It may surprise you to know that, as an urban designer, I would like the words ‘sustainable design’ to disappear from our lexicon.

A strange idea indeed from someone who has spent much of the past two years of my professional life preparing a submission on behalf of our client, Sekisui House, to have their Ecco Ripley development in Queensland rated as one of Australia’s first Green Star – Communities.

The idea of rating Green Star – Communities is an initiative of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). The GBCA is currently running a pilot of the rating, which posits the idea that whole communities can be developed in a sustainable way – a step beyond GBCA’s original brief of rating individual buildings.

The Green Star – Communities rating tool is a fantastic idea, in my view. The guidelines are rigorous and go way beyond environmental impact to include ideas such as liveability and economic growth and the governance credentials of the developer. (See our feature on how Ecco Ripley achieved its five Green-Star rating).
At the moment, the words ‘sustainable design’ perform an important function. They remind us that we need to change – that we have a choice about our future, and we can design in a sustainable way, or not.

So what’s the problem with the words …?

But I would like to see a day arrive when that choice is a “no-brainer”.

The way I look at it, the imperatives of design and sustainability have become deeply aligned. Great design is sustainable design. Sustainable design is great design.

Sustainability is such an important part of all the future communities we are designing that it has to become a fundamental element of what we do as urban designers and planners. Our efforts now have to move far beyond creating buildings and master plans that look “nice”.

Our challenge is to consistently achieve designs that are holistic and integrated. It is to help our clients to evolve sustainability past the triple-bottom-line paradigm, and to show how to include other important elements, such as governance, community, a sense of place, and health and happiness.

I’d argue that we are not talking about changing design paradigms in the future – it’s what we do today that matters.

So I am willing to keep those words ‘sustainable design’ on the tip of my tongue for the time being, but I will keep my sights firmly on the day when ‘unsustainable design’ is simply unthinkable.

One day soon, there will no longer be two categories of design, and therefore there will no longer be the need for the term.

About the author: Anna Robinson is an associate and senior urban designer with Hames Sharley.

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