Leadership, sustainability, contracts and climate change

The Victorian Association of Environmental Educators Award for the environmental educator of the year celebrated its 26th year in March. 

Andrew Vance received the award for his work at Melbourne Girls College where he and his team have built a Sustainability Collective with parents and the local community.  The College won three state wide awards last year for its sustainability education under the co-ordination of Andrew.  In receiving the award he, like all great sustainability practitioners, paid tribute to his team.

The ‘team’ always includes young people.  This year Mia Vissenjoux, accompanied by her mother and two of her outstanding teachers, spoke to the conference about the work East Bentleigh Primary School had been doing on sustainability.  With great confidence and poise Mia presented a video clip of herself and other students as they travelled to Sydney and presented on sustainability to the Qantas executive. 

So, now, any time any of us are passing our recycling to the stewards as they course down the aisle in the Qantas jet remember the work of the East Bentleigh Primary School which haas helped to encourage Qantas to ‘do the right thing’.

Greening Australia, Sustainability Victoria, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and Museum Victoria all worked to bring the 2012 Toolbox for Environmental Change to the students and teachers who assembled for the day. 

Coincidentally, as we celebrate the 26th year of the award, CERES Brunswick Community Farm turns 30 which is itself a remarkable achievement.

Not satisfied with the inspiration hit provided by the young people at the 2012 Toolbox workshops I also spent some time at the Bentleigh Secondary College after senior teacher Bill Thomas invited me to visit.


I am told it was this school which started the discussion about Solar in Schools with the federal government and their solar panels are one of the early and obvious attributes of the built structure.

Their wetland has now attracted 18 species of birds.  Their tree lots, planted with the help of the local community and parents, will be used as a seed bank for others in the region and the tree and understory cover will soon be high enough to block out the view of the suburban houses which press up against the school perimeter. 

Their plans for a wind turbine (now that funding has been committed by benefactors and friends of the school) and their cultural centre and the retirement of the diesel oil sump will further transform this remarkable place of learning in suburban Melbourne.

The young people who provided the tour were wise beyond their years and committed to making a difference in a variety of ways.  Generously, they were happy enough to take me around the grounds notwithstanding the biting wind we had to deal with.

Matt Cotham has a keen interest in fish species, established the fish tank and now takes care of the turtle Bubbles.

Emma Pristov knows that change is about the ‘culture of a school’ and is interested in the psychology which underpins environmental concerns.  Molly Supple told me with enthusiasm about the role of the school and of the students in bringing the community into the projects they run. 

Brayden Berchy, one of the younger students in the group, thinks he might work with orangutang, but closer to home, with Pete Barbaras, he pointed out the work he and others had done in laying out a path through some plantings. 

On this autumn day we talked of the future, of careers in environmental sustainability and of importance of local communities. Time passed quickly.  The train trip back to the city was a reflective time for me.

It has been a week of important scientific reports.  The CSIRO and BOM State of the Climate 2012 http://www.csiro.au/Outcomes/Climate/Understanding/State-of-the-Climate-2012.aspxhas been released.  Key points include – ‘every decade has been warmer than the previous one since 1950’; annual average daily maximum temperatures, annual daily mean temperatures , annual average overnight minimum temperatures have all increased since 1910, and consecutive La Nina events meant that 2010 and 2011 were our coolest years recorded since 2001.  In this report CSIRO and BOM tell us that

‘… 2011 was the world’s 11th warmest year and the warmest year on record during a La Nina event.  The world’s 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 15 years.’

BOM has also launched its Australian Climate Observations Reference Network – Surface Air Temperature improved dataset which can be found at www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/acorn-sat - which is all about improving Australia’s climate record.  All the background research can be located at that site together with the review documents.  Anyone with an interest in how we develop our understandings of the climate should access this work.  I was interested to hear that the BOM is and has always been deeply committed to involving the public in the work it does.

Travelling around the north east region evidence of the recent flooding rain still lies around the Numurkah area.

I spent time in Stratford at the reserve called The Knob where I met and talked with the Gippsland Climate Change Network Leadership Program group.  The steering committee have brought together a very diverse group of people.  Uncle Albert Mullet and other representatives came from the local Gunai Kurnai people to welcome us and provide a tour of the site.  Anyone interested in talking to this group will be able to catch up with them through Scott Ferraro  - scott.ferraro@epa.vic.gov.au


This group are exploring the ways to build local leadership qualities for sustainability and environmental change. People came from all over Gippsland and from as far afield as Mallacoota.  Their contribution during the day reinforces my view that leadership is everywhere and that community networks committed to environmental change are expanding all over the state.

In the work of my own Office the launch of the Strategic Audit, with Supreme Court Justice Simon Whelan talking about contracts, state architect Geoffrey London talking about the power of design to impact change, Kristian Handberg talking about green cars and Kevin Finnigan and Ari Bouras, representatives from Melbourne Health talking about the use they have made of contracts to impact on their plans for a more sustainable health service. 

One of the key messages from the 2012 Strategic Auditdesigned to be signed sealed and delivered - is that contracts are powerful mechanisms that should be used by the Victorian Government’s departments and agencies to improve resource efficiency and support environmental sustainability.  Justice Whelan commented that some of the most important ingredients of successful contracts are trust and a shared and genuine interest in the outcome.

Findings from our work include that from 2008/09 across the whole of Victorian Government there have been decreases in greenhouse emissions, energy consumption and a 16% decrease in office waste.   The full audit document is available on the website http://www.ces.vic.gov.au/influencing-change/sustainability-stories/strategic-audit-released.

This was also the week when the Victorian government presented its review of the Climate Change Act 2010 – found at www.climatechange.vic.gov.au and Victoria hosted a visit from Professor Ottmar Edenhofer the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group 3.  His comments on climate change can be found at  http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/ottmar-edenhofer/3908390