Thursday 27 October 2016

academic vs activist

Last week I attended the National Environment Meeting at the University of Sydney, hosted by the Sydney Environment Institute, Greenpeace and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (previous co-hosts were WWF Australia and ACF).

As the title of this year's meeting - Hope in the Dark - suggests, we were coming together to consider some hard realities of the struggling climate movement and the role of activists to provide hope, and remain hopeful, for the public we regularly address.

There were a number of fascinating sessions on environmental justice and sustainability in everyday life (like food and shopping), and the panels included both activists and academics. A key aim of the day was to generate research questions for academics that would provide activists with knowledge they need to effectively campaign.

Aside from the wonderful ideas and debates that I heard, I was stunned to hear during the opening remarks that activists and academics rarely come together.

Really? I thought, truly perplexed.

I'm an academic (in-training, at least) and an activist, and I see the two roles as naturally co-existing. And I know a number of other academics who would also classify themselves as activists. My field was created to address issues of social justice - how are we not activists?

During the end-of-day networking drinks I spoke with a campaigner from a leading NGO who reiterated the differences, and suggested that many of the academics speaking at the event would not be able to help with her work. I thought otherwise, and suggested she consider one-on-one conversations with select academics to discuss her specific research needs.

Look, I get it. Sometimes when a 'non-academic' hears an academic presentation you feel like the person is speaking another language. Like many other professions there are particular norms of writing and presenting ideas in the world of academia (which I haven't quite got my head wrapped around yet, either!). But underneath it all, most researchers working in the fields of sustainability and the environmental humanities truly care about improving the state of the planet and its inhabitants.

So why this separation?

I could probably write a thesis on this subject, but since I have another one to worry about at the moment I'll stop here for now and state that I am proudly an activist and an academic. In my experience, the two roles feed off one another. Higher education opened my mind to issues in the world and spurred me toward activism. And working as an activist raised questions that I need answered to be more effective in my campaigning, leading me back into the hallowed halls of the sandstone institution.

For now I'll leave you with a few images that I regularly use in presentations in both my activism work and my academic work, which may give you additional food for thought about the need to transform the way we make and buy fashion.

Roughly 85% of people working in the fashion industry are women -
a feminist issue if I ever saw one! (Photo: Kowtow)

The UN and WHO estimate that up to 77 million people suffer
pesticide poisoning each year from non-organic cotton cultivation.

2.5 billion tons of wastewater are emitted annually in China alone -
a country that produces more than half of all global textiles.

As of 2005, the average American shopper was buying
69 new items of clothing each year.

See you somewhere along the campaign trail (or lecture theatre).

Thursday 20 October 2016

eco warrior wardrobe

Long before I was an eco warrior, I was a corporate warrior. And for awhile there I was a corporate eco warrior (yep, it's a thing!).

Actually, I'm temporarily working at my former beloved workplace, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), where I spent my corporate eco warrior days. And besides the pleasure of spending time with old friends and helping advance the cause of sustainable places for everyone, selfishly I'm loving getting dressed for work every day.

For the past two years I've primarily been in PhD student mode (read: yoga pants at home, denim at uni) . There is the occasional meeting, interview, speaking gig or teaching opportunity, but for the most part my beautiful clothes aren't getting out of the wardrobe as much as I'd like.

Until now.

Well, for the next month anyway, when two days a week are dedicated to the GBCA - and to donning my best corporate eco warrior attire. Here were this week's choices.

A treasured (and comfortable!) favourite that sees a lot of wear,
by ethical American fashion designer Heidi Merrick

A sustainable take on a classic chic look - organic cotton
blouse by KITX, ECA-accredited skirt by Veronika Maine,
and boots by Ginger & Smart (who have ECA-accreditation
on their Australian-made apparel, but these boots were not made in Oz
so I can't be 100% certain on production standards).

What does your work wardrobe look like? How do you achieve sustainability in your workday wear?

Thursday 13 October 2016

Sustainability in the House

The Sydney Opera House, that is.

Earlier this week I set my alarm extra early for a very special date at the Opera House. And though an icy wind whipped through my hair and chilled me to the bone, all my worries were forgotten as I approached our iconic landmark, standing out against the clear blue sky and sparkling harbour. I found myself attempting a selfie alongside the excited tourists, as if I hadn't seen her over a thousand times before.

Whoosh! That wind!

The reason for my special date was the official launch of the Airbnb Sustainability Tour of the Sydney Opera House. Now the public (that's us!) can get beneath the sails of the world's most famous house and not just see backstage, but also see its incredible sustainability initiatives firsthand.

I had the best time!

There were plenty of eco-facts for sustainability geeks like me, an amazing music and lighting display in the Concert Hall, and a behind-the-scenes tour like you've never experienced that included the 'expected' Green Room and staging areas plus the waste management room and seawater cooling towers, among other sites. And there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions of the Sydney Opera House team and chat with fellow sustainability fans.

Airbnb Australia Country Manager Sam McDonagh
Sydney Opera House Director of Building, Greg McTaggart (who retires
next week - thank you for all you've done for the House!)
NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy, Adam Marshall
Credit: Anna Kucera

There I am! Listening to Sydney Opera House Sustainability Manager,
Naomi Martin, our charming hostess for the morning.
Credit: Anna Kucera

Last year the Opera House was granted a 4 Star Green Star - Performance rating by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). You may recall that I've worked for the GBCA, and I know that it is incredibly difficult for older buildings to achieve today's sustainable building standards and earn a Green Star rating, so this is no small feat.

Thanks to Utzon's original design (which included minimal yet durable materials, a pioneering seawater cooling system, and self-cleaning tiles), and the dedicated sustainability and building management teams at the Sydney Opera House, our most cherished house is also an incredibly green house. A couple of the most intriguing stats:
  • The Concert Hall lighting system - which you see in action during the tour - was replaced with all LED lights with multiple colour setting, including 'heritage lighting' for those who like their symphony old school. As a result, there was a 75% reduction in energy requirements, a cost savings of $70,000 per year in electricity alone. And because the lights last much longer, they have to be changed less frequently, cutting down on labour costs and waste. 
  • Waste Management - the House went from 2 waste streams to eight recycling streams including co-mingled (glass, plastics & cans), paper, cardboard, lightbulbs, e-waste, polystrene. They also work with OzHarvest to collect uneaten but still edible food, and compost other food waste. (Seriously, if the Opera House has figured this out - can't we all?)

More of those amazing lights. And once the music began - magic.
Credit: Anna Kucera

came on board to sponsor the tours - making a connection between the sustainability benefits of choosing Airbnb over traditional hotels. Country Manager Sam McDonagh explained, "We're proud to launch this sustainability tour in partnership with the Sydney Opera House to further inspire locals and visitors to be more environmentally aware by learning about the sustainable practices for the world's most famous house."

Also in attendance at the event were Airbnb superhosts who are passionate about sustainability in their homes, as well as sustainable home 'royalty', Off-the-Grid guy Michael Mobbs, who owns the  Sustainable House in Chippendale.

That's Michael Mobbs in the hat - he's been off the grid for decades,
and right in the heart of Sydney!
Credit: Anna Kucera

If you have any interest at all in sustainability or the Sydney Opera House, this is an incredible opportunity. The tours run at 8am on Tuesday mornings for a limited time until 29 November 2016. Head over to the Sydney Opera House website to book now before it books out!

And if you need any final convincing, you get a super cute
Frank Green SmartCup, because disposable cups are SO last century.