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Emma Bombonato
A sustainable Australian icon

36 min 12 sec

As environmental sustainability manager at the Sydney Opera House, Emma Bombonato helps determine the trajectory of the iconic institution’s sustainability program. The Opera House is a world-leader in sustainability. It was the first heritage building in Australia to achieve a 5-star green rating and achieved carbon neutrality five years ahead of schedule. Bombonato and her team are currently focussed on making the building and organisation climate positive. Bombonato is a member of the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Destination Partnership leadership panel and the co-chair of the engagement working group. In 2019, she was selected to join the C40 Women4Climate program which enables women in leadership to advocate for climate action.

Paddy Manning is an investigative journalist, contributing editor of The Monthly and author of Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us. Over two decades in journalism he has reported extensively on climate change, including for The Monthly, ABC RN’s Background Briefing, Crikey, SMH/The Age, Australian Financial Review and The Australian. He was the founding publishing editor of Ethical Investor magazine. Manning has written six books, including a forthcoming biography of Lachlan Murdoch, and is currently undertaking a doctorate with the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University, on ‘A Century of News Corporation in Australia’.

The Sydney Opera House is one of our nation’s most treasured cultural landmarks. With almost 11 million visitors per year, the Sydney Opera House illustrates how even the largest organisations can take creative approaches to energy and waste management to address the climate crisis.

World leadership in sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s also about recognising the environment and social sustainability is equally as important.

– Emma Bombonato

Heritage conservation is just another form of sustainability because … what we want to do is change as much as necessary, as little as possible.

– Emma Bombonato

One of the best parts of my job is to be able to provide that leadership and guidance, to be able to say, ‘If a World Heritage listed building like the Opera House can be carbon neutral … you can do it to.’

– Emma Bombonato

Every single bin of waste … that comes through the Opera House has to be weighed off using a scale.

– Emma Bombonato

I think that art and culture has a really important place in the sustainable development for the future.

– Emma Bombonato

World leadership in sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s also about recognising the environment and social sustainability is equally as important.

– Emma Bombonato

Paddy Manning

Welcome everyone, to 100 Climate Conversations and thank you for joining us. I’m Paddy Manning, today is number 41 of 100 conversations happening every Friday. The series presents 100 visionary Australians that are taking positive action to respond to the most critical issue of our time, which is climate change. We’re recording live today in the Boiler Hall of the Powerhouse museum. Before it was home to the museum, it was the Ultimo Power Station. Built in 1899, it supplied coal powered electricity to Sydney’s tram system into the 1960s. In the context of this architectural artefact, we shift our focus forward to the innovations of the net zero revolution.

I’d like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands on which we meet today, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation. We respect their Elders past, present and future, and recognise their continuous connection to Country.

And now I’d like to introduce Emma as environmental sustainability manager at the Sydney Opera House. Emma Bombonato helps determine the trajectory of the iconic institution’s sustainability program. The Opera House was the first heritage building in Australia to achieve a five-star green rating and achieve carbon neutrality five years ahead of schedule, Bombonato and her team are currently focused on making the building and the organisation climate positive. We are so thrilled to have her join us today. Please join me in welcoming Emma.

So, Emma, tell us a bit about your upbringing as a tomboy from Mudgee who barely wore shoes for first 15 years. Is that about, right?

Emma Bombonato

That’s a pretty good way to sum it up, yes. So, I grew up in Mudgee for the first half of my life and it’s fair to say that I spent a lot of time, even though I lived in town, I didn’t live in the property. I spent the first part of my life being really influenced by being outdoors, climbing trees, going camping all of the time, spending lots of time in nature, you know, looking for frogs, creating homes for ants and insects, and doing all of those things, which I think provided a really solid foundation for me to care enough about nature, to want to really have a role to protect it and make an impact.

PM

I understand one of your childhood heroes was Ranger Stacey. What drew you to her?

EB

I think at the time it was because I was looking for a place or a career where I wanted to be outdoors. And when Ranger Stacey came on television for Totally Wild, she was a national parks ranger, and she was always talking about the fact that she’d spent her time outdoors, you know, wildlife conservation, looking after the bush. And that really resonated with me. So, when I saw her as a female park ranger, I thought, Well, that feels like the perfect sort of role for me to get into when I left school.

PM

Was it a straight line from there to studying environmental management at Newcastle University?

EB

My focus after school was very much looking after the environment. So, going to a university where environment and sustainability in terms of degrees weren’t very common. So, I really wanted to find something that was the best fit. So, I found an environmental science degree at Newcastle University. Actually, one of my favorite subjects was climatology, so we spent a lot of time talking about future issues and risks and understanding things around the importance of renewable energy and Australia contributing via fossil fuels. And so, that was on the radar probably second year uni and as I continued through my university degree I really honed in on that as being a really important issue.

PM

So, your first major job in the field, I understand was at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. You spent more than a decade there.

EB

I did.

PM

How do you make a zoo more sustainable? Do you let the animals go or what do you do?

EB

It was very early days at Taronga in terms of environmental management. Very focused on risk and compliance and what I spent a long time doing was working to separate out the safety and environment portfolio which I was attached to at the time. And I wanted to make sure that, you know, as a wildlife conservation organisation, sustainability is really at the heart of everything, and it is so important for an organisation like that to lead by example. So, over about 10 years or so, I worked my way up into different roles, and by the end of my time at the zoo, I had the role as manager of environmental sustainability, and it was really important for me to leave that role knowing that sustainability was strategically embedded into their organisational strategy.

Heritage conservation is just another form of sustainability because … what we want to do is change as much as necessary, as little as possible.

– Emma Bombonato

PM

You make a small jump, but a big jump in some ways to the other side of the harbor, landing the job as the environmental manager at the Opera House. How did that come about?

EB

I really wanted to work for an organisation where I knew that sustainability was important, it was strategically important. And I looked around for organisations that I knew had a really global brand and a wide reach. And actually, I had an epiphany on the ferry ride where I was thinking, what kind of organisation can I work with that ticks all of those boxes? And literally the answer was right in front of me, the Opera House, and the opportunity came up and as soon as the role was advertised, I knew that was the next role for me.

PM

The word iconic is overused, but when it comes to talking about the Opera House, it’s kind of an understatement. Given the Opera House is World Heritage listed, there must be a tension between maximising the environmental efficiency, which is your job, and then keeping intervention to a minimum. How do you balance and resolve those tensions?

EB

Heritage conservation is just another form of sustainability because if you think about heritage, what we want to do is change as much as necessary, as little as possible, so we will only intervene when we need to. As an example of that, it would be the renewal program that we’ve just undertaken over the last 10 years to make the building accessible, we would consider that necessary. But when you’re looking at the auditorium as an example, there’s 5,000 seats in the auditorium that are checked every single day, and they are the original seats that have been there since the building opened for the most part, and all of those seats are inspected to make sure that we’re retaining them for heritage. But that also has a sustainability outcome because we don’t need to input new materials and we want to retain it, which extending its life makes that more sustainable. So, it works really well together.

PM

Do you think heritage conservation is sustainable by definition in some ways?

EB

It definitely can be. And particularly when you’re starting to talk about adaptive reuse of spaces and making sure that you are obviously looking at the conservation and management of a building like the Opera House. The fact that it is as it was when it opened in 1973 is making sure that we’re prolonging the life of the building and not changing it to the point where we need to input new materials or thinking about what happens items at the end of their life because they are living longer. And we’re making sure that that’s a really important part of the way that heritage and sustainability works together.

We were really, really lucky that Jørn Utzon, the original Danish architect, was very visionary and was inspired by nature in terms of the way that the building is designed, but also to the functional elements in the engineering. So, Ove Arup was one of the engineers and coming to a solution which was really pioneering, and innovative time was the seawater cooling system. And so that system uses the seawater water to help heat and cool the building, which is still considered really efficient 50 years later. And we’re very happy that that was the case because obviously the Opera House to maintain and heat and cool the building uses electricity and we need to make sure that that is as efficient, run as efficiently as it can. And it’s a really important part of the foundation of our sustainability program in terms of looking at our annual carbon emissions.

PM

Do you think cultural institutions like the Opera House have been a sort of environmental blind spot in some ways that they, like an arts body, has a get out of jail free card?

EB

I think that art and culture has a really important place in the sustainable development for the future, and it’s important that we recognise the role of art and culture as the hearts and the minds of talking to our community. So, we know that art and culture can connect with people through all sorts of different mediums, whether it’s dancing on stage, performance art, photography or any type of art media, that heart connection is really important for us to be able to then talk about issues that are important. Hopefully, we use art and culture to inspire people and be part of that positive change that is needed in the world.

PM

But they’re low impact, aren’t they? It’s not like a coal fired power station or a landfill or something, really a big smokestack. People didn’t really expect the Opera House to be green, did they?

One of the best parts of my job is to be able to provide that leadership and guidance, to be able to say, ‘If a World Heritage listed building like the Opera House can be carbon neutral … you can do it to.’

– Emma Bombonato

EB

I think I still get a lot of questions, actually, about what is sustainability and the Opera House? And what does it have to do with one another? And I say it’s actually so important and not just environmental sustainability, social sustainability. So, issues that we know they’re important to the community like accessibility, First Nations, diversity inclusion, all of those elements work together to make sure that we are responding to issues that people feel really passionately about. And as an example of that, in 2018, when the Opera House was certified carbon neutral five years ahead of its goal, what we wanted to do was create a really important moment. So, we lit the sails green.

And the response was overwhelming from Australia and also around the world because people are inspired by what they see. And the result of that is not only community positive response but also other industry, other cultural institutions, private business who want to talk to us and say, well, how did you do that? What was involved? And probably one of the best parts of my job is to be able to provide that leadership and guidance, to be able to say, ‘If a World Heritage listed building like the Opera House can be carbon neutral and we can follow all of the steps, you can do it, too.’

PM

If you take us back to 2014 when you first sought a five-star Green Star rating. I understand there was no precedent, no benchmarks you could measure yourself against. How did you do it?

EB

Well, sustainability has been important to the Opera House, having a dedicated role since around 2010. And one of the challenges for the sustainability manager at the time was to make some statements about wanting to be a leader in sustainability, to be bold and ambitious, like the Opera House through sustainability. How do we do that by benchmarking? There is no other organisation or performing arts institute that you can really compare to. So, the important part of our Green Star performance rating was to create a tool which was independent, which enabled the Opera House to go and look at its performance against itself over various iterations.

So, 4 Star Green Star was the starting point. That’s equivalent to best practice in sustainability in Australia. 5 Star, which we are currently rated, is equivalent to Australian excellence in sustainability and 6 Star is a rating that is equivalent to global leadership and that’s what we are hoping to achieve by 2023, which is our 50th year. And it will be a really ambitious but important moment for the Opera House to celebrate.

PM

In 2017, you kicked off a three-year collaboration with the University of Technology in the University of Sydney, installing nine artificial hexagonal reefs along the sea wall around the Bennelong point, designed to revitalise marine life and restore natural habitats. I understand you had some success, even had the return of a gloomy octopus.

EB

We did, yes, you’re right. The gloomy octopus, yes, or the Sydney octopus. We installed the reefs as part of a research project with the University of Technology. And that was a really important way for us to be able to contribute to what we consider is the Opera House’s backyard, beautiful Sydney Harbor in a really positive way. Those structures were deployed along a seawall, and we know that artificial seawalls are related to a decline in biodiversity. So, by bringing back those structures, we’re bringing back the habitat.

And as a result of those structures being implemented over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in species from the baseline surveys by about eight. And yes, the gloomy octopus was one of the first tenants, but really excitingly and recently the last survey that was undertaken by our marine ecologist, Professor David Booth and Gigi Beretta, they came bundling out of the water, so excited that they had spotted a seahorse. And what we thought at the time was a really important find ended up being a white seahorse, which is an endangered species. So, it was really lovely and exciting for us and the whole team to know that these structures are actually doing the job that that was intended to create habitat for marine species.

PM

In 2018, my friend Helen Pitt, who’s author of the Walkley Award winning book The House on the story of the Opera House, reported that you’d achieved, and we’ve mentioned earlier, carbon neutrality five years ahead of schedule. How high were emissions and how did you get them down?

EB

Yes, we have been working, like I mentioned before, on carbon emissions reduction over many years. So, 2010 was really the time when sustainability and energy efficiency became a central focus. When we first started looking at emissions and actually measuring those, our annual emissions is around 20,000 tonnes every year and we are now reduced by about 26 per cent. So, we’re working on that through efficiency.

The most important thing for our annual carbon emissions is the amount of electricity that we use. And so, there has been a lot of investment over years to make the systems at the Opera House more efficient. The chillers is a really good example of that. So, an upgrade to the chiller system in 2017 enabled the Opera House to reduce emissions by an extra 9 or 10 per cent, which is a really important project. Also in the concert hall, a project in 2015 to upgrade all of the lights from the existing original lights to LED enabled the efficiency in the concert hall to drop by about 75 per cent. So, another really important project.

In that heritage piece that you mentioned before, it wasn’t just a matter of replacing existing lights with new LED lights. Those lights had to be redesigned specifically for the Opera House to make sure that we could show the original heritage color or the hue that the original lights were able to emit. So, a really special project and something that was part of our 2015 Green Star rating.

PM

So, how do you get from a 26 per cent reduction to carbon neutrality and what does that term actually mean?

EB

Carbon neutrality looks at our overall emissions, so looking at electricity, our waste production, our water use, and our peripheral services, which might be flights and the way that our staff get to the Opera House. All of those elements go into our carbon footprint, which we calculate every year and have been doing since certification. So, over that time, we’ve been reducing our emissions as much as we can, and that’s a continual process. We’re always working to reduce our emissions year on year and electricity being really important part of that, because 85 per cent of our emissions comes from electricity.

We have renewable energy as part of our electricity purchase. So, we have solar offsite that we offtake electricity from every year and also a wind farm. And then when we get to a residual emissions point, as in the hard to abate emissions, we offset the amount of residual emissions by investing in projects around Australia and also overseas that are certified climate active, which is an independent certification that we use to be certified against the scheme.

PM

A big part of the sustainability strategy of the Opera House has been waste reduction, diverting waste from landfill. And you’ve got some very ambitious targets around that and I’ve actually been there in the bowels of the house with you last week. I understand most of the problem is from food and beverage, isn’t it?

EB

Yes. So, 3 million food and beverage meals sold every year at the Opera House and 80 per cent of our total waste actually comes from our food and beverage operators. So, we have different operators in the Opera House and it’s really important for us to work really closely with our food and beverage operators and our team, to look for opportunities for us to reduce our waste through recycling as much as we can. Also looking at food organics, also looking at ways to remove single use plastic across the venues which we have done. And those strategies have been a work in progress over the last couple of years.

PM

One of the things that struck me was a little computer panel where you weigh every bin that goes out of the Opera House.

Every single bin of waste … that comes through the Opera House has to be weighed off using a scale.

– Emma Bombonato

EB

You’re right. Every single bin of waste that comes through, or recycling, that comes through the Opera House has to be weighed off using a scale. And that data goes through to a portal for us that allows us to be able to have a conversation with every single operator on site. Say, ‘This is your performance this month, we know that 70 per cent of your waste is being recycled because you’re doing the right thing. We know that there’s five out of 10 bins that are being contaminated and there’s opportunity for us to work more what resources you might need to improve your performance.’ And we also want to know that food waste is being separated out and also that we’re looking at options to reduce our total generation of waste as well, which is really important. Since we implemented the waste scale system, we’ve seen the performance of our operators and the recycling diversion going from around 40 to 50 per cent all the way up to 95 per cent.

PM

And how do those conversations go? Is it sort of like, ‘Oh thanks Emma, thanks for pointing that out, that’s really great to know.’ Or is it like, ‘Yeah, well, you know, people are stupid, and they put things in the wrong bins,’ and an endless list of complaints, or is everybody on board?

EB

I think it’s taken a little while for us to get a really good team together, so we have our own – I work with Amanda Or who’s a sustainability officer and part of my team. We also work with the Opera House’s food and beverage contract managers, and then we also work with our cleaning and waste providers. And all together we work on making sure that operators have everything that they need to succeed. They have all of the information to see where the opportunities are for them to do well. And our operators, generally speaking, are so on board with wanting to perform well that we see a little bit of friendly competition when we know that we’re talking about diversion targets between each one and that has seen a really great outcome at the last few years.

PM

You’ve even now pioneered green cleaning products at the Opera House. There’s a wonderful story of Steve Tsoukalas, if I’m pronouncing that correctly, the Greek immigrant who worked at the Opera House for 50 years, he actually wrote to Utzon didn’t he? Before he used bicarb soda as a cleaning product on the concrete.

EB

Yes. We talk about Steve with so much fondness because he always talked about the Opera House, his wife at home, and also his wife being the Opera House itself. And he was so passionate, really wanted to find types of products that were friendly for staff and nontoxic, but also protected the heritage fabric of the Opera House. So, we have granite, and we have bronze, and we have glass and concrete. All of those heritage fabrics are really important to look after. So, Steve actually came up with his own recipes, which, you’re right, are adopted now as part of our conservation management plan to be used, which includes methylated spirits, bicarb soda, soap flakes and olive oil. All of those that work together to protect heritage fabric and look after the place.

PM

The olive oil goes onto the brass?

EB

It does, it acts as a as a film to protect it.

PM

And Utzon was stoked apparently.

EB

And it’s great, and we have the recipes, and we always talk about the fact that these are really simple things that you can do at home to replace using chemicals for cleaning. And they are all natural products, super safe for people and you can use them in your home just as much as we can use them for the Opera House.

PM

In 2019, you stepped it up a bit, adopting at the Opera House, the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They’re broader than simply environment and you mentioned heritage conservation and diversity and so forth. How do those global goals intersect with social goals? Is that another kind of balancing act?

EB

Well, we have, as I mentioned before, environmental and social community programs. And in 2019, you’re right, we announced that we would align all of those community plans with the United Nations global goals. And that was really important for us because it provides a framework for us to talk about environmental and social sustainability together. We know that they’re connected. We know that people in the community are just as important as the environment and the natural world. So, we wanted to be able to say that these 17 goals to address the most pressing issues of the world, like inequality, poverty and climate are important to us. And it’s a global platform and it’s a global language and it’s recognisable. So, that really enabled us to elevate the way that we talk about our community programs as interrelated and as important as each other.

I think that art and culture has a really important place in the sustainable development for the future.

– Emma Bombonato

PM

So now, as you mentioned, you’re aiming for world leadership, but the Opera House blazing a trail again, trying to achieve a 6 Star Green Star rating. So, what will that involve?

EB

So next year, looking at net zero is a really important part of that, making sure that we’re continuing to improve our energy and our waste performance. Also looking at social elements. So, world leadership in sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s also about recognising the environment and social sustainability is equally as important. The global goals is an important part of that and the work that we’ve been doing in that space, and also looking at really tangible ways that we can make a difference through the operation of the Opera House. So, as an example, procurement, and looking at the way that we can embed sustainability into the way that we buy goods and services, invest in different products, and we’re also looking at sustainable events as well. So, the way not just the Opera House in terms of the building functions, but also the way that we put on events in the venue to embed sustainability from the very beginning through planning all the way through to delivery and at the end.

PM

When will you know or when will you get it?

EB

Our fingers and toes crossed. We will know next year in 2023.

PM

And I understand you’re going that next step further. You’re also aiming to achieve climate positivity. What does that mean?

EB

By next year, we’ll have a pathway to achieve climate – be climate positive by 2030. So, we’re definitely working on the construct of that right now and what that means. We also know that part of that is to think about nature and how we can also pull in being nature positive and being part of that really important sentiment. But there’s, I guess, two parts of it, the technical element of being climate positive is effectively the definition of putting back more than you take. That framework is provided really well by the Green Building Council. They have a climate positive pathway that we would align with to achieve that. The other part of it is our programing. So, it’s so important as part of what we do is to make sure that the programing that we do at the Opera House contributes in a positive way to inspire people around climate action.

PM

I saw I think it was earlier this year you had a production called THAW. Where you are craning a kind of melting iceberg upside down, dripping with a sign, no time – time to act on climate, or –

EB

No time to waste. Yeah, that’s another really great example and THAW was a production by Legs On The Wall was part of Sydney Festival. So, that was a 2.7 tonne block of ice and there was a performance, it was performance art. So, dancers were hoisted up with the ice by a crane, as you said, over the harbor and over a couple of days that 2.7 tonne block of ice was dripping and diminishing. And so, to talk about climate in a performance art way isanother really important way for us to have all of the people who come to the site look at it and talk about what does this mean with their children and why is this important? And, you know, it’s a really important space for us to be able to talk about climate, but through an artistic lens. So, that’s why when we were talking about the role of art and culture, it can play a really fundamental role in getting those important conversations happening.

PM

And that’s part of being climate positive.

EB

Yeah, we will create that framework that really makes sure that our programing is just as important as the technical elements of being climate positive.

PM

While you’re doing that. You also have to make sure the Opera House is climate resilient, don’t you? So, impacts like heat waves, other extreme weather events, sea level rise. How do you make sure that the Opera House is ready for those challenges?

EB

In 2019, we partnered with the New South Wales Government and Climate Risk Ready Project and that was about pulling together those important stakeholders across the Opera House, everywhere, from the experiences to operations, infrastructure, maintenance, food and beverage, all of the different elements that make up the everyday at the Opera House to think about what climate risk could look like over varying scenarios and in the future, 50 years, 100 years, 150 years. And we have taken those priority risks and we’re working on building that into our larger enterprise risk framework. So, climate change in terms of weather extremes is absolutely being adopted into our risk framework, but also to think about how we can work on developing an adaptation plan for now, because we know, as an example, extreme weather is an impact to our outdoor events and those types of things. So, we have to be really conscious of the amount of monitoring that we’re doing now and also thinking about the future.

PM

How do you cope on those really hot days? Does the building perform well and how do you manage to preserve amenity for all of the customers that are coming through the place?

EB

The building itself is really important in terms of the heating and cooling system is linked to a building management control system. It was a part of that project that I mentioned to you earlier and has enabled us to achieve some efficiency. It’s like the brains of the building. It enables us to monitor temperatures for internal comfort, but also it draws in external environmental conditions. So, if there’s high UV, if there’s going to be a hot day, if we know it’s going to rain or be high humidity, all of that information is fed into our building management control system and allows the building to respond.

So, as an example, if we know the building management control system tells us that it’s going to be 30 degrees for the next two or three days, the building will respond by sending an alert out, that tells us to close all of the doors, just like at home. Obviously, you don’t put the air conditioner on and then open the doors. And also it enables us to raise set points around the spaces that are transient. So, the foyer spaces, we might raise the temperature by a couple of degrees. It’s still cool and comfortable compared to outside, but we want to be making sure that the spaces inside are run as efficiently as we can.

PM

And there’s a predictive element too isn’t there. And so, what about sea level rise? Is that the elephant in the room here? There’s only 400 millimeters clearance until the sea literally starts to get into the services of the building. There’s been a 100 ml rise already. You’ve got 400 ml to go. I mean, Utzon wanted the building to last 250 years? But it can’t withstand metres of sea level rise, can it?

EB

Well, it’s definitely something that is part of that project that I was talking to you about before, Climate Risk Ready Priority Projects. It’s also looking at more holistically sea level rise, but also the impact of storm surges and overtopping from king tides. The weather looking at East Coast lows, how all of those elements impact the building and what we know at the moment is to get really good data on all of all of that, to continue to monitor over time. And obviously thinking about future renewals and upgrades of the building. We have to make sure that when we’re making those decisions or planning on new projects, that we’re absolutely embedding that kind of thinking into new design as part of our adaptation. It’s really important.

PM

How important has it been to have the support from the top, particularly the CEO, Louise Herron?

EB

So important. Actually, it’s the reason why I wanted to work for the Opera House because I knew that sustainability was already strategically really important, obviously, to the Opera House generally, again, environmental and social sustainability. One of the first meetings that I had with Louise when I started literally in my first week was, ‘Hello Emma, it’s great to have you on board, sustainability is really important, we have to get this right.’ So, I was equally as fearful of that statement because I was like, oh, this is a lot of pressure to make sure that we are doing all of the things we need to do. But I was equally as relieved to know that I’d absolutely made the right decision. Because Louise and our executive team and also my director, Ian Cashin, they are so on board with how important sustainability is. And I’ve just in the last six years had so much support to achieve all of these really ambitious goals. I guess the proof is in the pudding in terms of great leadership that we have.

PM

You were part of a program that’s now, I think included but called Women for Climate, it was a network. You nominated someone called Bec Dawson as your mentor at that time a few years ago. Can you tell us a bit about her and her work for Resilience Sydney?

EB

Yes. So, Bec Dawson was my mentor. All of the mentorees were attached to somebody that was a female leader working in the climate space. Bec Dawson is the chief resilience officer for City of Sydney, and I had the pleasure of meeting with her once a month and also being involved with lots of different events throughout the year to be able to help me work out what is so important in terms of my own leadership style and the things that I wanted to do from a professional development perspective, but also helped me along the road of, you know, what does climate positive look like? Are we on the right trajectory? How is that going to work for the Opera House and the global goals? And all of those elements were really important for that. And Bec talks about the fact that she’s paid to worry about Sydney. So, she’s looking at resilience from a much broader perspective, but climate resilience is obviously a really important role of hers.

PM

You’re the incoming chair of the City of Sydney, Sustainable Destinations Partnership. That’s part of a broader push to make tourism destinations greener. Can you tell us about that? Who are the partners?

EB

Yes. The Sustainable Destination Partnership is, as you said, the tourism and accommodation sector. So, it includes other cultural institutions and tourist destinations like the Australian Museum and the Powerhouse is a member and the point of the network is obviously, as I mentioned before, networks are so important to provide each other the opportunity to share resources, knowledge, expertise and just keep everybody trekking along in a really positive way. But it’s also to make sure that that partnership supports the city’s sustainability strategy for 2030 and to put Sydney well and truly on the map as a sustainable destination. So, we are tasked with looking at our emissions collectively across the partnership of hotels and accommodation, as accommodation sector and also for tourist attractions, but also to look at how we best communicate to inspire other parts of the sector to get on board with emissions reduction, renewable energy, diverting waste from landfill, all those really important parts of reducing our environmental footprint as a collective.

PM

So, I understand there’s also a new global index that’s being developed to rank cities according to the sustainability of them as tourist destinations, I guess. So, where is Sydney sitting now and what’s the aim?

EB

Yes, the Global Destination Sustainability Index. So, another bit of a mouthful. That is global. It’s an index that recognises cities for their sustainability credentials. So, that’s part of the Sustainable Destination Partnership work. We want Sydney to be recognised in that ranked in the top ten. At the moment Sydney is ranked 27th place, so we definitely have a little bit of work to do. But recognising that this network exists, like this sustainable destination partnership and working collectively is the type of things that helps us elevate our rank.

PM

Finally, Emma, when you knock off and you go home, do you implement all those same sustainable practices that you introduced at the Opera House?

EB

I do. I do my best to make sure that, you know, I’m a mum, of course, with two kids that see every day that I go to work for an organisation that’s really committed to sustainability and leadership by example for the Opera House is just as important for me personally. So, at home, you know, my kids see me trying to encourage them to do basic things like recycling food waste, obviously supporting renewable energy, making sure we’re catching public transport, everything that we can do at a local level. We have a veggie garden, we have worm farms, we have a compost. All of those things I see as really important for them to take this really big global issue of climate down to really tangible things that you can do, which I think is important because it gives you the power back and some control in your own space to say, ‘Well, you know, I can’t necessarily go out and do all of these really big things yet because I’m only 10, but what I can do is help with making sure that my food goes in the right bin, it feeds our worms, and then we have a veggie patch.’ And so, all of those stories are talked about a lot in our house.

PM

Emma, thank you so much. If you could please join me in a round of applause.

EB

Thank you Paddy.

PM

To follow the program online, you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit the 100 Climate Conversations exhibition or join us for a live recording like this one. You can go to 100climateconversations.com and just search for 100 Climate Conversations in your pod catcher of choice.

This is a significant new project for the museum and the records of these conversations will form a new climate change archive preserved for future generations in the Powerhouse collection of over 500,000 objects that tell the stories of our time. It is particularly important to First Nations peoples to preserve conversations like this, building on the oral histories and traditions of passing down our knowledges, sciences and innovations which we know allowed our Countries to thrive for tens of thousands of years.

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