My dad and my older brother are both engineers and I always thought I would be one too, but whilst I’d shunned the idea of studying economics at school, it was what I ended up studying at Sydney University. I think it was my perceptions of the banking and finance industries that turned me off initially but I guess with age there comes a greater appreciation of global causality, politics and the environment.
I’d always loved the sciences and geography and when I came across the Agriculture and Resource Economics degree it seemed like the perfect fit. It’s basically an economics degree but extended to provide a definite practical application, in this case, to forestry, fisheries, emissions trading schemes, etc.
At the heart of it, we learned about dealing with resource and environmental scarcity in an economically driven world.
My recently completed Masters of Environmental Management gave me a further and structures understanding of leadership and decision making process in the environmental sphere.
However, although I now work in sustainability and environmental consulting, I’ve come to realise that my economic background is the most important aspect of my education. In the end, we need environmental action, on a wide scale, and we need that now. Understanding economic drivers, policy and consumer motivation is the key to affecting change on each of those three levels, and in my current role I’m putting this directly into practice.
Through grant funding provided by the NSW State Government, I am working to establish Industrial Ecology as a core component of doing business in Australia. Industrial Ecology is the means of redesigning economy into the circular systems seen in ecosystems – recognising waste as a resource and re-introducing it into the productive economy.
In this role it is essential to recognise that the work I’m doing is not always likely to be funded by the government and unless the synergies that we are creating to reduce wastage are economically viable, their longevity is limited by the vagaries of politics.
In environmental situations, often knowledge can be the largest issue, and certainly in this instance, waste is very poorly reported on. For potential investors in recycling/re-processing plants, a solid understanding of their available material stream is essential to developing the business case for their investment. In a way, this kind of business development has become my job and without an economic background, this would prove very challenging. Like any other system, the economy can be manipulated, and it should be recognised as a tool to provide and incentivise environmental change like any other.
In the coming year my colleagues and I will be working to provide the necessary industry knowledge to facilitate the commissioning of several currently unavailable recycling services preventing the disposal of carpet tile, ceiling tile, composite timbers and organic matter from landfill. While these facilities will be built from the knowledge transfer allowed by our current government funding, their positive ongoing environmental impact will endure far longer.
Environmental work of any kind is multidisciplinary and never simple. So never feel bounded by existing areas of expertise. By nature we need the engineers, teachers, economists, politicians and historians as they all hold essential pieces of our greater and global environmental puzzle.