Simon Carter – Architect and Sustainability Consultant
Posted October 13, 2011, by Elissa Collier
As the world becomes increasingly aware of climate change and its effects on the environment, new career specialities are opening up in previously unknown sectors such as sustainable design. Simon Carter, 35, is the founder of the sustainability consultancy company Morphosis, an ambassador for the Al Gore Climate Project and managing director of a not-for-profit organisation. He certainly is a busy guy – all in the name of making the world a better place.
We caught up with Simon to talk about what sustainability means to him, how you can improve your carbon footprint and what it’s like being trained by Al Gore.
What is your career background?
I started out working as an architect for a major design-focused firm called Bligh Voller Nield. I’ve always had a long-term passion for sustainability so I asked the directors there to let me specialise in it. They invested in me for that purpose, which was a radical leap forward for an architectural practice, and indeed any sort of business in the property or construction and design industries.
After being in architecture for a while and specialising in sustainable design, I could see the next big frontier was in property and I moved to Colliers International and was the head of sustainability there, operating regionally and globally.
Through my experience with both of those jobs I developed enough knowledge, skills and networks to enable me to go and set up my own business. I resigned from Colliers in November last year and I’ve set up a sustainability consultancy called Morphosis.
Did you always believe you would be involved in the sustainability industry? Was it a natural thing for you?
Yes, growing up in the New Zealand bush with a father who is an oceanographer and a geologist gave me a real affinity for the bush and the dynamic systems of the planet.
What did you study to become an architect?
I completed a Bachelor of Architecture and another degree called a Bachelor of Building Science in New Zealand.
What do you do in your day-to-day job?
My day-to-day job now is working on Morphosis with a variety of clients – some smaller project-based work and other larger long-term jobs. I work with clients to expand their vision and really innovate around sustainability. We discover what is possible as the world, different industries and the market progress with regards to sustainability.
You also founded a not-for-profit organisation called Catalyst. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I initiated Catalyst with a few other people back in 2001 as a networking organisation and it has just evolved over the years. I realised if I really wanted to specialise in sustainability, I needed to know more than just other architects. It then evolved into a social leadership organisation, working with a whole range of not-for-profit organisations about different social issues in Australia, and working out how to engage professionals with those issues.
You were trained by Al Gore. What was that like?
In 2007 I was selected to go down to Melbourne as one of 170 people in Australia to be trained by Al Gore to deliver the An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. I’ve now presented that slideshow around Australia and Asia. Each time I put my own spin on it and bring it up to speed.
How does one go about getting involved in sustainability?
I think the trick is for people to understand what role their particular sector is going to play in sustainability and then work out what role they, and their organisation, might play in that. Look at the big trends and see what it is about them that really inspires you.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Well, to me sustainability is about the way we live. It’s about transforming our lifestyles to be more deeply grounded in our values, having a greater sense of purpose in our lives and greater relationships with others – I see it as the strengthening of communities. The deeper I get into sustainability with clients and with other people I collaborate with, the more I learn about myself.
It’s a space where there are a lot of terrific business opportunities available, but at the same time one of the really rewarding things for me is working with people who are operating to a higher purpose – they are authentically motivated to create a better world and that is always inspiring to be around.
What do you like least, or what do you find is the most difficult thing about your job?
The most difficult thing about my job is that the transformation of our global society is at the same time a transformation of ourselves. You can’t be dealing with sustainability at any level of depth if you don’t look at yourself and that of course is always confronting, but also very rewarding.
You seem like you are very busy. Do you have a good work–life balance?
Sustainability is ultimately about lifestyle, so what does work in my favour is that I don’t split work and life. My work is all about learning about life, it’s working with terrific people in very relaxed and social settings. It’s very pleasurable, so I don’t talk about work–life balance – I talk about work–life blend. There’s still an art to how you get that blend just right, but the more I strengthen my purpose around my work, the more my social life actually flourishes.
How do you live a greener lifestyle and what can people do to reduce their own carbon footprint on a personal level?
I do all of the usual things – recycle everything, avoid collecting stuff I don’t need, try to be as energy efficient as I can and mindful of the products I purchase. I don’t really use heaters and fans in my apartment – I put on a jumper, or take off a shirt – I own a tiny car that I barely drive, use public transport where I can, carbon offset my flights and purchase green power. One of the big ones is watching your diet – a very large portion of the average Australian’s ecological and carbon footprint comes from their diet. Lamb produces about a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions of beef – so something as simple as switching from beef to lamb actually has a big influence on your carbon footprint.
You found your way into sustainability through architecture. Are there other ways to get into this?
There are degrees now, though I am not a big fan of them. I’m not saying that there aren’t any great quality degrees to do, but I think the mistake is to think about sustainability as an industry. I believe the way that people should go if they’re interested in this is to recognise that sustainability is an embedded practice.
My recommendation is to buy a few books, go onto the Australian Conservation website or World Wildlife Fund (WWF) website – these organisations are providing some terrific information. There are a lot of events on in all different industries, there are conferences, seminars and networks, so ask around and find those groups and start attending those events. Just chat to people and start finding collaborators – people you can have a coffee with and throw around ideas. The people who I’ve seen really step up as leaders have followed that journey and the whole time they’re asking how it applies to their sector, so people will find their roles that way.
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