BY ALEX YUJIN
The Green Living Centre on King Street, Newtown has been a local champion of environmental enthusiasts for the last 14 years.
The shop originally known as The Watershed regularly runs free workshops on solar panelling, and in the past has also run courses on food composting and rainwater tank use.
Run by environmental experts and volunteers, the centre also sells products such as worm farms, and even had a bike library at one stage so locals could try out electric bikes free of charge.
But residents fear its doors will close in June this year.
The centre has been funded jointly by Inner West Council and City of Sydney for the last decade, but when questioned by City Hub, Mayor Clover Moore would only comment that the new budget had not yet been finalised.
“The City’s CEO will report to Council on May 15 with a full budget, including an expanded environmental plan that prioritises the most effective programs for delivering water, waste and carbon emission reductions,” said Moore.
Labor Councillor Linda Scott said the Green Living Centre offers practical measures for the community to make changes in their own homes and businesses, and supported it staying open.
But when she questioned Clover Moore at a council meeting about the future of the centre, she received the same rebuff, that she should wait for the budget to be announced in May – when it will be too late to make changes.
Matthew Levinson, a spokesperson for City of Sydney, said the needs of Sydney had changed since the Green Living Centre first opened.
“When the centre was first set up, we were in a very different position in terms of the public debate and awareness of action on climate change. Fifteen years later…we can’t expect people to find their way to a shopfront in Newtown.
“Our focus is going out to apartment owners and businesses, and making it as easy as possible for those people [to make changes] because we’ve set ambitious emission reduction targets, and we’re not going be able to hit them unless we bring a lot of people along with us.”
Shop manager Lucy Abbott said that over 200 visitors a month come through the Green Living Centre for advice and products, while their hard-to-recycle-items drop-off centre is so popular that they regularly receive boxes in the post from all over Australia.
The centre has also helped reduce the carbon footprint in Newtown by offering sustainability audits and recommendations to local businesses. One success story is the Black Star Pastry bakery, who now boast 100% recyclable packaging as a result.
“With more resources, we could certainly do more outreach such as to provide home audits and expand our workshop series,” says Abbott.
“The local community is very concerned about plastics, so we would also love to run a plastic project to reduce reliance on plastic.”
Abbott also said they had brokered the relationship between the Young Henry’s brewery and Pingala, which resulted in a community solar project, and that the centre partners with the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre every year to participate in community events, such as running an eco-zone at the Newtown Festival.
A spokesperson for Inner West Council said Clover Moore had been urged to continue the partnership for at least another year while “council is investigating opportunities to maintain the centre.
“It is helping inner city livers to make a global impact in a local way – including worm farming, composting, energy and water efficiency, recycling, natural cleaning, eco-renovation and more.”
It was last year after Lord Mayor Clover Moore attended a global meeting about climate change that she was famously quoted as saying “we need to do double the work in half the time” to achieve Sydney’s environmental targets.
Michael Mobbs, a sustainability coach who lives in a completely off-grid house in the inner west, said “I agree with Mayor Clover Moore when she said that we need to do twice as much in half the time. Why then, if the Mayor is serious about cutting climate pollution, would she defund one of the city’s few action-first bodies such as The Green Living Centre?”
Greens MP Jenny Leong was also deeply concerned about the survival of the centre.
“While the issue of climate change is real, our community needs to have access to the kind of grassroots environmental education that’s offered by the Green Living Centre.
“So many of the worm farms and no-dig veggie gardens in backyards around Newtown, Erskineville and the Inner West were created as a result of the Green Living Centre’s work,” she said.
But anecdotal evidence such as this just wasn’t enough anymore, said Levinson.
“When we’re funding programs on environment, our focus is being able to prove that they’re having an impact, not just awareness raising. It has to be focused on making a reduction, because in the next four years if we don’t make substantial cuts, we’ll run out of time.”
But locals insist this strategy is disempowering residents, by slashing the one tool they have to take action on their own terms.
“The Green Living Centre was really driven and founded by the former Marrickville Council. Now it’s been abolished and there’s no local voice, it looks as though the red-tape focussed city council is getting rid of an initiative that actually helps people roll up their sleeves and do something,” said Mobbs.