Ten Questions with André Harms

After spending 14 months in the frozen, isolated natural beauty of Antarctica, leading the South Africa research team, André Harms returned home determined to work toward improving the way the built environment and natural environment interact. He started the sustainability consultancy Ecolution, in Cape Town, which has recently scooped innovation awards for the Net Zero Energy project Two Dam Sustainable

1. Where do you go for inspiration?

Nature is definitely my main source of inspiration and the constant reminder I need to do my work – and to do it well. Other than that, there have been many books, documentaries and industry events which have provided me with a long-standing surge of inspiration when I most needed it.

2. What do you think is the most urgent global environmental challenge facing us?

Addiction. As a human race we are addicted to over-consumption, to the next bigger, faster or fancier thing, to perceived convenience or to money and power etc. This plays into all social and environmental challenges we now face as humanity – and there are many compounding urgent ones.

3. What is the most useful tool that helps you every day?

Putting my phone on silent. When I really need to focus, nothing helps more than ensuring all the bings and buzzes aren’t there to distract me. 

4. What do you feel is the biggest issue in the green building industry that we have to overcome? 

The misconception that greener buildings are lesser (less luxurious / functional) and more expensive. They can be developed faster, be more attractive and are healthier and more beneficial in the long run. I am certain that any perceived additional premiums can be more than offset against the savings and benefit in capex and again in opex.

5. When was the last time you were scared? What is it that scares you?

Reading summaries of the IPCC report and realising how little time we have left to turn things around to limit global warming. I am scared that not enough of us will change in time to prevent the worst of climate change. But also heights. That’s why I rock climb. To try and practice facing fears with action.

6. What are you reading/listening to?

I struggle to find the time to read, but lately I have been making a concerted effort and have been reading two books at once. The Diary of Anne Frank – I never got to read it as a child and being of German descent this message about reconciliation and human rights is especially powerful. And then Drawdown, the Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming – for some inspiration about the amazing solutions that are already out there. As Paul (the editor) himself puts it: “We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion and genius.”

7. What achievement are you most proud of?

I guess, saying no to many a financially lucrative offer in order to stay true to my heart and morals. Physically and mentally, I would say leading nine other crazy guys to and from Antarctica safely for our 14-month-stint on the South African research station SANAE IV.  

8. What is the best part of your workday?

That I can shape it the way I see fit. Sometimes it’s exercising or reading in the morning, sometimes in the evening. The flexibility is what gives me great energy.

9. What is a message you would like to shout from the rooftops/put on a billboard? Something you wish everyone could know and take to heart.

Less is more. (If you need context, I’d suggest watching Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. It really changed my thinking in multiple ways.)

10. What is a nifty, ‘sustainability hack’ that you use in your daily life to live more environmentally friendly?

A bicycle. Now we just need to collectively demand or implement more safe and convenient routes to use them on.

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