I set out in 1996 to renovate my inner-city Sydney terrace and make it almost entirely self-sufficient in terms of energy, water and waste disposal. It was a journey few other Australians had attempted but I've shown it can be achieved and that it's possible for almost anyone.
Then I realised that although my house had become sustainable, I still wasn’t. While my home saves
100,000 litres of dam water a year, the same amount of water is used to produce ten days’ worth of food for the average Australian. So, I turned my attention to reducing the pollution and resource use associated with growing, processing, transporting, selling and disposing of food.
In March 2015, I disconnected my house from the poles and wires that linked it to Sydney's mainstream electricity supply system. Now all
the electricity used on my property comes from the sun. We have our
own system that uses solar panels, batteries and an inverter.
I've documented my experiences to achieve this landmark status in two books: Sustainable House and
Sustainable Food. These have become
in-demand sources of practical advice on building and living sustainably. They include details on establishing community and backyard vegetable gardens, keeping urban chooks and bees, and reducing water usage, along with insights into dealing with councils, buying direct from farmers, and what we eat and why.
Having practised for 19 years as a lawyer, I base my decisions and advice on facts, practical experience and a knowledge of the law.
A plan to sustain Chippendale
My experience of law and policy, and from my work, is that when we are respected and encouraged by our community, governments and agencies we tend to more readily take action to sustain our air, water, soil and relationships. In particular, financial incentives or rewards for sustainable practices, when well-designed, can produce more sustainable living. An example of a plan I made to sustain Chippendale, the suburb where I live, may be downloaded here (8mb).
Cooling cities by cooling streets
My general vision is to cool Australian cities by 2 degrees by 2020. For more information visit my site about my not for profit research and development company, Street Coolers
WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED
For almost two decades, my four-person household has achieved energy and water bills of less than $300 per year.
No stormwater leaves my house, keeping that much pollution from Sydney's harbour and beaches.
Capturing my own water means two million litres of water has been retained in Sydney's main water storage dam.
Two million litres of sewage has been kept out of the ocean.
160 tonnes of air pollution has been kept out of Earth's atmosphere.
80 tonnes of coal have not
160 tonnes of food waste has not been tipped into council dumps.
Below are examples of projects I've completed.
COOLING AUSTRALIA'S CITIES
I developed and launched Australia's first Cool Road trial, in Sydney, which is using a pale, thin concrete mix as a road surface. I successfully brought together Sydney City Council, the product supplier and community on this project. It attracted the attention of national media, including; ABC TV's Lateline; Radio National Breakfast; radio 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones; and various magazines and newspapers.
Click here for more information.
I worked with the NSW government to develop a million-dollar policy to fund
local councils to build Cool Roads across the state. This is the first time a state government has done this. With some of this funding, I established and am
carrying out a longitudinal 10-year study of the process and a practical project
to cool an entire city block in Newtown, Sydney. Data, educational videos and school teaching kits are available on the project website.
Watch my interview with ABC Lateline about cooling our cities.
You can also listen to my interview with Alan Jones on my plan for cool roads below:
A 4-STOREY SUSTAINABLE OFFICE BUILDING IN SYDNEY
This beautiful new 4-storey office building in the habourside Sydney suburb of Double Bay, was designed to recycle sewage for toilet flushing, use rainwater for all other purposes and use no more electricity than the single-storey building demolished to make way for it.
I designed the sustainable water and sewerage systems and the passive ventilation and lighting systems that reduce the use of electricity and create a healthier working environment.
- All water needs are met on-site by collecting rainwater, which is stored in an 80,000L tank below the ground floor. This annually leaves more than 400,000L of water in Warragamba Dam, the main reservoir for Sydney's water supply. Because the rain falling on-site is captured rather than running off into drains, 400,000L of stormwater is prevented from polluting Sydney Harbour each year.
- All wastewater is treated on-site to cut sewage pollution. Sewage is recycled
to produce up to 140L each day of surplus treated water, which is used to
flush the toilets and water the roof garden. This system annually keeps more
than 700,000L of sewage from being discharged via ocean outfalls, which
would have occurred if the project had proceeded according to ‘business as usual’ development.
- Passive ventilation reduces the need for temperature control systems. A light
and open glass-walled design lets air and light flow freely through the building, reducing tenants' needs for air-conditioning. This is expected to save about
150 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
- The roof garden helps with cooling the building by absorbing heat. It has productive, edible plants and hardy indoor-friendly plants that can be rotated through the offices to absorb typical office air toxins.
NSW Upper Parramatta River Catchment Trust
In the late 1980s, a series of storms and floods in the upper Parramatta River catchment, west of Sydney City, led to the repeated inundation of many properties that had never before flooded. The events were the result of the actions of four local councils in the one catchment approving development without considering the cumulative impact of their decisions downstream. The Upper Parramatta River Catchment Trust (UPRCT) was set up to prevent future flooding.
I was appointed by the NSW Government in the late 1990s to review the trust's performance in managing flooding and to advise on its future focus. I
recommended generally that trusts and councils make greater use of rain tanks,
which the government accepted.
"Bellis" - Brisbane's sustainable house and garden
In the early 2000s, Jerry Coleby-Williams - conservationist, horticulturalist and Gardening Australia presenter - approached me to help him turn an old Queenslander house known as Bellis into a sustainable home and garden. I specified the water, sewerage and energy systems.
Bellis won a 2009 national savewater! award. It's an example of a Queensland property that has been re-zoned as an unsewered rural block located in a sewered city suburb. This was necessary for the property to disconnect from the main sewerage system. The house shows that in a city with low rainfall, it is possible to disconnect from mains sewerage and significantly reduce the use of mains water.
For more details, click here.