Living labs to stimulate low carbon living

The main assembly building in the town square at Tonsley. COMMUNITY
The main assembly building in the town square at Tonsley.

Imagine an area in Adelaide for people to live, work and play, which has been designed specifically to leave the smallest carbon footprint on the environment.

The launch of the first Adelaide Living Laboratory (ALL) program is seeing such a precinct being developed in Tonsley, together with similar sites at Lochiel Park and Bowden.

As a living, thriving research hub, the multi-purpose development at Tonsley – covering 60 hectares and due to be completed in 2018 – is expected to bring real-time knowledge to developers, builders and planners, informing the way residential and industrial premises can be created and put to use with minimal carbon emissions.

Dr Robert Crocker, Acting Director of the UniSA Zero Waste SA Research Centre for Sustainable Design and Behaviour, is one of the lead researchers involved in the ALL program, which comprises a partnership between the South Australian Government and the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), of which UniSA is a key member.

Dr Crocker explains that a living lab can be a precinct, a building or an industrial development in which it is possible to measure, assess and evaluate the processes which create and sustain a low carbon environment.

“It involves an exploration of emerging usages, behaviours and market opportunities, experimentation with living scenarios within communities of users, and an ongoing evaluation and assessment of what is progressively learnt in the precinct or development,” he says.

“A critical difference is its emphasis on co-creation – that is ‘co-design’ by and for all those involved.”

As a potential template for the design of other eco-friendly areas across Australia, Dr Crocker describes the Tonsley development as a highly-significant project.

“It has to be one of the largest reuse projects in Australia, and is certainly the largest living lab Australia has, involving a mixed-use site of light industry, business, educational facilities, retail and residential development,” he says.

The urban forest.Tonsley’s transformation is most evident in the iconic saw-tooth roof of the former Mitsubishi plant, at one time Australia’s largest shed at 11 hectares, and now being converted into a major rooftop solar array while the main assembly building will be adapted into a multi-purpose precinct which will house, among other attractions, an indoor forest (pictured right).

“We’re now starting to apply what we have learnt at the sustainable developments at Lochiel Park and Bowden to the Tonsley site,” Dr Crocker says.

“What we are doing in Bowden and Tonsley is creating a knowledge ramp for all stakeholders, whether builders, developers or residents. Low carbon living can’t be imposed from above, but must be researched, understood and put into practice by everyone involved – this is co-creation at work.”

With UniSA’s Dr Jane Andrew, Dr Crocker is leading the co-creation task to be used in the project. There are three other important research tasks, including an evaluation of the most effective software tools for assessing carbon reduction, a study of the most effective way of reducing and managing power, and a value proposition which seeks to provide the market with a more accurate understanding of the substantial economic benefits of investing in such advanced developments.

“It’s about using different technologies and also about social knowledge – trying to get people to change their behaviour by demonstrating best practice, in an ongoing, iterative way,” Dr Crocker says.

“One of the challenges is how to educate developers and builders to recognise the value of low carbon living.”

Why people should consider changing their behaviour, or care so much about low carbon living, is emphasised by Megan Antcliff, director of the Tonsley Redevelopment project, CRCLCL Board Member, and Chair of the steering committee of the ALL hub.

“Climate change is by far the biggest challenge that we are facing and low carbon living is one of the best ways that individuals can respond to that challenge,” Antcliff says.

“This is why the ALL program, and Tonsley redevelopment as part of that, is important.

“It is bringing together researchers with knowledge, industry that can take that product to market, and a community that can benefit from that product. It is about bringing the end user in contact with that product.

“We want to showcase South Australia as a low carbon society and we are ahead here because we have fantastic renewable energy sites and leading-edge researchers in this area.

“The excitement around Tonsley is extraordinary – it will become showcase for new technologies, new ways of living and working.”