The Natural Edge Project
Project Update 14
September 2006
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Greetings to the teams and supports of TNEP

Welcome to the 14th update from the secretariat of The Natural Edge Project. It has been some time since our last update and we hope that you enjoy this summary of the exciting projects and initiatives we’ve been working on over the last 12 months. As you can see we are using a new format for the updates, please let us know if we still have teething problems to sort out. The Natural Edge Project web site is now visited by an average of 20,000 individuals a month. Hence in this latest update we provide a succinct overview of the history of the project, especially for those who are new to the our work, before summarizing TNEP’s latest news.

One of the defining moments in the creation of The Natural Edge Project took place on a beautiful Spring afternoon on the balcony at the refectory at ANU back in mid 2002. Mike and I were first getting to know each other (after recently being introduced by mutual friend James Moody), and we were talking about our professional interests and the types of things we might be able to work on together. It became clear very quickly that we agreed on many issues and the ones we didn’t we managed to help each other understand our positions and enhance our own understanding. Throughout the conversation an idea emerged, an idea that would unify our commitment, passion and motivation for sustainable development. The idea was to build a core team supported by a network to create and bring together information to help society to become more sustainable, and thus TNEP was born. With Nick and Cheryl joining us shortly after, our team was ready. We now look back after four years and see that we have been truly blessed by the enormous support our team has received from our many partners and mentors. We have achieved far more than we had dared dream sitting out on that balcony in the sun drinking strawberry milk, and the most exciting part is that we have barely scratched the surface of ours and our partners potential contribution to society.

Within two months of this conversation we began the development of the book, The Natural Advantage of Nations, taking a three year collaborative effort with over 70 partners and a greater number of mentors, contributors and co-authors. As the flagship of our project it helped us to understand the range of activities and initiatives that our team could focus on to best suit our talents and contribute to society. Building on our strength, being three engineers and a scientist, the second major initiative of the project was the Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program (ESSP). The ESSP was initiated in 2004 through the development of the first of the two portfolios of the program, the ESSP Critical Literacies Portfolio, a project that would prove to again be a three year commitment involving a range of partners and mentors to develop 12 semester long courses.

The development of the ESSP Critical Literacies Portfolio started with an introductory module in early 2004 that was supported by a grant from the Institution of Engineers Australia. After 12 months of development and two semesters of trials with 17 universities and 3 TAFE’s, the introductory module morphed into two semester equivalent courses, ‘Engineering Sustainable Solutions 1’ and ‘Designing Sustainable Cities 1’, both courses later being accredited as subjects in the RMIT Master of Sustainable Practice. 2006 saw a focus first on delivery of the course material (with partners such as Engineers Australia, Townsville City Council, Qld EPA, Sustainable Living Tasmania, Young Engineers Australia, Hatch Engineering, Engineering Education Australia, RMIT and Griffith University), and also the incorporation of the material in to courses and guest lectures (with partners QUT, Griffith University, UniSA, Adelaide University, Flinders University and RMIT). Based on our experiences teaching the material, the final review of the two courses was recently completed. Both courses are now complete and will shortly find their home on our website as an open-source resource for universities, companies and individuals seeking to gain some of the emerging critical literacies required to practice sustainable engineering and urban design in the coming decades.

While developing the introductory courses we were again thinking ahead and by the end of 2004 we had secured additional grants to develop the ten remaining semester equivalent courses to complete the ESSP Critical Literacies Portfolio. Grants were received from Engineers Australia, through the College of Environmental Engineers and the Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (formerly the Environmental Engineering Society) and the Natural Science Sector of UNESCO in Paris. After 12 months of development, six months of review by expert advisors and a six month detailed internal review and revamp, the courses are in their final stages of development. The full package will provide curriculum material to assist in an acceleration of sustainability related curriculum being incorporated into engineering education and training.

By mid 2005 the ESSP Critical Literacies Portfolio was well on its way and it was time to focus on the second of the two portfolios, the ESSP Design Principles Portfolio, to focus on providing worked calculations of design principles applied across a range of sectors in four themes. The second portfolio again has twelve courses with three each on the themes of Whole System Design, Eco- Efficiency and Resource Productivity, Green Engineering and Chemistry, and Design Inspired by Nature (Biomimicry). In mid 2005 and again in 2006 we secured grants from the Australian Federal Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) under the Environmental Education Grants Program to develop the three Whole Systems Design courses that will be open source. We currently seek to have the remaining 9 courses funded for development in 2007.

The 2005/06 financial year started on a high for our team after winning the Banksia Award for the book and the first of the courses outlined above and I had returned from a 12 month secondment to the University of Colorado, Boulder while working with Hunter Lovins. July and August were very quiet and we took the opportunity to rebuild our internal processes and re-establish relations with our partners. Our first major engagement came through collaboration with the Faculty of Built Environment and Engineering at QUT with Martin Betts, Susan Savage and Glenn Thomas to assist them to conceive, scope and deliver a first year course for all students in the faculty that is currently being delivered to over 800 students. In order to enhance our research and education material our team partnered with a range of consulting associates. While working with Philip Toyne from EcoFutures we assisted in the development of the Australian Plantation Products and Paper Council’s A3P Sustainability Action Plan which was launched at the 2006 National Business Leaders Forum for Sustainable Development. With newcomer Sustainable Business Practices, led by Dan Atkins, our team worked on projects with Santos, SA Water and the SA Government. Other consulting work included the development of indicator sets for industry parks for VicUrban; advising engineering firms such as Pitt and Sherry and KBR; writing articles for CSIRO ECOS; and building curriculum for RMIT and UniSA.

Our team would like to thank you all for your ongoing support for our work and we look forward to continuing to aspire to making a real contribution to our society over the coming years.

Janine Benyus 2006 Australian Tour
Janine Benyus Tour Partners

It brings us great pleasure to report that the Australian ‘Innovation Inspired by Nature Tour’, coordinated by The Natural Edge Project and the Biomimicry Guild, was a huge success. Touring with Janine Benyus and Catherine Bragdon was an amazing experience for the team from TNEP. Over the two weeks, Janine captivated audiences across the nation with stories, facts, case studies and visual imagery of an emerging wave of sustainable technological innovation made possible by the practice of Biomimicry. Janine presented at sessions with governments, businesses and universities in Brisbane, Townsville, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. Some of the many highlights include the Dinner Keynote at the joint 7th Annual Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development and Queensland EPA Sustainable Industries Awards, the Live ABC TV National Press Club Address sponsored by NAB, and the delivery of free public lectures (thanks to the many sponsors) in each city to introduce the concept of Biomimicry and its applications to innovating sustainable solutions.

We would like to extend our most sincere thanks to our Tour Partners as without their support and enthusiasm this Tour would never have happened. It was an honour and a privilege to have been able to support Janine to meet with many of our partners and supporters and make personal connections. The Tour has succeeded in alerting many in Australia to the amazing opportunities arising from the application of Biomimicry, not to mention the numerous examples of Biomimicry applied that are native to our nation.

"TNEP have once again brought a world-leading and inspirational author and practitioner to Australia - this time Janine Benyus, a truly remarkable scientist, creating biological inspirations for the ‘hard’ sciences. Just as we now need social scientists at our side, so too it seems, biology and biologists must play a part in our engineering practice." Philip Bangerter, Global Director-Sustainability, Hatch Associates.

‘Janine Benyus presents an intuitively seductive idea that adds an important piece to the sustainability jig saw puzzle. It is inspiring and reassuring to know that nature has already found many of the solutions. Our challenge is to develop the skills to reveal nature's secrets and adapt them to help us live in harmony with the rest of nature.’ Tony Kelly, Managing Director, Yarra Valley Water.

See photos from the recent tour! | Read the CSIRO ECOS article on Biomimicry

A3P Sustainability Action Plan 2006
A3P Sustainability Action Plan Cover

On May 15th 2006 the Australian Plantation Products and Paper Industry Council (A3P) launched its Sustainability Action Plan at the opening session of the 2006 National Business Leaders Forum for Sustainable Development held in Brisbane, convened by Molly Olsen of EcoFutures.

A3P is a significant industry body whose member companies sell more than $5 Billion in product per annum. Chief Executive of A3P Neil Fisher believes that the plan is comprehensive, forward looking and designed to keep the industry focused on actions relating to the 21 issues it addresses.

TNEP joined the team to develop the action plan as part of our mission to contribute to and succinctly communicate leading research, case studies, tools and strategies for achieving a sustainable future across government, business and civil society. Working with Mr Phillip Toyne from EcoFutures Pty Ltd, Michael Smith and Charlie Hargroves focused on drafting, reviewing and editing the action plan including actions, targets and measurement.

Download Summary PDF | View Site

2005 Young Professional Engineer
Young Engineer of the Year 2005

TNEP’s Education Coordinator Cheryl Paten was named Australia’s 2005 Young Professional Engineer of the Year by The Institution of Engineers Australia at the 2005 National Engineering Excellence Awards at Parliament House. This was a particular highlight for The Natural Edge Project as 2005 is Engineers Australia's ‘Year of the Young Engineer’. Terry Charlton, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Snowy Hydro Limited, presented Cheryl with the award. Cheryl accepted the award on behalf of the TNEP network, without whom many of the projects and experiences over the last three years would not have been possible.

Cheryl was recognised for graduating from environmental engineering from Griffith University with a University Medal, four years in an international consulting engineering firm (Arup), eight months on contracts to the Queensland public service (Main Roads and the EPA), and her current collaborative role as Education Coordinator for TNEP and lecturer at Griffith University. She is the TNEP representative on the International Advisory Board for the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, and along with contributing to a range of TNEP programs Cheryl is currently working on a PhD to investigate how to further embed sustainability principles and practices into engineering education. The prize came with a $3,000 cash award and Cheryl decided to donate $2,000 to TNEP to allow the spouses of the team to attend two team development retreats.

Southcott Scholarship at UniSA
Nick Palousis Scholarship

TNEP Secretariat member Nick Palousis started his PhD in 2006 with the University of South Australia in collaboration with TNEP, under the supervision of Professor Lee H.S. Luong, and has been awarded the inaugural William T. Southcott Scholarship. The prestigious scholarship is offered to an outstanding postgraduate research student to undertake research leading to a PhD in the field of Advanced Manufacturing Engineering or related discipline. The research will investigate environmental legislation as a source of risk for the auto industry, in particular emissions and recycling regulations having impacts on both vehicle technologies and manufacturing processes.

The research will explore operational ways to respond to such regulations as the European Union’s End of Vehicle Life (ELV) Directive that will mandate auto manufacturers to increase re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery of vehicles and components at their end-of-life, while phasing out the use of certain hazardous substances by 2007. The ELV Directive will require producers to pay for all or a ‘significant part’ of the costs associated with collection, dismantling, recycling or recovery, and destruction (CDR&D) of End-of-Life Vehicles.

The research will involve the development of an alternative strategic design approach, that assists manufactures to actively consider at the product concept development phase the multiple operational benefits arising from designing vehicles to increase recoverability and reuse. A number of Design for Environment techniques will be selected for investigation, and an impact mapping and assessment method used to determine a design strategy for regulation-compliance that also identifies and optimises the beneficial impacts across the broader set of operational activities within a manufacturing company. The research will also investigate a number of ways to incorporate the design approach within existing knowledge and risk management systems at the product requirements stage of design and outline the design of an expert system to interpret the research findings.

Our Common Future 20 Years on...
OCF Cover

The next flagship publication from The Natural Edge Project (TNEP) will be Sustainable Prosperity OCF20+, a response from our next generation to some key themes from the book Our Common Future (also known as The Brundtland Commission Report) to mark the 20 year anniversary in 2007. This initiative will further TNEP’s activities to raise awareness and understanding of how to achieve sustainable development by further developing the themes in TNEP’s flagship publication The Natural Advantage of Nations. Our project and its work to date has been greatly inspired by the book Our Common Future. We are currently reviewing a range of materials for incorporation into the book and reviewing our strategies following a trip to meet with one of the lead authors of Our Common Future, Jim McNeill, Secretary General to the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1989, after being the Director of Environment for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for 7 years.

Our Common Future was one of the first sustainable development publications to suggest that the twin goals of economic growth and sustainable development could be reconciled. Twenty years on significantly more evidence and research now allows a still deeper understanding and discussion of how this is possible. The goal of Sustainable Prosperity OCF20+ is to further explore in a modern global context the conditions under which society could achieve a form of economic growth that is both socially and environmentally sustainable. The book, Our Common Future, is a landmark publication in many ways and our intention is not to replace it with an update but rather enhance it and develop new material that further develops central issues that it raised. We feel strongly that there is a need to communicate and build on from the frameworks from Our Common Future in a modern context and address the key goals of Our Common Future in the 21st Century.


Charlie, Mike, Cheryl and Nick, the Secretariat
The Natural Edge Project