Written by Bryony Simcox
Originally published on LinkedIn
Generosity. Generosity was the focus theme for this year’s Living Future Institute Australia Symposium, hosted at Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, a rich historic setting re-imagined as a future-forward cultural and social destination.
The Living Future Institute is a network that has captivated me since I attended their Biophilic design masterclass with Amanda Sturgeon earlier in the year. Together with similar groups across the globe, the Australian institute seeks to redirect our future towards a society that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.
The symposium provided inspirational content at a broad level, presented detailed examples of projects which are working towards a Living Future, and offered key takeaways for how we can take action, now. At the broader level, the morning keynote cut straight to some powerful messages, and in particular, the importance of people when considering sustainability. The Symposium was held on land of the Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) peoples of the Kulin Nation, and we were reminded that:
“in order for us to understand country, we need to understand each other”
Kara Keys spoke of the connection and generosity she experienced with two mothers, exploring the impact of adoption, entrenched poverty and colonisation in her overwhelming personal story. We were reminded that important acts of generosity can affect change, and that that generosity can be directed at the laws and structures which set the framework for our country. Kara simply stated that laws regarding Aboriginal people should be made by and with those people, and called for a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to supervise a process of ‘truth-telling’ between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
As the Vice President of Sustainability and Commercial Marketing at sustainable flooring manufacturer Mohawk Group, George Bandy Jr is a champion of change. However, he spoke of the importance of being sincere in your purpose, and warned that there is a lot of stuff happening in the world which is only masked as change. Often it is those with the least who suffer the most from the effects of climate change, and truly sustainable solutions in our cities and buildings need to be considered holistically so that the built environment is best in class for everybody. George’s resounding message was that:
“it’s not okay for you to privatise the wealth and socialise the risk”
The refreshing breadth of industries and projects showcased at the Symposium was testament to the importance of us all working together towards a Living Future, in contrast to the siloed approach often observed when working in the built environment. Projects presented alongside each other were the Burwood Brickworks, hailed as the ‘world’s most sustainable shopping centre’; the private ‘Limestone House’, an off-grid prefabricated Passivhaus dwelling; and the housing portfolio of the Women’s Property Initiative (see image at top). Although radically different, they each represent a commitment to buildings which do better for people and for planet. In the first project, Frasers Property are working with major retail tenants to specify non-toxic ‘green list’ materials; at the Limestone House, the architects embedded the principles of biophilia to create a residence which enhances wellbeing and connects with nature; and in the latter project, the inspiring Caroline Larcher seeks to provide housing to those in need, often marginalised and discriminated by the Australian housing market.
The theme of generosity was continued into the afternoon, with an interactive session about leadership. The session not only encouraged us to be generous with our roleplay skills (!) and our first-hand experiences of leadership (great and poor), but also reminded us that generosity is a key ingredient of leadership. Great leaders do not dictate and demand, but rather create the conditions for others to thrive, and enable connection and collaboration.
If we really are serious about creating a society that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative, then it seems that these leadership qualities will be the currency of the new economy.
As with any good gathering, I left the Symposium feeling inspired. Truly inspired to see my role and my work as an opportunity to do good, for people and for planet. And whilst each session, presentation and playful workshop I attended was rich with inspiration, it was the network of other symposium attendees who were most instrumental in inspiring me. Through their generosity to attend the event, engage, and share their own stories of working towards a better future, I was able to see how I might do the same.
“The wounds of this world may not be your fault but they are your responsibility.”
Townhouses in Coburg for older women and single mothers, one of many inspiring projects presented at the Symposium.
Image: Women’s Property Initiative
Living Future Symposium 2018