Source: OCSE


Community Leadership in Environment, Sustainability and Climate

Across the world, individuals and communities are addressing local challenges around climate change, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. The ACT community is full of dedicated, passionate people who are invested in making Canberra a more sustainable place.

There is growing recognition that top-down environmental commitments from governments and other institutions of power require the support, buy-in and engagement of the broader community if they are to be successful. Communities are themselves often leaders in the realms of environment, sustainability and climate action. Grassroots achievements through community mobilisation, volunteering, citizen science and activism demonstrate the outcomes made possible by the place-based knowledge of engaged and participatory publics.

This chapter highlights their contributions and celebrates their many achievements.

The ACT has a large number of volunteers working to preserve and protect our natural areas and species.

In 2022, the Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment (OCSE) released a background report on the ACT’s environmental volunteers. The report highlights that the contributions of volunteers are vast and varied. Many have extremely high levels of expertise in a range of ecological and land management subjects — bringing skills and experiences from their professional careers into the volunteer realm.

The Environmental Volunteering Ecosystem

A raft of community and government organisations underpin the volunteering space. Some key community organisations and government partnership programs are:

The relationships between these different support structures can be complex; a volunteer group may work with several different government agencies and community organisations at once, in a variety of different ways. Between them these organisations support over 90 smaller volunteer groups working on the ground.

A robust association has been found between individuals’ sense of connection to nature and positive environmental behaviour, including participation in conservation activities and likelihood to hold pro-sustainability attitudes.

Fostering connection on the micro-scale — noticing changes in your local nature reserve, or birdwatching in your backyard — can play a profound role in deepening one’s relationship with nature and creating a sense of shared responsibility towards the natural world. As such, it is the focus of many environmental campaigns to strengthen people’s relationship to their local environment.

In the ACT, we are fortunate to live in a city where parks and reserves are readily accessible. With majority of the population living within walking distance of a reserve, Canberrans are afforded a unique proximity to nature not found in most other cities of our size. There are strong links between time spent in nature and increased feelings of nature connectedness, as well as personal wellbeing.

Landcare ACT’s Wellbeing Through Nature program, which was funded under the ACT Government Healthy Canberra Grants, promotes nature connectedness, positive mental health and social connection through hands-on conservation activities, guided nature walks and therapeutic horticulture. Surveys conducted by Landcare thus far have found that 94% of participants agreed the program helped them feel more connected to their local environment. For some, this has translated into action, such as starting new restoration projects or contributing to citizen science recordings.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic had some interesting consequences for community–nature engagement. Tracker data from the ACT Parks and Conservation Service indicates that visitation to Canberra Nature Park reserves generally increased during lockdown periods. In a community survey OCSE ran in August 2022, 83% of respondents reported they visited their local reserve more often during lockdown periods than they would otherwise. Of these, 54% went on to state that their increased level of use continued after lockdown ended, indicating a shift in their relationship to their local reserve.

Although the data mostly shows a return to normal visitation trends following lockdowns, this doesn’t mean that COVID-19 didn’t have a meaningful impact on people’s connection to nature. As one respondent stated, “while my use [of my local reserve] has returned to pre-pandemic levels, it’s importance to me is higher than pre-pandemic.”

Caring about a place is an important step towards taking action to care for that place. The process is often iterative — the more time one spends protecting a place, the deeper one’s care for it becomes.

For more, see Returning to Our Roots and Reflections on Nature.

The values of environmental volunteering in the ACT

Environmental volunteering provides a range of important values including enhanced wellbeing, positive environmental outcomes, economic benefits and increased scientific knowledge.

Quantifying these values can be challenging. Part of the reason for this is that collecting the necessary information often requires volunteers themselves to commit more hours of their time to report on their activities or respond to surveys.

Wellbeing values

Many national and international studies have demonstrated the link between environmental volunteering and wellbeing, showing a combination of improved physical health, mental health and social belonging among those who volunteer.

This aligns with participant feedback from Landcare ACT’s Wellbeing Through Nature program. 91% of participants found that that the program benefited their mental health, and 94% agreed it was good for their overall wellbeing. “This was the most positive and uplifting experience I’ve had in a while,” wrote one participant. “It really helped me explore new ways to de-stress by tuning into nature.”

These individualised benefits have flow-on benefits for society as a whole. OCSE calculates that environmental volunteering in the ACT saves over $13 million per year in avoided healthcare costs. This figure has been calculated based on the methodology of a 2021 report produced by Landcare Australia and consultant KPMG, which estimates economic benefits of $2182 per year for each person involved in regular environmental volunteering.

In 2020, the ACT Government developed a Wellbeing Framework, which recognises that connection to a healthy and resilient natural environment is an essential aspect of wellbeing. The Framework notes that this is particularly true for those living in urban areas.

Environmental values

Much of the key work of on-ground environmental volunteering relates to activities such as planting, weeding, seed collection, track and trail maintenance, rehabilitation, bushfire management and erosion control. The direct outcomes of this work have been difficult to quantify. However, with over 90 volunteer groups undertaking this type of work in the ACT, we know volunteer contributions in this space are considerable.

For more, see Landcare and Bushfire Recovery and Urban Parks and Places.

Economic values

The equivalent wage value of environmental volunteering is significant. OCSE calculates that it would cost over $21.5 million each year if ACT’s environmental volunteers were paid for the work they do.

In addition to the equivalent wage value of volunteering, community groups can also obtain bring in funding to the Territory which cannot otherwise be accessed by the ACT Government. For example, in 2020 volunteer-led community groups brought in $421,685 for environmental projects in the ACT through the Australian Government’s Communities Environment Program. In 2023, it was announced that ACT environmental volunteer groups would bring in a further $2.7 million as part of the Australian Government’s Urban Rivers and Catchments Program — part of a $200 million national investment in projects that help community groups, NGOs, councils and First Nations groups restore and/or improve the health of their local waterways.

Scientific knowledge values

ACT citizen science volunteers collect huge amounts of environmental data every year, covering subjects from water quality to species distribution and abundance. Work in this space ranges from government–community partnership programs such as Waterwatch, to specialist volunteer organisations like Canberra Birds, to volunteer-run online platforms like Canberra Nature Map.

Data collected by citizen scientists can be invaluable for use in scientific research, policy development and environmental decision making. In a 2023 media release, the ACT Minister for the Environment asserted that “We rely on findings and data from our citizen scientists to inform best practice activities and management strategies in the ACT, build government policies, and assist with developing and improving programs both within the Territory and on the national stage.”

The ACT Government is increasingly incorporating citizen science data into its reports and making the collection of such data a component of its plans and strategies. For example, data collected by Waterwatch is used in the ACT Government’s Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Program, Conservation Effectiveness Monitoring Program, ACT Integrated Water Monitoring Plan, and ACT Water Reports. Waterwatch data was also critical to OCSE’s own State of the Lakes and Waterways in the ACT report in 2022.

For more, see Citizen Science at Bluetts Block, Canberra Ornithologists Group’s Woodland Bird Report and Southwell Scout Venturers.

Supporting the volunteering ecosystem: what can the ACT Government do better?

OCSE’s ACT Environmental Volunteers report outlines a number of opportunities for the ACT Government relating to:

Since the report’s release, the ACT Government has begun to take up some of these opportunities.

Meanwhile, one of the goals in the EPSDD Science Plan 2020–25 is that “citizen science collaborations are enhanced and strengthened,” and EPSDD’s Office of Nature Conservation is making progress towards this:

The 2022 Parliamentary Inquiry into Environmental Volunteerism by the Standing Committee on Environment, Climate Change and Biodiversity also outlined a number of recommendations — several of which align with or complement those in our report. The ACT Government agreed or agreed in principle to all 22 recommendations.

Rural landholders manage 15% (40,000 hectares) of the ACT. From protecting key woodland communities to restoring waterways and maintaining ecological corridors, many rural landholders work to care for the unique environment of the ACT.

As the Caring for Dhawura Ngunnawal: A Natural Resource Plan for the ACT 2022–2042 states:

“Landholders play an important role in land stewardship and protection of natural values on rural lands, which include more than 40% of lowland woodland communities and many of the ACT’s waterways. Most landholders contribute considerable time and expense to protect these natural values and integrate them into farm management. Landholders also play an important role in bushfire reduction and mitigation through strategic hazard reduction grazing.”

While their environmental work is considerable, their contributions are often under-represented in broader discussions about conservation and environmental management.

These contributions are made through the initiative of individual landholders, in partnership with community organisations (e.g. Landcare ACT, Greening Australia, Catchment Groups) and with the support of government-funded programs and grants such as those run by the ACT Natural Resource Management team (ACT NRM).

Environmental outcomes on rural land

Rural landholder contributions to environmental outcomes in the ACT are wide-ranging. Common goals include promoting biodiversity, protecting threatened ecological communities, and reducing biosecurity risks.

Promoting biodiversity

Many rural landholders are promoting biodiversity on their properties through practices like establishing ecological corridors for habitat connectivity and restoring dams to support native wildlife (see Regenerative Farming at Amberly case study, below).

Initiatives like the Land for Wildlife program provide support and assistance to rural landholders who want to manage their properties for biodiversity values. Delivered in the ACT by the Molonglo Conservation Group in partnership with the Community Environmental Network, the Land for Wildlife program is a voluntary scheme in which interested landholders can register for a free environmental property assessment by a trained assessor. Landholders are then provided with species lists for their property, site reports detailing how to manage relevant environmental issues, and tailored advice on how to integrate wildlife conservation into the property’s management practices. The ACT program is currently small and does not have ongoing funding. As of April 2023, with funding from ACT NRM, Molonglo Conservation Group has provided six site assessments in the ACT and is looking to expand the project.

Protecting threatened ecological communities

Many important ecosystems exist on rural land in the ACT, including box-gum woodland — a critically endangered ecological community under the EPBC Act. ACT NRM’s Box-Gum Woodlands Project — which involves both on-ground restoration activities and educational outreach components — has seen a high degree of participation from ACT farmers. So far, the project has achieved more than 547 hectares of weed control and more than 470 hectares of box-gum woodlands revegetation across farms and public land in the ACT.

Reducing biosecurity risks

Weed control has always been an essential aspect of rural land management given its importance for agricultural production in tandem with environmental benefits. Collectively, rural landholders play a key role in limiting the spread of weeds across the broader landscape.

In November 2021 Landcare ACT hosted a Weeds Forum which brought together over 80 rural landholders, landcarers, government staff, researchers and interested community members to share perspectives on challenges, priorities and opportunities relating to weed management across the Canberra region. The event was driven by rural landholders involved in the Landcare ACT Weeds Working Group, and led to the development of a report outlining recommendations for weed management in the ACT. A key finding of the report was that more collaborative and holistic approaches are needed to tackle weed management on a landscape–wide, tenure–blind scale.

Regenerative agriculture

Many farmers are moving away from traditional farming practices and adopting more sustainable, holistic and regenerative farming philosophies. This is both landholder-led and actively supported by ACT NRM.

Source: Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate

The ACT Grazing Group (ACTGG) is a peer-to-peer learning program that provides an opportunity for landholders of diverse farming backgrounds to come together to share ideas, knowledge, and experiences relating to sustainable land management. The purpose of the group is to encourage and support movement towards more regenerative management practices, acknowledging the diversity of participants in terms of their goals, skills and circumstances.

Formed in 2020, the group currently has around 15–20 members. It is co-facilitated by the Regional Agricultural Landcare Facilitator from ACT NRM and NSW farmer Paul Hewitt, who also runs the Upper Lachlan Landcare Grazing Group. The group meets on a seasonal basis, and is a safe space for landholders to share concerns, ask questions and learn from one another.

Some basic principles members are encouraged to consider are:

  • adjusting stock numbers to suit conditions
  • aiming for 100% ground cover 100% of the time
  • aiming for a quick, even graze, followed by adequate rest, and
  • encouraging perennial pastures and diversity.

The ACTGG is about more than promoting environmental practices while sustaining economic outcomes on farms — it is about social connection, peer support and building community resilience. Ultimately, the program empowers landholders to be proactive decision makers on their properties so that they may be better prepared to adapt to the challenges that lay ahead.

Source: Soils for Life

When John and Carol Lilleyman took over Amberly Farm in 2012, it was their first foray into agriculture. Being new to farming, they began by following common practice advice about land management.

However, the Lilleymans soon began to question traditional farming methods — including reliance on large–scale weed spraying and chemical fertiliser use. John felt these methods were “too production driven and didn’t consider the potential longer-term degradation of the land.”

The couple began to research alternative approaches to farming, including Allan Savory’s work on sustainable grazing. They became increasingly interested in holistic thinking after Carol took a course on permaculture. She recalls wondering, “how can we do things that are more in tune with nature and in tune with what’s going on here on our property rather than trying to adjust things rapidly with chemicals?”

As they moved towards a more regenerative farming philosophy, the Lilleymans began experimenting with different practices to improve environmental outcomes on their property. To highlight a few:

Practice/activityEnvironmental benefits
Transitioning to cell grazing (in which cattle are concentrated into smaller areas for shorter periods and rotated through paddocks to allow areas to regenerate)– Improves soil condition
– Increases groundcover and occurrences of grasses outcompeting weeds, reducing the need for chemical sprays
Undertaking dam restoration on six of the nine Amberly dams (including riparian planting and erecting fencing to prevent stock access)– Protects against erosion
– Improves riparian habitat
– Halves methane emissions
Planting trees as laneways and stands in paddocks to provide ecological ‘stepping stones’– Creates connectivity corridors for flora and fauna while providing shade and wind shelter for stock

The Lilleymans were also part of a Greening Australia Whole of Paddock Restoration project to restore endangered box gum woodland, which involved the planting of 830 native trees.

Over the years, the Lilleymans have partnered with numerous community organisations and government agencies to undertake these projects including the Southern ACT Catchment Group, Greening Australia, Landcare ACT, Urambi Hills Group and ACT NRM. They were the recipient of an ACT Rural Grant in 2014, an ACT Environmental Grant in 2020, and an Australian Government ‘Innovation in Agriculture’ Award at the 2019 ACT Landcare Awards.

Crucially, investment in these kinds of long-term projects is made viable by the fact the Lilleymans have a 99-year lease. Many rural landholders do not have this security — some are having to operate on leases that are 20 years, 10 years, or even mere months in duration. As John stated:

“On a ten-year lease, we would have struggled to find the same level of commitment and make the necessary financial investment to undertake the same regenerative agricultural activities we have at Amberly as the benefits may not be seen for a long time — these things are measured in decades, not in a couple of years.”

The content for this case study was originally produced by Soils for Life, supported by the Australian Government’s Smart Farms Program. Read more information about the Soils for Life program at

The issue of lease insecurity is a major concern for rural landholders in the ACT. When asked what they saw as the most important issue relating to environmental management and sustainable farming in the ACT, representatives from the Rural Landholders Association (RLA) identified lease tenure as a key barrier preventing lessees from investing in long term sustainable practices. Such short-term leases enable the ACT Government to keep rural land available for future urban expansion. Land use restrictions relating to lease purpose clauses and Land Management Agreements were also raised as key concerns by the RLA.

Although large-scale government interventions are important, the cumulative power of local-scale urban transformations should not be dismissed. In fact, the neighbourhood, as an urban unit, is “often recognised as the most appropriate spatial scale for improving sustainable built environments”.

This section focuses on community groups working to achieve sustainability and climate outcomes through education, engagement, advocacy and activism.

The community climate and sustainability ecosystem

Canberra is home to many community groups, volunteer organisations, co-ops and local businesses seeking to promote suburban sustainability and climate conscious practices in the ACT. The focuses of these organisations are broad, ranging from local food production, waste elimination, active travel, low carbon living, and community gardening. Many of these initiatives link strongly to the principles of circular economy, which are discussed in detail in Chapter 6: Circular Canberra.

As with environmental volunteering, community groups in this space may work independently, in partnership with one another, or with support from the ACT Government. Some are entirely volunteer-based, while others operate with paid staff.

Some key community organisations in the sustainability and climate space include:

The ACT Government has several grant programs that support community projects relating to climate and sustainability matters. For example, the Community Zero Emissions Grant program has been allocated $600,000 for community projects over four years, ending in 2025. Meanwhile, the Community Garden Grants program provided $171,724 for community projects between 2019 and 2023 This figure covers the financial years of 2019–20 to 2022–23 inclusive.

Education and engagement

Community education and engagement are a central focus of many sustainability and climate groups. Examples of engagement include:

For more, see Bee Friendly Hall, Community Toolbox Canberra, Repair Cafes in Canberra and Buy Nothing.

Advocacy and activism: calling for change

In addition to promoting bottom-up change through community education and engagement, many community groups are also targeting top-down change by calling for governments (both local and federal) to take action on climate and sustainability matters.

Many community groups are vocal in government consultation processes:

Public submissions from both established organisations like these and individual citizens are used to inform government decision making processes and can be influential in shaping environmental policy in the ACT. For example, through their advocacy ACT for Bees and Other Pollinators successfully had the ACT Government’s Municipal Infrastructure Standards (MIS25) Urban Landscape Planting List amended to better support pollinators across the ACT.

For more, see Zero Emissions, Go Electric.

Expert Comment

Sarah Boddington, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU (left) and Dr Rebecca Colvin, Senior Lecturer, Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU (right)

More Australians are concerned about climate change than ever. A nationally representative survey in 2019 found that 80% of participants think it important Australia takes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and 72% of people would be willing to incur some cost to reduce carbon emissions. But what exactly do we need to do to address climate change?

Does what we do in our everyday lives make a difference?

Our everyday lives and climate change

In its 2022 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said what people in high-income countries like Australia do in our lives — our everyday practices — is a driver of human-induced climate change. We are not currently on track to keeping climate change to within 1.5 or even 2 degrees of warming.

But changes in our everyday practices — together with structural changes to infrastructure and technology — can help us get back on track, with the potential to reduce emissions in many areas by 40% to 70% compared to projections from current policies.

As Australia kickstarts climate change action, it can learn from other countries’ experiences by focusing on assisting people to reduce their high-carbon everyday practices at the same time as making structural changes like phasing out fossil fuelled electricity and decarbonising transport, industry, and agriculture.

What’s important here is that the solution to climate change is ‘yes, and’: yes we must rapidly decarbonise, and we need to transform our everyday practices.

Our carbon intensive lives

When it comes to everyday practices, there are many ways in which we can make positive changes. The practices that have the greatest potential for emissions reductions are our food, flights, consumption decisions, everyday travel, and household electricity (see Figure 1). Of the countries analysed, Australians have the second most carbon intensive lifestyles in the world, second only to the USA, and more than double that of Europe.

Figure 1. Potential average per capita reduction in personal emissions per year from changing high-carbon everyday practices (all greenhouse gas emissions are standardised to their carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq)).

Source: Sources for data are multiple

Most of our everyday practices are the result of interactions between personal decisions, our social environment, and our physical environment; all of which are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by public policy.

Even though there is strong support for climate action in the ACT, ACT residents do not have less carbon intensive lifestyles than other Australians. It may seem surprising, but at the current time, a person’s income, rather than their attitudes towards climate change, is a better predictor of how carbon intensive their lives are: people who have higher incomes are likely to be responsible for the emission of more greenhouse gases than people with lower incomes.

A recent study found that the ACT is the second highest jurisdiction in Australia in what is known as ‘Scope 3’ emissions, with potential to reduce our emissions from food, consumption decisions, and flights. The ACT could also reduce emissions from everyday travel, as driving to work (rather using than active or public transport) is more common in Canberra than in the larger capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

Everyday practice change in context

Most of us can make at least a few high-impact changes to our everyday practices right away, particularly by making decisions about our food, flights, consumption decisions, everyday travel, and household electricity through a low-emissions lens. Not everyone will be able to adopt every lower carbon practice immediately so it’s important to start with an achievable change and build new habits and interlinked routines to make the change stick. For example, we might need to figure out where we can build public transport or cycling into our school, work and food shopping routines. Or plan for an Australian holiday to avoid the carbon emissions associated with flying overseas.

In addition to making different choices about the everyday practices in our own lives, we can also contribute to shaping a social and physical environment that supports lower carbon practices, as outlined in Figure 2 below.

Firstly, we can help shape the practices and expectations of those around us. In Figure 2, Nielsen and colleagues describe this as a role model contribution. Role modelling is important because, within our social groups, we like to behave similarly to those with whom we identify. Different social groups will likely want to develop different ways to do low carbon practices. Role modelling contributes to these groups developing new collective ways of talking and behaving, creating new social meanings and expectations.

Figure 2. The roles through which people can influence a shift to low carbon practices.

Source: Adapted from Nielson et al, 2021.

Secondly, depending on where we work, we may be able to limit high carbon practices and contribute to lower carbon standards and practices directly. In Figure 3.2, Nielsen and colleagues describe this as the organisational participant contribution. Depending on our role, some of us may be able to choose vegetarian catering, influence lower carbon business travel, or install efficient electric appliances. Those who work in a government role may be able to contribute to new policies.

Thirdly, as citizens we can advocate to different levels of government and the private sector to create an environment that supports lower carbon practices and limits high carbon practices. This can involve formal participation in government decision-making processes and informal avenues such as protest. The structural changes governments and the private sector can implement can be big system changes, like decarbonisation of electricity. However, governments in particular also have the power to change the policy settings that reinforce certain everyday practices, like a levy to disincentivise the percentage of people responsible for most flying, and increased investment in trains and long-distance buses.

Fourthly, many of us are investors. This may be through actively investing in firms, or through more passively holding shares via our superannuation accounts. Through investor pressure on the private sector, we can drive purposeful investment or divestment, as well as transformation of internal firm policies toward lower carbon practices.


Alongside broader structural transformations, transforming our everyday lives is a big — and critically important — part of the climate action puzzle. The priority areas for change to Australians’ everyday practices relate to food, flights, consumption decisions, everyday travel, and household electricity. Alongside changing our everyday practices, many of us have potential to act as role models, organisational participants, citizens, and investors. Individual changes to practices can become broader social changes, especially when the meanings of old and new practices are updated to value and prioritise low—emissions options, while policy creates enabling infrastructure and incentives.

 Young people care deeply about our environment. In early 2023, OCSE facilitated a project seeking to understand young people’s perspectives on environmental issues both in the ACT and on a broader scale. Postcards were sent out to schools across the ACT inviting students to respond to the following prompt:

What are your hopes for the environment? 

A total of 683 postcards were received from young people ranging from 4 to 18 years old. The top five themes present in their responses were:

  1. Protecting plants and animals (61% of postcards)
  2. Ending pollution (34% of postcards)
  3. Reducing waste (29% of postcards)
  4. Creating sustainable cities (24% of postcards)
  5. Stopping climate change (17% of postcards).

The full report, “I Want to Have a Future”: A Report on Young People’s Hopes for the Environment in the ACT highlights key insights from young people’s responses and outlines a set of recommendations for the environment as voiced by young people. These are that adults: 

For more, see Parliament of Youth on Sustainability, Chapman Primary, North Ainslie Primary and Southwell Scout Venturers.

Expert Comment

Jessica Fordyce, Conservation Council’s 2021 Moira and John Rowland Young Environmentalist of the Year 

For young people, the impacts of climate change are personal. Our formative years have been defined by environmental degradation and climate-related disasters. I grew up during the decade-long drought, where it was common to stand in a bucket while showering to save water for the garden. It’s ironically hard to imagine this now, after our third year of La Niña.

I fell into environmentalism by organising regular litter clean-ups with friends, which led to the formation of Trash Gather. Our youth-led events became popular and after a few years we began collaborating with other environmental groups in Canberra, such as the ACT School Strike 4 Climate. It was within that scene that I learnt about much more than plastic pollution.

After graduating from university, I began working in the waste and resource recovery sector for local government across regional NSW. I have since run projects involving food donation, behaviour change, waste education, circular economy, and litter. During these projects, I’ve usually been the youngest person in the board room where I have certainly felt the creep of imposter syndrome.

I recently spoke at an ACT Government climate action conference for youth, where school students could learn from presenters and panellists about environmentalism and climate science. It was inspiring to hear the students ask challenging questions, such as the impacts of animal agriculture and whether electric cars are renewable if their batteries come from a finite resource.

Despite being a staunch believer in the power of young people’s voices, I found myself surprised at their level of understanding of environmental issues. It was a lesson to never doubt a person’s knowledge of sustainability based on their age, a habit easily internalised from condescending media and politicians.

In 2020, the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience led Australia’s largest youth survey on climate change. The ‘Our World Our Say’ survey found that only 13% of young people surveyed felt that their views were listened to by our political leaders. This is not surprising considering only five out of 227 parliamentarians are under the age of 30. According to Raise Our Voices, an organisation dedicated to increasing political representation among diverse youth, many young women and gender diverse people experience structural barriers when participating in formal political institutions.

However, a significant number of political and social movements are led by these same marginalised young people. This is good news for the environment, which is a top priority among women and youth. Both have immense voting power, as we have seen with the ‘greenslide’ in the latest Federal election. But with new coal and gas projects still being approved, many young people see the recent Federal Government’s environmental pivot as tokenistic.

A 2021 global study on those aged 15–25 established that a government’s climate inaction directly impacts the mental health of young people. The biggest study of its kind, the findings showed a shared sentiment of distress among participants who perceived their government to be failing environmentally. Locally, people have taken matters into their own hands.

The political inaction to prioritise environmental issues has been a catalyst for activism in the ACT, and the territory enjoys its reputation of being environmentally progressive. With some of the highest numbers of community volunteers in the country, Canberra has a tight-knit network of environmentalists. These sustainability leaders have engaged the wider community with the likes of zero-waste festivals, repair cafes, climate school strikes, urban farming, and citizen science. Young people in the ACT are privileged to live with and learn from such admirable projects.

Considering Canberra’s strong sustainability scene, I would like to see an increase in youth mentorship within our community. Through the help of projects such as SEE Change’s Parliament of Youth on Sustainability, young people can more easily access environmental spaces. Additionally, the investment in youth empowerment through the establishment of an ACT Student Representative Council (SRC) would provide young people with a genuine voice on environmental issues. An SRC would help connect like-minded students in a supportive environment where they can learn to make a difference in their local community.

Having worked with children for many years, I feel grateful for the inspiration I get from young people. When given the opportunity, they are vibrant changemakers who can teach us to reorder our priorities for the better. We have seen this locally and globally with the leadership of school climate strikers, who advocate for the environment and challenge those in positions of power to reassess their climate targets. Undeterred by the pushback from a loud minority, student activists continue to confront the weight of environmental injustice. By providing youth the support and skills they need to use their voice, we are investing in the future of our planet.

Young people should not be sheltered from the realities of our future — we should be informed and prepared. While students are taught climate science at school, they also need to learn about the impacts of anthropogenic and colonial exploitation, and how to adapt in the climate crises. Through initiatives such as Tasmania’s Curious Climate Schools program, teachers can be better resourced to teach climate literacy in a holistic way. Knowledge is power, and education will be our lifejacket.

Power has historically been kept out of the hands of young people, and students are often treated like they are ill-equipped to make their own decisions. Those in positions of authority are stalling action on climate for the sake of short-term profits, and trying to gaslight young people into thinking we can offset our emissions. We feel as though we have inherited the result of a broken economic and political system. Those more cynical say the system has been working exactly how it is meant to.

Either way, I know that we need a societal transition from individualism to community-led solutions if we are to survive the climate crisis. Thankfully humans are incredibly adaptable and resilient, as we have learnt from the pandemic. By working together in solidarity, we can secure a future with climate and economic justice, where communities are resilient and dignity is upheld.

Often in environmental circles, you will hear a debate of individual action versus collective action. But what I have found is that everyone has a unique part to play based on their skills and who they are. Individually, we can join a collective for a fairer and just world. The most important thing is that we are part of a movement that envisions a better future.

The table below provides a snapshot of some of the community-led organisations involved in environment, sustainability and climate-related action in the ACT. It is by no means exhaustive, and instead seeks to highlight the breadth of work being undertaken by the ACT community in these spaces.

Table 1. Index of community organisations involved in environment, sustainability and climate-related action in the ACT.

ACT For Bees and Other PollinatorsCommunity organisation focused on educating people about the importance of pollinators for food production, as well as promoting everyday ways to support pollinators in our backyards, schools and public spaces.
ACT National Parks AssociationVolunteer-run organisation working to promote national parks, their good management, and the protection of our fauna and flora, scenery, natural features and cultural heritage. They do this by lobbying, education and by hands-on work parties. Their outdoor activities include field trips, work parties, walks, kayaking and car camps.
ANU Intrepid LandcareVolunteer organisation run through the ANU focusing on enabling young people (18–30) to get involved in Landcare activities with like-minded people.
Australian Electric Vehicles Association (AEVA) – ACT BranchNot-for-profit, volunteer-run organisation advocating for the uptake of electric vehicles in the ACT (including cars, buses, trucks, bikes and scooters). Their key campaign in 2021–22 was the “Zero Emissions, Go Electric” project, delivered with the support of an ACT Government Community Zero Emissions Grant.
Australian Parents for Climate Action CanberraA collective of parents, carers and families advocating for urgent climate action through family-friendly community activities.
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) — Canberra BranchYouth-run organisation campaigning for climate justice in the ACT and across Australia.
Buy NothingA global network of hyper-local groups in which people can “give, receive, share, lend and express gratitude” within their immediate neighbourhoods, reducing the need to purchase new goods and throw away used items. Canberra currently has 45 Buy Nothing groups.
Canberra City FarmNot-for-profit city farm located in Fyshwick that runs educational gardening and sustainability workshops, hosts monthly ‘plant clinics’ and produces the Sustainable Living Podcast.
Canberra Environment Centre (CEC)Not-for-profit education centre that promotes sustainability through a range of media including hands-on workshops, online videos, fact sheets, a blog, and the Environmental Heroes Podcast. CEC also runs and supports a range of sustainability initiatives such as the ReCyclery (see below), and frequently partners with other groups to deliver programs and events across Canberra.
Canberra Indian Myna Action GroupNon-profit association working to reduce the impact of invasive Indian Myna birds on native fauna in Canberra and the surrounding region.
Canberra Organic Growers Society (COGS)Non-profit organisation that provides a forum for organic growers to exchange knowledge and promote organic growing methods. COGS also currently runs 12 community gardens across Canberra.
Canberra Ornithologists GroupGroup dedicated to encouraging interest in, and developing knowledge of, the birds of the Canberra region. The group promotes and co-ordinates the study of birds, and the conservation of native birds and their habitats.
Canberra Seed Savers CooperativeNetwork of urban food growers working cooperatively to protect open-pollinated food seeds through practices of swapping, sharing, teaching, growing and saving seeds.
Capital ScrapsSocial enterprise that collects household food waste and transforms it into compost that is donated back to contributing members, community gardens and schools. Capital Scraps currently services Hackett, Watson and Braddon, but also accepts weekly drop-offs at Haig Park. 
The Climate FactoryLocal organisation supporting and empowering groups of volunteers to set up their own climate-cooling community micro-forests.
CoCanberraCo-operative providing ongoing support and resources for new and existing organisations with the view to establish climate co-operatives across Canberra and its surrounds.
Community Toolbox CanberraCommunity-led, volunteer-run tool and equipment library operating with the support of SEE-Change (see below).
The Conservation Council – ACT Region (CCACT)Peak non-government organisation advocating to protect nature and create a safe climate future in the ACT region through advocacy, campaigning and community engagement. CCACT runs campaigns, promotes and upskills local groups, undertakes research, hosts events, and runs workshops. CCACT serves as an umbrella organisation and galvanising hub that promotes connection and collaboration between over 40 member groups and works to amplify the voices of our local environment community.
Friends Of GrasslandsCommunity group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south–eastern Australia. The group advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work.  
Friends Of The Australian National Botanic GardensCommunity group supporting the Australian National Botanical Gardens through fundraising, leading guided walks and providing hands-on support with research programs.
FrogwatchAn integral part of the Ginninderra Catchment Group that focuses on delivering an annual community frog monitoring program, the Frogwatch Census, which engages large numbers of volunteers of all ages to undertake frog monitoring and protect frog habitats.
Ginninderra Catchment GroupOne of three catchment groups in the ACT. It is a community-based environment organisation and a Landcare network, operating primarily in the north–west ACT Region. It supports 19 member ParkCare and Landcare groups and runs community engagement and landscape-scale restoration programs.
Greening Australia Capital RegionEnvironmental enterprise committed to tackling Australia’s biggest environmental challenges in ways that work for communities, economies and nature.
Landcare ACTPeak body for landcare in the ACT region that helps support and promote the over 60 community groups who help look after urban parklands, countryside, nature reserves and waterways.
Living StreetsCommunity organisation advocating for safe streets that promote active, environmentally friendly movement including walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, pushing prams and using mobility aids.
Molonglo Conservation GroupOne of three catchment groups in the ACT. It is a community-based environment organisation and a Landcare network, operating primarily in the Molonglo and Queanbeyan River catchments of southern NSW and the ACT. It runs community engagement and landscape-scale restoration programs.
ParkCare GroupsThese groups look after a specific area of land that is managed by the ACT Government Parks and Conservation Service (national parks and nature reserves). Visit the ParkCare Hub to register and find a ParkCare group near you.
Pedal PowerCommunity organisation advocating for a bike-friendly Canberra, promoting the benefits of cycling for the wellbeing of individuals, the community and the environment.
Repair CafesCommunity initiatives that enable people to bring in broken items to be fixed by volunteer repairers, or be taught how to fix things themselves. Partnering with a range of other groups including SEE-Change, there are repair cafes in Acton, Tuggeranong, Hawker, Ginninderry, and the University of Canberra.
SEE-ChangeGrassroots organisation that delivers sustainability programs and activities through a range of volunteer-led groups. Some of their regular initiatives include sustainable house tours, waste reduction initiatives, repair cafes, the Electric Bike Library and Community Toolbox (see above).
Southern ACT Catchment GroupOne of three catchment groups in the ACT. It is a community-based environment organisation and a Landcare network, covering Woden, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and Tharwa. It supports 26 member ParkCare and Landcare groups and runs community engagement and landscape-scale restoration programs.
Trash GatherGrassroots, youth-led clean up initiative gathering people together to protect and restore the local environment and connect with nature. It runs regular litter collection working bees across Canberra, and offers education programs for schools.
Urban Landcare GroupsThese groups look after a specific area of land that is managed by the ACT Government Parks and Places team (urban parks, wetlands, gardens etc). 
WaterwatchWater monitoring program that enables volunteers to collect data about water quality and river health. This data is used to inform policy and catchment management, and to raise awareness of our local waterways. The program has been running for over 20 years across an area of more than 11,000km2.
Woodlands And Wetlands TrustGroup that manages Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary and Jerrabomberra Wetlands to ensure rich and diverse environments for current and future generations. They run a number of volunteer programs which enable people to get involved with managing these unique ecosystems and monitor their flora and fauna.
Zero Waste RevolutionNot for profit, community-based organisation that aims to connect people with resources to reduce their waste footprint. Zero Waste Revolution also engages the Canberra community through public events and advocacy programs promoting zero waste ideas and practices.