Lily Dempster advocates for community and connectedness with her start-up, The Neighbourhood Effect

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When Lily Dempster took the plunge and moved from Canberra to Melbourne for her career, she knew it would be a big change. What she didn’t prepare for, was the challenge of finding her tribe and creating a new community. Moving suburbs is one thing, but moving interstate without a support network can be a making or breaking experience.

For Lily, it was the sparking idea behind her business, The Neighbourhood Effect, and now, she channels her love for the environment and her understanding of the power of a strong community to have a positive impact, every day…

You lived in Canberra before moving to Melbourne. Why did you move?

Canberra is great but it’s a small town with 50% public servants, so I was having trouble recruiting the right people into the team in tech and design. Moving to Melbourne has allowed me to build out the team in a way that was pretty essential for the business to succeed. As a founder, working in the environmental impact space I also felt like I was lacking access to a community of passionate social and environmental entrepreneurs. Moving to OneRoof in particular in Melbourne gave me access to a big, wonderful and supportive network of inspiring women running their own initiatives so that’s been great from a wellbeing standpoint for me too. 

Was settling in a new city hard? What was your biggest personal challenge? 

No. To be honest it was easy because of OneRoof and the community I tapped into here straight away. It’s what I’d been missing in Canberra! My biggest personal challenge was feeling really tired for a few months while I was getting used to a new city – moving is tiring! I kind of just had to be okay with that until I got my usual level of energy back.

Was the idea behind The Neighbourhood Effect an ‘ah ha’ moment, or a few years in the making?

I was working as GetUp’s Market Impact Director, running campaigns that switched members to low-carbon products online. In one campaign we switched 4000 people to GreenPower in 4 months. That campaign had double the impact of a community solar farm I’d worked on that took years to get off the ground. The other campaign we ran had the impact of taking 50,000 cars off the road, and we did that in a single year. So I recognised in that role that because of our high per capita emissions in Western countries, we can actually have a very rapid impact on carbon emission reductions when we act collectively to reduce our personal footprints. Plus, by that stage I’d become obsessed with behavioural economics and recognised there was a gap in the environmental movement. There was no systematic approach to facilitate widescale behaviour change. We needed to apply the emerging scientific research on how to quickly and cheaply help people change their behaviour and adopt new habits, and create an empirical model to enable the widescale uptake of pro-environmental behaviours. That’s why I started The Neighbourhood Effect.

What’s a week in your shoes look like as the Founder of an environmental impact start-up? 

I have trouble remembering what happened last week, because you tend to pack a lot into a small amount of time. No week is the same, aside from the fact that there’s always a lot of work to do. 

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Many hands make light work of climate change. What three actions can we take on a day to day basis to have a global impact?

So this questions is a bit weird – because we have to act together in order to have a global impact. The cool thing is that that’s increasingly possible, and more and more people are changing their lifestyles and being more mindful of the stuff they buy and it’s already having a flow-on effect.

Cut down on your meat intake, red meat in particular. Red meat is super emissions-intensive. The World Health Organisation recommends only 90g per day of meat as part of a healthy diet. Red meat and smoked meats are actually associated with higher risk of certain cancers. Rather than just taking the meat out of a meal and feeling deprived or like you’re punishing yourself (that’s not how you do vegetarian food!), try approaching it in a way where you get to learn a new, fun, really healthy way of cooking. Can you do a veggie stir fry? What about a delicious curry? How about finding a vegan restaurant and trying out the food there and making a date of it? There are fun, delicious and healthy ways to enjoy a low-meat diet, it’s just about having the repertoire of skills as a cook to make those meals tasty and filling.

If you can afford it, switch to GreenPower. Almost all power companies offer a GreenPower option for your electricity. It’s the equivalent for most homes of about another two cups of coffee a week in fees. It offsets your electricity-related emissions by adding that same amount you consume into the grid in the form of renewable energy, so you’re supporting renewable energy while offsetting all of your energy-related carbon emissions! Otherwise check out our website for other suggestions on energy usage that’ll help you reduce your impact there along with your bills. 

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Stop buying stuff you don’t really need or that you ultimately throw out after a few uses. Instead, borrow stuff you only use occasionally from your friends and neighbours. We buy so much stuff we don’t need and there’s a big emissions footprint associated with all of it. Living in a more minimalist way is great for your sense of calm, focus and general wellbeing. There are fantastic groups like Good Karma Network and Buy Nothing you can join to give away stuff you’re no longer using, to neighbours who will actually make use of it, and you can also post on there to get gifted household items for free, all based on the generosity of the community you’re living in. How lovely is that?

Most people find it easier to look away and do nothing, rather than roll up their sleeves and do something about social and environmental issues. Why do you care so much about changing the world for the better? 

Most people actually really care about this and are quite concerned about climate change and the state of the environment, but they’re really unclear on whether their choices actually matter so they feel pretty disempowered. There’s a lot of shame and guilt around the environment that we need to dispel to be able to change our habits. Everyone is pretty overloaded, stressed, has a lot to worry about apart from whether they used a metal or a plastic straw today. It’s not helpful to guilt people. But the amazing thing is we can make a few small changes, they really don’t take that much thought or effort, it’s really good for our sense of self efficacy when we can see ourselves making those changes in our own lives, and when even just a couple of thousand of us act together, the impact from an environmental standpoint can be rapid and significant. Like everyone, I want to be a good person, and I have been worried about climate change for a very long time, from when I first realised it is a huge social justice issue. The worst impacts of global warming affect the poorest people, and those who were least responsible for causing the problem in the first place. It’s unfair. I’m motivated by fairness and I have a sense of personal agency around this issue that I want to help other people get in touch with too.  

Who inspires you?

Lots of people. My friend and democracy advocate Hannah Aulby, inspires me. She has just established a think tank called the Centre for Public Integrity. The organisation is headed by public law experts and judges and focuses on improving the integrity of Australian public institutions, for example through political donations reform and setting up a federal anti-corruption watchdog.

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You’re a self-confessed ‘climate activist’. What’s the biggest environmental challenge we’re facing today, and what can we do about it? 

Global warming is obviously a huge, wicked, complex problem and its potential impacts are very scary. The things I’ve listed above are a start. On the political front, it’s my view that our federal political system is currently very ill-equipped to effectively address climate change. I think this is partly the result of a broken campaign finance system and the influence of very large and powerful corporate interests in politics. There are great groups like 350.org and Market Forces that you can sign up to if you want to actively participate in political and consumer campaigns that put pressure on government and business to mitigate climate change. We can also exercise our power as consumers, by actively supporting businesses who are doing the right thing by the environment, to help them grow their market share. You can also get involved in the local sustainability initiatives in your community. Environmental sustainability is actually a skillset that takes time to build. If you’re new to this, you can start by signing up to our website and using our free online tool to get suggestions on some of the stuff you can do today to reduce your impact. 

What one superpower would you have and why?

Flying! It’d be wonderful to fly obviously, plus it’d massively cut down carbon footprints. Jet fuel is incredibly polluting, and from a technological standpoint we don’t yet have a viable alternative, although a lot of research and development is happening with synthetic gases. 

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This blog was written by the incredible and talented Claire Goldsworthy, Founder of The Fashion Advocate.

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