Competing for the sustainable edge

Harnessing an impressive track record of designing, constructing and operating outstanding sustainable buildings, funds gifted to UOW as part of the McKinnon Walker Trust have enabled UOW to launch an innovative engineering challenge.



Story By

Sarah Vickery

The inaugural sustainability keystone initiative for the University, the Sustainable Homes Challenge (SHC) was born from the generosity of former UOW Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Ken McKinnon AO and UOW alumna Suzanne Walker who made a $1.3 million endowment to UOW in 2016.

“The core goal is to foster wide-spread commitment to innovation and be a particular avenue of support for excellence,” says Prof McKinnon.

Their support has helped realise the vision of the Sustainable Building Resource Centre (SBRC) – taking inspiration from UOW’s involvement with Solar Decathlon – to have UOW’s own local version of the competition.

One of UOW’s objectives is to inspire and help reinvent the way we build homes.

Known as the McKinnon Walker Scholars, the SHC cohort will consist of 30 outstanding students from a wide range of disciplines, recruited from both within UOW and international and Australian partner universities.

With a requirement to re-imagine a home from waste-derived materials, the students will develop innovative solutions to the vast problem of providing sustainable, healthy and affordable homes that maximise benefits to householders and the wider community, while minimising waste and negative impacts on our planet’s ecosystems.

Throughout the first half of 2020, the Scholars participating in the Challenge will focus on developing building designs and specifications that accommodate new waste-derived building products, while finding solutions to providing affordable housing for key vulnerable communities.

In June 2020, the Scholars will physically come together for the Innovation Sprint Finale, involving a week-long schedule of activities, lectures and collaboration, culminating in a presentation of their development plans and/or practical buildings.

The SHC aims to be a flagship activity for a much larger and longer-term UOW and industry initiative in the development of sustainable, healthy and affordable housing.

Motivation for philanthropic engagement with UOW

Professor McKinnon was the second Vice-Chancellor of UOW, serving from 1981 until his retirement in 1995, while Ms Walker graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985.

Funding from the trust is given annually at the Vice-Chancellor’s discretion to academic staff, professional staff and students to foster innovative programs, activities and ideas. Prof McKinnon and Ms Walker have called on the University community to surprise them with what the gift could achieve.

“The spur comes from the experience Suzanne and I have gained through more than 40 years in several government and academic consultative roles, of the desirability to have funds, in addition to normal carefully budgeted institutional funds, with which the Vice-Chancellor can bring life to ideas likely to improve the University” says Prof McKinnon.

UOW invites partners to join us to help make this challenge more impactful. Contact us to start a conversation on how you, or your business, can be a part of building a more sustainable future.

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