Many of us enjoy our lives exactly as they are, particularly how easy technology has made daily living. It’s tempting to take for granted how simple it is to pop down the supermarket to buy groceries off the rack, or hop in the car and drive to work. Problem is, the convenience of modern life is taking a toll on our environment. The good news? In this era of keeping an eye on carbon footprints and energy consumption, JCU’s new TropEco program is seeking to gently guide us into more sustainable living, one step at a time.
Launched during O-week, the JCU TropEco program will roll out a raft of initiatives to help staff and students embrace a greener, cleaner lifestyle. According to JCU’s Environment Manager (and spearhead of TropEco) Adam Connell, it’s the university’s first attempt at a cohesive program to address unsustainable practices. Connell was appointed Environment Manager early last year and felt someone needed to drive such a program to encourage a more sustainable culture at the university.
“One of the major barriers I saw in my initial months was a lack of coordination and awareness of sustainability-related programs and activities occurring around the university,” Connell said.
“Even though there was a lot going on, there was very little awareness within the wider JCU community. People were effectively acting in silos.”
The TropEco program aims to bring together these initiatives as well as implement several new ones. One of its major goals is the increased use of public or non-motorised transport. To help achieve this end, 2011 will see the introduction of the EcoPass – 2000 weekly bus passes subsidised by JCU so students will only have to pay $9 per week in Townsville and $13 per week in Cairns.
For cyclists, plans are in the pipeline to make JCU even more bike-friendly by installing more end-of-ride facilities and raising awareness of the shower facilities available to make riding to uni more attractive.
Connell said a surprising number of staff and students also drive their cars from one side of the campus to the other, including students living on residential colleges less than a kilometre from the main campus. To combat that, TropEco’s bike-share program will allow students to hire a bike daily – for free – to get around JCU.
This year will represent a trial period, with 20 bikes available for day hire at the three university-run colleges (University Hall, George Roberts Hall and Rotary International Hall) and from the Student Mall.
Those wanting to save on the cost of running their car or paying for a parking permit can simply present their student or staff card, along with a small refundable deposit, and receive a bike in return.
“We’d also like to set up a bike workshop at the new secure bike shed next to the library, which could provide casual work for students to repair and maintain bikes,” Connell said.
“We’re really focussing on the behaviour change side of things and, as a consequence, we should start seeing reductions in things like energy and water use, waste production, carbon emissions and single-occupant car travel to JCU.”
Another major goal of the TropEco program is the establishment of community food gardens at the university, with JCU staff, students and the wider community working together to produce organic fruit and vegetables accessible by all.
Such a garden already exists at Rotary International Hall, for the benefit of the students of the only completely self-catered residential college at JCU. Connell, together with Permaculture Townsville and NQ Dry Tropics NRM, held a permaculture workshop at the garden in late January to both prepare the garden for 2011 students and gauge interest in the community garden concept.
“It was a great success with over 50 people attending and another 20 people missing out due to too many numbers,” Connell said. “It was amazing how quickly the garden was transformed from a large patch of head-high weeds to a picturesque food garden along with four large composting cells being built.”
Permaculture takes a holistic approach to sustainable living with respect to the land. Leon Van Wyk from Permaculture Townsville said the permaculture philosophy was about caring for the earth, caring for people and redistributing surplus.
“Having limits to growth and redistributing surplus in a responsible manner combats the ‘greed’ mentality, which is so rampant in our society at the moment,” Van Wyk said.
Both Van Wyk and Connell said they are already planning further workshops in coming months to focus on various aspects of permaculture and developing the Rotary Garden.
“The workshops will give people a feel for the whole conceptual basis of permaculture, which can’t be summed up in a one-day workshop,” Van Wyk said.
“They will broaden people’s perspective to look at the wider implications (of our actions) and see how we can do things at a local level to make things much more sustainable and regenerative.”
Due to the high level of interest in the workshops, Connell said he feels there is a good case to develop a more accessible community garden at JCU in the near future.
“Growing our own food locally provides us with better food security and reduces food miles and the use of artificial chemicals and fertilisers. This greatly reduces the carbon footprint of the food,” Connell said.
“It also has social and economic sustainability aspects in that it helps to bring the community together and reduce the cost of food production and transport.”
Sustainability consultant Mel Phadtare, also present at the workshop, said Townsville has everything it needs to become a world-leading city in being more eco-friendly.
“It could be so easy,” Phadtare said. “Certainly the people I met and spoke to the other day were vibrant, enthusiastic and bright – there are clearly people who want to see something different.”
Phadtare knows her stuff – she’s just returned to Australia after spending five years in Canada working as a sustainability consultant, advising on broad sustainability planning, and developing sustainability-based curriculum for the University of British Columbia (UBC). Phadtare said UBC is well-known for its farm on campus.
Several years ago the UBC farm was nearly sold off for local residential development, but such was the massive outcry from students and the community that university management did a backflip, Phadtare said.
“That really revitalised the urban farm at UBC and they\’ve managed to make almost a social enterprise out of it, where they’re making money on the farm,” she added. “It\’s now integrated within the agricultural and science programs so the students come to the farm to learn. Communities also come in and do pickings and there\’s a big shared harvest dinner at the end of the season where people spend $70 for a ticket. There\’s a three-course meal, local organic wine is brought in, and it\’s a really fun event.”
Phadtare said gardens like the one at UBC really open up the opportunity for a society that has managed to distance itself from food to engage with it in an entirely new way.
“Within three generations we\’ve managed to completely fundamentally shift ourselves away from real food,” Phadtare said. “It\’s so different from getting a shopping cart and filling it with pre-processed food and then driving home. We have things like coriander in a tube, but we really don\’t have a strong connection with food.”
However, Phadtare said that in Vancouver in recent years there has been an incredible resurgence in urban agriculture.
“There are big changes happening around the globe, and I think JCU has to stand up and take note of that and consider \’What\’s our role in this?\’,” Phadtare said.
“TropEco\’s a wonderful opportunity to get some troops together and who knows where it could lead? You could have your own social enterprise and your own canteen producing chefs every year as a degree. There are endless opportunities from what I\’ve seen so far.”
While Connell said he thinks it will take several years for the general JCU population to change to a more sustainable mindset, “we are definitely on the right track”.
“It’s really important to make the activities and initiatives fun and enjoyable while still ensuring we are making wholesale changes,” he said. “No-one wants to get involved in a program that tells them they’re doing the wrong thing, or they need to stop doing this and that. The point of TropEco is educating people by active participation, and hopefully the tangible changes will follow.”