The role of pioneering projects in creating a sustainable future

Matt Fordham
September 23, 2019

There are hundreds of people working in my city right now to drag or push us towards a future where we have a sustainable built environment. Important contributions are made every day by designers, developers, advocates, builders, product manufacturers, planners, policy makers, politicians, educators...and many more...

Now and then, people working for this cause think their contribution matters more than others. A year ago I read the words of one leading advocate for green buildings who insisted what the country needed was incremental change in building standards in the middle of the market - not best-practice buildings at the leading edge of it.

I believe we need both - and much in-between. Leading-edge buildings introduce innovative solutions to the market, over time those innovations make their way into rating tools, and, eventually, the building code requires them as a minimum. Focusing on just one pressure point won’t shift the market; we need to tackle it from multiple angles and do so as a team.

Over the past decade it’s become increasingly clear to me where we can best apply our pressure - and who we should work with to do that. The chart below tries to convey where we see ourselves. It’s a variation on the ‘Innovation Adoption Curve’ that seeks to show how innovation of any kind makes its way through a market, from one customer segment to another.

It’s a crude model, but its fundamental principle tends to hold true again and again. Whether the innovations are dishwashers, cellphones, Facebook, or double-glazed windows - the whole market doesn’t wake up one day and adopt it en masse. Instead, one or two pioneers will introduce it - followed by ‘innovators’, ‘early adopters’ etc. Each subsequent segment of the market is characterised by a range of factors including motivations, resources, thirst for information, and appetite for risk.

We’re clear that our role is to accelerate the shift from pioneers to innovators and, then, to early adopters. Other segments of the market are better served by a whole raft of people including those working in policy, rating tools, or administration of the building code.

We’ve been fortunate to work with a handful of pioneers in sustainable buildings over the past ten years. They’re some of the most committed, resourceful and passionate people I know. They're also characterised by their willingness to share their story to help others. Our job is to help give them a voice so that the lessons they’ve learned can empower those who are inspired to follow in their footsteps. We document and share their journey in detail - from design through construction and eventual use of their buildings.

Communicating this information from pioneering projects in a way that empowers the Innovators and Early Adopters who will follow them helps to make progressive sustainability standards more commonplace, elevates shared industry knowledge, creates economies of scale, and puts more great buildings out in the world for the rest of the market to encounter and be inspired by.


Sust is in public beta, working towards out launch in November. Please dig around the site, let us know what you think, tell us what’s missing or needs improving. We’d love to hear your feedback.