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Sustainability Innovators: Agents of Change on the Sunshine Coast

By Dana C Thomsen



Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

The Sunshine Coast is a contested Australian landscape that has retained much of its natural beauty and distinctiveness in the face of successive waves of development. This is in no small part due to the active and vibrant communities that form its social fabric, and the vision and energy of a small number of passionate individuals prepared to stand out from the crowd and to be advocates for sustainability.

Media coverage of climate change has raised awareness of human-environmental interactions on a scale not seen in recent times where the general trend has been an ever-increasing disconnection with our natural surroundings. Certainly, human-induced climate change is an issue that threatens all that we have grown accustomed too and all that sustains us. Moreover, climate change is just one symptom of unsustainable human behaviours - over-consumption, pollution, deforestation, genetic engineering, and social inequality are just some examples of other related and pressing issues caused by inappropriate human activity. With scientific consensus on the need to change and acknowledgement of Margaret Mead's assertion over the power of the individual, my interest from a sustainability perspective is in societal leaders - those that not only change themselves, but also influence the actions of others and provide a link between individual change and societal transformation.

To choose contributors to this book, I asked a range of community organisations as well as representatives from local and regional governments to nominate people that they considered particularly active and effective in the pursuit of sustainability. By choosing people that were widely recognised throughout the region, I hoped to involve people that were not only enacting sustainability within their own lives, but those that were also effective at encouraging others and notable on a regional scale. Almost immediately I had over 50 nominations - a testament to the significant number of people committed to sustainability on the Sunshine Coast.

In choosing ten people to represent the range of people active in sustainability across the Sunshine Coast, it is important to acknowledge all those not represented here that have shaped and continue to shape this beautiful landscape. I would like to make special mention of two significant sources of inspiration for this book, Arthur and Marjorie Harrold and their colleagues in the Noosa Parks Association (established in 1962) and their role in extending and establishing several national parks in the region of international significance (eg Noosa and Cooloola National Parks - see, and I would also like to acknowledge the indigenous people of this region, the Gubbi Gubbi from whom we have much to learn.

Each person featured in this book has a unique story of their sustainability journey. These stories represent a diverse range of opportunities to learn from those that have made real differences towards sustainability. For some participants, sustainability seemed innate and ingrained from birth, whilst for others, equally passionate, sustainability was something that developed within them and grew through experience and connections with the landscape and other people.

In travelling towards sustainability, and persisting with the journey in the face of difficulties, nearly all participants have endured significant hardships. Where this would deter many, the sense that sustainability is the 'right' and the 'just' thing to be working towards only makes the prize more worthwhile for these participants. As Bob Cameron and Sonya Wallace both explain, once you understand sustainability it's difficult to walk away from and actually harder to ignore sustainability than to work towards it. Similarly, Justin Holbrook reflects that with so much to be done to address sustainability he couldn't stand to waste time doing anything else.

Working towards sustainability was something that all participants felt required a multiplicity of approaches including a combination of bottom-up and top-down strategies - as Ian Christesen succinctly puts it, 'there's no silver bullet' (Chapter 1). As well as using established and reliable methods of engagement and advocacy with those interested in sustainability (eg public meetings), participants were also focussed on widening the adoption of sustainability values by working with non-traditional sectors and mainstreaming sustainability. In so doing, Vivien Griffin emphasises the importance of self belief and belief in others in being an inspiring leader, and Keryn Jones highlights the significance of understanding and identifying with a range of audiences. Many participants also note the influence of the media and are savvy about using a variety of local means (including radio, newspapers and internet sites) to inform greater numbers of people about sustainability issues.

In engaging people, many participants also spoke of the importance of using a learning approach and Jo Turner explains in Chapter 5 that learning can be utilised to build relationships between people as well as connections with the landscape. In particular, Bob Cameron, Justin Holbrook, and Susie Chapman all reinforce the value of learning from the historical as well as the contemporary contexts in order to act appropriately now and in the future.

Despite the diversity of backgrounds and strategies all possess an immense love for the Australian landscape and its people - past, present and future. All too possess an infectious passion and fearless enthusiasm for caring for this region, as Phil Moran explains in Chapter 3, he works tirelessly and without burden because he lives it and loves it. Certainly, all participants demonstrate consistency between their professional and personal lives because they see it as a way of life. Not only is living sustainably an important aspect of being a genuine and credible advocate for change, Susie Chapman also illustrates that it assists in avoiding burn-out and ensures that people are able to continue progressing sustainability over the longer-term.

It is often said that achieving sustainability may involve some short term pain, that it is an 'inconvenience', but the stories collected here illustrate that it is only the 'pain' of learning to do things differently. In fact, being sustainable is not only increasingly necessary, but a fulfilling, enjoyable and enriching experience. With so many indicators strongly demonstrating the need to change, the advice of Sandy McBride is particularly pertinent - 'You can worry about doing it, or you can do it' (Chapter 4). I hope that by reading the stories of these significant innovators in sustainability, readers will have an opportunity to see how others are meeting the sustainability challenge and will be inspired to learn new ways of living and to adapt to changing contexts. Ultimately, understanding sustainability demonstrates that inaction is felt as keenly as action; we are all agents of change.

Table of Contents


  1. Ian Christesen
    Sunshine Coast Environment Council (Scec)
  2. Sonya Wallace
    Sunshine Coast Energy Action Centre (Seac)
  3. Phillip Moran
    Noosa and District Landcare
  4. Sandy McBride
    Queensland Environmentally Sustainable Schools Initiative and the Maroochy Catchment Centre
  5. Jo Turner
    Eco-Design and Education Consultant
  6. Cr Keryn Jones
    Sunshine Coast Regional Council
  7. Cr Vivien Griffin
    Sunshine Coast Regional Council
  8. Susie Chapman
    SEQ Catchments Ltd
  9. Justin Holbrook
    Sustainable Urban Development and Technology (Sudtec)
  10. Bob Cameron
    Rockcote Enterprises Pty Ltd



This book documents the journeys of ten people from the Sunshine Coast region who have maintained a dedication towards sustainability over a considerable period. Their stories are not without frustration, but all reflect a positive outlook and faith in the human condition to respond to the sustainability challenge. Their insights will inform anyone who feels that more can be done, and highlights that the efforts of the individual can make a difference. These people live within the Sunshine Coast community and their efforts go largely unheralded.

This book partly acknowledges their efforts, but more importantly seeks to continue their work by inspiring others to follow their lead in their own way and individual capacities.

RW (Bill) Carter
Associate Professor for Heritage Resource Management
University of the Sunshine Coast


Sustainability Innovators: Agents of Change on the Sunshine Coast

Published: 2009
Pages: vi+74
Post Pressed

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