Sustainable Coastlines CEO Sam Judd's been a busy fella. Last year alone they cleaned up over 26.5 tonnes of rubbish, delivered presentations to more than 21,000 people, and brought the Flagship Education Centre to life right in the heart of the Auckland waterfront. Now, a couple weeks before the Flagship officially opens its doors, Sam shares the inside word with us on what it will mean for our beautiful beaches, and how on earth they've made it all happen.
Back in 2009, we made our way out to Aotea/Great Barrier Island where we removed 2.8 tonnes of rubbish from the coastline. Then, when we returned a year later, we collected 3.1 tonnes of rubbish from the very same beaches. We realised there was a constant flow of rubbish entering the Hauraki Gulf and that clean-ups were essentially the proverbial ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. So, our solution was to build a fence at the top of that cliff through comprehensive education programmes.
We know that training people works – longitudinal studies that we have carried out with professional psychologists have shown sustained educational impact - so a key focus became how to motivate them.
We also know there are different leverage points for everyone. For example, younger children (especially girls) really engage when they see the impact plastic has on wildlife and we have seen them become extremely passionate about saving birds and turtles.
Adolescents are in an egocentric phase as they go through puberty, meaning that they care less about adult influence and more about issues that affect them and their peers directly. We found an excellent way to get this difficult-to-motivate group to care, by highlighting the impact that endocrine disrupting chemicals (commonly present in plastic), which mimic oestrogen, have on the size of boy’s private parts.
For adults, the fact that plastic contains multiple carcinogens resonates strongly because of the significant (and rising) occurrence of cancer and the devastating effect it has on families.
For the last seven years we’ve been scaling up our efforts for the cause by working in partnership with the Department of Corrections to provide educational services and vocational training to Community Work offenders. Now, when it comes to prisoners, getting them to care about the coast (which they obviously don’t have access to) is another kettle of fish.
They tend not to care so much about wildlife – not surprising considering they do not have access to nature. I motivate them by explaining that when too many endocrine disrupting chemicals get into young girls through the food chain, it can make them go through puberty early and become infertile – thereby impacting my ability to become a grandfather through my daughter Juliette, which is a goal of mine. All prisoners miss their family (whether they are still around or not) so this gets the emotion going.
I then tell a story about getting back on your feet after being knocked down, using the context (and gory images) of a shark attack that I survived, right around the time that we started Sustainable Coastlines in the Galápagos Islands. This is about how to react to adversity and the choice I made to get back in the surf post-attack resulting in increased confidence and resilience. I have seen it work really well by recognising that although they don’t have many choices available to them, they can decide how to react to challenges and they can elect to go into training and give something back to the community.
Our education programmes provide a scalable way to get this message through to everyone. So when the results started to come through and the lasting impact was clear, we shifted our strategic focus to educating and enabling people to look after the places that they love.
So now, we deliver capacity development programmes, which consist of training local organisations in public speaking, event management, fundraising, evaluation and governance.
But I think that environmental solutions still need to be combined with experiences that connect people to the cause hands-on because that’s so often what brings it home.
But if we were to create a building, what would it be?
Clearly, it had to represent our values. This meant using salvaged, non-toxic materials and it had to be as sustainable as possible. I had heard about the Living Building Challenge – the most rigorous performance standard for construction on the planet – and decided that we had to strive for it.
‘Living Building’ certification is a pathway towards structures becoming regenerative by design. This means that they actually showcase examples that give back to the environment, rather than harm it – an extremely challenging goal in construction, which has massive impacts on water quality and produces more waste than any other sector.
So how could we, as a small charity, go about creating a living building with little funding? The only existing building in New Zealand that has been designed to this standard was Te Kura Whare – the Tuhoe headquarters in Taneatua (and came at a cool +$16 million – well beyond our reach).
Then I had an idea. One of the parameters for Living Buildings requires the project include social justice values, so what if we could work with Corrections to have prisoners provide the labour, and the project would provide context for training to prepare offenders for life on the outside?
Studies have shown that vocational training helps to reduce recidivism when a prisoner comes to reintegrate back into society after a sentence is completed. Considering that each prisoner costs the taxpayer about $100,000 annually, there was an opportunity to save multiple birds with one stone.
We negotiated an MOU with Corrections to modify two forty-foot shipping containers and prefabricate 230 sections of decking and ran thousands of hours with Community Workers to salvage materials for this from pallet wood.
Now, two years on, we are proud to say that we are very close to completing the construction of the Flagship right on Auckland’s waterfront in the Wynyard Quarter. And we’re even more proud to send a huge thank you out to those who have helped to make it possible.
So – to those who came together in our Kickstarter campaign to raise over $65,000, to the consultants, suppliers, tradespeople and mentors who we estimate have donated over $2.5 million of in-kind support, to our generous One Percent Collective donors who choose to support us, and to the thousands of people who have been involved in the project hands on – thank you. We have been humbled by your response.
We’re excited about where this project may take us – already multiple requests have arrived for us to help with community building projects at marae and other non-profits to replicate design elements and the construction process. We are also collaborating with the construction sector and Corrections to set up pathways to employment for recently-released prisoners. Our role has been to motivate offenders to engage in the training while inside the wire, by giving them an opportunity to look after the places that they love, even while locked up.
I think that the best solutions are those that solve multiple problems at once. The Flagship for us is an education hub where we can inspire and motivate people in mass to get out there and build more of those proverbial fences at the top of those cliffs, it’s an example of a waste-free construction process for the sector to look up to, and it’s a way to up-skill hundreds of prisoners in an effort to reduce recidivism along the way.
This has literally taken blood, sweat and years to complete, but if it were easy, then everyone would do it.
Look out for some One Percent Collective events at the Flagship this year. We greatly appreciate the support of our donors and are looking forward to seeing how our impact can exponentially grow when we complete this epic journey and launch the Flagship this summer.
~ Sam Judd.
Sustainable Coastlines are a partner charity of ours, meaning you can easily support them with one percent of your income by joining One Percent Collective. We pass on 100% of donations, and your support provides them with the funding to make amazing things happen.