A View from OZ

Sustainable Australia


My recent visit to Australia was amazing, inspiring and too short! Australia has the distinction of being the largest island and the smallest continent. I’ve noticed that island dwellers in general tend to be a bit more protective of their environment – with good reason. Nothing like being surrounded completely by water to make you hyperaware of your resources.

Bondi Beach keeps it clean

Bondi Beach keeps it clean

I was able to explore a number of Sydney and South Australian beaches on my visit and what struck me was how clean they were! Granted, it is winter there, so the beach population isn’t what it is at other times of the year, but nonetheless, recycling bins were everywhere! Not to mention water bottle refilling stations.

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Bottle refilling station

Bottle refilling station

I had a chance to chat with some Municipal workers at Bronte Beach. I asked how often the sand was sifted and I was astonished to find out they only rake it once a week! As for marine debris – they don’t consider it a huge problem. Of course after a big storm they expect to see more debris on the beach, but they reported that that pollution grate-guards on the street sewer entries are very helpful in keeping rubbish out of the run-off stream.

In Adelaide, South Australia, even the most modest of homes had solar panels. I was informed that the solar capture represents close to 10% of energy production and wind (generated from the Outback) represents 30%. 40% from renewable energy is a pretty amazing number. Just as a comparison, the U.S. clocked in a whopping 13% renewable energy generation in 2012, and that includes hydroelectricity – in short, we could be doing better.

After the Millennium drought (1997-2009), South Australia got serious about water capture and installed “grey” water systems for non-potable water usage such as irrigation and flushing toilets. (Hello California! Are you listening?!!) Speaking of toilets – I did not encounter anything but a dual flush system during my entire stay in Australia. For those not familiar, a dual flush system means that if it’s urine only, you press the shorter flush, thus using less water. Anything more gets a normal flush. After experiencing the hottest day ever on record in January 2013, Sydney has double downed with the Sydney 2030/Green/Global/Connected program. The city ambitiously aims to cut carbon emissions by 70% by 2030. Go Sydney!

Kindy Visit

The Hilda Booler Kindy's own vertical garden made from upcycled materials

The Hilda Booler Kindy’s own vertical garden made from upcycled materials

When giving Recycling/Sustainability presentations to the “littles” – as I call K-3rd graders – I begin by addressing habitats. My first slide is of a Polar Bear on an impossibly small ice floe. Next is a shark, a frog…until eventually we are looking at a city landscape. The idea is to connect the human habitat with those of animals in the wild, establishing that we all need clean air and water to survive. Connecting with animals and nature gives us a clearer perspective on the necessity to view the entire planet as a precious habitat for all living creatures.

I always begin by encouraging students to be mindful of, and responsible to their individual footprint. For school children this involves packing a waste free lunch, not wasting paper, knowing the recycling rules, and conserving water and energy. It’s remarkable how one student’s actions can radiate out from the individual to the classroom, to the school, to home and their families, to the community, to the larger community…and so on. And they are never too young to be interested in or capable of environmentally responsible behavior.


I gave a recycling presentation to the Hilda Booler “Kindy” (our equivalent to Pre-K) while in Sydney, Australia. This group of 3-5 year olds had some fantastic responses recorded by their teacher:

Jenny: Who do we share the planet with?

Zeke: Cousins!

Jenny shows a polar bear on the ice and explained what the word habitat means

Jenny: What is the habitat for a shark?

Persephone: Water / Frankie: Ocean

Jenny: What is the habitat for a frog? You have frogs at Hilda Booler!

Mara: Frog pond! / Barnie: Some frogs live in trees, tree frog.

Jenny shows the children a picture of a cityscape

Jenny: Whose habitat is this?

Marlowe: Us! It’s ours.

Jenny: What is the most important thing we need to survive?

Lulu: Water / Graydon: Air / Sienna: …the air goes in your mouth.

Jenny: Yes! So we must take care to keep our air and water clean.

Jenny stresses the importance of trees in keeping the air clean and filtering our ground water – so we must preserve our forests and re-plant trees.

Jenny: Where does our rubbish go in the end?

Quinlan: The rubbish truck.

Lulu: I saw it in the Toy Story – the rubbish gets burned.

Jenny: Yes, some of the rubbish gets burned, some gets buried in the earth and some ends up in the ocean.

Jenny shows the children pictures of plastic floating in the water and a turtle eating a plastic bag.


Lulu: Why is he eating a plastic bag?

Jenny: Because he thought it was a jellyfish.

Sienna: He will get choked / Camilla: …a sore tummy

Alexa: A whale is bigger, so he won’t choke

I am continually struck by how children of this age become most engaged when confronted with animals that are in distress in their environments due to man-made conditions. They are extraordinarily perceptive of the danger the animal is in regardless of their lack of experience with that particular species.

Making a game out of getting the rubbish in the correct bin is always a hit. DSC_3299  

A clever student shows us which bin the plastic cup and straw go in

Children grasp by doing. They are super proud to show you what they know. Perhaps one of my favorite takeaway(s) from my visit to the Hilda Booler Kindy was the end of the week newsletter:

Dear Families,

Jenny Green Jeans, a sustainability coordinator from NY, visited the children today and gave each child a present – a reusable sandwich wrapper. Children were so excited, they transferred their lunches into the wrappers straightaway. We would like to see those wrappers in children’s lunch boxes as often as possible! Let’s use less food packaging and be sustainable!

food Kozies

food Kozies

The Roar & Snore!

Roar&Snore My family & Sydney hosts kicked up our Taronga Zoo visit a notch by committing ourselves to the “overnighter” called the Roar & Snore. It was a fantastic experience. You arrive at dusk, settle into your tents – which overlook the harbor, have snacks and a little chit chat with fellow “Snorers”, sit down to a lovely dinner, and then you’re off on your night walk. Infrared torches (flashlights) are used as to not disturb the animals and allow you to witness the nocturnal activity. By 10p you are back to the tents for cocoa & dessert and off to bed for a 6:30a breakfast call. Then it’s off to tour the zoo pre-opening hours. We were able to feed Giraffes and enrich the Sun Bear enclosure and watch them get their morning stimulation and breakfast finding all of the goodies!

Pet an Echidna named ‘Spike’


Stare at a fruit bat up close


Immerse ourselves with the Lemurs

lemur Needless to say, the children involved were beyond thrilled. Personally, I was most impressed by the wonderful guides. Their commitment and respect for these animals is extraordinarily touching. Alex Halberstadt’s recent NYTimes article states it best: “Here is the thing about people who work at zoos, by which I mean the people who actually work with animals. Nearly to a one, they like animals, and dote on them, and enjoy their company to an almost unseemly degree. Animal keepers are, as a rule, underpaid and work long and sometimes unpredictable hours. The job tends not to be one that people fall into. To be a keeper, you pretty much have to be aflame with a desire to do it and possess an attraction to animals that is probably inborn”. This was evident with every guide and keeper that I encountered the Taronga Zoo.

The Taronga Zoo is a not-for-profit Conservancy, and like many modern Zoos, they are dedicated to sustainability, and protecting and propagating endangered species.

Elephant Calf The Asian Elephant was once common throughout the continent, but human encroachment has reduced its numbers by 75% over the past 70 years. The adult Thai Asian Elephant inhabitants of the zoo were all rescued from the street circus trade in Asia where, in order to get the Elephants to submit and behave, common torture techniques are used. We were asked to keep our voices low around the Elephants. They have vivid memories and terrific hearing. Our guide was careful to whisper “Gung” (the Male Elephant’s name), explaining that it irritates him to hear his name. Gung heard him anyway and snorted in objection. The Taronga Zoo Elephant breeding program has been successful, demonstrated by the births of three calves since 2009. This regional conservation-breeding program is designed to build a self-sustaining population of Asian Elephants in Australia, to ensure a genetically strong and healthy herd and ultimately generate funds and other resources for conservation in the wild.

SunBear Mister Hobbs discovers his morning “enrichments” 

The two Sun Bears were also rescued from Asia. Apparently, Bear Paw Soup a delicacy in some Cambodian restaurants. An Australia businessman was curious about the dish and the proprietor was more than proud to show the diner the two bears in cages behind the kitchen. This particular Good Samaritan went to great lengths and personal expense to extricate the bears to Sydney. tigershotHabitat loss is the main threat to animals like the Chimpanzee and the Sumatran Tiger in the wild. The Taronga Zoo’s global breeding program is vital to these species’ survival. I am not an expert on zoos. Like many, I have my reservations about keeping wild animals in captivity. My barometer for the mistreatment of animals is sensitive and I know when I’m uncomfortable in a zoo setting. But I am also realistic about the fact that the habitable landscape of our planet has and continues to dramatically shift and shrink, making preservation a huge reality. And, as Sedgwick County Zoo, KS director Mark Reed reports, “Zoos have changed incredibly in the last 30 years”. Reed notes that it is the “discerning Public” that is responsible for the safeguarding against zoo conditions of the past. He should know, his father Ted Reed was the director of the National Zoo in D.C. in the 1950s.

Beyond public scrutiny, it has been the shift from punitive to positive reinforcement and enriching habitats that has brought about the much improved animal conditions.

This was evident in every inch of the 52 acre Taronga Zoo. In comparison to the 265 acre Bronx Zoo or the 100 acre San Diego Zoo, the Taronga Zoo is not large. By design, and despite it’s expansive view of the Sydney Harbor, it has an almost insular feel. The viewing paths wind and traverse the side of the hill, making it feel very protected and part of the community that it inhabits. Clearly the Taronga Zoo sees itself as a member of a community dedicated to preserving nature in a specialized way. Their role in aiding larger global organizations and governments in the name of animal conservation is invaluable.

 The Beach Boys

BlueDuck The culinary highpoint of my trip to Sydney has to do with some Surfers. The disclaimer on the jacket flap of the Blue Ducks Cookbook reads: The story of the Blue Ducks is a story of food. Well…yes – and a whole lot more.


Founded by Darren Robertson, former head chef of Sydney’s Internationally acclaimed Tetsuya’s, and Mark Labrooy, who apprenticed under Darren before traveling and completing two years as sous-chef at Josef in Zurich, this Bronte Beach, Sydney establishment was one of the highlights of my Australian adventure – and I’m not really even a “foodie”.

These dudes are self-described: Professional chefs, mad surfers, keen gardeners, and foragers.

I may be romanticizing it a bit but I’m completely enthused by the whole story. Their surfing obsession took them around the world in search of the best surf and snowboarding locations all while expanding on their culinary appetites and skills with the goal of a more sustainable and ethical approach to life and food. What resulted is a fantastic cafe in Bronte Beach called Three Blue Ducks. Tofu Specializing in locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, they’ve created a community oasis of down to earth, great food.

A founding Blue Duck, Chris Sorrell, showed me around the day I visited. ChrisSorrell ChickensBees At the back of the café there is a small courtyard garden, which hosts their beehives, chooks (chickens), and vegetable and herb beds. It’s maybe 1000 sq. feet, but can evidently supply the café with the eggs, herbs and all the honey needed for the menu. DSC_2513 The 5 members of the Blue Ducks (the additional Ducks are Sam Reid and Jeff Bennett – with no designated head Chef) are considered representatives of the new grassroots approach to cooking delicious food based on an ethos of community, sustainability and growing-it-local. Of course we have our own Alice Waters, Joel Salatin and the likes… so the Duck’s philosophy isn’t exactly “new” but it is part and parcel of the breathtaking coastal landscape; and an inspiring reminder of the joys of connecting with the land, whether it be growing your own veggies, keeping chickens or making more ethical food choices.Chook


The Three Blue Ducks don’t call themselves an “organic” restaurant although they do their best to source locally and organically. They encourage all to:

Grow what you can

Buy food mindfully

Buy food locally

Cook food thoughtfully

Waste nothing

To quote the cookbook:

Solar jars

Solar jars

“The pressure on suppliers to provide affordable organic food is increasing as informed businesses and communities make choices about what they will and won’t eat, buy and consume. We hope that by reading our book you will start having that conversation as well, that you will ask questions about the source of the food you buy and eat.”

I love the fact that these young men are passionate about community and bringing something of real value to their local habitat – all while enriching the planet.  


Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach

Cheers Mates!

About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have.

2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. bdjames@earthlink.net' Brian says:

    FANTASTIC!! I love this blog.

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