Helena Fern

Monash Sustainability Institute’s Green Steps social enterprise unit has appointed Helena Fern as manager. The organisation is in a growth phase, expanding both its industry consulting and education programs in response to growing demand for training in practical sustainability skills.

Previously working in program development and marketing for the organisation, Ms Fern has a background in social enterprise consulting, entrepreneurship education, and marketing across both the public and private sectors.

She told The Fifth Estate the organisation’s workload was increasing, and that more companies were approaching Green Steps for training in sustainability as a voluntary initiative, rather than due to legal or compliance requirements.

“They are seeing sustainability is good for their business,” she said.

The unit has two full-time and four part-time staff, and a wider network of nine Australia-based trainers and two trainers in the UK. Ms Fern said she expects the organisation will grow its capacity in terms of both staff and trainers in the near future as new programs and initiatives get underway.

The organisation’s consultants work with businesses to map out key sustainability challenges and objectives, and identifies where training can support better sustainability outcomes.

“A lot of organisations think of sustainability in technical terms, such as energy, waste and resource efficiency, without educating staff to identify opportunities within their own roles,” Ms Fern said.

There is a need for both a bottom-up approach – of up-skilling individual staff – as well as engagement from the upper-level management of a firm.

The goal is to train individuals to become change agents, and to this end, the organisation will be offering more short courses for business and also piloting an online platform for delivery of sustainability education for Monash students. This platform, if successful, may be expanded to students from other institutions and potentially to the commercial sector.

A third type of training demand is coming from individuals who want to work in the sustainability sector. Ms Fern said the programs offered practical skills training such as how to conduct energy audits, including baseline analysis and assessment.

“Quite a lot of students come out of a masters degree in sustainability, but need practical skills to do the work.”

In 2014, the organisation held 30 bespoke industry training workshops, including a major series for the Australian logistics industry on sustainability in the supply chain, and delivered courses for “hundreds” of business people, workers and students. Other organisations it has worked with include the Australian Conservation Foundation, the YMCA, major manufacturers and retailers including 7/11.

“They are the kind of organisations that once they get top-down support for sustainability, understand their staff also need the skills,” Ms Fern said.

“[Large companies] often make the step because of global trends, not local trends. Some companies are being pressured by global partners to improve [on sustainability] because it minimises risk and positively benefits reputation.”

She said it has been noticeable in the last two years that companies are increasingly needing to “go it alone” due to cuts to government programs around sustainability.

“It’s really important to showcase the value of education around [sustainability], and the innovative edge it brings when staff think creatively.”