The Bower repair cafe group

Sustainability jobs in the not-for-profit sector are flourishing with several organisations looking for talent in Sydney and Melbourne.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) is hiring a research associate in Sydney to focus on the Indian and Bangladesh energy markets.

IEEFA is a global institute that conducts independent research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment. Its goal is to accelerate the transition to a diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy.

IEEFA energy finance analyst Simon Nicholas said the Asian market had become an area of growth for the institute, with three new employees hired in Sydney, Manila and Singapore in the last 12 months.

Tim Buckley, former head of equity research at Citigroup, leads the Sydney team.

Simon Nicholas, IEEFA

“Particularly we look at China and India, where obviously the economies are growing very fast,” Mr Nicholas said. “A lot of the focus is on what is going on there because that drives the global coal market, seaborne coal trade.

“But they are also rapidly expanding in renewable energy, which is the key focus for us in the Asia region, and of course the two are highly connected.”

India’s rapid shift

Mr Nicholas said it had become challenging to keep pace with what’s going on in India as very ambitious renewable energy targets transform the sector. Wind and solar are major growth areas.

“They started off with wind quite early, a number of years ago, and wind expanded quite quickly,” he said. “They moved to a reverse auction system for wind – it was the first one in the whole of Asia.”

India achieved record-low wind prices this year. However, according to Mr Nicholas, it’s the utility-scale solar that has become most impressive.

“This year, 2017, has been a big breakthrough in solar,” he said. “They want to produce 175 gigawatts by 2022, which is huge.

“Solar has been expanding very quickly and the price has been coming down at an extraordinary rate. This year we’ve seen the price drop to what is now below the cost of existing coal-fired power plants, so that’s a major turning point in India.”

While solar has been competitive with potential new coal-fired power plants, it’s now cheaper than the electricity from existing plants. In addition, the electricity demand growth hasn’t been as high as expected.

“The government is now accepting that they don’t need to initiate any new coal-fired power plants until at least 2027 so that’s a major turn-around that’s been happening recently in India.”

A challenge for the new recruit

IEEFA’s new recruit will be tasked with tracking what is happening across the vast country.

“We try to track what is going on with the central government but there are also all different levels going on with state governments as well, so it’s very hard for our small team to keep up,” Mr Nicholas said.

IEEFA is seeking a “numbers” person who has some experience working in or with India or major Indian companies.

While there’s potential for Australian companies to break into the renewables market in India, Mr Nicholas said they would have to compete with all the big international players.

“Things have been a bit slower taking off [in Australia], especially utility-scale solar. It’s really only just kicking off now, so Australia is a bit behind the rest of the world,” he said.

“We’re starting to see some large international companies move into the area in India so there’s going to be a lot of competition.”

Appetite grows for upcycling

Upcycling is gathering momentum in Sydney, with The Bower Reuse & Repair Centre Co-op hiring an extra two people to facilitate its expansion.

Cooperative manager Guido Verbist said The Bower had opened a new store in Parramatta and was in the process of setting up a new store in Penrith.

“In fact, in our business plan we talk about four stores and a distribution centre in the next four years,” he said. “North of the bridge we want to have a store; Sutherland Shire we want to have a store; and there are talks with all of those councils already in place to make that happen.”

The Bower upholstery

The Bower works with umbrella organisations such as the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, and has licensing agreements with 21 councils for collection and rehoming of second-hand goods.

“We rehome them or we take them to our store and repair them, and we move them on to other locations, and that’s a big part of our service,” Mr Verbist said. “It’s growing and that’s why those councils are interested in having a local presence.”

The Bower employs 16 full-time and part-time workers, and there are also 20 regular volunteers as well.

“We are organising ourselves for a larger scale of operations,” Mr Verbist said. “I’m going to be less available in the Marrickville area, and travelling more in other locations. That’s why we need a store manager for Marrickville that can operate independently and an operations manager is needed to oversee all the other programs we run.”

An appetite for repair cafes

Mr Verbist, who came to Australia from Belgium where he ran a recycling centre, said an appetite for repair cafes was starting to emerge in Australia.

“It’s growing, which is a good sign,” he said.

The Bower repair cafe sign

The Bower started the first repair cafe in Australia in 2014 in Marrickville and now there are a couple in Melbourne and northern NSW.

“We have our own in Marrickville at our store every Wednesday and in Parramatta once a month,” Mr Verbist said. In addition, numerous councils hire The Bower to run repair cafes for their own residents.

The concept of repair cafes comes from The Netherlands.

“A lot of the concepts that were already in place there I thought would be great to roll out here in Australia – and repair cafes is one of those,” Mr Verbist said. “There are not a lot of second-hand programs in Australia that do similar things to what The Bower does as a reuse and repair centre.”

Most programs are recycling or resource recovery, which is a level below reuse. Most recycling is “downcycling” to basic materials such as metal or timber.

“What we do is upcycling – giving it a new function,” he said. “We try to repurpose the same goods and repair them and give people the opportunity to learn.”

The Bower is looking to do more in the field.

“There is a growing trend and an interest for [repair] so that’s the positive thing, but there are also some obstacles or hurdles that need to be overcome.”

One is the legal side – the requirement for repairs to be conducted by certified tradespeople. Another problematic area is the reuse of toys and infant car seats.

Mr Verbist said it was important to make repairing items more acceptable and convenient.

“In Sweden, for example, there are tax breaks for people who are active in the repair industry to encourage repairs. Because nowadays it is actually cheaper to throw it away and buy another cheap replacement item than to pay the normal hourly rate you have to pay for repairs.”