Blog | 6th Apr, 2011

A wealth of knowledge about environmental action across cultures

At our Sustainability for Diverse Communities Forum there were two broad groups of people: those who know a lot about sustainability and wanted to find out how to work with culturally diverse communities; and people who already work with multicultural communities and wanted to learn how to start up environmental activities.

Altogether we had about 100 people present at Fitzroy Town Hall on Monday sharing knowledge about working across cultures on sustainability. One of the key messages was this: the best way to reach people who are not taking part because of cultural barriers, or because they don’t speak English, is to work with bi-lingual people from their own communities, who can pass on the sustainability message far and wide. After you think about it, it seems pretty obvious.

Over the last five years we’ve worked with over 30 cultural groups round Melbourne using this approach and Environment Victoria’s GreenTown program is highlighting how successful it can be.

More than 2000 people have had some part in the four current GreenTown projects so far, and most of these were reached by bi-lingual assessors who had completed Environment Victoria’s sustainability training. Shoukry Sidrak is an Arabic-speaking GreenTown assessor who used the sustainability training to share his passion with others in his community. “We were interested in teaching Arabic-speaking people because they are not always able to understand what the media says about saving the environment”, he said.

Gabby Fakhri, an Arabic-speaking community consultant, told us that the secrets of success were time, trust and working within people’s cultural comfort zones. As the mother of a family in a culture with a great tradition of hospitality, she regularly needs to be ready to feed 50 people, so it’s no use telling her to switch off the second fridge. However she did buy a timer, and now the fridge switches itself off for 12 hours over night, almost halving its energy use.

After some presentations and a panel Q and A we retired to two groups, one focusing on communicating sustainability – Exhibit A, Sustainability is about action – and one focusing on how to engage diverse communities – Principal 1, Make sure you work with people who know the culture.

A lot more of the knowledge shared at the forum is available at Environment Victoria’s resource hub right here

And my two requests for next time? More time to chat and share some stories, and more of the delicious gyoza balls and bishak for lunch.