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Greening the way for others

Lifestyle | Newsroom

Cathy Walker lives in a yurt in rural Tasmania, surrounded by nature and making as little impact as she can on the environment. It’s her way of life.

Her journey started at the knee of her grandmother who she now realises was her first holistic sustainability mentor, a way of life that has led Cathy, a Sustainability Projects Officer at the University of Tasmania, to become involved with the Women’s Environmental leadership Australia (WELA) Program. She also works for the Tasmanian University Students Association (TUSA), which helps when it comes to engaging students about sustainability.

“My grandmother was the epitome of sustainability in one tiny little package, reusing and recycling almost everything,” Cathy said.

“She had a massive vegetable garden and hundreds of chickens and ducks which were fed very well from the garden and kitchen scraps. She sourced water sustainably and lived a minimal and resourceful life since before I was born.

“She had to be resourceful as money was tight and there were many mouths to feed including seven children, she also cared for her ill mother and her seven brothers.”

Cathy’s sustainability journey was informal until 2019, when she took her first steps and joined the Green Impact program at the University; though at the time she had little confidence the efforts of an individual could make much of a difference.

Cathy Walker portrait
Cathy Walker has been inspired by her sustainability journey and now as a Sustainability Projects Officer at the University of Tasmania.

“When I first started, I really wondered how much of a difference one person could make in the sustainability sphere,” Cathy said.

“This is the fourth year that I have participated in the program and now I can genuinely see that one person can make a huge difference, starting with small changes and influencing others. I found the more I did in the program the more I wanted to do, and I’ve been instrumental in encouraging staff and students to get involved in the Green Impact program across the University’s four campuses, all from my base at the Cradle Coast.”

The Green Impact program is a change and engagement program implemented by organisations that want to provide a supporting framework for their staff and students to undertake a diverse range of sustainability actions in the workplace and delivered regionally in Australia by Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS).

Cathy said Green Impact can be implemented in nearly any workplace and covers all areas of sustainability and supports action towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“Getting involved with this program ignited my passion for sustainability and environmental leadership,” Cathy said.

“Within the first three years of being involved in the program our team had won several awards, including the Overall winner at UTAS for three years in a row. Considering the Cradle Coast campus is the smallest of all the University of Tasmania’s campuses this is an amazing achievement.”

Cathy’s efforts earned her the Green Impact Australasian staff champion award, which in turn led to her receiving a scholarship for the WELA National Leadership Development Program.

“There is power in numbers when it comes to sustainability, the more people working towards the same goals the more we can make a tangible difference to our climate. I know my role is to inspire others to join in that effort,” she said.

“I’ve worked with some amazing people in the sustainability and environmental space and I’ve come to realise through the WELA program that the hard work I put into sustainability is very worthwhile.”

Recently returned from her second WELA retreat in Victoria, Cathy said acknowledging her achievements and working with other leaders in the sustainability field has been inspiring.

Cathy said she had a lot of praise for her unofficial mentor, Catherine Elliott, who had guided her and encouraged her to apply for the WELA program, “which has been the most amazing personal and professional development that I have ever experienced”.

“Catherine has provided a huge amount of support and guidance throughout my Green Impact journey and is always encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone. I can’t thank her enough for her unwavering support.”

She said having the support of TUSA and Cradle Coast campus Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jim Cavaye at West Park to be involved with WELA had been valuable at all stages of her sustainability journey.

Cradle Coast campus
The University of Tasmania's Cradle Coast campus at West Park, Burnie in the state's North West.

The small size of the Cradle Coast campus has allowed Cathy to work collaboratively with different teams, valuing staff contributions from TIA, Pro Vice-Chancellor's office, Rural Clinical School and Riawunna. Through the program she has met new colleagues and worked with students through the Sustainability Integration Program for Students (SIPS) for waste audits on campus and at events.

Cathy continues to lead the sustainability charge at West Park. She has installed a recycling wall, introduced a mug library and reusable cutlery and crockery into the student kitchen, runs a regular beach clean-up in front of the campus to help the penguins who live nearby to be free of plastic, cigarette butts and other rubbish, and runs a Community Sustainability Market Day and more.

Though it has not come naturally to her, she now acknowledges that she has been an inspiration to other women to participate in the Green Impact program and to promote sustainability.

“It makes me feel really proud of the work I have done and the passion that keeps growing in me for making a real difference to our environment,” Cathy said.

“Nan would be so proud of how resourceful and conscious of sustainability I am and that I practice what she preached, winning awards along the way.”