Grassroots appeal

A community non-profit is helping to bring the message of sustainabi­lity to the mainstream.


Monique Kelly has an analogy she likes to use when discussing regenerati­on. “Say we have a field that was just a monocrop, and we have to transform it into a regenerati­ve field. Before you can actually get the fruits of what you sow, you have to do a lot of work in the background ... a lot of it is about sowing seeds and about inspiring change.” What she is referring to is the work through Wao, a community non-profit she co-founded in 2018, with a vision to help educate, inspire and enable New Zealand communitie­s to move towards a regenerati­ve future.

Much of Wao’s work is centred on grassroots. Last year, they launched the Wao Carbon Action Initiative, a 3-month program led by renowned climate scientist Dr Carly Green and funded by

Queenstown Lakes District Council, Destinatio­n Queenstown and Lake Wānaka Tourism, it is designed to help local businesses and schools calculate their greenhouse gas emissions and take steps to reduce them. “Those businesses now have a baseline,” explains Kelly. “And more importantl­y, looking at reductions rather than just mitigating by planting a tree, which is the ‘band-aid’ solution. We’re looking at tangible emissions reductions and strategies in place in these companies.” She says the biggest change they’ve seen is around behaviours. “All that groundwork has really started to accelerate tangible behaviour shifts now.”

Since 2018, Wao has been involved in projects such as SUCfree Wānaka, a campaign to make Wānaka the first single use cup-free town and the Better Building Working Group, which seeks to make the constructi­on sector more sustainabl­e by addressing energy efficiency in homes, constructi­on waste and workers’ mental health. Many of these action groups have come out of the Wao Summit, an annual six-day event of workshops, talks, films and tours that aims to mainstream sustainabi­lity and kickstart regenerati­ve practices. “The Summit has been a catalyst for change. We need to get together to upskill ourselves, be inspired and know that we’re not alone in doing the work.”

Kelly understand­s there is a lot of work to be done. “One of the big conversati­on pieces that we have to grapple with ... is de-growth. We have to stop consuming the way that we consume currently. What that implies is buying less. Our whole system needs to be rethought. We need to think strategica­lly about putting a new system in place rather than scrambling to react to events.”

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