Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Next Steps - Moving Onward

Last week I accepted a transfer back to the WSP business in Australia, via New Zealand - I will be wrapping up in Cape Town over the course of November, moving during December and starting in Auckland in January 2013. I will be taking on a role with WSP Asia Pacific in the Built Ecology team, with a focus on Future Cities, business development and project delivery.

During the course of the second quarter of 2013, Lyn, Riley, Kai, Kura, Pixie, Pucca and I will move back across to Sydney to settle for the next season of our lives. Two adults, a baby, two cats and two dogs will be making the trek across the Indian Ocean and then back across the Tasman Sea.

Needless to say; this decision has taken a huge amount of thought and processing, weighing of pros and cons, and planning. The move may come as something of a surprise to some of you, and perhaps less so to others. Some have already expressed their disappointment at our departure, while others have asked "What took you so long?"

I would like to take this opportunity to share our motivations for the move, our hopes for this next season and some reflections on our three years back on this crazy continent, Africa.

As I write this, I am sitting staring out over False Bay as dusk becomes night, enthralled at the scale and beauty of the setting we have been fortunate to live in these last three years. Life on the cape peninsular is of an aesthetic quality unmatched anywhere I have ever been. It is taking a force of will to pull myself from this view and consider a new stage of life in perhaps less majestic surroundings.

We are saying goodbye, for now, to family - grandparents (and great-grandparents) to Riley, cousins and friends - in the knowledge that the world is a smaller place than it once was and we will live near you again one day; but knowing that these goodbyes are gut-wrenchingly difficult none-the-less.

I am leaving colleagues and clients in a market where green buildings have become more established than when I arrived in 2009, the Green Building Council of South Africa has matured and many businesses are in a state of transition to bring 'sustainability' closer to the main-stream. I have been most fortunate to have had the chance to work with each of you, and the learning curve has been huge. I hope that you have benefited during this season even half of what I have.

I am certainly planning to retain strong ties with the African business, so please do stay in touch - I will post updated contact details once I'm settled on that side, although you can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter (@richpalmeris) in the meantime.

There are a wide range of factors pulling us back to Australia - personal and professional. In short, Lyn and I have a vision for our lives and for Riley's childhood, and at present, the next step of that vision looks most doable in Australia (not forgetting the sojourn in NZ on the way). A combination of culture, support networks, friends in the same life season as us and the ability to live a 'connected' urban life-style are what we're looking for in this new season. The new professional opportunities that have recently come onto the table have also tipped the scales towards a move.

Following the launch of Future Cities Africa next month, I will be looking to do the same in the Asia Pacific region - Asia is already seeing the first wave of 'future' cities, and it will be an exciting market to be a part of. It is also where my journey on urban sustainability started, and it will be exciting to return.

It would be a lie to say that everything has been easy over here: market, culture and circumstance have each played a role in shaping some of the biggest challenges of my career in these last three years. For those taking the sustainable design agenda forward on this continent, I'd like to share a few things observations (or lessons learned) from my time here...

      Shift to integrated design processes as soon as possible - the compartmentalising of professional disciplines is deeply entrenched in this market and runs counter to foundational principles of sustainable design.

      Consider alternative fee arrangements to the ECSA fee scales as they provide substantial disincentives for passive design. Spec-ing the same expensive kit as last time from a catalogue is not in clients' best interests, the environment's best interests and it is not engineering. Viva passive design, Viva!!!

      Support the Green Building Council of South Africa! Green Star will only get better with your collective input. Keep it as simple and focused on design as possible.

This continent desperately needs people to tell a new story - a story of peace, poverty alleviation and equitable and efficient resource use. The built environment can tell this new story, but you're going to have to transform our industry to aim higher than it has before.

Finally, to friends, colleagues (old and new) and clients in Australia and New Zealand: I am incredibly excited to be coming back, and pushing new boundaries in urban sustainability with you all. Watch this space for Biomimicry, Future Cities and Living Buildings; it promises to be another awesome journey...



  1. You're a good man and a huge loss to SA - I've so enjoyed our chats and your input on how GBCSA can become even better.

    We'll catch up in Oz

    Brian Wilkinson

  2. Thx Brian - much appreciated. Will certainly see you before we head off.