International Women's Day discussion

20.03.2014 - Posted by Amanda Shipp
To recognise International Women’s Day, our Melbourne office had a discussion recently at Friday lunch around women in leadership positions. This conversation commenced with a viewing of a TEDTalk by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and advocate for women’s rights. The TEDTalk was titled Why we have too few women leaders.

The talk outlines some statistics around the lack of women in leadership positions, despite increases in female graduates. It highlights some barriers to women advancing in the workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg offers three recommendations to women in the workplace to overcome these barriers:
• Lean in: women often need to be more confident, negotiate more, and take ownership of their success
• Make your partner a real partner: this is an issue for both men and women, and as a community we need to acknowledge the role of both men and women in the home and the workplace
• Don’t leave before you leave: it is important to encourage staff to continue to be engaged and challenged in their roles both before and after parental leave.

Since its inception, Alluvium has supported both men and women employees in balancing their family and workplace responsibilities. This is achieved by fostering a family-friendly workplace, as well as encouraging flexible working hours, parental leave and part-time arrangements. One regional manager is currently part-time.

Our open forum discussion acknowledged these positive aspects, but also identified that as a workplace we want to strive for further advancement.

Alluvium encourages diversity in opinions and approaches at all levels and roles within the company, but how do we make this happen? How do we continue to facilitate part-time positions at a management level?

How do we encourage everyone to question and challenge their unconscious bias? And how do we create an environment that enables and benefits from the attributes that women bring to leadership and the workplace?

We finished the discussion with a view of doing more - at both a management and a workplace level, and continuing to strive for a workplace that values diversity.

Sheryl Sandberg giving her TEDTalk about women in leadership positions.Image from Ted Blog.

CEWH’s first environmental water trade

20.01.2014 - Posted by Mark Stacey
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) today announced a plan to sell 10 gigalitres of water back to irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin. Hearing this on breaky news this morning my first reaction was not positive – thoughts of wasted effort, lost momentum, and a quick grab for cash immediately filled my mind. Fortunately, now the details have been released I can see how this is an important step forward for environmental water management.

The first thing to note is that this sale only includes a small proportion of the CEWH’s annual allocations, not their permanent water entitlements (for those not familiar with these terms, an analogy is to equate an entitlement to an annual salary, and an allocation to deposits in the bank). At the start of 2014 the CEWH’s water allocation totalled 864 GL, acquired through their entitlement of 1,704 GL. The 10 GL sale (0.02 Sydharbs in layman’s terms) therefore represents just over 1% of their available water and is valued at about $1.4 million at the going rate. According to the CEWH this water is not required to meet this season’s watering plan and will provide greater environmental benefit in future years.

The sale is also an important milestone for the water market - it is the first time the CEWH has traded environmental water since its inception in 2008. Australia’s waterways have adapted to some of the most extreme variability in the world, presenting major challenges to managing these systems within a water market that was designed to provide consistent and reliable irrigation supplies. With this in mind trading has an important role to play in accommodating variability - temporarily selling water when it’s not needed to purchase when it is. Seen in this light the CEWH’s sale today represents an important step forward and efficient use of our limited water resources.

Gwydir Wetlands following environmental watering, New South Wales (image sourced from Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder)

Growing pains

13.12.2013 - Posted by Rob Catchlove
I attended the 8th International Water Sensitive Urban Design 2013 conference held on the Gold Coast a couple of weeks ago. I have been to a few of these now and it was interesting to observe how water sensitive urban design (WSUD), which I define as distributed stormwater quality assets, is evolving.

My summary is that it is experiencing ‘growing pains’. The initial waves of innovation and early adopter initiatives have been and gone. The constant background noise on why bother with WSUD, is it sustainable, how much does it cost and how will we maintain it continues to be a buzz of discontent across the industry. There are not many examples of WSUD becoming the norm; they remain the exception. Just drive around any city and count how many roads have and don’t have WSUD.

In Melbourne, there is approximately:
• Over 1000 km2 of impervious area
• 450 gigalitres of stormwater generated on average every year that flows to Port Phillip or Westernport Bay (Office of Living Victoria)
• 15,000 tonnes of Nitrogen flowing to the bay (CSIRO)
• And 77,000 more people every year moving into the city (ABS).

The need for WSUD is huge. The need to manage water efficiently, build new houses, retrofit old ones, build new suburbs, shops and employment centres in a way that improves the quality of life for those that live there but also maintains some ecological value of waterways and surrounding environment, has never been greater. In South East Queensland there is forecast to be 754,000 new dwellings built over 25 years, or over 20 km2 of new urban development every year (South East Queensland Regional Plan). Again, WSUD must be embedded in every part of that 20 km2.

But I’m not sure where the next step change or up-scaling of the industry is coming from, after this latest three day conference. While new projects and research were discussed, particularly around stormwater harvesting and urban waterway/ecological issues, we seem to be having the same conversations as we did five years ago.

I hope this is about growing pains. There are some regulations across the country that drive better environmental outcomes, but they aren’t widespread, or don’t apply to all types of development. My assessment is that the industry has plateaued, or perhaps even is in decline. I would argue a movement towards stormwater ‘offset’ programs is not a leap forward but a leap sideways (and some I know would argue it is a decline).

One enlightening moment for me was hearing about the journey that New York City is currently going on. Bram Gunther, Chief of Forestry in their Horticulture & Natural Resources Group, outlined the range of initiatives they are doing: 1 million new trees, wetland reclamation, matching tree planting with published health data, permeable paving and buffering against super storms. The key was that they had a mountain of data and evidence for all of these issues. And now they have a $2.4 billion budget!

To create the next step of change in Australia, the industry needs to get politically savvy. We need to position this type of work at the heart of improving the quality of life for people in cities, that is 90% of Australia’s population, and soon to be 70% of the world’s population. We need to position it so that it means something to a home owner / renter, to the industrial park developer, and to the citywide urban planners. And it has to be delivered to the political leaders. It has got to be a positive message, a dream, and an aspiration. There is limited value convincing engineers, planners or ecologists. They don’t make the big decisions, politicians do. Then the policy, regulation and more importantly the benefits will flow. Just like New York.

Aurora, a planned developement in Whittlesea on Melbourne's outer northern fringe

Green infrastructure in New York

Top three drivers for healthy waterways and liveable cities

2.08.2013 - Posted by Rob Catchlove
The last ten years has seen rapid change in the urban water industry, in particular the way stormwater and urban streams are managed. It used to be about environmental values. That’s exactly how the Port Phillip Bay Environmental Study (CSIRO, 1996) was presented and adopted by Melbourne Water and the State Government. It was purely about protecting an environmental asset (with an appreciation that the bay has a wider social value nonetheless).

But major external and macro changes have changed the argument, or perhaps given us a new argument, about the need to create healthy waterways and cities. The main drivers now include climate change (and how to deal with it), the global financial crisis, ongoing discussion about how best to plan for growth in a city and how to foster communities (mmm, Docklands anyone?). Obama referenced these macro issues in his recent speech calling for action on climate change. 

Vegetable gardens at Fed Square - picture by Rob Catchlove

My three top reasons for change are:

1. There’s an economic return in using and managing water locally. We now appreciate that we pay much more for water and environmental service than we traditionally acknowledged. Every park, every drain, every bin, every water tank, every new development and every roof is part of the water system. These things could all broadly be considered part of the water and city water network but are not usually costed and included in the delivery of water systems. We now also appreciate that there is a large cost in transporting water long distances, and disposing of large volumes of water every time it rains in the city. So there is now a strong economic case for doing things differently.

2. The social benefits of green infrastructure. There is a growing body of knowledge that open and green spaces provide substantial mental health benefits. We also know that a street tree could be worth $8,000 in terms of shading, cooling, improving soil and improving air quality. We know that waterway corridors are highly valued and seen as essential areas to escape urban living. We know that when people are asked for photos of their favourite place, they often include water. This is in line with other urban planning movements like ‘walkable streets’ and ‘complete streets’.

3. Communities demand it. In an era of big data and social media, there are now more expectations from the community in having a say and demanding action. There is a body of evidence that the community is willing to pay, but are also keen to ensure a return on investment. Any discussion about liveability or planning (more so high density developments) quickly turns into a conversation about the quality of urban environments and the need for greenery and places for people to connect with each other. In short, communities demand places that include water, good quality open parks and healthy waterways.

There’s a good case to preserve and improve waterways for their own sake, but in order to develop a stronger case, the economic, social and community benefits are ones I’d use in a conversation with a councillor or a treasury official.

End of the Biodiversity Fund

23.07.2013 - Posted by Kane Travis
The Labor Government announced last week they would be making major changes to the carbon price and would bring forward the start date of an emissions trading scheme to July 1 next year. The decision requires a very large investment:$3.8 billion in budget cuts to fund it. Unfortunately in the cross fire is the Federal Biodiversity Fund.

The Biodiversity Fund was established to support the enhancement and protection of native vegetation to store carbon, enhance biodiversity and build greater environmental resilience across the landscape. The recent announcement saw the unallocated funds of $213m withdrawn.

This is a significant issue for Catchment Management Authorities and Natural Resource Management Groups. Many of these organisations rely heavily on federal funds and across Victoria and New South Wales in particular, have suffered substantial cuts to state funds to add to the pain. The loss of $213 million substantially decreases our capacity in the natural resource management sector to protect key habitat values and given there is always strong matching state funds, it is fair to say we have reduced our investment into native vegetation management somewhere in the order of half a billion dollars.

The cuts also do not bode well for the current unallocated Caring for Our Country funds. These announcements are long overdue and nervous industry wonders if these will form part of the Labor party’s election commitments rather than following the intended process. For the sake of the people who work hard to manage our natural resources, let’s hope we hear some good news in the next few weeks.

Barmah Forest wetlands image from Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority