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Participant Stories of the Living Smart Course Experience
Marco Cuevas-Hewitt, 2015 (Participant and trained Facilitator)
“With the constant stream of apocalyptic fare out of Hollywood, it seems easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine we might avert catastrophe and turn things around for the better. Environmentalists share the blame at times, particularly when their awareness-raising efforts shade into prophecies of doom and gloom. However well-meaning, the risk with this approach is that, rather than spurring (or scaring) people into action, it can leave people feeling overwhelmed to the point of inaction. One can have all the awareness in the world, but if one lacks hope, then none of it can be translated into meaningful action on the ground.
Enter Living Smart, an award-winning community education programme that aims to equip participants with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to live smarter and more sustainably, while improving both personal and ecological health. Said Shani Graham, a Living Smart facilitator since 2008 and one of Perth’s foremost sustainability gurus: “For me, it’s not just about getting people to reduce their power bills or water consumption, as important as that is; it’s also about building a community of people who have hope”.
Usually delivered once a week over seven weeks, what makes Living Smart unique is that, instead of just conveying information about environmental issues and expecting people to take action on their own, it is actually focussed on the action itself – that is, on the practical steps that people can take and how they can tweak their daily habits in the service of their environmental values. In each session, participants are encouraged to set personal sustainability goals and to report back on them the following week. Victories – which might range from making one’s own yoghurt, to cycling to work, to installing a new rainwater tank – are celebrated, feeding a sense of community and collective purpose.
Colin Ashton-Graham, 2005 (Participant)
When I did a Living Smart Course in South Fremantle in 2005, I’d been working to promote sustainable transport for many years, had made the connection to climate change but not really put all the pieces together in my lifestyle. Living Smart set me on a journey that continues to this day. It started with finding a new action each week during the course, but just continued little by little over the years since.
I quickly halved my energy bills and switched to Green Power, but took another couple of years to get PVs. My home is now energy neutral, sending enough electricity back to the grid to ‘offset’ my gas. Veggie gardening came next, but still comes and goes with the trauma of harsh weather, pests or a trip away. Cutting water use seemed simple and signing up to an organic veggie box delivery inspired more healthy foods.
Everything came together through embarking on an eco-renovation of my weatherboard heritage cottage. Water tanks and ceiling fans went in, the garden got more mulch and a solar pergola transformed the thermal comfort. Now just experiencing a light-filled, comfortable home each day is enough to inspire more changes. I share this experience through ‘house tours’ with sustainability students and Living Smart groups from time to time.
I went part-time to be hands on renovating/extending the house and that, by accident, lead to me setting up a sustainable behaviour change consultancy. It seems that everything that matters to our planet is interconnected and the microcosm of my life has similar interconnections. From small light globe changes, bigger things just seem to happen.
Along the way I ‘married’ my work on sustainable transport with ways to ‘coach’ households on saving energy, water and waste: Living Smart Households was born – not as deep as Living Smart Courses, but a good first step for thousands of households.
I’ve found myself doing more in the community through talks at The Meeting Place and a brief stint on the Be Living Smart Board. Like my Living Smart journey such things come and go. My partner has always been the gardener, researcher and intuitive sustainability influence in our house. She took part in a Living Smart Course in 2011 and has revitalised our thinking on reducing waste, and productive gardening.
Looking back at the visioning drawings and notes I made in the Living Smart ‘class of 2005’, I’m still not living as simply or as connected to community as I’d like to be, but little by little that will come about, just as my bills, footprint and busyness have halved.