One Planet Champion: Ralph Alphonso, photographer and sustainable building consultant

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Ralph Alphonso used the One Planet Living framework to help build his house in Melbourne, but it also opened his eyes to wider sustainability challenges

In 2015 the 5×4 project, a unique inner-city dwelling in Melbourne, became the first single-unit home built using One Planet Living to guide its design. 

Ralph Alphonso, the man behind this tiny house with big ambitions, wanted to demonstrate and encourage discussion around how to achieve sustainable living and healthy densification in a city.

He now splits his time between 5×4 and travelling where his photographic or sustainable building consulting work takes him. Here, he talks about how he came across One Planet Living and its impact on his lifestyle.

 

When and how did you first come across One Planet Living and what did you like about it?

I was introduced to One Planet Living by the environment design engineer who worked with me on the 5×4 project. I’d heard of other matrixes that had been used for lifecycle assessment. However, One Planet Living really aligned to the principles that I already had in my head and took them even further.

The main thing that really attracted me to One Planet Living and differentiated it from other assessment processes was its holistic approach. Other frameworks go too far into one area and neglect others.

The other thing I liked about One Planet Living was the simplicity in its communication. I come from an advertising background where I worked as a photographer for 20 years – so I’m a great believer in keeping things simple and making them as easy as possible to understand. The One Planet concept is a very vivid illustration of our consumption rate and how we’re living beyond our means. It’s a really logical way of illustrating it.

 

Has it led you to make any changes in your lifestyle? What were the benefits and changes you saw in your life?

One of the major things that it opened my eyes to was food. It was something I never considered before in terms of carbon footprint. I do like meat and although I still eat chicken regularly, I now only eat red meat once every two weeks. I’m also eating a lot of vegetables.

With meat consumption, it’s not necessarily about eliminating anything – it’s about reducing. I read a staggering figure about red meat recently: Americans cut their beef consumption by one fifth between 2005 and 2014; it is estimated that the resulting reduction in pollution would equal the emissions of about one sixth of cars registered in the United States in 2015.

 

Do you have any anecdotes about the changes you have made – challenges that you had to overcome, comments from people in your life, or unexpected benefits?

Ever since I’ve been living in 5×4, in that small and vertical space, my memory has improved! I have to do a lot of walking up and down stairs so if I forget something, I’m punished for it.

There are also garden beds on the top three levels of 5×4. I’ve really enjoyed growing edible plants in them. Often I’ll go away and they’ll die and I’ll get annoyed because I haven’t organised people to come over and water them.

This is a big change for me because gardening is something I’ve never taken an interest in before. It certainly made me feel good and I was surprised by that.

When I moved from a house with an internal space of 200m2 to one of 60m2, I had to become more thoughtful about possessions. I’ve had to curtail my obsession with gadgets. I’ve had to get rid of a lot of things and I’ve simplified what I need and use. I had two pressure cookers in my old house. You don’t need two pressure cookers! You don’t need a lot of things, really. It’s really made me rethink what I’m purchasing. Nowadays before I buy something I ask myself, “Where am I going to put that? – do I really need it?” You skip that step when you have a lot of space.

I also really enjoy motorcars but I now ride a scooter and use car share. I still have a car but it hasn’t been driven for over eight years. Car share has opened up this whole new world to me. It’s even better than having one car because I have so many different options available to me.

What it all comes down to is that you just need to minimise where you can – we don’t need to consume at the volume we’re consuming, and we can still live a great life without compromising too much.

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