Bellingen’s Anton Juodvalkis stepped up as OzGREEN’s new CEO in January and he is keenly aware of the huge shoes he is filling. “I am continuously amazed by the breadth and reach of Sue and Col Lennox’s work. Their vast array of projects have had such a positive impact on the environment and their numerous programs have touched the lives of thousands of people around the world,” says Anton.
“To date, OzGREEN has engaged 1642 communities and villages in sustainability programs and helped
21,200 people access clean water!”
For more than 25 years OzGREEN has been educating people around the world, enabling them to take action to improve their environment and become leaders of positive social change. OzGREEN’s unique approach incorporates citizen science, sustainability education, participatory leadership and community development, enabling people to innovate sustainability solutions themselves. Co-founders Sue and Col Lennox managed to build their grass routes campaign into a world-wide, independent, not-for-profit organisation that now operates nationally in Australia and overseas in India, Latin America and East Timor. So yes, these are big shoes to fill!
Col Lennox died suddenly in 2017. “As you can imagine, this was very traumatic for Sue and her family and it impacted OzGREEN in a variety of ways,” says Anton. And hence, the change in leadership structure.
Until last year Anton was a valued staff member of Bellingen Shire Council. We were keen to know the reason for his decision to change career paths and his vision for the future of OzGREEN. And World Environment Day is Wednesday June 5th- so what better time to catch up with this very busy eco-warrior.
Anton, was a move from local government to an independent not-for-profit a daunting one?
No, not at all – I was very ready for a change. I had been a board member of OzGREEN for two years and had gained an insight into the tremendous work they are doing. I now feel completely reinvigorated because no one day is ever the same. I am also surrounded by a small team of passionate and talented people who truly inspire me. OzGREEN has a long and successful history, making it an easy organisation to grow.
Why did you decide on such a radical career change?
It was simply time for a change. I’ve been a mechanical engineer, a business analyst, a software developer, a consultant and a Local Government manager. I thrive on variety and new experiences, so when the OzGREEN opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance.
With your working history you must have some unique skills to bring to this new role?
I see myself as a “Jack Of All Trades”, rather than a specialist. My general curiosity about the world has enabled me to build a broad ranging skillset including project management, change management, accounting, procurement, corporate governance, information technology, risk management and engineering. I’m lucky to be able to apply all of these skills in my new role with OzGREEN.
OzGREEN’s Co-founder Colin Lennox died 2 years ago. This must have impacted the direction of OzGREEN.
How do you plan to move forward to build the momentum again?
Yes, Col was diagnosed with advanced cancer in December 2016 and passed away in February 2017.
I never got the opportunity to know Col, but I intend to honour and respect his legacy and all the great things he achieved for OzGREEN. With this in mind, we have a clear strategy for rebuilding momentum and this strategy is already starting to pay dividends.
OzGREEN recently secured Federal Government funding to deliver a new local youth environmental leadership program and we have just been notified of two other successful grants. The latter two grants have not been publically announced yet, so I can’t provide all the details, but one is from a charitable trust and the other is from a corporate organisation. The former will enable OzGREEN to purchase additional water quality testing kits and the latter will allow OzGREEN to deliver a series of Youth Leading the World congresses in southern NSW. We also have a number of other grants in our funding pipeline which will hopefully be announced during the month of June.
Have you set business goals for the year ahead? Will there be any change in direction?
Right now our main goal is to ensure future financial sustainability. As a not-for-profit organisation this means implementing a plan that draws on the seven pillars of fundraising – grants, donations, crowd funding, memberships, events, sales and corporate partnerships.
OzGREEN is renowned for environmental excellence, so at this stage I don’t feel we need to change direction in any significant way. We will continue to remain focused on delivering environmental education and river health programs both nationally and internationally. For example, we are currently pursuing and planning community driven environmental action projects in the Murray Darling region and also the Yarra River region in Victoria. OzGREEN has delivered environmental programs in both these areas previously.
What would you say are OzGREEN’s major achievements from the past 20 years?
There are so many achievements I would like to mention, but one that really impresses me is OzGREEN’s MyRiveR program in the Murray Darling Basin. OzGREEN ran MyRiveR from 2002 to 2008 and it involved thousands of youth from fifty regions. Participants undertook water quality testing and habitat assessments at 500 different sites. They also conducted community surveys to determine water attitudes and literacy. Following the field work, youth developed and implemented some really innovative environmental action plans. They also presented their data to the NSW, Victorian, South Australian and Federal Government. It was an incredible program and one that is still highly relevant today.
Another outstanding achievement is the citizen science research laboratory and environmental education centre that Sue and Col helped set up in Varanasi to support India’s ‘Clean Ganges Campaign’. OzGREEN is still actively involved with this centre today.
I feel incredibly privileged to be associated with an organisation that has such a positive impact on the world. To date, OzGREEN has engaged 1642 communities and villages in sustainability programs and helped 21,200 people access clean water! These are phenomenal achievements.
World Environment Day is Wednesday 5th June. Does OzGREEN have any particular message
they would like to convey on this day?
The theme for World Environment Day 2019 is air pollution. The five main human sources of air pollution are household, industry, transport, agriculture and waste. Although we are blessed with relatively clean air here in the Bellingen Shire, an astonishing 90% of the world’s population breathes unsafe air. This unsafe air is linked to lung cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease and dementia with seven million people dying annually from air pollution related causes.
There are some really simple things we can do to help reduce air pollution. We can walk more and cycle more to reduce carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from cars. We can reduce our meat and dairy consumption and advocate for sustainable livestock practices to reduce methane emissions. We can also consume less to reduce emissions caused by landfill. It’s quite simple really. However, there are some really powerful forces pulling us to do otherwise.
How important is a day like World Environment day in this current political climate?
It’s extremely important. Australia should be leading the way on serious environmental issues, such as renewable energy, but it is not as yet. However, I am really encouraged and inspired by the actions of everyday people and these are the people that OzGREEN works closely with to protect and preserve the environment.
If anyone would like to become involved with OzGREEN, we can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively if people would like to make a donation on World Environment Day, they can do so by clicking on the following link: