It's time to modernise an old Christmas favourite to make it sync up with our sustainable goals.

On the first day of Christmas we laundered our money

It’s great that we’re building green buildings, and we need to keep accelerating – but if we still send superannuation into fossil fuels, then our green building is hypocrisy writ large and our money is still fuelling the problem. Launder your money – make it clean. Look to your investment plans, staff super, personal super, anywhere that your money does work. The leverage of the consumer dollar can make the shift happen overnight and will stimulate a swathe of new clean industries and perpetual jobs.

On the second day of Christmas, we stopped referring to ‘energy efficiency’ as ‘sustainability’

We achieve an energy efficient building and think our work is done – we celebrate success and stop trying to go further. But we’re far from done. In fact we’ve missed the vast majority of sustainable opportunities. Energy efficiency is a must-do no-brainer financial windfall for building owners and operators. And it’s simply good design – if we’re not making it central to our work, regardless of discipline, then we’re being professionally negligent. BCA Section J isn’t ‘sustainability’ – it’s minimum compliance and therefore barely legal.

On the third day of Christmas, we de-carbonised our energy

Just as blaming climate change on over population is nothing but prejudice (it’s our un-sustainable consumption that is the issue), blaming energy consumption is equally inaccurate. It’s the way we create our energy that contributes to climate change. We must de-carbonise the energy that we do consume, and we need to do it fast. Making the energy that we consume carbon-free is much easier than you think – as simple as phone call or as rich as local community uplift.

On the fourth day of Christmas, we got wood

Lots of it. Amidst the field of new high tech smart materials, we’ll see timber take its place as the construction material of the 21st century. Timber is renewable, workable, durable, strong, soaks up tonnes of carbon and a good architect can make it sing. It’s perfect for pre-fabrication and modularity, and it’s fast to market – just watch the time-lapse of Lend Lease’s Forte to see what I mean.

On the fifth day of Christmas, we stopped making gas

Stop using gas – it’s a fossil fuel. Get over it. The cleanest solution can only be an electrified building that runs wholly from zero-carbon energy. Have you noticed the scale and speed at which our national grid is going renewable? There simply isn’t a need to develop more gas infrastructure – we have a wide brown land with plenty of sun, wind and tides.

On the sixth day of Christmas, we found our mojo

Every design put forward to a client should include a zero-carbon pathway, using a mix of passive and active design, appropriate technology, renewables and ultimately carbon offsetting (and there are many ways to do this). Most clients won’t ask for this simply because they’re not up to speed with how much easier it’s become. The new social license to operate will include having a clear and implemented strategy to de-carbonise. Don’t be scared – it’s much easier after the first few times.

On the seventh day of Christmas, we wore black skivvies

Modelling is not sustainability. Models to measure energy efficiency, GHG emissions, thermal comfort and the like are simply tools to support the design process, or even just to verify what the design did. Yes of course modelling is useful and it should be done by the designers (yes, take responsibility, and no you don’t have to wear a black skivvy to be one), but it doesn’t replace good design. Be smart designers, or you’ll find yourself superfluous pretty soon when the software becomes simpler, smarter and cheaper.

On the eighth day of Christmas, we bought sustainable food

Food is the largest component of our personal ecological footprints, yet it’s rarely if ever included in a sustainable buildings brief. It needs to be. Create the ability to grow local food, sell it, share it, get access to it, celebrate it. Treat food infrastructure and urban agriculture as integral to a sustainable design, not just the landscape tinsel that gets cut during value management.

On the ninth day of Christmas, we stopped wasting food

Food waste is probably synonymous with Christmas Day, yet it’s unfortunately part of our culture. We waste around 30 per cent of all the food we buy every year. This is not only un-sustainable and contributes to high impact greenhouse gas emissions, but it is also morally disgraceful. Plan the menu, buy only what you need, waste nothing, save some money and emissions. If you still insist on wasting 30 per cent of your food budget, give it to those who really need it.

On the tenth day of Christmas, we wasted nothing

Recycling is only a band-aid and not a solution – the process itself still has an impact. Our ultimate target needs to be zero waste, just as in nature. That means efficient and clever designs, thoughtful materials, and flexible planning. And whilst you’re at it, stop burning waste for energy – it just adds value to wastefulness. Avoid the waste in the first place and stop polluting our cities.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, we committed to one planet living

It’s really this straightforward: if we consume more than the planet can give, we’re not being sustainable. So anything we do under the banner of ‘sustainability’ must, by simple arithmetic aim for a one planet impact at most. And rather than become a restriction on our lifestyles, adopting a symbiotic relationship with Earth will open up incredible opportunities for our society – just look at how rich nature herself is.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, we became leaders

Whilst the recent outcome of COP21 has us in a positive mood and dare I say optimistic, the agreement itself isn’t going to do the work for us. We already knew that something needed to be done and we already have the skills. What COP21 has done is give us tacit permission to be more courageous. It is time to lead, to call it like it is, so start focussing on how we can help our client create a sustainable business rather than on what they can give us.

2016 is a year of opportunity – let’s not waste it.