Tag Archives: ecological footprint

Avoiding the Poison Berries – Where is it Made, Mate?

If you live in Australia you’ve probably by now seen some eye-catching headlines about people contracting Hepatitis A from ‘poison berries’ being imported from overseas… with mention of un-controlled border imports, human faeces as fertiliser and images of poisoned waterways.


Yes, this makes me hungry, for berries ‘Produced in Australia’. For other countries you’ll need to research your own consumer laws.

Rather than throw fuel on the fire that’s currently raging in the media [do your own research on this one], I felt compelled to have a fresh look at how we might better welcome fresh, locally-grown, healthy and seasonal food into our own lives.

So where is it really made, Mate??

It was only last weekend that I ‘cracked it’ in an un-named supermarket because I literally couldn’t identify which product was actually grown and packed in Australia. So if we’re interested in buying only locally grown [and preferably locally owned] foods, what are we looking for on the label?

Here’s what I’ve been able to find out – and finding this was a lot like calling my previous Superannuation fund to cancel something; it took several steps from one authority to another before someone seems willing to make a decision ; )

It’s our ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] via Consumer Law that lays down the rules. The following is summarised from their fact sheet;

‘Product of / Grown In’ – significant ingredients are from the country claimed and almost all production processes occurred in that country. ‘Grown in’ is mostly for fresh food, ‘Product of’ is often for processed food.

‘Product of Australia’ – means it was grown/caught and processed in Australia.

‘Grown in Australia’ – means, well… what it says.

‘Made In’ – has a cost ratio to determine [long story], but can contain ingredients from other countries. That’s right;

‘Made in Australia’ can mean that the entire contents are from another country.

That’s gold isn’t it??!!

‘Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’ – no requirement to disclose proportion, and often used to address seasonal shortages in Australian produce… [it happens to be this one that’s at the centre of berry-gate, to the detriment of Aussie farmers who are growing nothing but good gear all year ’round]

For your own sake, have a look at the ACCC fact sheet – it’s a one pager and gets straight to the point. It will change how you shop.

Bon Appetite : )



Green Retail – There’s a Drone at Your door

For some of us the entire process of heading out to the shops can be a chore that gives us that Sunday-afternoon-before-work feeling in the stomach. But those days could soon be gone.

Here we look at another futures trend around ‘green retail’ that could fundamentally change the face of the shop;

Green Retail Trend #2 – Delivery Drones

You’ve probably already heard of Amazon’s ventures into delivery drones, with their service called ‘Prime Air’, aiming to get packages delivered into customers’ hands within 30 minutes of the online purchase. Only last month the US FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) ruled out the use of these drones, however most would be inclined to write this off as an expected red-tape hitch that will eventually be overcome.

prime air

Once this technology reaches commercial scale it’s difficult to imagine much that couldn’t be delivered by drone, even large things in smaller parts… again the environmental benefits could be extensive, particularly through cutting out the majority of the transport logistics and road-based travel. Drones will be battery powered, fuelled by clean solar energy. No need for shops to carry as much inventory – an online purchase will often bypass retail outlets altogether, with most orders going direct to the distribution centre then into the drone.

If we can simply order goods via drone, or even send our own drone out to collect an online purchase, it’s highly likely we’ll fall into a habit of on-demand purchasing. Give the drone a fresh groceries order for tonight’s dinner, and 30 minutes later it returns with its kill : )

santa drones

Whether or not delivery drones are set to undermine the high street remains to be seen though… the drones may simply become another delivery channel for retailers. I’d expect the make-up of the retail shops to change but the main street itself will likely survive – after all, the main street has been around for a few thousand years. Robo-copter is unlikely to be the thing that puts an end to it.

The Top 5 Trends Towards Greener Retail

When it comes to shopping are you a hunter or gatherer…? Do you only go to a shop when you’ve decided, of your own volition, that you need something, then proceed to said shop to obtain the thing and only that thing? Or do you start at the shop and see how many things you suddenly realise you simply can’t live without? ; )

Always a topic that tends to galvanise opinions at a dinner party, the notion of ‘sustainable retail’ could be a complete oxymoron or a new term that signifies some paradigm shifts in how we procure goods in the 21stC.

I wanted to focus on some emerging trends that will change the retail outlet itself – not only the way in which we procure goods but the way we design the shops themselves, the size of the spaces being leased, and the very nature of what constitutes a ‘shop’.

I’ve got 5 hot tips. Here’s the first;

3D printing

As recently as the 80s, 3D printing was just a dream. A mere 30 years later we’re now printing car parts, pharmaceuticals, parts for jet engines, homes, prosthetic limbs and even replacement organs.


An illustration of an artificial 3D-printed human heart. Check out ’10 Ways 3-D Printing Could Change the World’ at HowStuffWorks. Click above.

A 3D printer is, to keep things simple, a printer that sprays layer upon layer of a selection of raw materials (e.g. ceramic, plastic, metals) to make something solid and three-dimensional, or ‘real’. We can already buy a 3D printer for our homes and offices, and it’s still early days.


‘…we’ve kind of put the factory into a little box. The factory can be one person at home again’. (Bre Pettis, CEO Makerbot Industries)

Within only a few years we’ll be able to 3D scan our own bodies, transmit the details to the 3D printer and watch as our new shirt (which we designed and customised on a free tablet app) is created in our very own home. Ray Kurzweil (Google head of engineering) puts it at 5 years away (good article here on 3D printed fashion).

Sound enticing? At face value this could wipe out the majority of the manufacturing chain, transport & shipping, and even the retail outlets… extensive environmental savings… but I’ll be fascinated to see if it’s enough to overcome our deepest urges for ‘retail therapy’ and the very experience of going out to reward ourselves in an outlet that will by necessity become hyper experiential in itself?

Only time will tell. Stay tuned.

Jobs of the Future: Urban Farmer

Position Description; Urban Farmer sought for Smith Street Community. Must have extensive knowledge in horticulture, aquaponics and bee keeping. The role includes providing support and teaching to the community who wish to increase their food security, enhance community resilience and mutual reliance, and re-connect their families and children with organic, seasonal and healthy food.

The majority of homes and street verges are under-productive and require the establishment of new street orchards, planted verges and diverse seasonal produce crops on individual Lots, with the intention to swap produce through a weekly urban orchard program. An additional pilot program underway in conjunction with local Council includes returning sections of street parking to vegetated and edible rain gardens.


what would an urban farmer post be without Michael Mobbs?


The Forester must have a strong understanding of organic horticulture, natural soil production and local climatic conditions. Understanding of local soil conditions an advantage. Strong engagement skills and familiarity with working with local Councils is desirable, and the Forester will be collaborating with the local Council in managing the assignment of their annual Community Resilience funding.

Ability to craft hand-made beer will be considered an added advantage by the community’s enthusiastic annual home brewing contestants.

Remuneration will be subject to performance, diversity and quality of product, and community feedback. Payment sources shall be the following;

  • Nominal part cash payment comprised of monthly contributions from the community;
  • Part payment from Council Community Resilience program funding;
  • Part payment from Community members’ health insurance providers [for providing healthy organic food and supporting community involvement];
  • Part payment from the State Health Department [for reducing demand on healthcare provision through providing healthy food and enhanced social capital];
  • Part payment as share of produce.

If you don’t mind a little hard work, a lot of socialising and garden chats, herding ducks and farming fish, dodging children’s toys, teaching adults and children, mucking with compost, stealing from bees and chickens, and beer tasting, then give us a call – we’d love to hear from you.

… We already get health insurer subsidies for gym membership and physiotherapy, and it’s only a matter of time before we get the same for consuming healthier food, joining community groups and for making our neighbourhoods more resilient. This job would be a great gig.




Designing with Intent – Leaving Your Fingerprints Behind

I was lucky enough this past weekend to have a tour of the new Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at the University of Wollongong, just south of Sydney. The project is targeting a Living Building Challenge certification, and is the result of a design interrogation that has gone into extraordinary depth.

As I was hearing about how the design unfolded, about the investigations that had to take place for every potential material, the careful balancing of systems and services, and the richness of the detailing, I was struck by how much care had been taken in creating this building.


We are under constant pressure to get things done quickly and to meet budget, and at times it can be easier to fall back on what we’ve always done. It’s easier. The SBRC has a poetic logic about everything – it’s hard to imagine why anything would have been done differently – but to get there required the entire team to be aware at every moment, and to not fall back on ‘easy’.

And this is my Monday Motivation for the week; it was clear to me that this project was full of what I think of as ‘fingerprints’ – the thought and care and intent of the client and design team in every design outcome and every detail. Nothing had been left to chance or to ‘easy’. The result is an environment that feels so much more human and comfortable and calm, and it gently vibrates with the energy that has been invested in the built outcome – it has fingerprints.

As we go about our business this week, let’s be aware of when we fall back on ‘easy’ and aim to put forward ‘better’ options whenever we can. Let’s see how many fingerprints we can leave behind in our work.

Is Workshifting The Greenest Thing We Can Do?

I received a short e-book yesterday from Greensense where they’d calculated that typical office buildings sit unoccupied for 72% of their time, based purely on typical work days and hours per year. Yet during this time these buildings consume 55% of their energy.

It goes without saying that we need to get a grip on this wasted energy and either stop using it or put it to use… but to date we’re still focussing on ‘energy efficiency’ (i.e. eating less) and tinkering around the edges of Activity Based Working, ‘hotelling’ of facilities and ‘work shifting’.

I read around a year ago about this concept of ‘workshifting’ and even in the past 12 months it seems that the original origin of the word has morphed – it’s now taking over the language of ‘remote working’ and so forth [some good background here]. But I recall the original idea of work-shifting was to literally shift entire working hours into non-standard hours. night-shift for offices.

night shift

flickr share by Mario Gutierrez, London UK.

Whilst the energy efficiency drive is good and has value and is easy, perhaps the real payoff is in doing away with our traditions of the 9am-5pm work life, and using our buildings 24/7. I’m not saying make people work longer hours – it’s nothing more complicated than making more work hours available. One work day becomes 3 x 8 hour shifts, and people can choose which shifts they want to work.

Employers are paying the same rent, and yes most likely some extra energy, but they’re getting more than four times the productivity out of their tenancy (one week would have 21 shifts instead of 5). We’re also then getting 4 times the value out of materials and all of the embodied energy.

Seems to me like the cheapest way to grow a work force without growing in real estate. Think of how much of that 72% could be expanded into! It’s only a matter of time before this becomes our warmed-climate reality.

Front Yard Blitz #03 – Enter The Woonerf

Count up how many streets you know of where parents would let their kids play without supervision – and I mean play ON the street. How many did you get?

I got zero. The street where I live has about 30 houses in it, most of which have small children – there are about 20 kids under 12 in the street, yet they never play in the street simply because it isn’t safe. Despite our street being a poor connector and therefore having low traffic, motorists still hit 50km/h and don’t slow down even when there are pedestrians present or children riding their bikes on the footpaths.

This instalment of the Front Yard Blitz aims to reclaim the neighbourhood street as a shared space. The sheer amount of land area devoted purely to the car is obscene – research shows (this is a good paper – worth a read) that roughly 20%-25% of total urban land area is devoted to roads, and that doesn’t include car parks, car-related retail and facilities etc.

The Woonerf (Dutch translation as ‘living yard’) is a shared street designed to allow cars and pedestrians to co-exist. This is a ‘living street’ where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. In the UK they’re called ‘home zones’ and the US ‘complete streets’.


The concept is simple; a combination of street narrowing, traffic calming, landscaping, surface treatments, signage and place making all combine to make the street a ‘pedestrian zone where cars are permitted’, and for most of our suburban streets this can be easily achieved within the existing carriageway widths. And motorists must drive at walking speed.


The slowing down of cars is the key enabler – from this we open up huge tracts of area that can be put to better use. The US Federal Highway Administration has a good primer on Traffic Calming – this plan gives ideas on how a reduced street might be activated;

woonerf plan

If you’re dubious about the speed limit thing – check out a previous post that might put things in perspective.

By reconfiguring our streets we open up a number of opportunities, such as

  • reduced paved area and runoff, requiring less stormwater management and reducing heat island impacts
  • increased habitat
  • improved street appearance with more trees and gardens
  • increased socialisation and re-activated streets where children can play and families can congregate (also leading to improved passive surveillance and reduced crime)
  • reduced traffic noise
  • increased safety for pedestrians

The Woonerf only works for lower traffic streets, but amongst the various design elements and approaches lie solutions for all streets – it’s a matter of appropriate interventions to suit the street. A good case study is the Borderline Neighbourhood Living Street project – the 6 year $2.1M project was a big task but the multiple benefits extend all the way into a tighter and happier community.

So, we’ve managed to get the power lines underground, reduce most of our stormwater outflow, and now we’ve dealt with street widths and traffic which creates the maximum opportunities for what comes next.

Stay tuned.