[Image: City of Yarra, Melbourne | © Andrew Curtis]
When I was knee–deep in the policy world of The Climate Institute, I often heard about the shifts needed to 'de–carbonise our society' and the CO2 reductions that would result – followed by evidence of how slow our leaders were actually going about instigating those shifts. It was inspiring and depressing in pretty much equal measure.
What I never got to see first hand was the actual coal–face of change, something I now, happily, get to be a part of on an almost daily basis.
Over the past few months I've witnessed one such coal–face in the City of Yarra, a Local Government Area (LGA) made up of the North–Eastern and Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. 6 short years ago the City of Yarra established the Yarra Energy Foundation, an independent, for-purpose organisation designed to help achieve a zero carbon future in their area. At the time they were one of the first (if not the first) LGA to set out to achieve Carbon neutrality – something every LGA in Australia will ultimately need to strive for.
As one of the first, the past 6 years have not been easy for the Yarra Energy Foundation (YEF). With no real examples of how LGAs can achieve carbon neutrality, they've very much been forging their own path: getting to know the energy supply structure of the area, exploring cost–effective ways to work with businesses on emissions, starting to engage with a distinctly disparate community on low–carbon initiatives and trying to find long–term partnerships to help underpin their financial sustainability.
In spite of the ridiculously short time–frame and limited resources, they've made some impressive progress. From helping vulnerable Vietnamese communities reduce their energy consumption, to working with Ikea to help engage business owners in new models of energy supply; from the roll out of a commercial solar program to establishing an innovative solar bulk buy for the suburb of Richmond.
Yes, they've had some misses along the way, but they're exploring new approaches at the coal–face (that phrase again), and work there is never without risk – in fact, if they hadn't had a few misses, I'd have to say they weren't aiming high enough. Having met a number of those involved with the YEF, I can't see myself ever saying that!
Perhaps most impressively of all, their initial establishment funding came from the City of Yarra Council who remain committed to seeing them succeed over the long–term. Given the need to find more innovative carbon reduction models at every scale, the Yarra City Council should be celebrate as publicly as possible to, if nothing else, encourage more such initiatives right around Australia.