Maria Atkinson AM, Atkinson Consultancy: The sustainability whisperer

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Maria Atkinson AM, Atkinson Consultancy: The sustainability whisperer
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Maria Atkinson AM, Atkinson Consultancy: The sustainability whisperer

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Maria Atkinson AM, Atkinson Consultancy: The sustainability whisperer
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We need a transformational shift: a rethink of the way we work, the goals we set, the processes we deploy. But how should we push forward? Who can help us get to where we need to be?

This episode features Maria Atkinson AM, an advisor and strategist based in Sydney, Australia, who has been on the front lines of sustainable construction for over 25 years. For her service to the construction and real estate sector, she was awarded the Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2012.

Maria has donned many hats in her career. It is this diversity of roles — consultant, advocate, advisor — and the many platforms — commercial, institutional, non-profit — she’s engaged with that make her uniquely qualified to lead a conversation on the future of buildings and cities.

Episode outline

00:05:41 The builder’s hat
00:08:14 “That’s the secret ingredients for getting people to lean in: it’s the storytelling, the emotional connection — and then you come back with success stories and then they want more.”
00:20:07 “It’s not a small thing to just be responsible for a construction site — what plant and equipment use. But you can also try to convince your client of new initiatives.”
00:21:56 “I’m a big supporter of the Green Building Council’s roles, but we’ve ended up creating a whole community that produce reports and do checklists — and the outcomes are not better environmental outcomes or better social outcomes. So, the green building movement also has to move with time.”
00:27:58 “I think Asia is just the most exciting part of the world for sustainable construction right now because government has realised they can’t do it on their own, and industry has realised they can’t do it on their own right, and partnerships are emerging.”
00:32:04 The practitioner’s perspective
00:38:05 “It is about changing the world practice, and it is about identifying the ecosystem players, and having consistency of everyone achieving sustainable construction.”
00:52:38 Becoming Maria
00:54:20 “So, I think, for any design practitioner, they don’t always have to be the warrior and they can also be quiet and achieve change.”
00:55:36 “I do think a lot of it — the moral compass of ethics and sustainability and what you can see, your ability to see, and therefore your ability to speak up for or to change — comes from that inner reflection and getting the value alignment.”
00:57:42 “I’m optimistic because examples of what we need to do are everywhere. They’re in Vietnam. They’re in Mongolia. They’re in all sorts of places.”

 

Summary

In this episode, Maria looks back at her journey and how to harness lessons from past experiences to conquer future challenges.

Her journey started after she witnessed environmental deterioration in Europe on one of her trips in the early ’90s. She enrolled in Environmental Biology with the intention to make a difference.

The huge energy demands of the Sydney Olympic Village were cost-effectively fulfilled by renewables.
© LendLease Pty Ltd.

After graduation, Maria took on the role of project leader, working with consultants and builders on the Olympic Village for the Sydney 2000 Games. This experience taught her how to manage tradeoffs and communications on-site and at the drawing board.

The Village was a landmark project in the early days of the sustainability movement in Australia. The event’s notoriety as the first-ever ‘Green Games’ raised Maria’s profile as a doer and thought leader.

Maria factored sustainability, profitability, and aesthetics in the design of the Olympic Village in Sydney.
© LendLease Pty Ltd.

The Olympic Village also offered Maria insights into the ecosystem of practice at the time. She made good on lessons learnt in her next role as CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), where she focused on education and advocacy. She developed Green Star, its certification tool, brought attention to the way buildings are designed, and how new priorities and processes could reduce their impact.

She returned subsequently to Lendlease, the investor and developer who had employed her for the Sydney Games, this time as the company’s Global Head of Sustainability, tasked with organisational reshaping.

Taking off a developer’s hat, Maria finally opened her own firm, Atkinson Consultancy, in 2013. She now counsels clients on how to define change, plan for it, and trigger transformation from within.


The T77 precinct of Bangkok, Thailand, has enabled peer-to-peer (P2P) energy trading since 2018.
© Powerledger

Maria argues that making things work together is all about connecting the dots. The interaction between people and their common interests is what counts. This ‘sum-of-parts’ principle applies across industries, organisational cultures, and physical networks.

She takes as an example the T77 precinct in Bangkok, Thailand, a peer-to-peer energy trading project which is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It was conceived to facilitate the distribution of rooftop-generated solar energy between several buildings nested in the heart of the city, a forward-thinking accord between property owners.


© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

Today, Maria is a powerful voice on the global stage. Aside from consulting work, she champions sustainability at important gatherings and events. She advises non-governmental organisations like the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction where she is Chairperson of the Board.

The key to successful persuasion, she insists, is storytelling. This means framing an idea from a first-person narrative, showing decision-makers how a simple alteration could transform their world for the better. If they are excited by the prospect, they’ll likely become agents of change themselves, sharing their new-found enthusiasm with others.


Maria regularly chairs discussions and panels on sustainable development.
© Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

What is remarkable about Maria is the clarity of her voice, which belies the strength of her convictions. She speaks in ways that are reassuring, yet empowering. She knows how to give credence to the big picture by framing challenges, weaving ideas and building consensus with equal measures of expertise and fervour.

Gallery

Images

Videos

Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:04:01 “…after you graduated with the Sydney Olympics…”
Sydney 2000 Olympic Games” | Britannica
00:21:03 “…And I know in India like carbon trading and energy trading…”
Ministry of Power & Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change to develop Carbon Credit Trading Scheme for Decarbonisation” | Press Information Bureau/Government of India
00:21:03 “…And I know in India like carbon trading and energy trading…”
Indian Energy Exchange” | Wikipedia
00:51:15 “…even in Singapore, the vision of a ‘Green Garden City’ gave the permission…”
“GARDEN CITY” VISION IS INTRODUCED” | National Library Board/History SG
00:04:19 “…the theme for those Sydney Olympic Games was set by Greenpeace…”
Role of Greenpeace in the Green Games” | Business-Managed Democracy
00:04:55 “…a typical client of Atkinson Consultancy…”
Maria Atkinson AM
00:12:02 “…But back to Lendlease…”
Lendlease
00:13:37 “…So they all had to go to The Prince of Wales Business and Environment School…”
The Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme” | University of Cambridge
00:27:10 “…The CII Godrej Sohrabji Centre. And it was such a big deal…
Building of the Week: CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre” | The Earthbound Report
00:37:15 “…you were something of a trailblazer with the Green Building Council of Australia…”
Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA)
00:37:40 “…And you’ve played a role in policy in […] the United Nations World Economic Forum…”
United Nations” | World Economic Forum
00:37:47 “…advisor to non-profits like the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction…”
Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
00:14:45 “…So the Olympic Village…”
Olympic Village” | Wikipedia
00:26:59 “…we went to the first LEED Platinum building in Hyderabad…”
Hyderabad” (Telangana, India) | Britannica
00:28:14 “…So I’ll give a wonderful example in Bangkok…”
Bangkok” (Thailand) | Britannica

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

00:15:42 “…and we developed a very low-flush system…”
Low-flush toilet” | Wikipedia
00:16:03 “…Solar hot water system was a big thing…”
Solar Water Heaters” | Energy Saver

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Managing editor
Kruti Choksi

Communications executive
Sana Gupta

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown | Phlogiston

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