Sustainable Cities, held in November 2021, was hosted by Council magazine, and it was the latest event to be held under the highly successful Smart Cities banner. This virtual event consisted of two free-to-attend virtual conferences, exploring the ways that Australia’s local government sector is bringing sustainable principles into the way their cities, towns and communities operate.

Over the course of the two conferences, speakers explored the concept of the sustainable city, looking at the different pillars of sustainability and how these are applied in a local government context.

The program also took a closer look at some of Australia’s most sustainable cities, diving deep into where and how they are excelling in achieving sustainability objectives.

Conference one, Exploring Sustainable Cities, looked at sustainability in our cities and communities in a broader context. We explored what sustainability means to councils around Australia, and considered the benchmarks the local government sector uses to measure its sustainability performance.

Conference two, Sustainable Cities in Action, drilled down to case studies providing full visibility of some of Australia’s best performing cities when it comes to sustainability.

These case studies covered a range of sustainability principles, including the built environment, energy, water, waste, consumption and much more. Conference one kicked off with a keynote presentation from Natasha Palich, Executive Officer at the Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE).

Natasha spoke about the need for collaborative governance in order to encourage practices across our cities and organisations.

Natasha also spoke extensively about CASBE’s role in creating a specific methodology for assessing projects against sustainable goals, a crucial part in developing a movement that has turned ideas around sustainability into concrete action.

Natasha’s presentation was followed by Roger Swinbourne, ARUP’s Australasia Sustainability Leader, who discussed the next steps local governments need to take in their sustainability journeys.

Roger’s presentation provided delegates with some historical context on the development of a sustainability industry in Australia, and he noted that our understanding of sustainability globally has been gradually increasing in complexity in recent years.

Viewing sustainability through a social, environmental and economic lens has become relatively common; but Roger noted that we now also see a big focus on resilience, particularly towards environmental challenges like floods and bushfires.

Panellists discussing the sustainable development goals and how these apply to local government

The last two years have also led to a massive shift in financial markets now requiring businesses to have sustainable practices embedded in their organisation, which has been a positive step forward for sustainability advocates and professionals.

There’s a growing realisation that as planetary limits are being pushed, we need to come together to define some key future goals in the sustainability realm. But bringing multiple parties together for positive sustainability outcomes can be a challenge.

According to Roger, a big part of resolving this challenge will be in finding the common language that all parties will be engaged by.

The next presentation from Strategic Smart City Consultant, Gordon Falconer, focused on the work Norwegian cities have undertaken to achieve sustainability goals; and the final session for the first conference was a panel discussion looking at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and local government, focusing on how local governments can rise to the challenge and reap the benefits that come with adopting the SDGs.

The keynote speaker for conference two was Nick Kamper, the Chief Executive Officer at Purpose Bureau, and his presentation focused on the fact that local governments are often the unsung heroes of sustainability.

Purpose Bureau uses a range of data sources to gain sustainability insights into companies and organisations, and their research shows that commitment to net zero is often a good indicator of sustainability momentum.

The good news at the local government level is that almost half of Australia’s population live in LGAs are already committed to net zero, with Victoria being the state leading the country in local government commitment to net zero.

Overall, 17 per cent of Australian councils have made a net zero commitment, as opposed to a Purpose Bureau analysis of 50,000 private sector businesses, which found that only six per cent of large businesses have a net zero commitment.

Nick’s presentation was followed by Maria Zotti, the Manager of Park Lands and Sustainability at the City of Adelaide, who discussed Adelaide’s lofty sustainability goals. The City has already committed to having the entire city carbon neutral by 2025, with the council organisation itself already carbon neutral.

According to Maria, Adelaide boasts the greenest town hall in Australia, which has led to massive electricity savings for Council. The early successes the City saw on its sustainability journey led to the development of a Climate Change Risk Adaptation Action Plan, which represents a massive program of works to ensure the city is climate ready.

The next speaker was Wendy Steele, who is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Urban Research and School of Global Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University. Wendy presented her research on helping local communities find meaningful ways to address sustainability, which has identified an emerging model of quiet activism within local communities all around Australia.

Conference two concluded with a panel discussion on the topic of “Sustainability in local government: beyond the first steps”, during which Portia Odell, Director of the Cities Power Partnership, Guy Pritchard, Manager of the SV Lab at Sustainability Victoria, Professor Brendan Mackey, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and Kieren Moffat, CEO of Voconiq, looked at some of the initiatives local governments should be looking at to move beyond the basics and take their sustainability journey to the next level.

Sustainable Cities was well-attended by delegates from councils all around Australia, and it was a fascinating exploration of the things local governments have achieved to date when it comes to sustainability, and the next steps they can take to ensure they remain in step with the expectations of their residents.

The conference was made possible by the generous support of our sponsors: Event Partner Axis Communications, Session Partner Fimer, Panel Sponsor Vococniq and Sponsor GHD.

The Sustainable Cities conversation will continue in May, when Council hosts our first virtual conference for the year, Smart Cities. For more information on this event, and to register for free, head to


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