Mass Timber Construction Podcast

Special Guest - Amanda Sturgeon - Exploring the Future of Sustainable Construction

August 09, 2023 Paul Kremer Season 3 Episode 168
Mass Timber Construction Podcast
Special Guest - Amanda Sturgeon - Exploring the Future of Sustainable Construction
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Prepare to be enlightened as we navigate the inspiring trajectory of Amanda Sturgeon, the trailblazing CEO of Built by Nature, in this episode. Amanda's riveting journey from architecture to sustainability is a testament to her unwavering commitment to bridging the gap between the natural world and our built environment. Feeding your curiosity about the future of construction and urban living, she guides us through the challenges and triumphs of bringing sustainability to the forefront of the architectural discourse.

The conversation steers towards the world of Mass Timber, as Amanda shares her experiences of managing her time between continents to foster a dialogue around this innovative construction material. She unveils the path-breaking initiatives funded by Built by Nature, and the global collaborative efforts that aim to disrupt the supply and demand dynamics of Mass Timber. The discussion also touches upon the outcomes of these projects, from comprehensive reports to actionable toolkits, offering a fascinating insight into the future of sustainable architecture.

As the conversation unfolds, we plunge into the realm of biobased materials and the potential of 3D printing in construction. Amanda makes a compelling case for the importance of urban densification, and the role of vertical extensions in addressing this growing concern. With a special emphasis on building communities over structures, she outlines the knowledge hub she's creating to facilitate faster adoption of mass timbers. So gear up for an enlightening journey that promises to change your perspective on the future of construction and sustainability. Don't miss out!

Production by Deeelicious Beats
Music "Game Play" by Quality Quest
Podcast is a Mass Timber Construction Journal Production
www.masstimberconstruction.com


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Bruce Buffer:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are live. This is the moment you all have been waiting for. It's time for the Global Sensation, the one, the only, the undisputed heavyweight podcast in the world the Mass Timber Construction Podcast. And now here's Paul Kremer, your host.

Paul:

Good morning, good afternoon or good evening. Wherever you're on the world today, Welcome to the Mass Timber Construction podcast, another special guest episode. And my guest of this particular episode is a very important individual who's been involved in sustainability and has transitioned from one globally recognised organisation to another globally recognised organisation, so I'd like to introduce you to Amanda. Amanda, could you please tell everyone who you are, where you currently work and where you have come from, please?

Amanda:

Yeah, absolutely. Hi, Paul. So I'm Amanda Sturgeon. I am the CEO of Built by Nature. We are a network and grant fund that's based in Amsterdam, but I actually am still living in Sydney in Australia, so I'm spending time in Europe, of course, with the team as well. So, yeah, I've been with Built by Nature since early spring 2022. So, yeah, really happy to join you and share a little bit more about what Built by Nature is doing.

Paul:

And people will know your name, amanda, from being involved in Living Future Institute as the CEO there and you did some amazing things and the organisation's gone from strength to strength. How did you get into a first, coming to be attracted to sustainability as an overall domain, and then, secondly, how did you end up leading an organisation like Elphi?

Amanda:

Yeah, well, really my reason for studying architecture at the University of Sydney was because I really wanted to meet this connection between the natural world and the Built, people made world and saw that it was really lacking. I was very inspired by some of the architects around that time who were really starting to think about building an alignment with place, sort of putting buildings lightly on the ground and really thinking about that intersection between what we make and nature systems and patterns. So that was always a theme for me and a focus in my architecture studies, even when I was a student. And then I was lucky enough when I finished my graduate degree in architecture to join a firm called Methune in Seattle where I worked with them on a fantastic project now called Islandwood, which was really also exploring some of that. How do we really connect a building and its place and then think about sort of then how you're bringing that human nature connection more to the forefront. So, yeah, it's always been a theme for me. And then you know, 15 years sort of down the road, practicing as an architect, I was doing really sort of sustainability leadership that the firm was working at, as well as running projects. It felt like I had to pick. I was trying to do both and at that time the inconvenient truth by Al Gore came out. There was a lot of climate science coming out and I just felt the urgency, to be honest, that it was. It was sort of almost vanity to keep going with architecture projects when we weren't addressing this bigger issue more systemically.

Amanda:

So I joined the International Living Future Institute and I started really figuring out. They were trying to certify the first projects, so the living building challenge had just sort of been emerged into the world and you know, I came on to sort of figure out okay, how do we actually make this a program? How do we certify projects to this? I think from my start to the first three certified projects being announced there was a time period of about, you know, six or eight weeks. So it was a bit of a trial by fire. That really did sort of indicate then the rest of my time at ILFI, which was a bit like drinking from a fire hose the entire time. And when I first joined, I think maybe there were 12 people or something at ILFI and when I left there were 40 plus. We had, you know, two fantastic sort of international institutes the Living Futures Institute of Australia and Living Future Europe. We had a lot of projects all over the world At that point. We were doing like three events a year focused on net positive and Living Futures, as well, as you know, products. We'd expand the programs to be living product challenge and community challenge, as well as living buildings and brought in net zero carbon, net zero energy certifications.

Amanda:

And really my focus in the last few years of being at LFI was on how do we scale this beyond just a few buildings and think about doing these sort of volume projects. So working a lot with sort of industry and corporates, you know, sort of organizations and companies that could be tipping points for others, such as Google, such as Harvard, for example, in the States, and trying to figure out how we could scale it faster. So I suppose my career trajectory was, you know, really the theme has always been this deep connection between the sort of built world, the built world that we build for ourselves, and the natural world and trying to figure out for myself and help others figure out how we harmonize that relationship. So that's been the theme in my career.

Amanda:

I was with ILFI for 10 years and then felt like you know, actually my family, we all felt like it was time to kind of return back to Australia and ended up joining yeah, built by nature, like I said, which is a network and a grant making fund. As their first CEO, I've been scaling the organization really from its sort of you know idea to now nearly a dozen staff and an active network across Europe. So, yeah, that's. That's a bit more about my career trajectory. Yeah, I think the theme has been pretty strong and it's really sort of been me figuring out each turn in my career where can we have the most impact, to scale things faster and more impactfully. That's really been what's sort of driven me.

Paul:

Well, thank you for sharing that and I think I resonate on a couple of levels with you. My first degree out of high school was an environmental science degree and even in year nine and year 10, when I did environmental science, it was not the cool subject, it wasn't the one that everyone spoke about. Now it seems to be you know, many, many years on not going to give away my age folks, but you'll find that it's now become much more important and I think that we people who are in this industry have this clash of our personal values meshing with. You know, this urgency for some action somewhere, and I think it's how we fit into that chain that supports the pervested interests. For the industry to move forward and built by nature is a perfect fit for you and I'm really pleased to get you on because obviously mass timber construction fits right into that, but there's also other bio products that go into it.

Paul:

We had Clément Cunier from the Biodiversity Institute in France, or the equivalent of that in French If you can speak French, you can pronounce that name and he came on and started to speak about, you know, france's approach to the way that they're going to look at bio approaches to urban development, design, architecture, construction, etc. And I think with a built by nature in Europe. It's a very important part Tell us about what the scope is of the sort of projects or the funding initiatives or the institutes you're working with, to give us a just a taste of a sense of what you're actually trying to achieve.

Amanda:

Yeah, so built by nature, was founded by the Lauders Foundation, which is one of the few foundations Well, not just in Europe really, but I would say globally that has a very robust buildings philanthropy program. And in developing their built environment philanthropy program they were always sort of on the lookout for sort of you know what's the sort of lighthouse, if you like, issue in which we could really, you know, sort of put some more focus on and some funding into that could really pivot the building industry in a way that could have quantifiable and sort of, you know, really realizable climate and biodiversity benefits. So they sort of in their first few years of running the program felt like, you know, mass timber in buildings, especially in Europe, given this sort of that there's, you know, a quite strong sustainable forestry industry and there's also obviously quite a lot of maturity around the mass timber manufacturing side in Europe. A lot of the innovation coming from, you know, austria, for example, that sort of inspires the rest of the world. So they felt and there were also some sort of, you know, pilots and and it's happening, you know, across Europe and some policies emerging. So they felt that there was an opportunity to really stimulate that market because it's still facing barriers, despite, I think, those in the rest of the world always sort of looking to Europe and thinking, oh, europe's so far ahead. You know the reality is they have a whole host of barriers, like anywhere else. You know, in the UK insurance is a barrier since Grenfell for any combustible material for residential. You know mid to high rise buildings and elsewhere in Europe. You know we see barriers around. You know sort of capacity, people understanding in regulatory. You know sort of throughout municipalities, building inspectors, you name it not really understanding some of the. You know sort of differences between the concrete and steel industry, which is which is where all of our systems have sort of been optimized. And we also see some challenges, sometimes around cost, sometimes because of misunderstanding, and we see some interest, some barriers really around the kind of buyer you know durability, moisture challenges and having the research needed to kind of really get across some of those. So so Europe experience barriers as well.

Amanda:

The primary focus for built manager is Europe. That's where the Lauders Foundation funds their buildings program at the moment. They don't fund outside of Europe. They have other programs where they do, but not yet for buildings, and so the primary focus is to really develop networks across Europe. It's a demand side network. So what they saw is that really it's the demand side that needs to be stimulated. There's other programs working on some of the supply on the manufacturing side, but built by nature's focus purely on demand side. And with that we're working with six key sectors investors, asset owners, developers, the architects, engineers, cities and insurers. We see those as the six sort of enabling demand players, market players who can influence the change Out of those sectors.

Amanda:

We identified clear front runners, those that have done a timber building or advocating for it. Some have a timber fund even, and we brought those together into our network across Europe and convened them to understand what are the barriers, what kind of solutions do we need in the market to create a demand stimulus? And then we're fortunate to have a fund in which we can then fund projects to help remove those barriers. So we're funding a project. Well, there's a few of our recent projects out, one from AMS Institute which is dispelling the myths of mass timber. There's another one that's out in the UK that's a playbook for insurance. We have just funded one around commercial buildings. It's sort of convening about 10 of the biggest UK developers together with fire engineer and insurance industry to figure out how you might be able to do more systemic kind of testing versus testing. Every single project, the same every time. So streamlining processes is the focus of that one.

Amanda:

We've funded Timber Finance Institute. We've funded Dark Matter Labs and ECOS to look at regulatory barriers across Europe. We've funded some research, a couple of demonstration projects. So we're really looking to fund across sectors those sectors I mentioned and where we can specifically see a solution that can really cause a cross sector collaborative opportunity. So we've grown to have active networks in the UK, the Netherlands, spain, italy, networks just forming and we're scoping France and Germany at the moment as well. So looking to have sort of 10 countries in Europe in the next couple of years and then hopefully with a potential new funded joining Laudice towards the end of the year. Also looking at growing potentially beyond Europe and scoping a couple of regions the next year or two outside of Europe, which I'm sure your listens will be excited about because I do get contacted a lot from people in Australia and the States in particular, but also in East Africa that will be bringing the model elsewhere.

Paul:

That's great to hear and you're right, the audience for this podcast is mainly Europe and the US. We've got a smaller Asia Pacific sort of audience, but it'll be great for the people in the US who primarily listen to this podcast to hear that news. So it's excellent. Just to touch back on a couple of points you know the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee just released their See the Forest for the Trees approach, which is really trying to encourage, I guess, the thought or ideation which supports your development in working with those key stakeholders. For, you know, bioproducts to be able to move in and there's obviously that tension between insurance and, of course, the very emotional ties back to, you know, instances like Grenfell that have, you know, really created and carved out an important space for us to consider from a reflective perspective in the design of buildings. So completely respect all that goes with that. And equally, the European Union's now got a survey out for public comment which is around. You know secular economy and carbon accounting and if we think of carbon being the unit of measure for sustainability in terms of building.

Paul:

There's a lot happening and it's great to hear that what you're doing is coalescing with what's actually happening. I'd love to have another chat to you another time in another podcast, about how we translate into other parts of the world, you know, looking at the vertical integration and that demand side and what the supply chain does, but then also horizontally to markets that are nascent, that might, that are new, that might want to actually start to work in this pathway. Nigeria, for example, is one that's starting to come online. It would be really good to have another podcast, but let's set that aside for the moment. So you're working across Australia and you're working in Europe. You know how are you managing your time between all these various places that you sort of jumping on a plane for six months and then coming back, or is it sort of time share?

Amanda:

Yeah, well, mostly in Sydney I'm working kind of European time, you know. So I start in the middle of the day and go to sort of you know evening so that I make sure I catch you know the morning of Europe. So that's actually worked pretty well. And then, yes, I've been going for four to six weeks at a time. I was just there from, you know, june to mid-July and that gives me sort of face to face time and, like other parts of the world, well, conferences tend to be quite seasonal, you know events and such where you can meet peers, they tend to be in June, march, june and October, to be honest. So those are the months that I've been present in Europe. Yeah.

Bruce Buffer:

Oh, that's brilliant.

Amanda:

Yeah. So making it work, I suppose, is the answer. Yeah, making it work at the moment. And yeah, while Bill by nature doesn't have a remit in Australia, it has been good to be able to sort of hear and a lot of people have reached out sort of around Mass Timber and sort of get a bit of a sense of what's happening here. And, yeah, definitely think there's some similar sort of needs here in terms of removing barriers.

Amanda:

Like you said, the sort of demand to supply side is also a very interesting space. I think in Australia in particular we're not as focused on that in Europe, you know, not focused on the supply side really, because the same family that funds the Lauders Foundation had already funded an initiative called Climate Smart Forest Economy Program, which focuses much more on that supply side. So what we do is we work together with them and another community of practice based in Europe that consists of cities for forests, bauhaus, earth, carbonutrile Cities Alliance, climate Kick and the Center for Natural Materials at University of Cambridge, so sort of really formed a practice community where we can rely on sort of other partners who are really looking at that sort of supply to demand intersection and then our role in the ecosystem, if you like, is to really do that. You know demand stimulus.

Paul:

And, in terms of the everyday, listen to this podcast. Who may be working somewhere in the supply chain, from the construction site proper all the way through to being a developer in their own right. The outputs of these initiatives that are happening in Europe. What do they look like? Are they reports? Are they affirmative actions? Are they advocacy and policy development with local governments or institutions? How does it translate to hitting the ground? If you can give us a taste of that Please, amanda.

Amanda:

Yeah, yeah, well, because we're just about coming up on two years old, the grants that we fund are typically fairly small and fairly quick, you know, and, comparatively so, we fund up to 250,000 euros, and we like to see projects, you know, in the 6, 12, maybe 18 months period. So, like I said, we're just getting our both grants like finished, you know, in the last sort of three months, the ones that were kicked off way at the beginning. So, yeah, the AMS Institute project, with the missed dispelling miss, came out as a report that's fully accessible. What we do, though, is we have an amplification sort of component to our strategy, so we work with those partners to distribute the grant outputs and also, you know, convene conversations at various different events and such around them. The future projects that we have coming yes, some of them are working collaboratively with city governments, like with the city of Amsterdam. We have a project that is really looking at the data and tools needed to, once you uncover, the kind of barriers throughout the entire system the legal barriers, the regulatory barriers. It's actually a data and tool that can help to sort of, you know, uncover and then redesign, if you like, those regulatory barriers.

Amanda:

We have funded projects that are convening. So we did fund a project that's mined, which is the Milan Expo site. It's a project that's being developed predominantly by Lend-Lease, that we funded climate kick to convene various stakeholders in Italy to really understand what's the state of the market in Italy, what are the opportunities, particularly for that site. But also thinking about, you know, what would it look like across Italy generally when quite a bit of their forest is currently burned, you know, for home heating or quite other uses. So that was more of a convening which we're now continuing with sort of you know, more of a distinct project. So I guess, yeah, and then some have been researched.

Amanda:

So there's a great demonstration project we did last year at Mies Vendoros Barcelona Pavilion. It was an installation sort of within the Barcelona Pavilion, this sort of classic architectural, you know travertine icon, which was all about, you know, the glass and concrete modern era, and we funded IACA, fantastic Initiative and others in Barcelona to do a timber installation like a platform that kind of hovered over and within, and it was a fantastic event as well that was associated with that and a series actually also of online kind of you know manifestos around that. So, yeah, I think our projects are quite diverse.

Amanda:

You know, I think the amplification of them is a key thing for us. We want to make sure that they're integrated, that they're not sort of, you know, a piece of research that's sitting on a shelf somewhere. So we're quite, I guess, sort of thoughtful around each project in terms of how it gets amplified and used and picked up and actually creates sort of systemic change. Yeah, so they're really diverse, and I think all of our projects that we funded are on our website, so they're there to sort of take a look at. Like I said, there's three that are finished and more coming soon.

Paul:

Well, we have a platform that has 25,000 plus Mastimba followers and a podcast that has 60,000 views listens a year. So you know there's a platform available for you and your team. Amanda, if you want to start promoting some stuff, more than happy to drop it in. We do the same thing with our Mastimba Construction Journal that gets distributed to our social media page. I think you know there's one thing to write a beautiful paper. It's another thing to try and get you know, recognition in industry and get impact, and that's the reason for this whole existence of this platform and the reason for the podcast that you're on today.

Paul:

So for almost three years now, we've been reporting every Mastimba project that gets published around the world, including the one that you mentioned in Spain, in Barcelona, because we actually had that one as a news article as well. So it was good to see that happen. We know we're going. Now, amanda, where are we going? What's next? Are you looking for the next six projects? Are you looking for strategic guidance on where to go next? How do you determine, how do you discern what you need to do in the future?

Amanda:

Yeah, well, because our focus currently is Europe, you know, we convene these networks in countries, we get quite detailed with local sort of front runners across those sectors and really understand on the ground what their challenges are. So then our solutions are then sort of pulled from that network, if you like. So it's sort of a very local to regional strategy and so we are always getting ideas from our network. For sure, people can also put in, you know, grants sort of requests into our website. So you know also people we don't know can submit. But yeah, absolutely we're always interested in new ideas. The next round of grants at the moment that we're shaping up one's going to be a focus on existing buildings and how you can use a timber top-up to be able to convert buildings that perhaps would have had to have been torn down because the weight of concrete or steel would have not been able to be withheld in the current foundations. So it makes it, you know, not economical to add on or alter a building potentially that you could solve with timber. So there's a few different organizations coming together to look at case studies for how you can use timber for building existing building addition, retrofit and the role it can play, kind of coming out with best practices. That's a project we're cooking up at the moment. And yeah, and then we're always, you know, as we only fund in Europe, we're always interested in new parts of Europe, sort of thinking about what the challenges are for their regions in particular. So, and then the other thing that's coming next we're built by nature, so we feel like we've sort of gotten our model figured out, you know, mostly for timber, as we grow into more regions of Europe.

Amanda:

But we're very interested in the broader biobase materials conversation and how we might be able to use, you know, a mechanism to understand other biobase materials, how we can help them to address their market facing barriers.

Amanda:

You know, as we know, the building industry is very risk adverse, you know, doesn't like a lot of change very fast, very fragmented. So you know we got these brilliant biobase products that are emerging and sometimes the entry to market is similar to mass timber. Right, we can't get insured, you can't, you know. You know the costs are astronomical, even though they're not, you know, potentially real costs, because it's unknown. You know people like to use the same materials over and over and so you know all those sorts of things I think the biobase materials are facing as well, and biobase I'm talking about, you know, bamboo, or you know earth based products, the exciting sort of algae they, seaweed products, mycelium that are emerging into the market. So we're very interested, too, in how we could potentially play a role with our model to help some biobase materials, you know, emerge and get more traction and adoption. So that's something we're looking at.

Paul:

Next, that's brilliant. I was once involved in a robotic 3D printing project here which was using macadamia nuts which actually, when they're crushed, actually have a quite good consistency for a fibrous element to add into a concrete mix to effectively work as a almost a natural filler, and the project really looked at how they could 3D print very large architectural aspects. And that was years and years ago and I'm glad to see that those sorts of things are not being missed, because those projects, even though they were very specific and the printers were quite small back in the day, now they're printing very large formats and having a biobase sort of entity that feeds into that and you know, activating that through an organization like yours sounds amazing. And equally I'm really pleased to hear about the vertical extensions. So myself and some colleagues finished a project through the CTBUH Council on tall building and urban habitat. We've actually designed an entire guide which looks at how you assess the buildings that are existing and how you can then make sure you calibrate the best use of that. But we didn't look at just one building, we looked at three or four buildings in a block, in an array. So you're actually building communities rather than just extending a single building, and that, to me, is quite an important aspect to addressing the urban densification issue in the cities, because now all the organisations are asking people to go back to work.

Paul:

Covid has sort of gone by. I think we're going to have this issue of space again. But yeah, look, that will happen in a few years time. But great to see that you're looking at vertical extensions, or building on top of buildings. Overbuilds is another term in the US that they use, but overbuild can also be bolstering an existing building to create greater thermal mass protection in areas such as that close to the north of the South Pole. I'm talking New York of Canada. So, yeah, some great projects that can happen around the world. Yeah, I'm really pleased to see that your organisation is on top of that. Have you got any last parting words for everyone about what you're doing and what message you might want to put out there and just give the website a bit of a plug as well?

Amanda:

Yeah well, so another thing that we're building, as we're getting these projects sort of emerging from our grant fund, is we're building a knowledge hub. It's actually up already. We've done a new version of our website recently, so we're starting to put the sort of outputs from our grants on the knowledge hub and also other information. I mean, I think in chatting with people around the world, what's clear sometimes is that we're quite good at repeating information that may have already been done and missing, that we don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel on things. Some of the sort of research we need, some of the knowledge, is already there. So obviously there's some great resources in the US as well.

Amanda:

So, yeah, I think getting better at sort of sharing information across regions is something we're really interested in, and having partners that can help collaborate with us to do that. So, yeah, I think that's the piece that I think is critical. Next is that we don't just sort of randomly create a whole bunch of information or resources or research that doesn't get picked up or has been done before, but we look to leverage each other's work and figure out how we can collaborate to create sort of faster adoption of mass timbers. So I'm very keen from your audience to hear from people that would like to collaborate, that might be doing similar or adjacent things, where we could figure out how do we support each other's work and thinking to do some of this more together.

Paul:

Well, I thank you very much for being on the podcast today. Big shout out to James as well. James reached out to me many, many years ago, before your appointment. Amanda started to talk about the very concepts and I was very keen to get whoever took the helm of Built by Nature onto the podcast, and I finally got you. So that's fantastic, and thank you so much for sharing all that you have today about your life journey, about your work journey and about your decision to join Built by Nature and how your influencing change at a very it's almost a local approach, right, very local, but also global at the same time, and I think that's really interesting. So thank you so much for being on the podcast. Just what's the email address that you might want to get people to send information to? Not your personal one, but is there an info at that they can share?

Amanda:

Yeah, we do have an info at BuiltBnorg.

Paul:

Beautiful, excellent. Well, that will give people who are listening the opportunity to email through any ideas and suggestions, and hopefully we'll see some grants being issued to people in other parts of the world in the near future, and thank you very much for being on the podcast.

Amanda:

Yeah, thanks, paul, I appreciate it.

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Manage Time and Fund European/Australian Projects
Robotic 3D Printing and Urban Densification
Building Change With Nature