Comment: Community building for a sustainable environment

The Port Phillip EcoCentre is an award-winning community-run environmental organisation located in the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, writes local resident Peter Moraitis.

The Port Phillip EcoCentre is an award-winning community-run environmental organisation located in the St Kilda Botanical Gardens. We are so fortunate to have this gem in our neighbourhood and to have a local Council which strongly supports and contributes to its valuable work.

The EcoCentre works with a cross-section of the Port Phillip community, and beyond – children, adults, families, businesses, schools, community groups, councils, universities and others. Thirty organisations are affiliated with the EcoCentre and partnerships have formed with over 170 schools and 117 other organisations. It is not just one organisation but a network of organisations and people who are creatively and effectively leading local responses to unprecedented challenges in this time of global climate and ecological crisis.

The EcoCentre runs citizen science, education, community action and many other programs. It works to restore and enhance our environment; to research, educate and inform others of local and wider impacts; to adopt new approaches to environmental and climate problems and to advocate on key environmental areas and issues

Since it began over 21 years ago, the EcoCentre has seen concern about the environment and climate change rise each year and has helped translate that care into action. (Last year, an Ipsos poll showed that the environment was the top concern for Australians).

Since 2010 the EcoCentre has seen a 500-fold increase in young people engaging with its programs; a 660% increase in people taking action to restore their local environment; and its volunteer hours have increased to a record 20,000 per year in 2019. Last year 87,000 engaged with EcoCentre programs.

Partnership with Council

The EcoCentre has developed and expanded thanks to the ongoing partnership with the City of Port Phillip which for 20 years has provided annual basic funding and leased a council managed building at minimal cost to the organisation. This is a local Council responding to the needs and demands of its citizens in times of rapid environmental and climate change.

The Port Phillip Council recognises that the EcoCentre embodies a successful model of community building, engagement and connectedness around environmental issues and sustainability. Here are two examples from EcoCentre Annual Report 2018-19, of what this means:

‘As a local resident of St Kilda, I am amazed at the positive influence that such a small, happy enterprise has made to the whole of the area, particularly the Bay. Our community is so much more creative, kind and healthy because of this marvellous group of people.’ – Margot B. (p16)

 ‘It wasn’t until I got to work with the dedicated staff, other volunteers who are studying, and people who have retired that I could see how passion is so important when considering a job. Every job you do has an impact and it’s up to you what kind of impact you want to have.’ - Natalie, volunteer school leaver. (p17)

The Port Phillip Council’s annual funding is leveraged by the EcoCentre to obtain additional funding from state and federal government, community and corporate contributions and donations, multiplying the benefits to the community of Council’s contribution. So additional dollars increase the Council’s annual EcoCentre funding by over 300%, flowing into the community for environmental programs and action. 

Time for a new EcoCentre building

The EcoCentre’s current premises in a small ex-gardener’s cottage are too small. They are not suitable for people with disabilities and they limit the scope of the type of programs that could be offered.

Port Phillip Council has agreed to build a new EcoCentre if matching funding can be secured. When Council went out to the community in March 2020 to gauge their views about the EcoCentre Rebuild concept plans, almost 300 people responded and 90% voiced their support and approval. Council has allocated $2.75m for the rebuild, with $933,000 allocated in the budget for 2020/21 in readiness for State Government funding, hopefully in this financial year.

The new building will be a ‘World Leadership’ certified sustainable building with zero-waste systems and net zero carbon in construction and operations. It will be fit-for-purpose and include enhanced community space. It will significantly expand the EcoCentre’s capacity to conduct education, original research, train volunteers and young leaders, and build networks to protect clean air and water, thriving habitat and wildlife, and healthy connected communities.


Links to Key EcoCentre Documents

Welcome to the EcoCentre 1 minute clip

EcoCentre Strategic Plan 2018-2021

EcoCentre Monitoring and Evaluation Framework 2018-2021

EcoCentre Annual Report 2018-19