He’s worked with architects Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster, thrown a solar-powered party for Vivienne Westwood in London, master-planned an entire ski resort in Switzerland, and met with Julian Assange. Adelaide-born Ross Harding tells The Adelaide Review why music sounds better when it comes from the sun, and how he believes Adelaide can become self-sufficient in 10 years.
Harding is not what you might expect from a sustainability expert. At 18, deciding to work in an area he really cared about – the environment – he studied mechanical engineering and finance.
During his studies he moved to Sweden for a year, which he says is responsible for changing his whole mentality on sustainability.
“I would say that the thinking in Sweden was at least five to 10 years ahead of what was happening in Australia at the time,” Harding says.
“There were so many concepts like district heating and cooling, which were very obvious there, which were still seen as innovative and pushing the boundaries in Australia.”
Returning home to finish his degree, he worked on major projects like Central Park Sydney, a Jean Nouvel and Norman Foster master-planning project and Council House 2 Melbourne. He was also awarded a scholarship which he describes as a “green MBA” that involved mentorship from some of the greatest environmental thinkers around the globe.
Asked to dream big in this program, Harding’s project was to power the entire world using renewable energy as quickly as possible. Frustrated with the ineffectiveness he saw in the star–rating systems in the building industry, he explored the ways in which he could make real change in our cities.
During this time, he and a friend bought an old Mercedes–Benzes and converted it to run on cooking oil. The pair drove from Adelaide to Sydney with a camera crew, visiting renewable power plants along the way, with the hope of producing content that might create change in the public.
He was able to experience first–hand the potential for a whole city block to be environmentally and financially self–sufficient.
“The financial payback on that scheme was 10 years, which is a better return than a bank loan. So we began to think, if it’s not a technical or financial block that is holding back progress, it either has to be a social or political factor.
As politics is influenced by people anyway, I began to become very people–centric in my approach.” Moving his focus from a consulting to communications strategy, his perspective shifted to inspiring people through engagement.
“I found that if you want to reach people, it’s more effective through a creative method, rather than a straight education, information pitch or, even worse, preaching.”
He found himself in London, working on international architectural and master–planning competitions, and came up with the idea to host a party called OFF. THE. GRID.
He charged a dozen batteries and shut down the power to his London basement, having only the solar powered turntables and candlelight to create the atmosphere.
While at the party, he was approached by well–known ex–Adelaide filmmaker George Pank who said to him, “Wow, music sounds so much better when it comes from the sun.”
This was a revelation for Harding who realised the potential for social influence lies in showcasing financially viable and technically feasible solutions in an entertaining way.
This simple insight now forms a major component of Harding’s method of communication. After London, Harding travelled for four years through Mexico and Europe, seeking solutions and communicating them, while helping to implement projects such as self– sufficient houses, beach resorts and even urban communities.
He is adamant that Adelaide could do a lot more towards becoming self–sufficient and denounces the current sustainability rating legislation as being a key area that could be tightened up.
Harding believes that current national legislation is too relaxed, leading to buildings that strive to satisfy very minimal requirements in order to achieve a sustainability rating.
As he points out, this system ultimately leads to buildings, which do not actually create sustainable solutions, but rather fulfill “token green ratings”. “From a financial and technical standpoint, Adelaide has the potential to be a self– sufficient city in 10 years; the only barrier is us – people,” Harding says. T
his is a dramatically shorter period to predict in comparison to most projections which suggest anywhere from 20 to 40 years to create this sort of result.
Harding re–iterates that action comes from the social arena, urging people to understand that “sustainability is actually about adding more to people’s lives rather than taking something away”.
“If Adelaide were to become car–free for example, the city would become so much more vibrant and people centric,” he says.
“It’s an exciting time to live in when you consider the innovative opportunities we have at our finger tips with this inevitable transition that is about to happen in cities all over the world. And to think that Adelaide could be the first in the world.”