Stories—

Speed Date a Sustainability Expert

Marrickville – (Now part of Inner West Council), New South Wales

In an effort to limit both the vulnerability of their Local Government Area (LGA) and its contribution to climate change, the former Marrickville Council, (since amalgamated into the new Inner West Council in New South Wales [NSW]), has forged stronger connections with State and Federal governments, private businesses and their community in an attempt to help individuals and stakeholders operate more sustainably. Bringing like-minded individuals and community groups into connection with each other to foster behaviour change and innovative practices has been a particular focus for the Council. One such initiative is their ‘Speed Date a Sustainability Expert’ program for local residents, undertaken in conjunction with the not-for-profit Alternative Technology Association (ATA).  Run successfully by the ATA for a number of years across Australia, the ‘speed date’ program connects individual residents with a broad range of sustainability experts for a quick 20 minute ‘date’ where individualised advice can be given on plans, sketches and ideas of renovation projects or new home designs. 

Experts at Marrickville’s latest ‘Speed Date a Sustainability Expert’ event included specialists in permaculture design, sustainable design, water collection, Off-grid solar, solar PV, sustainable architecture, sustainable material selection, energy efficiency, rainwater, passive solar design, energy efficient building design, thermal comfort ratings, lighting, solar hot water, gardens, green roofs walls & façades, energy storage, energy auditing, solar battery storage, strata sustainability, water efficiency, battery storage technology, technology for large-scale solar, healthy homes, thermal performance, landscape design, building.

The former Council has endeavoured to demonstrate leadership in adaptability to climate change, implementing measures to offset emissions, adopting more environmentally friendly guidelines for future developments, installing green infrastructure, ensuring green space and undertaking extensive retrofitting to ensure that the most energy efficient technology is being used in properties under their administration. 

The Community Sustainability team within the Council, has actively sought to encourage and support community-led mitigation and adaptation projects, knowledge sharing and innovative practices by guiding groups through bureaucratic processes, providing small grants, bridging connections between and forming partnerships with interested parties.

The partnership between the ATA and Marrickville came to be after the Council’s Community Sustainability team recognised a demand from local residents for specific advice and information on sustainable solutions for renovation projects and new build homes. In recent years, the Council’s approach had shifted from being simply a regulator to proactively assisting residents in making more informed choices and their own sustainable changes. Recognising the limited knowledge Council could offer residents, the ‘Speed Date a Sustainability Expert’ program facilitated the marriage of local residents seeking specific advice for their projects, with experts in architecture, water, energy, biodiversity, landscaping, and food growing that could guide local residents in designing, constructing and managing their own sustainable homes. The program actively encourages new ways for Council, residents and experts to work together. 

By fostering new relations and facilitating the sharing of knowledge, Marrickville and ATA are creating new horizontal connections for local residents, enabling and empowering them to make informed decisions and build more environmentally sustainable and cost-effective homes. Each individual ‘date’ enables the formation of new connections between experts and residents, triggering opportunities for behaviour change, innovative design solutions and the breaking of existing unsustainable renovation and home building regimes. Facilitating the creation of these new connections eases locals’ attempts to live more sustainably, mitigate the impacts of their building projects on the environment, and adapt to changing climatic and environmental conditions. Marrickville Council acknowledged the demand for knowledge from local residents and provided a solution that improved the accessibility of sustainability experts and the uptake of more innovative and sustainable housing.  

Such projects have been driven largely by the creation of strategic Council initiatives that aim to tackle issues such as biodiversity, climate change and water security. In essence, the Marrickville Council has created a blueprint of what they believe needs to be done to combat and react to climate change, regardless of future changes in political thinking. The former Council has undertaken considerable work to identify areas of vulnerability within its boundaries, leading to the acknowledgement of the ways in which climate change has, and is likely to, affect their LGA in the future. Both interviewees and Council publications highlight the areas of greatest vulnerability, referring to human and infrastructural damage caused by intensifying heatwaves, temperature changes, extreme weather and sea level rises.

Putting ‘Speed Date a Sustainability Expert’ into the Connections diagram, we can see that it engages ‘niches’ in particular, relating, for example to renewable energy technology in the home, water efficiency in homes and gardens and so on. Design and construction practices are challenged, with respect to new building and renovation as well as to garden landscaping as awareness is raised of sustainable practices. At the landscape scale, awareness raising and practice transformation may lead to a cultural shift to sustainable living, and eventually, perhaps, changes in laws and regulations with regard to construction and development.

Intersecting Regimes and Practices: ‘Speed Date a Sustainability Expert’, Marrickville, NSW

Links—

Inner West Council
https://www.innerwest.nsw.gov.au

ATA – Speed Date a Sustainability Expert
http://sdse.ata.org.au