Rebuilding our world in a sustainable way

Rebuilding our world in a sustainable way

Besides stimulating global economic recovery in response to COVID-19, government investment in construction and infrastructure also offers the built environment sector an opportunity to respond with sustainable building and design solutions.

According to RMIT experts, now is not only the time for the sector to think about addressing climate change and energy challenges, but also the right moment to apply an inclusive human-centric approach. 

“We must take this opportunity to transform, be proactive and encourage the next generation of industry professionals to push the boundaries and deliver regenerative sustainability in our buildings and cities,” said Marta Fernandez, Executive Director at RMIT Europe.

Fernandez, who is also Chair of the European Construction Technology Platform’s Active Ageing and Design Committee, recently hosted a global career webinar with RMIT alumni working in the built environment in Europe.

The leaders shared their insights on sector trends, skills needs and how the next generation can best prepare to enter the sector.

Sustainable solutions for immediate needs 

According to the expert panel from Spain and the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a range of urgent matters that city authorities need to address.

Julia Thomson, Smart Cities Policy Lead at the Greater London Authority, said that increased connectivity has been an immediate priority for Londoners. 

“The pandemic has highlighted the need for all people to have reliable access to a good quality internet connection,” she said. 

“As we expand the full fibre network across the city, we also have a team ensuring that people have the skills required to access the internet and be part of the digital age.”

Thomson said world-class connectivity is just one of the missions of the Smarter London Together Roadmap – a strategy that aims to transform the UK capital into the smartest city in the world. 

Another mission is digital inclusion. 

“The new wave of technology and arrival of 5G may dramatically change the way cities function, bringing about the ability to transfer much larger pieces of data at an increased speed,” she said. 

“We need to make sure that London has a say on how this technology is deployed and we're working on an emerging technology charter for the city that'll set expectations on how this happens and how citizens will be involved.”

COVID-19 has also been a driver of change for more sustainable forms of transport in cities according to David Castro, Structural Engineer and Associate Director at Arup in Madrid, Spain. 

“For decades, city planners have been driving percentage point improvements for more sustainable means of urban mobility,” he said. 

“Close to overnight there has been a drastic improvement in how cities are performing in terms of mass transit and public transport.

“COVID-19 has kickstarted rapid approaches to how we address urban mobility and we've seen that cities can drastically change without too much disruption.”

Rebuilding cities in sustainable ways Experts in Spain and the UK shared their views at RMIT's recent global career webinar on the Transformation for a Sustainable Built Environment.

A future investment in green infrastructure 

Governments around the world are investing in construction and infrastructure to stimulate economy recovery – and there’s a big focus in Europe on green infrastructure and refurbishments to improve the efficiency of buildings.

Steve Watson, Technical Lead (New Museum) at the Museum of London, is helping to deliver one of the world’s first smart museums. 

“My focus integrates design and operations with engineering systems data to realise efficiencies,” he said. 

"This data is important to not only inform the efficient operation of buildings – it’s also information that’s important to the people visiting these spaces. 

“Museums, along with other public spaces, need to provide information that people can trust so they feel comfortable when they visit,” Watson said.

“This is one significant change as a result of the pandemic that I believe is here to stay –  more awareness and attention to building health such as air quality, lighting and temperature, for example.”

Skills needs now and in the future

Castro, Watson and Thomson all agree that skills in digital transformation are critical – from automating design for efficiency and the use of static and live data for digital twins (a virtual replica of an asset) through to understanding how to use big data in meaningful ways. 

But soft skills are also just as important. 

Throughout her career, Thomson said that her most successful projects were those founded on collaboration across cross-disciplinary teams.

“Working with a diverse range of people – in terms of both technical skills as well as life experience and backgrounds – will help to tackle challenges from different angles,” she said. 

“I would encourage our future industry professionals to not be afraid to ask for advice. The success of your career will rely on the relationships that you build along the way and will only benefit from mentoring, both formal and informal. 

“And finally, be curious. Ask other people what they're building or working on, understand the priorities of other teams and the people who they're talking to,” Thomson said. 

“Knowing how your larger organisation works will help you to understand the broader vision of which you are part of and strengthen your standing in the company as you build those connections.”


Story: Karen Matthews


  • Sustainability
  • Alumni
  • RMIT Europe
  • Industry
  • Urban Design
  • Property & Construction
  • Environment

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.