Innovative Australians: Ralph Alphonso

By Fiona MacDonald 4 March 2014
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Ralph Alphonso is showing that individuals can reduce their impact in a big way, with some planning and commitment.

ON A 4 x 5m PLOT down an East Melbourne laneway, Australian Geographic photographer Ralph Alphonso is attempting to build a liveable apartment on a leftover slab of land.

“I was going to build a garage or an extra room but I live here by myself and I thought, ‘Do I really need this space?'” he explains from his current living room, which has twice the floor area of his soon-to-be-built home.

When he looked for examples of carbon-neutral buildings for inspiration, he struggled to find one locally that looked at the whole picture – including where products originated from and -lifestyle.

“I found it frustrating. A lot of architects were talking about what could be done, but I wanted to actually do it. Waiting for someone else to go first isn’t my thing,” he says, with a smile.

Putting his money on the line, Ralph decided to try to create a carbon-neutral property using commercially available technologies and a design aesthetic that would encourage people to get by with less space and fewer resources. To that end, he is blogging about his project so other people can learn from it, even if he fails to reach all his targets.

Ralph says he’s doing it out of necessity. “The writing is on the wall as far as the fact we’re going to run out of fossil fuels goes. The change needs to be made in our generation or we’re doomed,” he says. “You can create an eco-village 100km out of Melbourne that’s sustainable – but their food has to get there and people still have to come and go. We just don’t have enough land to sustain the whole population of the world that way.”

Sustainable living starts with individuals

Professor Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, says that the Earth has a theoretical threshold of 7 billion people, but global population is predicted to hit 10 billion by 2050. “The projections suggest that within a few decades we will be really feeling the effects of dwindling oil reserves and food shortages,” he says.

Prices are set to soar, and wars over resources will be commonplace. The trick is to learn to get by on less now, rather than being forced to do it later, argues Ian, who hopes this looming threat will drive -innovation of the kind Ralph champions, while we still have time to choose it.

And given how slow government and industry has been to address the problem, it will be up to individuals to become more efficient. Ralph says making his effort has been a breeze and he hopes others will think that. “People will believe they can do it too, that’s the ultimate goal,” he says. “Everybody just needs to do a little bit for us to be able to move forward.”