Helen Byfield-Fleming, Centre Coordinator for the Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living in Sydney’s Mount Annan, grew up knowing the value of sustainable living. “I grew up in Mudgee with our household motto being reuse, recycle and reduce”, she says.
Helen believes there at least 5 easy ways to be an advocate for sustainable living, just like her, and you don’t need to complicate the processes.
From left: Helen Byfield-Fleming (Centre Coordinator) and Caz McCallum (Director, The Australian Botanic Garden), at the Australian Small Business Champion Awards.
Last month, the Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living (MCSL) won its first ever Australian Small Business Champion Award 2014 in the not for profit category, despite being nominated three times previously. What started as a centre organising a few workshops per year has grown to offering excursions for school groups, running a a sustainable play group (called Little Explorers, a wonderful name!) and even developing the grounds of the Centre to include a children’s garden, a sustainable back yard display and an Eco farm growing herbs and vegetables through sustainable methods (“we call it our living classroom” Helen says). It’s a testament to the work of the staff as well as the growing awareness of the community that sustainable living is becoming more and more of a necessity in our consumption-driven society.
How can we as Leaders in Heels live sustainably, does it take a lot of time and effort and more importantly … what does it mean?
Being environmentally sustainable
The term environmentally sustainable, according to Helen, means, “to become connected to nature through education and information about today’s world”. It’s about being aware of the effects you are having on the natural environment around you, whether it be through the groceries you buy, the amount of items you dispose of (rather than reuse) on a regular basis or even the type of household garden you could be growing. Helen says sustainable living is achievable, and it’s through education and awareness from businesses like the Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living that people will gain this type of knowledge. “Many people come into the Centre not knowing where to start, and we advise them to start simply by attending a free workshop on worm farming or composting, then go away put into practice what you have learnt, and then come back to more workshops” says Helen. “Once people have gained the knowledge they’re off and running. The staff at MCSL is here to assist and educate the community with easy and simple sustainable actions that can be used around the home”.
How YOU can do it
Thankfully, operating sustainably doesn’t mean a major shift in the way you run your household. Helen explains that, following a survey run by the MCSL regarding people’s attitude to the environment,many more people are open to the idea of sustainable living. “Australians from the age of 40 upwards are mostly more concerned about the future, and are trying their best to value add for their children and grandchildren’s lives”.
But how can YOU support sustainable living, and be an advocate for sustainable living? Here are Helen’s 5 tips for incorporating this into your household:
- Throw away your household chemicals and stick to natural cleaning agents such as lemon juice, white vinegar, Bicarb soda, soap and lavender oil.
- Buy or build a simple worm farm or compost bin from recycled material and recycle all your food waste through it.
- Have simple and easy vegetables gardens or gardens in pots. Grow herbs, strawberries, lettuce or tomatoes to introduce you and your family to home grown foods.
- Have easy to open recycling bin next to the rubbish bin to teach your family to recycle first before throwing away.
- Don’t have your cupboards full of food just in case, buy what you need and use. Don’t waste leftover food, turn leftovers into soups, casseroles or wrap in pastry and bake for leftover night.
How Helen does it
Helen knew from an early age that everyday sustainability was achievable. “When I was little I watched my mother collect & boil up all the old bits of soap to make new blocks of soap”, Helen explains. “She’d grow great fresh produce from our garden, and we’d spend hours bottling, picking and making jams or jellies. My dad’s classic line is ‘don’t throw it out – you never know when you may need it'”.
Now, Helen’s day-to-day life is “flowing with sustainability”, and her description of her home life sounds not only environmentally friendly, but also extremely hands-on and personal. “I have vegetables gardens in my backyard and herb pots on my verandahs. All my food waste is reused preparing great food dishes, and the food waste I can’t reuse I feed to the chickens. I carry material shopping bags in my car and I spend time trying not to purchase items in individual packaging. I have also retro fitted my 1960-70 double brick house to make it more sustainable”.
We want to provide an attractive place of environmental excellence where visitors will see sustainability in action
But don’t think for a second that Helen’s work-life balance is any less hectic than yours or mine. “As a single mum of two teenagers I find it difficult managing my home life, children and work”, she says. “I put things into place and thankfully my children work with me. I think my biggest struggle was when I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. With my staff, I’ve managed to grow the Centre’s reputation and visitor rate in the last year to more than twice that of the previous years. This has made the winning of the Australian Small Business Champions Awards in the not-for-profit category even more rewarding. This reward is a symbol of my struggles and hardships at the Centre”.
But Helen enjoys working for a not-for-profit organisation. “A not-for profit organisations seems to be more of a real world environment dealing with real people”, she says. “I also work with a wonderful Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living Board made up of representatives from The Australian Botanic Gardens, Mt Annan and representatives from Campbelltown City Council, Camden Council and Wollondilly Shire Council. The MCSL Board is very motivated and supportive with my ideas. I enjoy working in a not-for-profit organisation and I have found skills that were hidden or previously never tapped into such as writing grants”.
In today’s world we have forgotten how to grow our own food and how to reduce, recycle and reuse. We are teaching old skills to the modern world
MCSL are here to help
When the Centre was officially opened in 2007, it was faced with an enormous challenge: how to encourage the local community, in a region that wasn’t fully established or, due to the socio-economic demographics of the area at the time, not even ready to embrace sustainable living. The other challenge was ensuring the Centre was receiving the economic support from the Government, Federal Grants or from a Business organisation.
With the award win recently, it has surely put the MSCL in a good position to continue its advocacy. Its focus now, according to Helen is to, “focus and encourage the community to adopt sustainable lifestyle choices whilst making positive differences to the environmental sustainability of the Macarthur Region and beyond”.
“We want to provide an attractive place of environmental excellence where visitors will see sustainability in action, have access to experts and plenty of opportunities to develop their own knowledge, interests and understanding”, she says. The MSCL has become an important part of the community. “The Centre generates positive feelings – pleasure, enlightenment, and enthusiasm – and tries to inspire the local community to repeat their experience and want to learn more. The Centre reflects warmth and learning, so that people absorb our key messages naturally. In today’s world we have forgotten how to grow our own food and how to reduce, recycle and reuse. We are teaching old skills to the modern world”.
The MSCL are now looking to build the first Wind Core Turbine in Australia at the Centre, to use as an educational tool for students to demonstrate how wind can be used to harness energy. They are also working with another location organisation to develop weekly farmer’s markets on the Centre grounds.
Featured photo credit: Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living
Helen Byfield-Fleming is the Centre Coordinator for the Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living and a passionate advocate for sustainable living.