Jo credits her upbringing in Cornwall as having played a significant part in her thinking around sustainability. Growing up in close proximity to nature gave her a strong appreciation for the environment and, years later, has led to a commitment to protecting it. From an early age - and a generation before it became commonplace - her mother encouraged recycling at home as something you ‘just do’. Jo was part of Cornwall’s large community of beach lovers and activists, and supported Surfers Against Sewage, a group that for years have been working to keep the UK’s waterways clean. Also the county’s position on the rugged southern end of England made it an attractive area for alternative energy generation, with England’s first turbine being installed during Jo’s childhood and the county becoming dotted with them as she grew up.
Jo’s first job as a computational fluid dynamics engineer in an industry far removed from environmental concerns spurred her to find work opportunities in a field that brought her closer to her upbringing immersed in nature. At the time Jo had been reading about emerging trends in sustainable buildings and trying to work out a way to move into the sector. After first working for a structural engineering company where she took on the role of Sustainability Champion, “nagging everyone to do their recycling,” Jo later moved onto solar energy company Solarcentury in London where she met her partner Shay. Together, they own the Zero Energy House.
Upon moving to New Zealand, Jo sought advice as to who in the industry might be able to help her. “Everyone said speak to Dave Fullbrook,” Jo remembers. Meeting Dave would lead to her joining eCubed Building Workshop, where he would become a mentor as Jo developed skills in Environmental Services Design (ESD). “It was the first job I really loved,” says Jo.
The Zero Energy House project allowed Jo to apply and demonstrate her ESD skills and experience in what became the first building in New Zealand to achieve Zero Energy certification.
It was while working for eCubed that, with Shay, Jo began to think about building a home. Inspired by the development projects and writing of one her heroes - Bill Dunster at BedZed in the UK - and by the Peak Oil theories shared by Jeremy Legget, chairman of Solarcentury, Jo and Shay began on a journey that led to them committing to the goal to create a Zero Energy home. As well as being deeply involved in the design of what would be the home they now share with their young children, Jo and Shay decided to share as much information as possible along the way so that others could learn from their experience.The Zero Energy House project allowed Jo to apply and demonstrate her ESD skills and experience in what became the first building in New Zealand to achieve Zero Energy certification.
Jo now works providing a range of ESD services for a variety of projects. One type of project she particularly enjoys is where educational opportunities are integrated with the design and build. Collaborating on projects such as Camp Glenorchy and Otago Polytechnic hold interest because the clients and delivery teams see them as ‘buildings that teach’ and, over the years, they will host thousands of visitors who can be exposed to the lessons they hold.
“People have an idea that sustainability is expensive, but it’s because they’re either not looking at it holistically enough - or are focused on the short-term at the expense of the future.”
Sharing knowledge from such projects is one way to tackle the biggest challenge Jo sees in moving the industry forward. “People have an idea that sustainability is expensive, but it’s because they’re either not looking at it holistically enough - or are focused on the short-term at the expense of the future.” In Jo’s view, changing mindsets must involve industry professionals, “doing the calculations (to show the holistic and long-term perspectives) for people and sharing it with them.”
While others need convincing of the merits of sustainable building, after an upbringing immersed in the environment and a career caring for it, Jo operates on a deeper instinct. Instead of a particular mission or set of principles, Jo says she has, “Just developed a strong internal sense of what is right and wrong.” It’s this strong moral compass that motivates Jo to keep raising the bar for sustainable building in New Zealand and pushes her to keep learning new skills to enrich her professional practice.
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