Dr Birkeland, currently Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne, has devoted her personal, professional, and academic life to socio-ecological sustainability. Believing early on that built environment design was a key to sustainability, Janis became an architect and urban designer in San Francisco. Later, to better understand the barriers to sustainability, she became a city planner and lawyer.
After moving to Australia, she completed a PhD, Planning for Sustainability (1993) while contributing to many sustainability organizations. She then taught sustainable architecture in several universities, including as professor of sustainable architecture at QUT and the University of Auckland. On the premise that buildings cannot be sustainable if they do more damage than no building at all, she originated the increasingly popular concept of Net-Positive Design almost two decades ago.
Her books explore how urban design and development can contribute net sustainability gains, and include Design for Sustainability (2002), Positive Development (2008), and Net-Positive Design (2020). Her theory of Positive Development has led to the new mindsets, models, methods, and metrics that genuine sustainability requires. Most recently, she developed a computer app for inculcating that paradigm shift among teachers and students of urban planning and design, as well as among the more intrepid practitioners.