Regenerative design leader Amanda Sturgeon is heading back to Australia.
Sturgeon served as CEO of the International Living Future Institute in Seattle for the four years ending in February. In an email Monday, she informed friends and colleagues that she’s taken a position with global consulting firm Mott MacDonald “to lead regenerative, zero carbon and biophilic design strategy.”
Sturgeon was born in England, spent her high school and college years in Australia, and moved to the United States two decades ago to practice architecture. Her official title for the Sydney-based firm — which specializes in engineering, asset management and real estate development — will be “head of regenerative design strategy.” With 16,000 employees, Mott MacDonald is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the world. Annually, it does some $2 billion of business.
“I will be working across infrastructure, buildings and city scale projects in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific as well as throughout the Pacific Rim region,” Sturgeon wrote in the email to friends and colleagues..
I followed up by pitching a few questions to Sturgeon in a separate email. In her answers, she shares thoughts on the direction of ILFI, as well as the growth in regenerative projects on the other side of the Pacific.
I imagine it’ll be an adjustment to go back into practice.
I missed practice – I think after a while being a CEO you get isolated from the projects on the ground, and it becomes hard to know where to take the programs next if you are not immersed in the reality of them.
But, frankly the biggest reason I moved into practice was because I wanted to have more impact globally. As I wrote the LBC 4.0 and Core programs I looked back at the number of LBC projects and felt it was just not enough to make a difference given how fast climate change is accelerating. I brought in the Volume program to try and change that and I think that will make a difference, but I became a bit jaded about whether certification programs are really the best way to make change at the speed it is needed.
Are you excited to be heading back to Australia. I’m sure you’re very aware that University of Wollongong just received the country’s first LBC certification, so it’s kind of neat timing from the standpoint of whatever traction regenerative design and construction are getting Down Under.
I have been hoping to return to Australia for quite a while, but wanted to wait until my kids were done with high school. My son is already there at the University of Sydney, so it will be lovely to be closer as a family. It’s great timing given the UOW’s certification and the completion of the Burwood shopping center in Melbourne as well. I do think this is a pivotal moment for Australia – they already do a much better job than the U.S. in terms of incorporating a baseline of sustainability on most projects. But now they are poised to accelerate to the next level of regenerative thinking. Given the palpable change in climate there causing the bushfires recently, there is also an appetite to do more.
Are there any aspects of work on the other side of the Pacific that seem particularly challenging or exciting (in contrast to the U.S.)?
The Asia Pacific region is anticipated to have the highest growth of buildings in the coming decades, and it’s a critical time for cities in that region to get things right that U.S. cities have not. I am excited to work in that region to figure out systemic solutions that can scale. Also my heart is in Australia – culturally and mentally – I think I connect more to place there and can contribute a biophilic way of thinking to a country that already has a widespread and deep sense of connection to nature.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your time at ILFI and where you believe that organization is headed.
My focus as CEO and before as [executive director] was to set up ILFI to be able to scale past a few high-end single-family homes and catalyst projects to what we are beginning to see today with technology companies committing to Zero Carbon across a portfolio of projects. It took a lot of work to build the internal systems, while also building the funding and relationships for scaling, and it was often not ‘popular’ work.
I am happy to have left ILFI in a place where the programs are more streamlined, they can scale to volume, and there are also the systems to support that to happen. I also worked hard to create an ILFI that was about more than one larger-than-life person – it has to be to scale, and I think I succeeded in that, given the right leadership moving forward, ILFI is now poised to scale to have much more impact than it has in the past.