The Natural Edge Project (TNEP) is a collaborative partnership for research, education, and policy development on innovation for sustainable development.
TNEP’s mission is to contribute to and succinctly communicate leading research, case studies, tools, policy and strategies for achieving sustainable development across government, business and civil society. Driven by a team of early career Australians, the non-profit Project receives mentoring and support from a range of experts and leading organisations in Australia and internationally.
TNEP’s main activities involve undertaking research, creating education material and curriculum, and advising on industry and economic development policy. This research is supported by a range of grants, sponsorship (both in-kind and financial) and donations. The project is based at Griffith University and ANU and they provide oversight and financial accountability for the use of TNEP funds. Previous to this The Institution of Engineers Australia incubated and hosted TNEP as a special project from 2002-2006.
TNEP undertakes a range of action research activities to inform and further develop its research program, including delivering short courses, workshops, design charrettes, strategic planning sessions and conference presentations and to build industry experience and relationships.
During the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005 – 2014), we are focused on making sustainability relevant to this and future generations as we undertake the following actions:
- Engaging in and facilitating discussion on best practice in sustainable
- Engendering cooperation and collaboration across sectors, disciplines and qualifications to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future.
- Identifying knowledge gaps and undertaking original research on how to operationalise sustainable development.
- Communicating existing and emerging concepts to a contemporary audience, thereby raising awareness and understanding about sustainability issues.
The Natural Edge Project seeks to achieve its mission through a range of initiatives that will deliver:
- Peer reviewed and endorsed material (including books, education modules, study guides and online resources) with a range of leaders in the field.
- Short courses and training programs in partnership with professional bodies, vocational and higher education institutions, and organisations.
- Action research projects with a range of organisations, helping them to achieve a profitable transition towards sustainable practice and informing TNEP research programs.
- Opportunities for generational exchange and mentoring through keynote lectures, seminars, forums and interactive sessions with national and international leaders and experts.
As the initial team was made up of young engineers and scientists with Charlie Hargroves, Cheryl Desha, and James Moody having each previously been volunteer Presidents of state chapters of Young Engineers Australia (a group of Engineers Australia), and Mike Smith being active in the science community, the logical place to start when we formed TNEP in September 2002 was the engineering professional body, the Institution of Engineers Australia, and the leading Australian science research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The team approached both the Engineers Australia Director for Engineering Practice, Martin Dwyer and the then Director for Marketing and Communication, Steve Williamson, with the proposal for the publication of ‘The Natural Advantage of Nations’ and the response was amazing! The Institution agreed to become the administrative host for the project as a form of in-kind support, providing strong accountability as to the use of funds and also making the first financial contribution to the project, both direct and through corporate services, and becoming the first Foundation Partner.
Since this time, the members of the project have received a great deal of mentoring and support from many of the Institution’s leaders, such as Dr Peter Greenwood, Doug Jones and Prof. Andrew Downing (Past Presidents), John Boshier (ex-CEO), Barry Grear AO (ex-CEO), and a number of staff members such as Martin Dwyer, Steve Williamson, Paul Varsanyi, Julie Armstrong, Ann Ryle and Peta Lindsay.
With this strong base we then turned our attention to CSIRO and again received a great deal of mentoring from both Geoff McAlpine and Elizabeth Heij. CSIRO also agreed to become a Foundation Partner and make a strong financial contribution to the Project.
In addition to these groups, our team approached Ron Clarke, a world-record holding Olympic athlete, who was at the time heading up the Centre for the Encouragement of Philanthropy in Australia (CEPA). In this group we found a very receptive partner
The initial support from Engineers Australia, CSIRO and CEPA Trust our team as well as a personal contribution from the projects co-founder, James Moody, enabled the team to focus on the development of the publication, ‘The Natural Advantage of Nations’.
The team also gained significant support from partners such as the RMIT Global Sustainability Unit, Queensland EPA Sustainable Industries Division, Environment Business Australia, Barton Group, Hatch Engineering and, through the donation of our website, by Australian web developer Izilla.
While developing The Natural Advantage of Nations, the team was able to undertake an extensive programme to meet with a range of leaders in the field, both in Australia and internationally, to discuss the various issues and learn from their wealth of experience and knowledge. Following this, our team developed a précis of the argument we intended to develop in the publication and invited peer review and comments from our newly formed network. Realising that we needed to ensure the work built on from the best in the field, we approached the likes of Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, Bill McDonough, Alan AtKisson, Michael Fairbanks and David Suzuki and were given strong support in each case, which heavily influenced the development of the publication.
The Project’s Advisory Board provides high-level advice and mentoring, and each of the organisations involved was invited to nominate an operational representative to the projects Steering Committee to provide a clear point of contact and input on operational issues such as peer review, the contribution of case studies and media related material. A volunteer Working Group was also formed to engage other young professionals and researchers in sustainable development related activities.
Our team is grateful for the amazing level of support received in developing this project. In hindsight, we set ourselves a difficult task of building a network around the development of a project and doing our best to ensure that the key groups, peak bodies, and individuals were involved. This called for many hours of conversation, emails, proposal writing, and research, adding significantly to our cost and time to deliver our first publication. However, ‘the process is as important as the product’, and the genuine level of engagement achieved throughout the project by undertaking such a task allowed us to build a strong collaborative network.
With the generosity of TNEP’s partners and the spirit of genuine partnerships, we are confident that TNEP is now a part of the move toward a sustainable future. TNEP activities are not-for-profit, supported initially by our founding partners, and now supported by a range of in-kind and financial supporters and grant providers. Such support and revenue raised is invested directly in existing project work and the development of initiatives – in Australia and internationally.We hope that peak bodies globally support the genuine initiative of its young scientists and engineers, as CSIRO and Engineers Australia have done here in Australia.