Timber town flies the flag for sustainability

Heyfield resident flying the green flag of the Gippsland Green Centrepoint project

Heyfield resident flying the green flag of the Gippsland Green Centrepoint project

If you travel through the small Gippsland timber town of Heyfield, Victoria, you may wonder why almost half the homes and businesses are flying white, green and blue flags. The reason is an innovative sustainability program run by the local community learning centre.

After Heyfield Community Resource Centre staff member, Judy Doolan, read about the 20-year population prediction for her region, she decided it was time to do something serious about the town’s energy use and lifestyle.

“We decided to survey the community to see if they were interested in sustainability before we attempted anything,” explains Judy. They surveyed 300 people over two days outside the local supermarket and identified the two main barriers to taking action on climate change: lack of information and cost. Thus the Gippsland Green Centrepoint project was born.

“We decided to trial a pilot program as a whole community,” says Judy. “The goal was to provide residents with information on how to reduce their carbon footprint and to promote the town as a sustainable, smart town.”  They also wanted to support people in improving disability access in their homes and businesses and generally achieving a healthier lifestyle.

The concept was simple: three different coloured flags to be flown outside people’s homes and businesses, with each colour representing the level of sustainability achieved. “An assessor would come through and assess each stage,” explains Judy. “You had to be doing at least 8 things from the ‘white flag’ stage before you could move on to a blue flag.” When the green flag is flying, that home is sustainable for the future.  

“It became a talking point for the whole community and fostered some healthy local competition,” says Judy. “Males tended to dominate the transition from blue to green stage!”

The assessor provided motivation and tips to help people ‘move up’ to the next coloured flag. It generally took about four months to make the changes required for the next stage. “When people started hitting the ‘blue-flag’ stage, we provided a solar bulk buy for the whole community, making it affordable for most,” says Judy. “This was our way of helping people to get to the final stage where solar panels is one of the criteria. Over 200 houses now have solar power in Heyfield.”

The project was a huge success with 380 rooftops flying flags out of 700 homes and businesses. It received a high level of media coverage and government interest and there was high demand for presentations about how it worked.

But the Gippsland Green Centrepoint had important local benefits as well. “It united the town because people were participating as a community and sharing in a sense of achievement,” says Judy, “and kids motivated their families.”

Judy believes that the project shows that everybody is interested in climate change and sustainability, given the right opportunities and support. “Heyfield is a town with over 200 locals working for Gunns,” she explains. “If we can do it, anyone can.”

And what would she do differently next time? “Change the flag material,” Judy laughs, “it didn’t last the eight months!”