in our DNA; we are true believers in it and this build has been an amazing chance for us to raise the bar and show the rest of the industry how building sustainably can be good, how you can make money from it, and how you can extract a human benefit from it.”
The precinct will be the first retail development in the world to achieve the Living Building Challenge, and has created a 2000-square metre rooftop urban farm and restaurant – now open for expressions of interest from tenants wanting to take on the project. Frasers executive general manager of retail Peri Macdonald says, “This is an Australian first that will completely reconsider how food is sourced and provided by retailers. Two thousand square metres of productive agricultural space has been evenly split between greenhouses, external planter boxes and landscaped growing areas.”
Frasers has been consulting sustainability expert and executive director of the Living Future Institute Australia, Stephen Choi, to achieve Australia’s first 6 Star Green Star retail design. Choi is a firm believer that striving to be ‘sustainable’ is merely the first step – that we as a community, a culture, a species, need to aim higher.
“The idea that sustainability is a good thing is not necessarily true,” he confirms. “I try not to use the words ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable development’ because, actually, sustainability is not enough.”
Choi claims that, although Australia’s building code is continually being tightened, simply making small improvements on already lax codes is not enough.
“Every time we build a building, we just do a less bad version of the one before,” he says. But Choi is happy to throw his weight behind Burwood Brickworks and has asked through this project, what does ‘good’ look like? And, instead of using the Building Code of Australia as the benchmark for buildings, what if a different, better benchmark was used?
“In this case we’re using the Living Building Challenge, and its benchmark is nature,” Choi says. “If you look at a flower, it only needs the sun that lands on it, the rain that falls, the soil it’s in; it operates without toxicity and it doesn’t create pollution – and it looks good all at the same time. We can’t even build a single building that’s as good as a simple flower. And so we’re on this journey to see if we can do that with this suburban shopping centre.”
This is the model that Frasers and Choi have run with. Like a flower, Burwood Brickworks will aim to generate more energy than it consumes (which is difficult in itself for a shopping precinct, let alone one of 12,700 square metres), house a closed loop water system and use only materials that are free from toxicity.
Choi asks the question, how do you connect people to the natural world within a retail environment? Enter the rooftop urban farm. Frasers has engaged eco activist Joost Bakker to creatively consult on its design concept.
“The vision driving the design comes from such a positive place,” he says. “Frasers is seeking to reinvent the way we think about sustainable, mixed-use developments and food sourcing. Mulching excess organic material for compost, implementing closed loop water reduction management, and limiting food and waste transportation are just some of the measures that will be employed on the rooftop to lessen the ecological footprint.
“Minimising the amount of energy needed in Burwood Brickworks’ urban rooftop farm and restaurant underlines the commitment to an improved social conscious while providing genuine health benefits for both consumer and retailer alike,” Bakker says.
Bakker’s passion and expertise lies in the state of our soil and its effect on the food we consume. When soil is depleted of nutrients, this deficiency transfers into the produce that grows in it and, consequently, to our bodies, as we don’t receive the nutrients we need from the food we eat.
At a recent press event to launch the expression of interest in the urban farm, Bakker said, “Complex soils that are found in old growth forests have between 100 and 150 different elements. The soils that we grow our food in have almost all of those stripped out, whether it be magnesium, calcium, iron – all the things that we actually need to survive. I think the solution is in the waste that we generate and actually incorporating that back into our soils.
“That’s what really excites me about this [project], because we are all massive generators of the things that soil needs – which are nutrients. We create so much organic waste that could nourish soils, and what we are doing here in Burwood, and the reason I love this concept is because it’s in the heart of what, I think, in 25 years time will be the food bowl again,” Bakker said. “Our infrastructure, our buildings, our homes and our commercial buildings will all be where our food comes from in the future.
“This, I believe, is part of the solution and I only hope that this becomes a catalyst for change,” he concluded.
Burwood Brickworks is set to open from late 2019.