Jobs in Focus - Sustainability


In our Jobs in Focus series, CouncilJobs dives deep into new and emerging council jobs to showcase roles that are both interesting and in high demand. Here we look at the possibilities of a career in Sustainability.


Driving Sustainability at Lake Macquarie Council


To many, sustainability has become the talk of the town in recent years. Yet while many seem to be doing more speaking than doing, Dr. Alice Howe has been leading the charge in sustainability at Lake Macquarie City Council for many years. As the Manager of Planning and Sustainability, Dr Howe oversees everything from biodiversity initiatives, to community engagement and climate change adaptation (and everything in between).


So, we caught up with Dr. Howe, to uncover their secrets to success and find out what exactly it would be like to work in picturesque Lake Macquarie. This story is another piece in our series ‘Jobs in Focus’, where we explore exciting new roles in Local Government to give our subscribers an insight into a career in Council.


Who is Dr. Alice Howe?


Dr. Howe didn’t take the conventional route in her Council career. Rather than entering public service, she worked in consulting, in the non-government sector and at the University of Newcastle as a post-doctoral researcher in environmental engineering. Upon seeing the opportunity to take a more active approach to sustainability, she made the leap to local government and never looked back.


Dr. Howe’s career choice was driven by her undying passion for the environment and practical nature. On top of that, both grandfathers were engineers and thus her path became a match made in heaven. Years later, she is now leading the team and has seen the Council’s sustainability division grow in leaps and bounds.


It appears that there is no better environment for sustainability than Lake Macquarie. Community engagement is increasing rapidly and the Council itself has always been quite progressive and innovative. The community in Lake Macquarie understands the need for sustainable initiatives and are vocal in their support and participation in environmental programs. The Council has a strong track record of actively seeking the opinions of community members and reflectively those opinions and values in the programs they undertake. In doing so, Dr. Howe ensures that the Council does what it was created to do; serve the interests of the community.


The Glass Sand Program


One of Lake Macquarie’s most heralded sustainability initiatives is undoubtedly its new Glass Sand program. The Council provides recycling services for over 80,000 households and noticed a decline in markets for recycled products. Dr. Howe and her team looked for innovative ways to address this ‘perfect storm’ where declining demand met rapidly growing supply. The team worked with recycling contractors and engineers to develop new techniques to use recycled glass in civil works. The program is based on the process of grinding up glass to be used as a substitute for sand in construction.


In essence, the program is most effective in the way that it closes the recycling loop. The council had no troubles with the supply of recycled material but had a more difficult time ensuring that all the recycled material was processed into a product that went to good use. Establishing this new avenue for recycling demand helps ensure the long-term sustainability of recycling programs in Lake Macquarie.


Dr. Howe credits the NSW Container Deposit Scheme as a major driver of programs such as the Glass Sand initiative. The scheme ‘provided all the ingredients that we’ve needed to get this product back into our program’. Like any council, Lake Macquarie is limited by its budget and needs to ensure they’re using it in a responsible way. The Deposit scheme increases the value of kerbside glass which improves the economics of its reuse in construction.


The NSW Container Deposit Scheme


The new container deposit scheme, Return and Earn, has not necessarily been a smooth process. Implementation challenges and vocal critics have reduced the effectiveness of the scheme. Yet the scheme has been quite successful in setting a precedent for sustainability initiatives. The program signals the NSW Government’s desires to tackle waste issues, which paves the way for local government to start their own initiatives.


Preparing for a Changing Climate


Another key facet of Dr. Howe’s role is the threat of climate change and the need to make preparations. Given current predictions, Lake Macquarie City stands to be affected more so than most, due to rising lake levels. The local community is built around the lake and will need to adapt to higher water levels.


While of course, residents want to ensure that climate change is minimized as much as possible, by reducing their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions the council understands that impacts on the global climate will not be contained by local action alone. Unfortunately, they need to be prepared for all possibilities.


Recruitment at Lake Macquarie Council


In terms of recruitment, Dr. Howe never places too much emphasis on technical skills, instead stressing the need for new employees to be able to work well as part of a team and to think laterally. While the interview process itself is still quite traditional, the council routinely uses more behavioral style interview questions and occasionally ask for a scenario analysis. The underlying objective is always to identify the most passionate and service-oriented recruits, rather than those with the most advanced technical skills.


And contrary to popular belief, there’s no preferential treatment for local applicants. There’s a focus on identifying applicants who have an appreciation for the culture and aspirations of the community, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a ‘local’s only’ council.


To highlight the point, Dr. Howe told us the story of one applicant they had from Sydney. He came into the interview having done extensive research on the council, community and programs. He came into the interview with specific questions about the role and its legacy.


It is exactly that kind of applicant they want at Lake Macquarie City Council. Applicants who want to drive positive change.


What’s in Store for the Future?


Looking forward, Dr. Howe sees her field growing and growing as community awareness grows and the threat of climate change becomes more immediate. Lake Macquarie is likely to undergo intense urban development over the next five to ten years, which will bring with it a new range of sustainability challenges and opportunities. The council has recently shifted its focus to be more inclusive in its operations. Dr. Howe refers to this as deliberative democracy, which involves sharing responsibility for decision making with community members who are eager to get involved. This will only serve to grow community awareness.


Of course, like every other industry, new technology developments are rapidly changing the way the council operates and enables them to do so much more. They’ve been able to put more resources into remote systems management and build optimization systems for council facilities. This will only continue to develop as the council leans into innovative projects. Yet, Dr. Howe offers a word of caution, while positive change is achievable, it is crucial to be patient; lasting change takes time and commitment.