UK-born Michele Burton spent eight years at Environment Victoria running the Cool Communities program. This pioneering behaviour-change initiative targeted community groups who had slipped through the mainstream media cracks to save water and energy.
These communities, known as CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse), included new migrants and refugees who spoke little English and people who were less likely to read English language newspapers or watch Australian television.
From the late 1990s through to about 2014, Burton and other Environment Victoria staff developed deep expertise on how to encourage behaviour change. Funded by state and federal governments, they recruited and trained community leaders in how to save water and energy.
In Vietnamese, the program was called Nha Dep and targeted suburbs such as Footscray and Springvale. Environment Victoria partnered with the Australian Multicultural Foundation, the Western Bulldogs football club, broadcaster SBS and weather presenter Rob Gell to train young leaders how to reduce their community’s environmental impact.
The CALD programs had their challenges. For instance, Burton recalls tensions between north and south Vietnamese Australians and the need to navigate cultural differences, such as one
community’s penchant for gold-coloured lowflow shower heads and another’s preference for washing dishes under running water.
The program also required financial investment, and initially it was difficult to attract large numbers of participants. However, the introduction of the national carbon price in 2012 saw the momentum shift. This made funds available to help low-income Australians adapt to climate change and rising energy bills, and some of these supported Environment Victoria’s work.“It was a time when we could be innovative and there was funding around to let us do that. As a result, we were able to achieve some really great outcomes for communities that would have otherwise been marginalised from this environmental messaging.”Click To Tweet
“It was a time when we could be innovative and there was funding around to let us do that,” Michele says. “As a result, we were able to achieve some really great outcomes for communities that would have otherwise been quite marginalised from this environmental messaging.”
Environment Victoria’s final sustainable living program, Future Powered Families, operated at a huge scale. It was delivered in more than 130 languages and trained thousands of Victorians
to teach their communities how to save water and energy. Environment Victoria’s expertise was recognised with a national Eureka Prize for communicating climate change and nominations for the Premier’s Sustainability Awards.