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Environmental Management and Sustainability Grad, Aaren Drunis, on promoting a sustainable Sydney

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Aaren Drunis is the Founder and Managing Director of Sydney Sustainable Living, and a recent graduate of the Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability program delivered through GradSchool at the University of Newcastle.

In 2013, Aaren established a humble Facebook page dedicated to helping individuals and businesses to adopt sustainable practices by providing them with greater access to information and a community of like-minded people.  

Three years later this has grown into an award-winning organisation that hosts events and workshops and provides resources online and in real world locations such as sustainability centres and community gardens around Sydney.

Sustainability is a very real and growing concern on a global scale, and postgraduate programs like the Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability aim to prepare professionals for the challenge of responding to this issue through grounding in sustainability that goes beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, environmental management, impact assessment and policy.

We asked Aaren if he might take time out of his busy schedule to discuss with us how the establishment of Sydney Sustainable Living related to his studies at the University of Newcastle.

GS. Hi Aaren, and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Congratulations on your successes thus far in establishing Sydney Sustainable Living, it seems a very rewarding and important task. Can you tell us more about the journey from a Facebook page in 2013, to the organisation you now direct?

Aaren: What started out as a small idea to help promote and share sustainability grew thanks to a few different factors. Initially, I was inspired by the overall reception from individuals towards the page itself, then as I started to connect with more individuals within the industry the collaboration between Sydney Sustainable Living and other groups and organisation really began to inspire more and more ideas! There really is a strong network of professionals and community members out there that are seeking to make positive change when it comes to our environmental impact and really it was this shared interest that helped the Sydney Sustainable Living grow.

GS. Your organisation is at that centre of an impressive range of activities, including the Sydney Sustainable Living Festival  - can you tell us more about the festival and how it came into being?

Aaren: Inspired by a similar festival in London, the Sydney Sustainable Living Festival initially kicked off in 2014, founded by Leonne Donnelly from Warringah Council with support from the Australian Association of Environmental Education (AAEE). Sydney Sustainable Living became active in promoting the festival in 2015. The festival is designed to encourage individuals to take part in sustainability-themed events hosted across the city to build community engagement and drive awareness of the impact we have on our natural environment.  It is a great way to explore ways we can minimise our impact on the natural environment by making our lifestyles more sustainable!

GS: You completed the Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability program through GradSchool at the University of Newcastle - what role have your studies played in your professional career in the field of sustainability?

Aaren: Well, it was in fact the Master of Environmental Management that inspired me to create Sydney Sustainable Living in the first place. In particular, while studying sustainability and ecosystem health, I had begun to learn new ways in which we can be sustainable individually. This raised a question in my mind; “what about other individuals, is there a way I can extend this knowledge and help others live more sustainably?” From this seed grew the idea of attempting to improve sustainability through information sharing with individuals.

GS: Has the curriculum of the Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability program proved to be useful in your role with Sydney Sustainable Living - and if so, would you mind sharing with us some real world examples?

Aaren: Absolutely! As an information sharing resource, Sydney Sustainable Living posts and information can be supported by real world knowledge of the issues that are touched on. By understanding the factors and driving forces behind changes in our natural environment it is possible to provide a reasoned explanation as to why we would want to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and reduce our impact on the environment.

GS. Completing a masters can be very challenging, and usually requires students to balance work and personal commitments against study - was this the case for you, and how did the University of Newcastle help you to manage this challenge?

Aaren: First and foremost, the lecturers and staff at the University of Newcastle were exceptionally understanding of this situation and provided great support during the duration of the course. For me personally, I found that I was largely spending my evenings studying, completing assignments and engaging with staff and other students online. Sometimes it was quite tricky to juggle both a full-time job and my study as you would expect, but the course materials were always well prepared and there was always good communication on workloads and deadlines that helped to ease the pressure!

GS: Finally, your role in the field of sustainability must be very difficult at times, and inspiring genuine change in individual and community practices appears to require a lot of professional and personal determination. How do you find the energy required, and what would you say to other professionals considering a career in this area?

Aaren:  What has really driven me throughout this whole journey has been my own desire to try and achieve positive change – even on a personal level. To other individuals, I would say to find your passion, niche or interest and you know, just go for it! Get out there, make a difference and give it your best. There are a lot of individuals and groups that will likely help you along the way, you just need to take those first steps and get stuck in!

GS: Thanks so much for your time Aaren.

If you are as inspired by Aaren as we are, and interested in the Master of Environmental Management and Sustainability postgraduate coursework program at the University of Newcastle, click here to learn more – discover what you will study and the career opportunities it can provide.

This article relates to the following programs

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