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Discussion Paper on an Environment Centre for the New Century


"The most powerful survival principle of life is diversity; there is no single way that works - there will be hundreds or thousands. Just as the key to a species’ survival in the natural world is its ability to adapt to local habitats, so the key to human survival will probably be the local community... vibrant, increasingly autonomous and self reliant local groupings of people that emphasize sharing, cooperation and flying lightly on the Earth..."

David Suzuki The Sacred Balance (p7-8)

The Sutherland Shire Environment Centre (SSEC), founded in 1991, faces big challenges as we approach the end of this decade. They include membership numbers, staffing, funding, profile and direction. This paper for SSEC members and associated individuals and groups aims to encourage widespread discussion of these challenges, discussion which is critical for the future of the Centre.


The purpose of this paper is to provide a draft vision and strategy for the SSEC that will see it meet the challenges and move into the next century as a vibrant, community-oriented and well-respected community environment centre with a high profile at local, state and federal levels.


Increasingly, observers point out that, while industrialised nations have achieved remarkable levels of wealth and consumer goods and services, more and more people yearn for community.

The SSEC can play a leading role in nurturing a strong sense of community through activism which protects and improves the quality of the local and regional environment.

As individuals and communities become more willing to accept their responsibilities as well as their rights in local decision-making processes, the SSEC can be the focal point for local involvement.

For seven years, Sutherland Shire has benefited from the environmental focus provided by the SSEC. This not-for-profit, politically independent, self-funded environment centre is active on a broad front of local, regional, national and international environmental issues.

During these years, the SSEC has provided a focus for community activity and environment protection in the Shire. In the true sense, SSEC has been a centre for action and learning about environment protection and community activism. Importantly, it has developed effective working relationships with the Council and earned the respect of Shire residents and recognition of state and federal governments for its achievements and its professionalism.

Also during this period, SSEC has received various specific purpose grants for initiatives such as the production of a video on Woronora River, recycling competitions, weed eradication at Towra Point and the restoration of Towra Lagoon. All its operating costs have been met through fundraising activities.

The success of SSEC has been in part due to the fact that the Centre provides a base for action; it has been a focal point that has afforded people an opportunity and a place to act on their environmental interest. And if the NSW EPA’s research is an indication, the need for such a place will become greater: the 1997 research into the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours of the NSW public shows that people are increasingly willing to take action to protect the environment at individual and community levels.

If this prediction is accurate, and if it is coupled with the growing number of environmental issues on which the Centre is active, it becomes apparent that SSEC must continue to seek untied funds for its management, operation and key campaign initiatives.

At all levels of society, important programs and principles are being introduced which need to be critically scrutinised by SSEC and the local community. Indeed, fundamental to the implementation of the UN Agenda 21 is its dictum that sustainable development is only possible if it is built by, with and through the commitment of local communities.

Agenda 21 is intended to give local effect to the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The key focus is strategic planning by councils and community for a sustainable future: Its successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility of Government .... The broadest public participation and the active involvement of the non-government organisations and other groups should also be encouraged. (Agenda 21, 1.3).

Elsewhere, Agenda 21 identifies education in the community as, critical for promoting sustainable development and improving the capacity of the people to address environment and development issues. (36.3).

Sutherland Shire Council has embraced the Agenda 21 approach and developed a schedule of activities that seeks to engage the community (including business and industry) in the development of a strategic plan for a sustainable Shire.

But the community forces for the Shire’s Agenda 21 program are greatly scattered. SSEC must be well-resourced if it is to unite these community forces for change and continue programs of community education.

The organisational structure of SSEC has remained broadly unchanged since its establishment. That is, a Management Committee, comprised largely of the coordinators of the Centre’s many committees, meets monthly. The meetings have always been open to all: the principle of open government prevails.

Staff are funded through donations to the Centre and extensive, mainly streetstall fundraising. A core of volunteers is the backbone of the Centre.


Although SSEC has a clearly articulated set of objectives, it does not have an explicit vision. A clear and positive statement of vision can provide coherency and encourage commitment; it can simultaneously tap into and embrace the needs, interests and passions of the broader community; and it can enable the SSEC to procure further resources and support.

At this stage there is a proposed minimal vision:
  • Promoting and defending a healthy local environment, keeping the three tiers of government aware of their responsibilities, and judging all issues by criteria of ecologically sustainable development
The intention is to develop a vision statement for SSEC that can be used on all correspondence and in promotional materials.

What essentials do you think should be added?


Here are 20 suggestions made at an executive brainstorming session. These would seek to meet the challenges identified at the beginning of this document, namely membership, staffing, funding, profile and direction. Please comment or add...
  1. Prepare a prospectus for the Centre. It could serve to promote the Centre, describe its achievements, explain its functions and seek support.
  2. Engage specialists to work with SSEC on high-profile consultancies... (Michelle to provide another sentence or two)
  3. Build an annual fundraising activity around World Environment Day on June 5.

    This project has the potential to put SSEC on the WED map in the Shire and across Sydney. This activity to commence this year. Please read the details of this project on page... your response and participation are requested.
  4. Exploit the potential of the internet for SSEC. Create email lists of councils, state government agencies, schools, community groups and service clubs, individuals, environment groups and local businesses. Information to be tailored for each audience and purpose. Communication and feedback would be quick. Training will be required.
  5. Ask for bequests from Shire residents.
  6. Produce and market SSEC (environmentally friendly) merchandise. This could include t-shirts, cups, calendars (greendates), posters. Seek the support of local businesses as points of sale. These might include Body Shop, Paddy Pallin’s, Kurrunulla Cards, Franklins.
  7. Actively recruit to expand the core of volunteers assisting on street stalls and local events.
  8. Organise an annual and very large garage sale. Timing and location for this event would be critical.
  9. Conduct a Recycled Art Competition every two years - with government funding if possible.
  10. Stage eco-drama events. Work with local theatre companies to put on a play with an environmental message; work with the SSC through ‘Hazelhurst’ to run a Sing it, Say it, Act it, Dance it for the Planet schools drama festival.
  11. Invite a member of SSEC to take responsibility for investigating grants and awards from government and non-government sources.
  12. Maintain our popular annual dinner.
  13. Organise one very big raffle each year.
  14. Conduct seminars/courses on relevant environmental and community issues. These could include environmental law, green shopping, community activism, writing for the environment. Investigate partnerships with Community College and TAFE for these seminars.
  15. Identify the services we offer. Can we raise funds through these? (eg. talks, presentations, demonstrations etc.) What consultancies can we apply for? Could we develop a training course on effective community action and run it through local community colleges?
  16. Conduct walking tours in environmentally significant areas of the Shire, eg. Tabbagai walk, Forbes Creek, Bundeena cliff walk. A format needs to be developed for these. Work with local bush walking and fitness waking clubs to promote these walks.
  17. Investigate the establishment of local commercial enterprises. These could include a food co-op, an eco-coffee shop/bookshop.
  18. Seek sponsorship for specific SSEC activities and services (eg. newsletter, courses, brochures). This may include working in partnership on local initiatives with some of the larger organisations in the Shire. It is worth noting that Franklins sponsors the Coast Care Program. We can use the contacts we have in these companies to begin discussions about general/specific sponsorship.
  19. Investigate levels of membership (corporate, government... ).
  20. Consider how the environment representative in the SSC’s Agenda 21 program, Mary White, can help raise the profile of and support for SSEC.
If you have any ideas that may help us improve this draft vision for the SSEC as it moves into the 21st century, please share them with us.
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