Sustainability in the Land Down Under: Welcome (virtually) to Canberra!

The ANU Green Office

The ANU Green Office

After 3 days of travel, including two car rides, two flights, and a three hour bus trip – I’ve made it to Canberra, Australia for a six week Sustainability Fellowship sponsored by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). At the heart of my exploration while I’m here at Australia National University (ANU) is one seriously pressing institutional sustainability issue: what is so different about us? This line of inquiry is prompted by the reality that too often in international discussions of institutional sustainability, variety in calculation methods, organizational structures, geographic or climate differences and a number of other challenges leave us wringing our hands and delaying action because we can’t seem to nail down how we might make the next sustainability driven leap on our campus. In an effort to dispel some of this inertia, while I’m here in Australia I’ll be working to highlight some of the similarities between ANU and Yale in hopes that by highlighting similarities these international comparison conversations can have some more productive ground to grow on. Although this writing will focus on similarities, to be complete I’ll also highlight issues that may make translation of solutions between settings more difficult. So read on over the next few weeks to learn more about what I find!

To set the stage, it seems only polite to introduce you to my temporary home – the City of Canberra and ANU. Canberra is located three hours south of Sydney, seven hours Northeast of Melbourne and a two hour drive from the coast. It is truly an island of a city in a vast expanse of native woodland and grassland. The area was selected as the Australian capital in 1908 and American Walter Burley Griffin was commissioned to plan the city. Comprised of many distinct neighborhoods, each with unique character and composition, Canberra has the feeling of a much smaller city. Today, the lake that bears Burley Griffin’s name is the centrepiece of an active and outdoorsy capital city which is home to 340,000 Australians.

With 32 tons of greenhouse gasses emitted annually per Australian – one of the highest per capita rates in the world – transportation is a key consideration here in Canberra. As a frequent user of the Farmington Canal Rail Trail in New Haven, I have been overjoyed to see how thickly integrated into transit bicycling is here. The city is full of bicycle trails and bicycle lanes (see a map here). It is a popular commuting choice in this city whose annual precipitation of 24.7 inches and whose average temperature ranges from 40 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (this compared to New Haven’s 52.62 inches of precipitation annually and temperatures from -2 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit) lends itself easily to a bicycling lifestyle. I’ve personally been loving the climate here which feels just like Halloween to me – cool and crisp.

As the national capital, Canberra is a cultural center too – home to the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library and Archives, and of course, ANU. Established by an act of Federal Parliament in 1946, the ANU is the preeminent research university in Australia. The campus is comprised of over 200 buildings and covers 145 hectares in downtown Canberra – a region known as Civic. The campus itself is very green with over 10,000 trees including many endangered species. The university houses seven academic colleges which serve all 14,365 students, however only a small proportion of these students actually live on campus. The student population is quite diverse, with 3,379 international students from 106 countries in attendance.

While here I’ll be working at the ANU Green Office which is the operational counterpart to Yale’s Office of Sustainability. The ANU Green office has been in place for 10 years and thus has almost twice the history of Yale’s Office of Sustainability. The office has a staff of 14 enthusiastic people who have introduced me to the campus and Canberra very graciously. The only issue I’ve taken with them is that so far – their kangaroo spotting advice has left a lot to be desired – but don’t worry, I’m not giving up!

View of Canberra from Mt. Ainslie

View of Canberra from Mt. Ainslie

Also of Note:

Days in Australia without a kangaroo sighting: 11 😦

Terrapass has helped me to offset the 19,474 miles of air travel for my adventure for the low bargain price of $53.52


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