One Planet Living – a global beacon of sustainability

One Planet Living - a global beacon of sustainability

Ben Gill, One Planet Living Manager at Bioregional looks at the success of White Gum Valley (WGV), a highly sustainable mixed-use development in Western Australia, and considers how the lessons learned here can be applied to housing development in the UK and elsewhere.


WGV led by LandCorp is a diverse, highly sustainable mixed-use development of more than 80 homes in the City of Fremantle, 20km from Perth, Western Australia. From achieving net zero energy use to engaging its residents with sustainability, the development is demonstrating that we truly can create communities that are great places to live within the limits of our one planet.


Recent review of WGV’s One Planet Annual Review has revealed that WGV is proving to be one of those rare projects that sets itself ambitious sustainability targets and manages to exceed them! This is especially impressive considering the units were delivered by individuals and developers.


There are several innovative tactics and initiatives that LandCorp has employed to achieve its goals. And, while it’s an Australian self-build project, many of these could be used elsewhere across development types including in the UK.


Innovation through demonstration

LandCorp is Western Australia’s land development agency and WGV is one of its ‘Innovation through Demonstration’ projects. It was designed to create a vibrant and highly sustainable community with a people-friendly, rather than car-dominated, layout and lots of green space.


Previously home to a former school, WGV provided single lots for self-build detached dwellings, maisonettes and apartment buildings. Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework was used throughout design, planning and construction to help set and achieve the ambitious sustainability targets for the site.


One Planet Living comprises ten principles – from zero carbon energy to health and happiness – that enable organisations to create joined-up solutions to achieve true sustainability. It has been used by new-build developments all over the world to build pioneering homes and communities and track their progress, from a small community of 131 homes in Seattle to two apartment blocks in the heart of Brighton.


Truly sustainable infrastructure

WGV has highly ambitious targets for building performance including being net zero carbon from day one and a 75 percent reduction in water use compared to the average in a Perth home.


As the housing was being delivered by private developers and individuals, there was no way to apply a single energy and water solution across the site. This was overcome by providing excellent site-wide infrastructure for buildings to plug into, setting site-wide design standards and providing support for creating sustainable homes.


If homes do not meet LandCorp’s design guidance, created using the One Planet Living principles, they will be breaking the terms of the purchase agreement and planning regulations.


For water, a community borehole for irrigation needs was put in place and a park created that acts as a drainage system for rainwater and permeable paving and roads. All the projects can plug into this but are also required to meet exceptional water efficiency standards and the single homes need to have a ‘third pipe’ system that delivers rainwater for flushing toilets.


The approach to energy is similar; all single houses have to meet high-levels of energy performance, but LandCorp supported this by offering a ‘sustainability upgrade’ package with subsidised photovoltaic panels on rooftops to generate solar electricity.


Additionally, funding was secured for an innovative electricity storage and trading system. Residents generating electricity in Australia are only paid a nominal amount when they sell electricity to the grid, so consuming as much of their home-generated power as possible is crucial to making the finances stack up. WGV is piloting a system of centralised battery storage and electricity trading between residents.


While real-life data is not available yet, careful modelling based on the installed solar PV capacity, the amount of battery storage and patterns of expected energy use indicate that the site is likely to be net zero energy from day one. This is a fantastic achievement on such a varied project.


With the recent UK legislation to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, these kind of “micro-renewables’ with smart grid and energy storage solutions for new homes is something we’re likely to see more demand for. All new homes will need to be able to generate more of their own power, store it and even trade it with neighbours.


Of course, UK projects may struggle to achieve the same PV results as in sunny Perth but net zero carbon can still be achieved. Our recent monitoring of Elmsbrook, NW Bicester led by developer A2Dominion revealed that it has achieved true zero carbon through highly energy-efficient fabric and renewable energy generation.


Creating a culture of sustainability

But sustainable infrastructure is only part of the picture. To be a truly sustainable community, developers need to consider how people will live in their new homes. For example, in the UK about half of our greenhouse gas emissions are related to how and where we build our homes. About 27 percent of these are from heating our homes, and the rest from travel emissions.


Having taken this into consideration, WGV is set become a community with a strong culture of sustainability among its residents. All of them have learnt about sustainability before moving in, through meetings, workshops and a “Residents’ Manual”.


The manual explains what has done to create a sustainable community and what the residents can do themselves, including an overview of the sustainability upgrades available and a guide to living a One Planet Living life in the local area.


The site also has many features to support sustainable and community-focused living easier, including:

  • About 1.2 car spaces per home across the development, which is very low for Perth, plus electric vehicle charging, an electric car club and bicycle storage.
  • Green waste and composting facilities onsite for all residents.
  • Shared green space throughout the site where children can play and adults can relax, as well as providing habitats for local nature.
  • Regular community events organised by the artists’ cooperative.

    The approach to making sustainable living easier is at the heart of One Planet Living with its simple principles that are designed to communicate sustainability in a way that anyone can understand. This makes it an ideal framework for developers to use to achieve their sustainability ambitions and also engage residents.


    Creating housing diversity

    The standard approach on a site like this in Australia would be to either sell off plots for ‘self-build’ (where individuals commission a builder to drop-in pre-fabricated houses) or to sell to a single developer. Instead the approach taken was to create a huge diversity of housing options as a significant proportion of WGV’s new homes are aimed at meeting the local need for more affordable homes – including homes for younger single people, couples and families and artists.


    This is far from a problem limited to Australia. We have recently set up Bioregional Homes, a wholly owned subsidiary that will enable us to build our own ‘One Planet Communities’. We’re pioneering a totally new model of housing by working with local communities to create truly sustainable and affordable homes.


    The first is in Chobham, Surrey where we’ll work in partnership with local people to design the scheme and create a Community Land Trust to own the land in perpetuity. This means that reduced house prices for people – younger and older – living locally will be protected permanently. It’s currently under planning review.


    While WGV is yet to be fully occupied, its diverse housing mix has already ensured that WGV is a vibrant community with regular events and lively streets. Sophie Maubon, a Project Architect at London-based Waugh Thistleton Architects, visited WGV in December 2018 and commented: “The overall approach is certainly a people-friendly one, cleverly mixing different home types and sizes without segregation, and creating attractive, safe and active streets supported by the green spaces throughout the site that meet the surrounding neighbourhood seamlessly.”


    Spreading wider change

    Despite being a relatively small development, WGV is already having a significant impact. The multi-unit Gen Y house inspired at least three other lots to be developed as multi-units, with associated efficient use of materials and reduced parking.


    One of these, the Evermore WGV apartment block led by Yolk Property Group, embraced One Planet Living wholeheartedly and has also just been recognised by Bioregional as a Global Leader in One Planet Living. Tao Bourton, Director of Yolk, says: “What we’ve learnt at Evermore has helped put us at the forefront of sustainability and we’ve started to have requests from other developers wanting to visit our sites and learn from them.”


    LandCorp has also shown real commitment to actively spreading the message of sustainable development throughout the local area. As an ‘Innovation through demonstration’ project, it’s worked with several partners including a local university and architecture firm to examine WGV’s progress in-depth through several research projects. These findings are being shared through videos and other resources.


    It’s also inspired a second development in Fremantle to use the framework, and another of LandCorp’s developments is also aiming to be a One Planet Community.


    The result of such innovation and hard work is that all ten One Planet Living principles are on track to meet the targets initially set and some are almost complete already.


    As the project nears the end of design and construction, it is crucial that the two remaining phases – the townhouse site and the community housing project – also meet these targets.


    If those projects can meet the same standards set across WGV so far, then this really will be a global beacon of sustainability with plenty of readily available lessons for any project that wants to create a community that minimises its impact on the planet, while being a great place to live.



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