Currumbin RSL’s clean and green make over

Alleys Restaurant foraging in its gardens Currumbin RSL
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The award-winning “little club” is punching above its weight when it comes to sustainability and hoping to inspire the hospitality industry to follow suit.

How do you imagine CEO of the Currumbin RSL, Anne Stovin, finished off her 18-hour working day on Anzac Day, which started with the dawn service and saw her club full to its 1300-person capacity?

Come closing time on the club’s busiest day of the year, its hands-on leader could be found rummaging through garbage skips separating recyclables to reduce the waste going into landfill.

“I was smelling of bourbon and coke by the end,” Anne laughs, but this is just one example of the club’s serious and ongoing commitment to sustainability.

An RSL might not be the first place you expect to be leading the clean, green charge but the popular club on the banks of Currumbin Creek has embraced the environmental ethos of the area with gusto. Currumbin is, after all, home to the Gold Coast and Hinterland Environment Centre (GECKO) and the Ecovillage at Currumbin Valley, the world’s leading sustainable housing development.

Over the past several years the club has been introducing a series of environmental initiatives to reduce water and energy use, cut waste going to landfill, recycle glass, plastics, paper and organic matter, grow its own herbs and vegetables and source as much produce as possible locally. The result has been a dramatic reduction in their power bills, a huge decrease in the amount of waste going to landfill, a bunch of awards for its environmental practices and a pervasive sense of pride amongst its management and staff.

“It’s just evolved over time. We’re just chipping away,” says Anne. “We see it as our responsibility to lead the way.”

To that end, the club has adopted the Bio-Bin, which recycles 100% of organic matter into compost. It requires a strict policy of separating food scraps from non-compostables like plastic straws across all its food venues and rigorous waste management systems from staff. The practice has allowed them to reduce their number of general waste bins by half.

It creates more work for kitchen staff but they don’t appear to mind a bit. Kitchen hand Mark Elley has become the gate-keeper of the Bio-Bin, overseeing the correct management of all kitchen waste. “You have to get the wet to dry ratio perfect, just like a compost pile.

Mark is champion of our Bio-Bin. He’s amazing. He’s got this managed process, and he watches what happens and knows the amounts to go in,” says Kerry Shepherd, the club’s community relationships and sustainability manager. “We got one venue right, the restaurant, and then introduced another venue … Mark oversees this and, by and by, we just introduced each venue and now it’s fantastic and cranking.”

“It makes work a bit more meaningful knowing that you’re doing the right thing,” says Mark with quiet pride.

Funding from the Keep Australia Beautiful Recycled Beverage Container grants allowed for the purchase of a $13,000 bottle crusher, the Bottle Cycler, which allows 3000 bottles a week to be crushed on site and then collected to be melted down and recycled.

Some 500 light bulbs have been replaced throughout the club, using energy efficient LED or compact fluro bulbs. Sensors throughout the administration offices ensure lights are switched off when not in use. Thorough “zoning” of their air-conditioning system means they only need to heat or cool those areas of the club that need it. Three rain water tanks with a total storage of 90,000 litres provide water for gardens, maintenance and toilet flushing.

Outside, two vegetable gardens provide seasonal herbs and vegetables and the goal is to be 100% self-sufficient for herbs. A recently installed Flow-Hive will produce around 4 kg of honey a month, and honey is currently sourced from nearby Currumbin Valley. The club’s food policy is to source as much produce as possible within a 100-km radius and they recently staged a community breakfast where the only thing they couldn’t find locally was butter.

“Our head chef Felicity Best works really hard on that. She’s fiercely passionate about sourcing locally,” says Kerry.

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“Chefs go and forage in the garden for herbs. Our head chef works out her menus seasonally and tells the gardener what’s going to be needed. Our gardener is a volunteer, Bevin Ford, a retired local club member with a very green thumb and a passion to help.”

On Anzac Day the club’s entire food service used 100% compostable food and drink containers, all of which could go into its Bio-Bins, dramatically reducing waste to landfill.

The club is accredited with the Queensland Government’s EcoBiz program to help businesses adopt sustainable practices, and EarthCheck, the world’s leading environmental benchmarking program for travel and tourism.

Solar panels have been installed at Ignite Education, the club’s hospitality training centre over the road, and the Dune Café which it manages at Palm Beach Parklands. The Dune Café panels were funded by a donation from the Eco-Challenge, a local community surfing event that promotes sustainability, run by local environmentalist Greg Howell.

“People who work here get an education. Every time someone gets inducted they’re inducted into our environmental policies,” says Kerry Shepherd. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Kerry was also the co-founder of the Eco-village at Currumbin Valley with her late husband Chris Walton.

But, as Kerry points out, sustainability is about much more than the old catchcry of reduce, re-use, recycle. “Socially it’s really important the club is forward thinking.

“Sustainability isn’t just about the environment. It’s about the triple bottom line – economic, social, environmental,” she says.

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The club supports local schools, businesses, sporting associations and community groups. Sometimes that’s through grants or in-kind support with the provision of venues for events.

“There’s 11 schools within our catchment and we’re connected to all of them,” says Kerry. “We ensure all of them get a contribution from our community benefit fund and no one misses out.”

A seniors’ group was formed to combat social isolation and offers excursions, workshops and activities. With 400 members, events are always fully booked.

“The Club is seen as one of the large stake holders in the Southern Gold Coast. We’re seen as one of the corporate stake holders that the community looks to for assistance,” says Kerry.

Other key stakeholders in the area include Gold Coast Airport, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, John Flynn Hospital and the Tugun Bendigo Bank. “There’s a really great communal collaboration between these organisations,” says Kerry.

CEO Anne Stovin agrees and is excited about the potential for this collaboration to achieve great things.

“Connecting Southern Gold Coast has agreed to try and make the Southern Gold Coast a sustainable destination. Local businesses are starting to respond,” she says. “If we can all work collectively I think we can achieve huge things. I think in the next couple of years you’ll see some really good inroads.”

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