Do something good: Community Engagement

EcoMatters Environmental Trust is building healthy environments with local communities and for the first time in its 13 year history it’s looking to grow sponsorship opportunities.

Nestled besides the Waitahurangi (Avondale) stream at Olympic Park in New Lynn, Auckland, the EcoMatters Environment Trust has been dedicating itself to projects that involve the community in environmental action.

One of 12 Ministry for the Environment funded “drop-in” environment centres, EcoMatters also delivers a wide range of community environmental initiatives with projects as diverse as stream restoration, waste minimisation, energy and water conservation and efficiency, through to community gardening and composting.

CEO Damon Birchfield says EcoMatters has been delivering high quality community engagement initiatives in West Auckland since 2002.

“Our point of difference is that we know how to get the community engaged and involved in environmental initiatives in a positive way. We’re always looking at how we can approach environmental challenges in new and creative ways and figuring out how we can best work together to get sustainable behaviour changes.”

An example is the Trust’s “Wash Against Waste” initiative. Wash Against Waste is a purpose-built trailer that is used at any small to medium sized events that are aspiring to be Zero Waste events.

The trailer has a solar hot water panel on the roof, and unpacks to provide a dish washing station that is manned by volunteers. Vendors are set up with reusable plates and cups, people attending events pay a gold coin “bond” when they purchase food or drinks and this is refunded once the dishes end up back at the trailer – where the dishes are then handwashed.

“It looks and sounds simple,” says Birchfield, “and it is, which is the beauty of it. But what follows is that event goers inevitably start to ask us questions about what we are doing there and why we are washing dishes. We’re then able to provide the bigger picture about waste, including talking about the problems associated with single-use plastics and more generally the whole throw-away culture of our society.

“For me, Wash Against Waste also provides an interesting cultural reference point for people as washing dishes is something we have always done as a society, and it’s actually a very sustainable behaviour. It’s something people can do together and we’re also trying to break down this idea that being more sustainable is necessarily much harder to do.

“Finally, it’s also fun – we find volunteers for Wash Against Waste love getting involved, it actually becomes a team building activity as well. It’s something businesses can use at events to build their organisation’s sense of unity while also demonstrating their commitment to sustainability to staff.

“Wash Against Waste is also in action at our EcoDay, our biggest event of the year [which] we run every April, people from all over Auckland come and visit our drop-in centre and there is a wide range of free, fun and family activities on the Olympic park site.”

Besides these initiatives, EcoMatters delivers a wide range of other activities especially for Auckland Council.

“Recently we’ve been working on a “love our lagoons” initiative on the West Coast of Auckland which is funded by Environmental Services at Auckland Council.

“At the very start of the year the front page of the NZ Herald and Campbell Live were running stories about the unsafe water in the lagoons for swimming. This has actually been an ongoing problem for decades created, in many cases, by inefficient or poorly performing septic tanks in areas like Piha, Bethells and Karekare. The simple behaviour we need to create is for people to be checking their tanks and if they don’t know what to look for – contact us and we have been funded to undertake some technical checks with a wastewater professional.

“We are also trying to promote the idea that there is no simple fix, but everyone can play a part. The council can fund us to increase knowledge in the community about these issues and we in turn try to work constructively with the community to share information and build trust that there is actually a commitment to address these issues.”

As with all not-for-profits however, raising enough funding is always a challenge – especially to fund the administrative side of the business.

“Talk to any community organisation and they will tell you about the continual challenge of finding sustainable sources of funding. Grants and contracts can be a good source of income however there is often a reluctance to fund the systems that keep the business running.”

So while EcoMatters has developed a pretty successful operational model in terms of delivering on council and governmental contracts, Birchfield says: “We are now for the first time really looking to grow some sponsorship opportunities to help to address this funding issue and or get in-kind support for our work – for example, marketing and design support.

“EcoMatters has a fantastic reputation in West Auckland, but the change in council across Auckland means we are now viewing ourselves as a regional entity – it’s not a bad thing as we also think we can help grow capacity in the environment sector in parts of Auckland that haven’t historically had the kind of strong environmental focus of the previous Waitakere EcoCity.

“It’s not just about funding our business though – we sincerely want to work with businesses that have an interest in social and environmental outcomes and that are looking to raise their profile around this – it means we will hopefully be able to learn from one another. We are always interested in talking to other business and organisations about opportunities to work together to do this.”

EcoMatters website can be found at www.ecomatters.org.nz.
 

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