High school students from across the Illawarra joined Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis last Friday at Edmund Rice College for their fifth annual Sustainability Conference.

The student-led event saw teachers and students from several schools, from St Mary’s in Wollongong to Waverley College in Bondi, gather to share new ideas about taking charge of sustainability at their campuses.

Environmental educator and Silver Logie winner Mr Georgiadis hosted a presentation on leadership and managing waste at schools, while Robert Servine, General Manager of social good non-profit Green Connect, spoke about their progress emerging from the pandemic.

Students worked together to brainstorm ideas on how to reduce litter at their schools and normalise the usage of correct bins. Later, each school worked on a long-term action plan involving environmental strategies and initiatives to take into the new year.

Costa Georgiadis gives his presentation.

Edmund Rice College Sustainability Coordinator Diane Schodde said the event exceeded her expectations and that “there was a real buzz about the place before we even started”.

“This year everyone was here really early, and it gave them a chance to interact with each other on their tables from different schools,” Mrs Schodde said.

Year 12 Sustainability Prefect Cooper Newell-Glaser shared similar sentiments and spoke of his relief that morale among students was high.

“The students were very keen to learn. They are here willing to make a change, and they are trying to get out there and help the world,” he said.

“I think that today has really given them a new perspective as to how they can make change– no matter how big or small– in our community.”

Students of Edmund Rice College creating a sustainability action plan.

For the past year, Mr Newell-Glaser has led EcoERC, the school’s sustainability club. In March, the group held their biannual Waste Audit, which involves tracking the amount of waste from different bins around campus to see how their footprint is reducing.

With the 2024 student leadership team being sworn in soon, Mr Newell-Glaser hopes EcoERC can follow the school’s sustainability action plan and organise more initiatives for the college community.

“Bringing in compost bins would be a really good idea for the future [along with] the inclusion of the garden beds and restoring the creek. It’s a good step in the right direction for sustainability in the next year, and years to come,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Schodde hopes that next year’s conference will put a bigger spotlight on the students, with more prefect-led workshops.

“If different schools do different types of workshops, you’re all getting together, and this is truly *your* conference. The teachers are only here to facilitate, that’s the idea,” he said.