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Everyday Climate Changers: The Australians Taking Climate Action Into Their Own Hands

A July report backed by the UN ranked Australia dead last (in the world) when it came to climate action. Thankfully, more and more Australians are taking that “action” into their own hands by combining activism, entrepreneurialism, and business.

It’s hard to believe we’re less than 30 years out from 2050, the year when almost every country in the world has pledged to be carbon neutral. Every country, that is, except Singapore and Australia. Let that sink in. 

Suriname and Bhutan have already achieved a carbon negative status, with the rest of the world hot on their heels. Australia is one of the most privileged and progressive countries in the world, yet our government can’t seem to make addressing the climate crisis a priority. In July, a report by the United Nations-backed Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranked Australia dead last—in the world—when it came to climate action.

But Australians are responding. Some are doing it by marching in the streets, some by making more ethical consumer and financial decisions, and some are doing it by making small (and large) changes to their daily lives and routines. 

Then there are the Australians who have decided to turn their work and their businesses into a tool for climate action; applying a more entrepreneurial mindset to the single biggest issue of our time. 

Whether they’re inventing alternatives to single-use plastic, placing Indigenous voices and knowledge at the forefront of climate solutions, or helping investors fund and support businesses that are helping protect the planet—here are just a few of the individuals and organisations who are using their voice and their platform to tackle the impacts of the climate crisis.  

Firesticks is Keeping Country Healthy

“As people, if we’re healthy we can handle any sickness. It’s exactly the same thing for the land. If the land’s healthy, it’s going to have a better chance to survive or deal with hotter climates or more rain or whatever the climate brings,” explains Victor Steffensen, a Tagalaka man, Firesticks founder, and author of Fire Country, a book about how Indigenous fire management could help restore the Australian landscape. 

Founded in 2019, Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation is an Aboriginal community-based not-for-profit that helps communities across Australia with fire management. Its aim is to empower communities to run their own cultural burns, and manage their own Country.

“Cultural burning, or Aboriginal fire management, is something that’s been on this landscape for thousands of years,” Steffensen says. “The Country has evolved to live with fire, and people have been a big part of that evolution for a long time. There are all these indicators and signs on the land that tell us when to burn, where to burn, by reading the landscape and reading the trees.”

“Cultural burning, or Aboriginal fire management, is something that’s been on this landscape for thousands of years.” 

Aboriginal fire management isn’t about starting a fire and letting it go. By using small, controlled fires, the landscape is revived, flora is rejuvenated, habitats protected, and the land becomes more resilient to the threat of bushfire—a threat we know is increasing in Australia due to the impact of climate change. “It’s crucial that people are trained to read the soil and understand the trees and know how to burn landscapes in a way that Aboriginal people have done for thousands of years,” Steffensen says. “That’s a skill-set that’s lost.”

Firesticks works with farmers, national parks, fire services, Indigenous communities, and government, developing training models to revive these essential skills to help rejuvenate and protect the land.

Seed Is Empowering Young People To Fight for Climate Justice 

Seed is Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network. Since it launched in 2014, it’s campaigned the country’s Big Four banks to defund the Adani coal mine, lobbied against fracking in the Northern Territory, and educated people on how they can stand up for what’s right through the power of their vote.

“Young people have always stood up and had a voice,” says Seed’s National Director and Bundjalung woman, Amelia Telford, adding that the majority of the Indigenous population in Australia is under 25. “When you empower people—especially from a young age—they can play a big role in making change and making a difference.”

“The climate crisis isn’t an issue of the future. It’s impacting people’s lives right now.”

Indigenous people have been on the frontline of the impacts of climate change for decades; rising sea levels in the Torres Strait, droughts, floods, heatwaves. But it’s also Aboriginal communities that are first and worst hit by big fossil fuel projects—particularly coal and gas—that are fuelling the climate crisis, especially across parts of the NT.

“The climate crisis isn’t an issue of the future. It’s impacting people’s lives right now,” Telford explains. “It makes sense that our people need to be leading this, because it’s Indigenous knowledge and leadership that’s the key solution to the climate crisis, and making sure that we build a future with sustainable communities.”

WorkForClimate is Empowering Individuals to Take Climate Action During Their 9-5

“We were inspired by the global school strikes movement and asked ourselves, how can older generations take action? This crisis shouldn’t all fall onto Gen Z,” explains Lucy Piper, director of WorkForClimate. 

WorkForClimate, founded by former Atlassian GM Bryan J Rollins and incubated by Australian not-for-profit The Sunrise Project, is focused on giving individual professionals the tools and resources to create positive change within the corporate sector. 

Armed with the tagline “Make climate your day job, without quitting your day job,” the organisation’s mission is to accelerate the corporate transition away from fossil fuels by encouraging employees to have a positive influence within their current roles, and effect change from the inside out. “In our experience, individual employees have the power to drive ambitious initiatives and inspire others to make their corporation a better one,” Lucy says.

With large corporations like Telstra and Coles taking steps to make the switch to 100% renewable energy, and more businesses switching their default superannuation to ethical funds, Lucy sees this as just the beginning of the corporate movement. “While this is often seen as a complex and polarising topic, it really shouldn’t be,” she says. “Our aim is to simplify climate action for climate-concerned professionals.”

Great Wrap founders Julia and Jordy Kay at their warehouse (Photo supplied by Great Wrap)

Great Wrap Is Using the Humble Potato To Fight Plastic Waste

Australia’s packaging targets stipulate that 100% of packaging needs to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. But according to Jordy Kay, neither the government nor the private sector is moving quickly enough. “There are all of these big companies out there looking for solutions [to single-use plastic], but they’re not getting what they need fast enough,” he says. “The innovation and ideas exist, but businesses haven’t been able to tap into the funding.”

For Jordy and his partner, Julia Kay, there was no time to wait. After working in the wine industry and being flabbergasted by the amount of cling wrap used before pallets were shipped out, Jordy was struck with an idea: can you create a solution using organic ingredients that won’t end up in landfill?

Turns out, you can, thanks to the humble potato. Jordy and Julia are the brains behind Great Wrap, Australia’s first cling wrap made from potato waste and compostable biopolymers that will break down in your compost pile in around 180 days.

Since officially launching in April, they’ve converted around 10,000 Australian homes to using Great Wrap, and more and more businesses are using the product for packaging and freight purposes.

For every box of Great Wrap sold, Jordy estimates that about 1.2 kilometres of plastic wrap is stopped from going to landfill. And over the next 12 months, that number is expected to increase to just shy of 6,000 tonnes. “Converting homes from using conventional plastic is a great thing to look at,” says Julia. “We can start to have a serious impact.”

For Australia to get on track for 2025, Jordy’s conscious of the fact that it’ll take more than Great Wrap for systemic change to occur, and cites a need for more investment from the private sector, and more funding from the government. “Things need to scale up more quickly,” he says. “You can’t be sitting on ideas or policies; we need to act now.”

Photo supplied by One Small Step.

One Small Step Can Help You Track (and Shrink) Your Carbon Footprint

“When it comes to taking action on something like global warming, as individuals we can think that one person doesn’t matter,” says Lily Dempster, founder and CEO of One Small Step. “But when everyone acts in a certain way, it can be really positive. Collectivism is real.”

One Small Step is a mobile app that makes it easy (and fun) to reduce your carbon footprint in your everyday life. Answer a few simple questions, and the app gives you tangible, meaningful ways to reduce your emissions down to two tonnes a year. That’s the number the United Nations are advising everyone to aim for by 2050.

The app uses behavioural science, and helps reduce the cognitive load many people feel around doing their bit for the climate. “People have a sense of confusion around whether your choices matter,” says Dempster. “There’s a lack of clarity in terms of what’s going to be impactful and what’s going to work for your personal circumstances. A big part of the app is tailoring suggestions that will suit you, your lifestyle, and your household setup.”

Since launching in May 2020, the app has had just under 20,000 downloads. Around 500 users have shifted their banking and super into more ethical funds, while the suggested small changes people have made to their lives has saved around 70,000 trees worth of carbon.

Bloom Impact Helps Aussies Make Impactful Investments

There’s power in where you invest your money. That’s the message the team at Bloom Impact, an ethical investment app, wants to share. Thanks to advancements in green tech and clean energy, investors no longer have to choose between doing well and doing good. 

“I became fascinated by the transition into clean energy, and its power to solve the climate crisis,” Bloom Impact co-founder Camille Socquet-Clerc explains. “But we have to do something about the climate funding gap. That’s the amount of money we need to invest each year to solve the climate crisis.”

Today, that’s a global investment of around $4.4 trillion a year, to 2050.

Camille and her business partner Bertrand Caron decided to start with their own savings, but everything was restricted to wealthy investors, and minimums for meaningful causes were extremely high. So they built their own, with funds that include clean energy assets like solar and wind farms, and a fund that invests in early stage clean tech companies.

The app is set to launch this September. “I saw a huge opportunity to bring green investments to everyday Australians,” Socquet-Clerc says. “The most powerful thing people can do is reclaim their money power by shifting their personal finances into sustainable finance.”

Camille Socquet-Clerc and Bertrand Caron, founders of Bloom Impact Investing. (Photo supplied by Bloom Impact Investing)

Reground Is Saving Thousands of Kilos of Waste From Landfill

Reground is on a mission to create a waste-free community. After starting out a few years ago collecting coffee grounds from cafes and restaurants around Melbourne, they’ve moved on to soft plastic collections and waste education programs.

The team, headed by directors Ninna K. Larsen and Kaitlin Reid, have recently set their sights on waste minimisation projects, creating a program to be utilised by six apartment buildings in Melbourne.

“Food waste ending up in landfill is a huge problem,” Larsen says. But after their council pitch to divert food waste in the apartments was successful, Reground set out to re-educate tenants on recycling and avoiding food waste. 

“We looked at more than 400 people’s food waste on a weekly basis, and have been able to avoid 100 kilograms of waste from going to landfill every three days,” Larsen explains.

“[We] have been able to avoid 100 kilograms of waste from going to landfill every three days.”

Reground is now working on a federal government project to reduce food waste in a shopping centre that would normally see around 500,000 kilograms of waste go to landfill each year.

“People are taking us seriously and seeing value in what we do,” Larsen says. “We’re everyday change makers.”