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One way to make more environmentally friendly housing

By John Harrison - posted Friday, 15 March 2002

The opinion of the vast majority of global scientists is that reducing global warming is important. As recycling and minimising inputs make good sense, doing so will eventually be taken up by business. Carbon taxes, if introduced will accelerate the process.

There are other more subtle impediments to the widespread adoption of more sustainable technologies including a societal learned helplessness, lack of support for entrepreneurs and preoccupation with self rather than community and these are discussed in more detail, particularly in relation to the built environment and the contribution of my company, TecEco Pty Ltd.

In recent years the most widely publicised area for improvement has been a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. The potential for sustainability in relation to the built environment is also enormous. According to the Australian Federal department of Industry Science and Tourism in Australia buildings are responsible for some 30 per cent of the raw materials we use, 42 per cent of the energy, 25 per cent of water used, 12 per cent of land use, 40 per cent of atmospheric emissions, 20 per cent of water effluents, 25 per cent of solid waste and 13 per cent of other releases.


In relation to the built environment most of the effort to date has been to reduce lifetime energy demand. As the principles of passive solar heating etc. have not changed for many years, improvements must be measured by the rate of adoption and the level of interest – both of which have been rising according to the AGO who recently sponsored the sell out conference "Sustainable Housing – Moving to Mainstream" in each state of Australia.

The production of steel, aluminium, bricks and cement used to construct the built environment makes a significant contribution to global emissions. For example cement production is in the order of 1.8 billion tonnes and contributes around 1.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the tonne. It follows that lowering the embodied energies for buildings would also make a significant contribution, and this is a materials science issue.

My company TecEco Pty. Ltd. in Hobart, Tasmania ( has developed a new sustainable cement that is recyclable, takes much less energy to make, utilises a high proportion of waste, is almost CO2 neutral and could even be a net carbon sink with the inclusion of organically derived fibres such as hemp. Given economies of scale the material is cheaper to make than most other building materials.

Having established that it is technically feasible in relation to the built environment and makes good business sense to reduce global warming the question emerges as to why more is not being done? As a very frustrated managing director I have to consider this.

Is it possible that much of the inevitability we perceive in relation to global warming is a learned helplessness (Prof Martin E P Seligman and many others) in relation to what is an absurd consensus? Leith Sharp, of Harvard University says quite rightly "people are conditioned to conform to group perceptions and to doubt and withhold their individual perceptions if they are in conflict with the shared reality of those around them. This has enormous significance when considering how people are currently responding to the demise of the planetary systems that support human life. The degree of inaction around this profoundly life threatening situation can perhaps best be explained by viewing our state as a massive ‘absurd consensus’ that is the product of our social conditioning which has enforced our subservience to, and blind confidence in, shared societal constructs of reality."

What then is it that has conditioned so many of us to learn helplessness in the face of the absurd notion that global warming is something we cannot do anything about?


Consider first those individuals who appear not to be conditioned into this unfortunate societal construct. Entrepreneurs (I consider myself to be one) are those rare optimistic individuals who conceive new business opportunities, and who take on the risks required to convert those ideas into reality. They seek to bring about change and new opportunities, both for themselves and for the communities they belong to, and therefore are an important part of any society. As the engine of change entrepreneurs take on the responsibility of identifying new commercial ventures, incubating ideas and championing their adoption, assembling the resources needed to bring these ideas to commercial reality and, finally, launching and growing business ventures.

As Phillip Sutton, director, Policy and Strategy, Green Innovations Inc. says "we have not taken steps to mobilise people, ……we need to think very carefully about how the processes of imagination might be catalysed and how the mobilisation of people might be accomplished. What is blocking these processes, what is or might drive them forward? How can we trigger effective action?"

Maybe part of the answer lies with encouraging entrepreneurs. In a market-based economy, so-called "ecopreneurs" or environmental entrepreneurs will play a critical role in the proactive adoption of green business practices. They constitute one of the "pull" factors that entice firms to go green, as opposed to the "push" factors of government regulation and stakeholder/lobby group pressure. All good teams need good leaders and much co-operative teamwork is required by the inhabitants of earth if we are to survive the long term future. Governments around the world should therefore do all in their power to encourage "ecopreneurs" in the hope that they through their influence pull the rest of us along. In Australia not nearly enough is being done.

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About the Author

John Harrison is Managing Director of TecEco Pty Ltd.

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