Getting on the Coles bandwagon

We are going through something of a philosophical journey in regard to our grocery shopping here in Coburg. Step 1 on this path to enlightenment was to begin to feel uncomfortable about the relationship Woolworths has with the poker machine industry. Make up your own mind on the issue, but as a matter of personal choice we have walked away from the store, although I’m not sure they’ve noticed yet. Step 2 was to consider the amount of plastic packaging we were bringing home after a family shop, mostly wrapped around our fruit and veg; the recycling bin was full to overflowing each and every week.

Being confirmed Aldi fans for sometime – a magical shopping duet with the local Woolworths – the time had come to source our fruit and veg plastic free. All it took was a calculator and the receipts from our last supermarket shop to realise that we were spending the same amount of money as a large mixed fruit and veg box from CERES Fair Food. The universe was calling, because once we looked at the details we found our local food host lived directly across the road, requiring a less than 60 second journey door to door on a Thursday afternoon to pick up our box. Sold on the concept, we are a couple of weeks in and loving the variety of seasonal produce, and wondering on occasion what to do with the mystery vegetable of the week (I think its kale, but it may also be the illegitimate offspring of broccolini and rocket).

So we’ve got rid of Woolworths and we’ve got rid of kilo’s of plastic on the road to nirvana, can it possibly get any better? With CERES providing our fruit and veg, and Aldi the bulk of our other needs, we still required particular products/brands that neither supplied to our liking, so ‘hello’ Coles Coburg North. More a marriage of convenience, I wasn’t really expecting to view Coles through the lens of sustainability. It was something of a surprise then to come across the large internal promotion of the stores sustainability credentials

IMG_20160220_132500_6(Image: S.Powell)

There is a part of my brain that is very cynical about Coles embracing the sustainability movement, but to give them their due, they are at least aware of the bigger picture and their corporate responsibility. The broader argument being that there is a growing legitimacy crisis between society’s expectations of business’ social performance and there actual (much lower) performance. This is driven by four key factors, the first being that the social, environmental and economic priorities in which business operates is changing:

  • in the past they could afford to be oblivious to their social and environmental impacts
  • now they have to strive to reduce impacts and project a positive image
  • in the future they have to have positive impacts and provide social and environmental solutions

The second factor is the three waves of environmentalism model proposed by Krupp (1992), in which the business sector is slowly but surely brought to the table:

  • 1st wave: Activism (industry and govt. resistance)
  • 2nd wave: Government Intervention (resistance to regulation)
  • 3rd wave: Market based solutions (business participates)

The third factor is the new logic of business:

  • that the environment is no longer a threat to the bottom line, and
  • green strategies are good for both the planet and business, as they
    • save money
    • minimise risk, and
    • boost competitiveness

Finally, the last factor is the business case for sustainability, or how to do more with less:

  • Cost savings – less waste, reduced material inputs
  • Improved risk management – reduced risk and liabilities
  • Marketing advantage – innovation, competitiveness and differentiation
  • Human resource benefits – better staff morale, loyalty, decreased absenteeism
  • Value creation and protection – improved quality and safety = improved shareholder value

How sincere Coles is, and how far they have travelled done the path of their own enlightenment is a discussion for another day, but its always an encouraging sign to see these concepts seeping into the local business community.


Krupp, F. (1992). Business and the third wave: saving the environment. Vital Speeches, 58(21), 656-659.

Transitions Film Festival Melbourne: 18th Feb – 3rd Mar (Cinema Nova)

Choose your poison, there are any number of great documentaries on offer for your viewing delight, starting today –

The Transitions Film Festival is visionary program dedicated to spotlighting the complex challenges, cutting-edge ideas, creative innovations and mega-trends that are redefining what it means to be human.

We present positive, solutions-focused films and showcase cutting-edge ideas from around the world, along with the creative, academic, governmental, community and business leaders who are creating change locally.


Sydney Rd: Nightmare or Opportunity?

We are at the early stages of a significant change, or ‘paradigm shift’, in the ways in which [urban] transportation is conceived, planned, financed and implemented (Schiller et al 2010, xxi).

In local news this week, the Victorian State Government knocked back plans devised by Revitalise Sydney Rd, and endorsed by Moreland Council, to remove on-street parking along Sydney Rd. The central sticking point is the concern from local business that the lack of street parking would negatively impact on their trading.

Anyone familiar with the key strip of Sydney Rd in question, as it runs between Bell St in the north and Brunswick Rd in the south, would likely agree that significant change is needed. Personally, if I’m driving our car Sydney Rd is to be avoided at all costs, as a cyclist it is something of a death trap, and as a pedestrian it is an ugly, noisy, wind tunnel. On the few occasions that I use the tram, it is commonly stuck in traffic and risky to step on and off. Having made those complaints, local people just love it. Historically it has always been a nexus for local business and trade and therefore a place for social interaction, a physical and geographical heart of the community, joining together the suburbs of Coburg and Brunswick like a great big zipper right down their middle.

One of the historical reasons for the considerable congestion we see today is that the creation of the Sydney Rd strip dates back to a period when the key design paradigm in existence was the ‘transit city’. The introduction of passenger rail, horse-drawn street cars and eventually electric trams enabled urban expansion which reshaped our local urban form, and which is clearly still physically visible today in and around Sydney Rd – medium density, mixed use, grid based and centralised. In essence you could walk from home for all of your shopping, you may have been walking to work yourself or walking to the nearest tram or train stop to take you further. This smaller, more human scale built environment hasn’t physically altered since but we insist on cramming in hundreds of thousands of more people and their cars. Is it any surprise that is doesn’t work?

My perception is that Revitalise Sydney Rd are promoting a paring back of the way Sydney Rd is used, so that it more closely reflects the priorities and intentions of the transit city design that the area originally supported. Schiller et al 2010 speak to the historical changes we can observe here on Sydney Rd, the first being the public transport age, the second the automobile age, the third the age of disillusionment (as represented by the existence of Revitalise Sydney Rd as a lobby group), and the final era to follow – the age of sustainability.

Whilst the concerns of local traders can’t be ignored, I wonder what price we will pay for doing little or nothing in the long term? Cities like London, Paris, New York, Singapore and Seoul have taken the bull by the horns and introduced significant disincentives to automobile use (such as economic instruments, road diets and parking policies) and as a consequence are returning the streets to the people. For one of the most extraordinary examples from Seoul, watch this video:

By creating a more sustainable transport system on Sydney Rd we could achieve the following outcomes:

  • When cars are removed, space is created for activities and functions that are more valuable to the area economically, socially, culturally and environmentally
  • When public transport is favored over the automobile there is increased equality within the community, reduced emissions, and increased personal economic expenditure in areas other than transportation.
  • When walking and cycling are more often undertaken, the health benefits are significant and the public spaces are more engaging, inclusive and connected.

Communicating and installing these benefits is the challenging task now required to shift Australian cities, and Sydney Rd, towards a new paradigm of sustainability.


Sustainable Living Festival: Melbourne 6-28 Feb.

Looking for some action this February in Melbourne? A smorgasbord of sustainability ideas are served up to you on a platter at the Sustainable Living Festival in and around the streets of Melbourne – can’t wait!

The Sustainable Living Festival aims to accelerate the uptake of sustainable living and seeks solutions to global warming that will return the planet to a safe climate as fast as humanly possible. The Festival raises awareness and provides tools for change by showcasing leading solutions to the ecological and social challenges we face.
The Festival’s three week program engages individuals and communities across Victoria to host and promote sustainability events. Celebrating the very best examples of ecological and social sustainability the event embraces interactive workshops, talks, demonstrations, artworks, exhibits, films and live performances

Waste Mining: The New Boom

The concept of a circular metabolism for our urban society is a fundamental key to creating a vision for a sustainable future. Rather than continuing with the linear model of resource use that western society has historically followed, we can create a model that values far more highly the materials we use and the resources required to produce them. This in turn reduces the need for new inputs, by reusing and recycling what we’ve already produced and which is freely available as waste.

Circular Vs. Linear Metabolism (

This concept of waste mining was championed by Jane Jacobs, who believed that economies of scale particularly within cities allowed for significant environmental and economic potential. She created the “metaphor of cities being the ‘urban mines’ of the future…Rather than extracting resources from finite natural resources she envisages a future where we will mine urban waste for many of the raw materials we need” (Rudlin & Falk 1999, 164).

Rudlin and Falk’s book ‘Building the 21st Century Home: The Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood’ identifies how this is already happening in so many ways, from the ubiquitous recycling of paper, glass and aluminium to Op-Shops, second hand clothing and furniture stores, and scrap yards. Further, old newspaper is used for home insulation and power station ash for concrete manufacture. All of these are key examples of waste mining, and as is highlighted, these activities are not driven by “environmental consciousness but by commercial principles”(Rudlin & Falk 1999, 164). The whole idea is that you create employment and economic activity that benefits the local community and is sustainable for the foreseeable future.

Personal electronic waste. Photo: S. Powell

All of this theory was reflected in my own needs this week. I had a box load of electronic ‘waste’ in the cupboard that was doing nothing but collect dust. An old laptop, DVD players, camera’s, an mp3, cables etc, that either don’t work or are now surplus to requirements. What to do with them? Determined not to see them go into landfill, I started to look for a local solution. My first stop was Officeworks, but their interest goes only so far as recycling computers and laptops, and whilst they recommended I call other larger stores who may be more accommodating the story was the same – nobody wanted to take everything that I had. Being inherently lazy I was looking for a one stop solution, and as chance would have it, I found it. The first hint was a page on Moreland Councils website about a trial program for electrical appliance reuse and repair. It mentioned a donation bin was available at the Moreland Civic Centre, so I whipped down on my bike for a reconnoissance mission. Unfortunately the bin also wouldn’t take all that I had (so many rules) but finally I had narrowed down my options – I could deliver my box load of electrical goodies to the good people at Bright Sparks Australia, only a hop-skip and a jump away in Hadfield.

Bright Sparks Australia encapsulate perfectly this concept of a circular metabolism, of creating economic prosperity and environmental good by mining the waste we produce in truckloads and keeping it out of landfill. As a social enterprise and registered charity, they focus on reuse and repair, but responsibly recycle anything beyond help. For the time being they are funded through to March 2016, but by using their services you support the project and hopefully its longterm existence within our local area. How much storage space is taken up in your home by electronics you don’t need or use? Lets give them a new life.