Sydney , Australia

Ethnic Communities Sustainable Living Project

Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW & Office of Environment and Heritage

July 23, 2013

Taking a diversity approach to environmental issues in New South Wales, Australia

Not only does diversity lead to more vibrant neighbourhoods, it makes them economically stronger and more sustainable. New South Wales gets this. In Sydney, the region’s largest city, 25% of residents are born overseas. The committed community members and active entrepreneurs in this diverse population are recognized as an important economic asset in Sydney’s small business ecosystem. A local sustainable living initiative is now looking at leveraging that diversity as an environmental asset as well, aiming to remove cultural and linguistic barriers to build consensus and cooperation around environmental issues.

The Ethnic Communities Sustainable Living Project (ESCLP) is a joint project of the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW and the regional government’s Office of Environment and Heritage. ESCLP is raising awareness of Australia’s environmental challenges by involving the region’s ethnic communities in sustainable living projects. Multilingual workshops have increased the participation of culturally and linguistically-diverse groups and created space for participants to learn from one another. The opportunity to exchange views on environmental issues and hear what other cultural or community groups have to say or how they are impacted has helped foster a stronger sense of belonging while contributing to a healthy, harmonious community and environment.

Language and outreach matter

Many newly-arrived immigrants share the concerns of most households when it comes to environmental sustainability – too much waste and over consumption. Yet, language, cultural barriers or an ineffective means of communication can exclude newcomers from participating on issues of concern to the whole community.

To address these challenges ECSLP’s team of bilingual educators deliver environmental workshops, field trips and art projects in local languages, including Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Greek, Italian, Korean, Macedonian, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese. Sharing a language and cultural background facilitates more open communication between the educators and newcomers. By using a range of different delivery modes to offer choice, ECSLP has further contributed to increased community participation. This approach aims to engage the whole community so ultimately all Australians will be better prepared and more effective in addressing matters such as waste generation and management, energy, sustainable gardening and water consumption.

However, it is sustained relationship-building and education that makes the biggest difference in ECSLP’s work with diverse communities. Fieke Greets, Project Officer at the Office of Environment & Heritage, explains: “Behaviour change doesn’t come from a one-off workshop and certainly doesn’t happen through just giving people information.” Such change requires long-term interaction and engagement, peer-to-peer support and learning, and a platform to connect with others trying to do the same.

Greets knows that it is crucial to build good relationship with community gatekeepers for the project to succeed. A successful strategy used by ECSLP is to identify key community leaders and trusted individuals who can help connect the project to contacts and resources in target groups. Involving these leaders in the early stages of the planning has also helped build trust and a sense of ownership among them. “These representatives are instrumental in promoting the project to others within their community,” says Greets.

Success beyond conservation

For Yasmin Mohamed, an Arabic speaker who started work as a bilingual educator in 2008, this dialogue is essential to raising awareness within her community. While the immediate priority of newly-arrived immigrants is settlement, Mohamed believes that engaging newcomers on sustainability issues is part of a long-term community conversation that impacts positively on the overall integration experience, helping to instill trust, common values and social bonds. Other community benefits include positive responses to intergenerational conflict and social isolation.

ECSLP also supports local councils and organizations working with diverse communities to develop their own projects and foster participation in council and other environmental activities. This includes project advice; information about local, state and Commonwealth programs and rebates; access to translated resources; and specialist bilingual facilitators.


Building on ECSLP’s success, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW (ECC) launched a new Multicultural Leadership Sustainability Project called “Step Together.” This project helps culturally and linguistically-diverse organizations develop strategies to raise environmental awareness and implement community projects to reduce waste, water or energy. For example, ECSLP is working with the Spanish and Latin American Association for Social Assistance and another Spanish community group to tackle waste management and recycling through the Step Together project. ECSLP has plans to continue working with ethnic community organizations across New South Wales.

The Ethnic Communities’ Council of NSW (ECC) has received the Premier’s Award for Sustainability in 2009 (Green Globe Award) for its outstanding contribution to raising awareness of sustainability issues among ethnic communities in New South Wales.

Making it Work for You:

  • Know your community! Review existing research about community attitudes, knowledge and behaviours and look for links with other existing community programs
  • Approach representatives from the target group, and use educators that are bilingual and culturally aware to help you move past the linguistic and cultural divide
  • Be flexible and run activities that are relevant to the people involved. Stay open to a two-way process of exchanging knowledge

For this Good Idea contact:

Fieke Greets, Ethnic Communities Sustainable Living Project
221 Cope Street Waterloo NSW 2017
Waterloo, Australia,
+61. (0)2.9319.0288

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