Australia recorded its hottest summer ever in the last year. The highest carbon readings for the last 400 million years were recorded in Hawaii in May.

Climate change resulting from increased carbon levels in the earth’s atmosphere has now been well documented by experts, and a two to six degree increase in earth’s temperatures over the next 87 years are now expected. These proposed temperature increases will dramatically change our lifestyles through predicted global population migrations and changing local climate conditions.

Governments have tried to encourage a low carbon economy via targeted campaigns, carbon taxes and education strategies. The building and development industries have responded, embracing initiatives such as NABERS, Envirodeveloper and Green Star rating schemes. Improvements are underway and good work has been done, but we’re not even half way there yet.

The design industry has a vital role and unique opportunity to lead our current and coming generations to an exciting new future. Through strong design leadership, we can inspire our community to imagine new and attractive lifestyle trends derived from a low carbon future.

We now have a choice to make and a seven-year time frame to act within, for our actions over the next decade will have the greatest impact on rising temperatures and on our quality of life.

Eminent Cuban professor Fernando Martirena, United Nations Habitat Scroll of Honour award winner, was recently in Australia for the 2013 Australian Green Development Forum Resilient Building national tour, where he challenged Australian audiences to focus on decarbonising our lifestyles, noting that such a change is the most effective and immediate action to address climate change.

Martirena offered four simple strategies for immediate action:

1. Drive less or use more efficient vehicles or public transport

2. Live and work in low energy buildings using local materials

3. Move from fossil fuels to renewable energy solutions

4. Decrease our waste production from 350 kilograms per person per year to below 150 kilograms per person per year

earth on fire

Understanding these concepts on an individual level is one thing, but through design leadership, we have a unique opportunity to provide inspiration and a visible, practical example for our communities.

We all understand the concept of reducing our carbon footprint by using public transport, but designers must also consider the transport impacts of the products they specify. The Australian transport sector contributes 13.5 per cent of Australian carbon emissions, with approximately half of this attributed to commercial transportation. This alone represents a sizeable opportunity for design choices to reduce carbon emissions.

Product selection can significantly impact a building’s energy efficiency, and the decisions we make at work and home for energy efficiency are important. We’ve all been faced with the temptation of selecting cheaper, energy hungry products to meet budgets, but this approach usually does not yield the best outcome for our environment. Renewable energy sources are becoming more affordable and attainable, and solar hot water, solar power and wind power are all viable solutions for most projects if you consider their life cycle costs.

Waste reduction provides perhaps the greatest opportunity for designers. Designing materials for future reuse via “design for deconstruction” can also reap cost benefits. Recycling, repurposing and up-cycling are all strategies where designers can lead the way in demonstrating to our community how to reduce carbon impacts. If you look at how much waste you produce personally every day, you can gain great insights by targeting a 50 per cent waste reduction in your wheelie bin each week. Contrary to popular belief, much of our commercial and domestic waste still finds its way to landfill.

The time for strong design leadership is now, for it is our design choices that not only impact the building or space we are creating but that have the power to inspire others to think about how they too could implement simple strategies to decarbonise their lives and collectively create a more sustainable future.