Geelong is transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

11 February 2014 — The City of Greater Geelong Council’s future proofing initiative is assisting the region transition to a sustainable, innovation-based, low-carbon economy. And, considering last week’s announcement of imminent job cuts at the Geelong-based Ford factory, “Future Proofing Geelong” is well named, and very well timed.

IXL’s Geelong operation is a prime example of the program’s importance. Here, some workers have been transitioned from the manufacture of car components into the fabrication of solar panel components. In November 2013, US-based company First Solar awarded the company a contract to supply framing components for AGL Energy’s large-scale solar PV projects at Broken Hill and Nyngan in far western New South Wales.

When companies such as Ford and Alcoa announce future closures, Future Proofing Geelong aims to be part of developing industry and new jobs in the region.

There are three key strands to the initiative: improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings, supporting the development of new skills and industries, and building community capacity.

The initiative arose from a conjunction of interests: a political lead instigated by a local councillor, internal interest within council by the leader of planning and development, and grassroots leadership within the Geelong community.

“It was a coming together of the right people at the right time, and having the will and the funding,” said Vicky Grosser, City of Greater Geelong Future Proofing project officer.

“What really leads in Geelong is the [awareness of] changing skills and industries, and the need to innovate.”

Future Proofing Geelong commissioned a low carbon growth plan developed for the city by ClimateWorks, covering areas including socioeconomic aspects, reducing the regional carbon footprint and fostering innovation on a local level.

It also developed a cleantech innovations network in partnership with Geelong Manufacturing Council, which has been modelled on the Copenhagen cleantech organisation that grew out of the United Nations Climate Change Summit in 2009.

The Geelong-grown network is developing partnerships with manufacturers and facilitating the use of local sustainable services and products providers for local projects through a directory of local enterprises. The Future Proofing team supports bid writing, research and access to funding for further opportunities for business and clean technology.

“The Geelong community has many skills and trades, and a strong community network,” said Ms Grosser.

“There has been strong commitment and interest from local businesses and unions, and there is strong knowledge and skills in carbon and climate change, which can help to transition workers in the region.”

Ms Grosser said the city would need outside support to achieve the initiative’s goals, however.

“We can only do so much at a local level; we do need funding from outside sources, and the sharing of skills and capabilities is essential.”

Left to right: Future Proofing Geelong team members Vicky Grosser, Terry Demeo and Sarah Storen.

CitySwitch is a good example, with the Future Proofing team using the program to assist commercial building owners and tenants to move towards sustainability.

Their success with the program was recognised with a national runner-up award and two Victorian award nominations at the CitySwitch awards in February.

Future Proofing was recognised for its strong local partnerships, which include local service providers such as electricians and energy assessors.

City of Greater Geelong councillor Andy Richards, who holds the portfolio for environment, praised Future Proofing for their strong working partnerships, which include local service providers.

“The Future Proofing team… has made significant progress in the implementation of the Low Carbon Growth Plan for Geelong,” said Mr Richards.

“Geelong was the first regional city in Australia to develop a low carbon growth plan and this award from CitySwitch is very appropriate recognition of the efforts of the team.

“Within Greater Geelong, the largest financial savings can be captured through improving the energy efficiency of Greater Geelong’s commercial buildings. This could save an average of $12.50 per square metre for building occupants, or a total saving of $25 million across the Geelong economy each year.”

As the key point of contact in Geelong for the CitySwitch program, Ms Grosser works closely with Geelong’s commercial building owners and tenants to support uptake of energy efficiency measures.

“I help owners and building managers to understand the impacts and opportunities, and to see what’s possible with lighting, heating, cooling and building tuning issues. I explain what can be done without replacement [of plant], the payback, costs and savings and give a step-by-step outline,” said Ms Grosser.

“One of the issues is that owners have the responsibility [for energy efficiency] yet it is the tenants who get the benefit. So I work with tenants to provide support for their own actions, such as lighting upgrades, as well as behaviour change – it is very collaborative.”

Ms Grosser works on a week-by-week basis with owners who sign up to CitySwitch, gathering data on how the changes have worked and generating positive stories for local media. Future Proofing Geelong also provides grants to support local building owners to undergo a full energy assessment to identify upgrade opportunities.

Regular meetings are held with a group of five key owners, and their tenants include Slater and Gordon, Bendigo Bank, St John of God Pathology and the Department of Human Services, plus the City of Greater Geelong. They discuss the progress of their action plans with a CitySwitch representative and the Future Proofing team member, and continue fostering the collaborative approach to impacting climate change.

Future Proofing Geelong is motivated to keep looking at the real impacts of energy efficiency programs, and have just reviewed the Geelong Low Carbon Growth Plan in response to data gathered to date.

Geelong has a strong community garden and permaculture movement, which is on show during the Geelong Sustainable Living Festival, which commenced on 8 February and runs until 23 February.

“It takes a long time to engage people,” noted Ms Grosser. “They are usually quite busy and often anxious about what’s happening economically.”

Other initiatives Geelong is pursuing in terms of the built environment include three showcase projects on older buildings carried out with Federal funding from a Community Energy Efficiency Program grant. The project involved two of the city’s leisure centres and the National Wool Museum. Active carbon management programs were carried out to gather impact data and to inform the staff and customers about the project as the energy efficiency upgrades were carried out. A creative community awareness and education program was developed that included animations, documentaries and vox pops. The results look extremely positive.

“In response to an on-site questionnaire, over 80 per cent of customers at the three sites wanted council to keep acting on energy efficiency in its buildings,” said Ms Grosser.

“Gradually – step by step – energy efficiency will be inclusive of everyone. We aim to keep the conversation going, and keep the engagement going.”