As the current North Coast TAFE Faculty Ecological Sustainability Project Officer, Alicia Bales is at the frontline of environmental education and issues around the carbon debate.
Alicia’s passion for her role saw her win the 2009 TAFE NSW Managers Association Leadership Award, a top state award, and she has been nominated this year for the AUSTAFE Emerging Leader Award. North Coast TAFE is the major sponsor of the 2011 Green Day Out, so we caught up with Alicia to discover more about her passion for environmental sustainability.
What inspired your passion for sustainability?
I was introduced to bush regeneration in the late ‘80s by one of my primary school teachers, and I remember setting up a recycling system at school before there was a kerbside collection – my dad would help me collect and dispose of it. My grandmother has also told me that as a preschooler I was left distraught when the Council greenwaste collection truck came along and took away ‘my friends’!
How has your career progressed?
After studying a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology, I worked in retail management because at the time, the environmental industry was hard to get into.
I enjoyed the natural environment and I knew I wanted to be connected with the outdoors, so I worked as a bush regenerator with Australian Bushland Restoration in 2000 before joining Cleanaway as a waste educator, working with households and school students in western Sydney to improve the recovery of recyclables from household waste.
After that I joined Bankstown Council in 2002 as an environmental education officer, before a job opportunity arose at North Coast Institute of TAFE in ecological sustainability.
What do you like about your current position with North Coast TAFE?
I consider myself very fortunate to not only work in an area that I am passionate about, but to also work within an organisation that has made a serious commitment towards a sustainable future. I work in a role that is dedicated to supporting this commitment – day to day I work with our staff, local businesses, regional organisations and local communities to develop the skills we need to transform our economy and our way of life for a low carbon, resource efficient future. I enjoy the opportunity to support positive change, as well as building the relationships both within and outside our organisation to support this change.
Any comments on the carbon debate?
You’ll either love it or loathe the mention of it … but the reality is that it’s a debate that isn’t going away. So the question is, in business, what do we do about it? It is inevitable that there will be change of some form or another in how we account for and manage carbon … so we can sit and wait, or we can innovate and adapt to stay on top of the pack.
Each year we are seeing more and more businesses realise the benefits of environmental sustainability – and the realisation that this doesn’t mean just selling ‘eco-products’. It’s about a whole of business approach that considers the impact of the supply chain, how the product is used by the customer, and what happens to it at end of life. These businesses work actively with their customers to change their behaviour and foster a community approach to sustainability. It’s a brave step forward towards environmental sustainability for the benefit of our future.
What is North Coast TAFE doing to meet their responsibilities?
To meet industries emerging sustainability skill needs, the National Training system is changing. So we’ve got a big job to get our team ready to embed sustainability in our courses in an industry relevant way. We’re looking at what new skills and qualifications we need to provide – for example, we now offer training in Carbon Accounting, Energy Efficiency, Environmental Monitoring, Home Sustainability Assessment, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Agriculture, etc. There are also short courses to provide sustainability skills to existing workers in areas like childcare, hospitality, plumbing, building & construction, retail, IT, manufacturing … all of our local businesses can take on a shade of green.
We’re also keeping a close eye on our own ecological footprint – investing in solar generation systems, energy efficient lighting, rainwater harvesting and real-time utility monitoring.
We now have over 170kW of solar panels on our campuses, and we use 39% less energy per square metre than we did in the year 2000.
What exciting projects are coming up?
Well, although it isn’t a project, I am very honored and excited to be named as a nominee for the 2011 AUSTAFE Emerging Leader Award. In my role, there is always something new on the agenda – at the moment we are working on getting a set of brand new sustainability qualifications ready for local businesses – the new Certificate IV and Diploma in Sustainable Operations will support businesses, large and small, in assessing the efficiency of their operations, planning and making changes for resource and cost efficiencies. They include new units for Carbon Accounting – with the support of the Australian Government’s Enterprise Connect Program, we’ve recently delivered the TAFENSW Carbon Accounting 2 course to 50 business representatives, to whom we can now offer a pathway into 2 Nationally Recognised Units of Competency. Our approach to this training is completely customised – we’re tailoring the courses to suit the needs of individual or clusters of businesses.
We’ll work with you to identify the sustainability outcomes you wish to achieve and match a qualification or units to suit. The ‘how’ and ‘when’ is also up for negotiation – face to face, workplace learning, by distance or online. In many cases, we can look at what businesses have already put in place and recognise those skills, then provide training to fill the gaps. I’m keen to talk with anyone who would like to improve the sustainability of their business, their community or even their personal life!