Improving sustainability practices
Associate Diploma of Applied Science (Wildlife & Park Management), 1985
Director and Founder of Seed Consulting Services
Environmental consultant and passionate sustainability advocate, Andy Chambers, has made a career out of improving sustainable practices in business and agriculture. With qualifications in Wildlife and Park Management and Viticulture, Andy’s interest in environmental systems developed during his early career working in the South Australian Government Forestry and Environment, Water and Natural Resources departments. He has worked in environmental consultancies for nearly 20 years. Recognising a niche providing external assistance for landholders, he established his first consultancy in 2000, then formed Green Ochre in 2008, which assisted businesses to make eco-efficiency cost savings.
He then co-founded Seed Consulting Services in Adelaide in 2013. Seed Consulting is a sustainability consultancy that focuses on everything from climate change adaptation through to sustainability practices in large organisations. The ‘sustainability compass’, an analytical tool created by international sustainability expert Alan AtKisson, underpins their work: North for nature, South for social, East for economic, and West for wellbeing.
Seed Consulting has worked with organisations including, Taylors Wines in the Clare Valley, the Royal Automobile Association and on projects involving sustainable food production innovation in the Northern Adelaide Plains.
Andy is a firm believer that environmental principles are good for the business bottom line.
“There are a lot of things you need to consider when you run a business – you still need to make a profit, you still need to demonstrate that you are saving money on the bottom line, but sustainable principles can help you achieve that in a way that is less impacting on the environment,” says Andy.
“When you are more environmentally focused, you will save money – absolutely. There is an initial cost, but what we have found is that by engaging in that space, the low hanging fruit savings will more than pay for the cost of engaging in the sustainability space, and then you will go on and save considerably off the bottom line by adopting those principles. So less energy costs, less water costs, and less waste management costs.”
Andy explains some of the key sustainability principles underlying Seed Consulting’s approach, including his number one recommendation: “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Heating and cooling are two key areas where businesses and households can make energy savings. Take the example of an individual household making a decision about trying to reduce their carbon footprint.
“I would look at the things that are going to save on existing consumption. Before you think about installing solar, you should check that you have done all that you can to reduce electricity consumption, before you go out and get solar panels. Often that can be lighting, for instance looking at LED lighting is very cost effective. Secondly, air conditioning and how you use it. For example, setting your temperature correctly. The sweet spot is around 24 degrees. If you set it at 18 degrees on a really hot day then that is probably costing twice as much. For every degree that you set your cooling, you are putting 10% on your bills,” says Andy.
Environmental management principles are underpinned by a systems thinking approach: that one action may have significant other outcomes. Andy illustrates this principle with an example of how Australia’s green credentials are slipping behind internationally.
“We have flown for such a long time on the perception that Australia is clean and green, and some of the cracks are starting to show.
“Australians have the largest footprint of any country in the world. If everyone in the world chose to live like Australians do, then we would need 4.5 to 5 worlds to produce all the food and resources that we consume in Australia.
“Why are we the worst? I think it’s because we are inherently lazy. We are so used to consuming whatever we want: water, electricity. We are the biggest water users in the world per capita,” says Andy, who adds that Australia also has the highest number of square metres of housing per capita.
“We are a very consumer orientated society. We throw everything away. We waste 50% of the food we buy at the supermarket. What is grown on the farm is thrown out because it’s not up to specification. That 50% of food that is thrown away has had a huge water footprint in producing it.”
There is an increasing drive for waste food to be re-used and some of Andy’s current work is about “how can we improve the processes in making our food and reduce this footprint, making it as energy efficient as possible, so that we can show to the rest of the world that we are using the best processes possible - and that our export food is sustainably produced.”
“High cost overheads are having a massive effect on the farming industry and are part of why they are doing it so tough. Water and fertilisers are extraordinarily expensive at the moment. With interest in natural farming systems increasing and important for a carbon constrained future, we may have less access to costly synthetic fertilisers and have less water available to us in the future, ” says Andy.
Natural farming systems aim to mimic nature, which has had 3.5 billion years to perfect how it does things. Nature offers us clues to the design principles needed for the future.
“We know the climate is changing. It is not a debate anymore. It’s about saying, we are going to be living in a different world in 30 to 50 years’ time,” Andy says.
“We need to be ready and planning for those changes now. As part of adaptation to climate change, what we plan for now is going to be critical in 30 years’ time.”
With the future in mind, Seed Consulting is working in education to help change the thinking of tomorrow’s consumers and leaders.
“We are in the process of engaging Tenison Woods College, Mt Gambier, in helping them embed sustainability into the curriculum. Today’s students are going to make a difference, and they are the ones that we need to firmly invest our interests in; they are our future.”