Simple sustainable living hacks : from personal to architectural

While you may think you are just one small, teeny tiny person and can’t make a difference, but if everyone did something small that would amount to something. As the meme says “ ‘its just one straw’ - said 7 million people”.

For me it needs to be easy to do – which is probably very lazy – but let’s be realistic, if I’m going to do something it does need to be fairly effortless (if I’m going to keep it up).

So what are some of the things I do? Personally –

  • along with the usual home recycling bins, I live in Papakura and we have had food scrap bins and collections for at least a year now which has been great.

  • I have a toddler who I have used reusable cloth nappies and wipes on from time to time, more so when she was younger and I was at home more with her. Just using one cloth nappy a day means that’s 365 less in landfill every year, per child. And its really not that difficult, just an extra couple of washing loads a week.

  • As needed, I buy silicone ziplock bags which are much easier to clean out and reuse, and I try to buy big bags of food that can be put into my own snack containers rather than pre-packaged snack bags.

  • I try to carry a reusable coffee cup when out – and when with the toddler a reusable smoothie cup and straw.

  • And I’ve found myself becoming more aware of what it is I’m purchasing and using.

What do we do at the office – not architecturally wise?

  • We are handily located to a great block of shops so we have office Systema containers we use if going up the road to buy lunch – and it’s amazing the numberof cafes who let us use our own reusable container!

  • When using the café downstairs, most of the office staff take a re-useable cup – even a tray of cups for client meetings!

  • We have a worm farm for our food scraps – more on that in another post because we’ve been winging it and its all gone a bit pear shaped recently, so we will be getting some expert advice and start again, filling you in on the process.

  • We use recycling bins

  • CO² measurement: we keep an eye on the CO² levels in the office. Its interesting how often in the afternoons when everyone is feeling sluggish, to look up to the gauge and find we really need to open some windows and the balcony doors.

  • We also have a number of plants around the office to help filter the air, and our coffee grounds are up for grabs for our gardens.

  • Being centrally located staff are encouraged to use public transport with subsided fares. There is a bike rack installed and we do have a few cyclists amongst our team. There is an office AT HOP card and hybrid cars available for staff use are a Smart car and Toyota Prius.

Architecturally wise:

  • Our office has been purpose designed with great layout in mind. It’s open plan, with opening windows and double doors out onto a balcony. When open, the windows and doorscreate a great cross flow ventilation, cooling the office efficiently in the warmer months.

  • We have automatic sensors and blinds on our upper windows, and blinds on lower ones for reducing excess heat

  • Concrete floors near the north-facing windows provide passive solar heating.

  • Heat pumps have minimal use: turned on in the cooler mornings to warm the office initially, then turned off as the office warms up.

  • A large overhang over the north-facing windows provides shade at the peak of the day. Ceiling fans circulate the air and assist with moving the air around & cooling the office

  • Desks are made of low formaldehyde emitting MDF

  • Carpet tiles are environmentally friendly in their make up and manufacturing.

  • Fluorescent lighting has been replaced with LED lights

  • Wherever possible, we use eco-friendly cleaning products

And what about project wise? We are guided by our clients briefs and budgets but place as strong emphasis on education around options available from the outset, as well as maintenance requirements and long-term, whole life costs

  • We like to use simple design features such as well-placed eaves, windows that allow for cross-flow ventilation, as well as simply positioning the building on the site for optimum environmental conditions.

  • We have an internal sustainability checklist to run through with clients: – user considerations such as space requirements and longer term view of the project, ways to minimize energy consumption, low carbon and renewable energy source options, what materials for the structure, claddings, fittings and furnishings, site waste management, water usage and treatment, and building rating tools like Homestar – weighing up the options and information and making informed decisions.

  • Overall, simply taking the time to think through the process, materials and use we can make simple and easy changes – without compromising on design and lifestyle.

Many small changes, whether in our office, alongside our clients or in our personal lives, all add up. Along with everyone else’s small efforts, the ‘brief’ to make our earth a happier, healthier, sustainable place to live for our lifetimes and for those to come - becomes a reality.