Architects Declare Australia: a growing climate emergency movement

Architects Declare Australia (ADA) is the local branch of a global movement of architects declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency. All 849 signatories (at the time of writing) are committing to a number of practices that fall within the purview of creating “architecture and urbanism that has a more positive impact on the world around us.” Importantly in the Australian context, ADA respects the profound knowledge and experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Caring for Country. We spoke to Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture, one of ADA’s founding signatories, about what the movement is striving to achieve and empowering ourselves to make a difference.

What was the catalyst for bringing Architects Declare to Australia?

Our planet is in a climate and biodiversity emergency, both of which are fuelled by human carbon emissions. Of this, buildings consume over half of Australia’s electricity*. Faced with Federal governments that will not act decisively on climate action, over 1300 local governments around the world have declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. We, as architects, have played a key role in historic embodied carbon in buildings, and emissions relating to their operations. Now, as architects acting in good conscience, we have no choice other than to also declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. Importantly, we need to put in place definitive policy and actions to drastically reduce any carbon emissions associated with the built environment.

*Building Code Energy Performance Trajectory Project Report, 2018

What did becoming carbon neutral involve for Breathe Architecture?

It’s incredibly straightforward. We have 20 staff. We engaged The Carbon Reduction Institute to undertake our carbon audit and provided the information they asked for. This typically involves sharing electricity usage and type (GreenPower in our case), quantity and make of company cars, travel habits of the Breathe staff, any flights taken, any other purchases or activities that would have greenhouse gas emissions attached to them.

The Carbon Reduction Institute expertly guided us through this process, which took about six weeks. They identified what our carbon emissions were for the last financial year and worked with us to choose carbon offsets that suited our practice values. It was simple and affordable.

How have other architects and architecture practices responded to the movement so far?

The response has been incredible. While architects can do many things to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their buildings, we have all seen the clear benefit in getting our own houses in order. The simple, unifying step in all of us going carbon neutral in 2020, at the start of this new decade after the unprecedented, catastrophic fires across the country, sends a clear message to our entire industry: that each and every one of us has to take personal and professional responsibility for our own carbon emissions, which will in turn encourage our clients to go carbon neutral and make responsible choices in their buildings. If we all lead together, others will follow.

Do you think that the ongoing Australian bushfire crisis has/will inspire more clients and architects to commission and design buildings that positively impact the environment?

It has been heartbreaking to see the colossal loss of life, and watch ecosystems perish that may never fully recover. We’ve never seen bushfires to this scale, and they’re only predicted to intensify. The response from the Australian people, however, has been inspiring, generous and importantly has shown our incredible will to rally in times of hardship. We have rallied to the RFS, to the CFA, and to wildlife rescue services. Now is the time to act, not only in assisting the recovery effort, but to tackle the root cause of the fires. We believe it will galvanise all Australians (who accept the science of climate change), to approach their role in architecture and building, not only as clients but also as joint custodians of our future.

More green updates