Kenja Communication was one of many groups invited to take part in the 2006 Sustainable Living Festival, held over three huge days at Federation Square. During the Festival, Kenja put together two variety performances on Centre stage, supplied volunteers to help run activities and in one of the final events, Kenja Melbourne Director Karli Stevenson gave a public talk based on the communication research of Ken Dyers and Jan Hamilton, suggesting ways we can all create viewpoints that contribute to a more sustainable way of living- both physically and spiritually.
After the event, Kenja Voice spoke to Philip Sutton, President of the Sustainable Living Foundation.

Thanks for your time Philip. Were you happy with this year’s results?

Yeah it was great. It had a really good feeling and we had really good numbers, the weather was great so it couldn’t have gone better, I think.

The festival highlighted how important it is for people who are interested in a positive approach to get together and share ideas. In fact we jumped on board because the Kenja training shares a common direction with the festival. What prompted you personally to begin this whole adventure in the first place?

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the Sustainable Living Foundation. But I’ve been involved with environmental issues since about 1971 so I’ve been doing that for a long time. I just became concerned personally – originally it was because I liked animals – it’s about as simple as that. Also plants, people, living things! And I became very interested in environmental questions when they were being raised in that big wave of awareness in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. I developed a strong sense of urgency at that stage and so changed the direction of my life and have been working on it ever since.

And the Foundation – did that begin with a lot of people who felt similarly?

There was an organisation called ‘Going Solar’ who obviously promotes solar energy and all sorts of other techniques for helping people live a sustainable lifestyle. They established a Sustainable Living Fair. And it was, I guess, originally partly a community driven thing and partly also an opportunity to showcase and provide a market for products that could help people change their life. Eventually the Going Solar people set up a not-for-profit association to keep the Festival going. And of course once it was established that way, all sorts of other people got involved. The commercial impetus has in some respects kind of died away – obviously the Festival’s a great place for people to come along and show their wares – but the real strength of it now is the community building. So the organisation’s really shifted quite dramatically towards a community development type approach.

A lot of the Kenja training is based on working with people who contribute because they want to rather than have to. You’ve successfully managed to get a lot of people to contribute their own time and energy to promote a sustainable future. How do you go about getting agreement for that?

At the simplest level, I think people just like the Festival. They come along and they get a very strong, positive sense that there are things you can do to make things better. And they like to see so many other people care about the same issues. So it’s very affirming. I think a lot of people like to be a part of that: That’s one motivation.
In terms of agreement, we’ve got a very diverse group of people involved. If you lined it up issue by issue, you’d find we all disagree on everything! But on the other hand, there are so many areas of overlap and common interest that it’s not so much that we don’t have differences it’s more that the things that bring us together are so strong.

So you focus on the similarities rather than the differences?

Yeah and the complementarity. For example, some people involved think it’s really important we should be reaching to members of the community who perhaps haven’t been that involved in sustainability issues before. They think that’s a really important push in what we’re doing. And obviously it is. So there’s one point of view. Some other people say we’ve really got to keep building on the people who’ve already gained some awareness and we’ve got to help them take it to a point where they can be effective and do some really dramatic things to change what society is doing (to our environment). On the face of it you’d say well those are puling in two different directions but you also can just say well, we need to do all of those things. So the diversity within the organisation and the different directions people want to go are in many cases actually complimentary, rather than divergent.

The Festival has been going for a number of years – growing in scale. At what point do you feel the momentum changed and it started to go past effort and flow more?

I’ve forgotten how many were at the first Fair – somewhere in the order of 5,000 to 10,000. It would have been terrific at the time, but we’re now at the stage where the Festival brings in excess of 120,000 people. So that’s been just a massive growth. I think the last few years have had a pretty strong surge and I think we’re about to step into another surge of growth.

Philip, you have created a pretty big game for yourself – where to from here for you personally?

My own work’s focussed around the urgency of the transformation we need to make in our society so I guess that’s got both a personal and social element. Some of the physical sides of it such as cutting greenhouse emissions and dealing with people in protecting species of animals – these issues are, at least in the environmental domain, something we need to look at in terms of major outcomes.
So what I’m really interested in talking to people about now in a very serious way is trying to work out how we can cut our greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the next ten years. That’s an extraordinarily short time but it’s necessary I think. It’s going to be an enormous challenge to achieve it but on the other hand what we’re doing in raising this issue, is empowering people to realise it is extraordinarily urgent and a huge task but if somebody gets out there and says let’s do and we try and figure out how to carry out those plans and strategies I think it will empower a lot of people.

How do you see Kenja contributing to the Festival in the future – certainly in terms of manpower, but more so through our attitude and ethics? I guess we’re not really the ‘hardware’ of sustainability – we’re more the ‘software’ – our training addresses the way people think and feel and approach their future.

By helping people to tackle serious issues that could be quite confronting if they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or down about those issues. I think it’s really important to help people be able to be joyful and creative and positive as they approach difficult issues – I think that’s going to be a critical contribution we’re all going to have to make. Gloom and doom by themselves just take the stuffing out of people and makes them give up, so I think if people can approach the whole thing from a very creative, positive point of view – that this is a challenge worth taking on; It’s something that can be fun to do, interesting, it can challenge and draw you out on so many different levels – I think that would be very important.
The other thing we’re doing is that we want to create partnerships, ultimately with hundreds and hundreds of groups and organisations across Victoria so that we can reach out to literally everyone in every part of Victoria and help everyone find some way that they can engage with the issues in a way that makes sense to them. That’s going to be a massive task and I’m sure that Kenja and a lot of other groups will find areas that they perhaps would want to contribute to.

Thank you very much for your time and your passion Philip and we’ll see you next year.

Thank you. See you then! 

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