University of Otago, Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo

For many people, Charlotte Brewer is the familiar face doing good across our main University of Otago campus and regularly bringing Dunedin’s sustainability community together to foster unity and coordination.

Currently doing a Master in Sustainable Business, she still makes time to build and maintain relationships that spark valuable collaborations which would not have happened in Dunedin otherwise.

Our sustainability champion is everything from the Students for Environmental Action president to a volunteer support worker for people with intellectual disabilities.

Her own outstanding abilities earned an internship to create a database that shows what Sustainable Development Goals are being actioned in Dunedin and where, while identifying gaps and overlaps. She also received a scholarship to represent students in a national climate challenge seminar.

Charlotte’s bubbly energy and giving nature are infectious as she takes on any challenge to support students, community groups and Dunedin to do better in the sustainability space.

>  A closer look

It is hard to miss the mahi (work) Charlotte creates time to do. She not only talks the talk, but she also walks the walk by wearing many hats:

President of Students for Environmental Action

Students for Environmental Action (S.E.A) is the primary environmental activist group on our Dunedin campus, which is our University of Otago’s main campus. This collective of passionate students is always eager to collaborate and support any of our Sustainability Office’s activities.  S.E.A members’ aims for 2021 are to facilitate student composting, expand the campus garden, and host discourse on climate justice.

As president, Charlotte has facilitated the renowned Inter-Environmental Potluck + Movie Nights, where about 5-8 community groups across Dunedin share knowledge over kai (food) in a shared space. The aim is to ensure groups working towards the same goal can collaborate and share key learnings. Because these groups are typically applying for the same funding or offering the same opportunities, this circle could easily be competitive, but the Inter-Environmental Potlucks have ensured these groups remain a united community that supports sustainable development and change across Dunedin. Other projects that Charlotte ensured SEA achieved in 2021 are:

  • S.E.A Bee Workshops to educate students about bees and how to make wax wraps as sustainable alternatives.
  • Building and maintaining the Community Garden to offer composting solutions to student flats, grow seasonal produce, offer education and gardening skills, provide volunteering opportunities, and let people use their gardening skills.
  • Supporting the Kiwi Bottle Drive, a national campaign to establish a bottle deposit scheme, to enable building a zero-waste society.
  • Encouraging and facilitating a recycling depository in Dunedin for national organisation Bread Tags for Wheelchairs, which recycles plastic bread tags and plastic lids to fund wheelchairs in South Africa.

Foodwaste Flat Hacks event

Foodwaste Flat Hacks Market Day was a student-led event inspired by a need to reduce waste to save both money and the environment. This interactive event had a range of unique activities and stalls that showcased the 157,389 tonnes of food New Zealand homes throw away every year and how to avoid waste. Charlotte’s work supported the Slow Food Youth Network creating a Disco Soup, where students gathered for a great time of dancing, good music and making soup from food scraps. Students had some of the soup – they had to bring their own cup – then it was taken across Dunedin to be distributed to the less fortunate.

Master for Sustainable Business

Charlotte’s study represents her passion, through her postgraduate Master for Sustainable Business. This interdisciplinary course provides students with an advanced qualification in sustainability. This is the only course of its type in New Zealand and the range it encompasses empowers students to follow their passions. Charlotte is exploring how our education providers could better facilitate connections to nature and how the teaching syllabus could include learning in natural environments. Through her study, Charlotte has indicated the need to create a better connection between education and the environment and highlighted how important it is for the education sector to go down this path to support future generations having relationships with our natural environments.

RCE Internship

The United Nations-recognised Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) known as Whaiao – Education for Sustainability Otago offered an internship and Charlotte jumped on the opportunity. She spent her summer researching and connecting with a range of community groups, businesses, and organisations to create a database of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are being actioned across Dunedin. This database generated an incredibly helpful mapping tool to showcase what SDGs are being actioned and where, while also identifying the gaps and overlaps. Charlotte’s ability to connect with a wide range of individuals ensured the success of this internship, as she gathered and collated information to create a database that will play a huge role in how SDGs are actioned across Dunedin.

Part-time support work

Charlotte’s busy schedule includes volunteering as a part-time support worker for youth and adults with intellectual disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders at the Community Care Trust in South Dunedin. The trust is a not-for-profit charity that aims to champion and celebrate diversity by working in partnership to enable great lives.

Aspen Institute Scholarship

Charlotte recently contributed to the Aspen Institute online panel discussion on Climate Challenges as a student representative. The seminar was titled Climate Challenges: Systems Thinking and Values Based Leadership. The Aspen Institute brings together people from diverse background to discuss complex issues affecting New Zealanders, aiming to reach common ground. Charlotte’s favourite part of the series was listening to the wide variety of different perspectives on global issues ranging from the shortcomings of electrifying transport to unpacking the inherent tensions between ecology and the economy. Charlotte could attend this panel discussion because she successfully applied for a scholarship to cover the associated costs.

There is more

Charlotte has received the top Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Aotearoa New Zealand, Hilary Award, in 2017 – the Gold Award. She has also volunteered for a range of organisations including World Challenge and Safe Animal Rights Charity. Charlotte is a Youth Councillor for the US Embassy Youth Councils as well, and part of the Dunedin-based improvisation troop Improsaurus.

>  Impact and benefits

It is hard to ignore the impact Charlotte’s mahi (work) has had on the sustainability community. Despite spreading her efforts widely, the bubbly energy and giving nature she brings to each conversation, event and collaboration is infectious – and she seems able to create limitless time to dedicate making a difference.

Charlotte’s ability to create and drive change through individuals and groups has facilitated safe spaces for students and groups to connect and collaborate on sustainable developments, change and action. Although she has not done it alone, Charlotte is well-known for maintaining trustworthy relationships that build a network of collaborations and communities.

The benefits from this include:

  • Establishing a sustainability community rather than competition across campus and wider Dunedin.
  • Connecting like-minded people to a culture of community through social sustainability.
  • Motivating and driving a group of students that advocate for climate action and sustainable change.
  • Empowering and enabling students by showcasing sustainable solutions.
  • Highlighting creative approaches to tackling food waste in flats
  • Nourishing sustainable living skills and knowledge.
  • Highlighting the importance and value of peer-to-peer engagement.
  • Facilitating awareness of the SDGs across Dunedin and educating people about them.
  • Contributing to critical conversations around climate change and action.

>  Leadership and engagement

We idealise figures like Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough for their extraordinary efforts towards climate action and see their ability to activate a movement that drives change at an incredible scale. But these figures also exist at a local scale. It is easy to underestimate the value of a familiar face who continues to drive local change, while also sharing their time and energy to create meaningful impact.

For many at our University, Charlotte is that familiar face. Not only does she embrace the opportunity to get into a space to make a difference, but she continues to facilitate that safe space for others too.

Charlotte’s ability to build and maintain relationships with motivated individuals has opened doors to collaborations and opportunities that would not have happened in Dunedin otherwise. This also has given Charlotte many hats during her time here in Dunedin, which showcases her ability to connect and nourish diverse relationships with leaders, community groups, organisations and students across this like-minded community. Her friendly nature ensures a loyal network that she maintains professionally and meaningfully.

Charlotte’s drive to see and learn new things has included exploring nature and makes the most of opportunities to reconnect to the incredible landscapes Otago has to offer, while also opening her mind to the social spaces that might require a rethink.

By harnessing the idea of sustainability and showing people how that looks as part of your day-to-day rather than just through enabled systems on campus, Charlotte champions sustainable development through study, play and profession.

In full, Charlotte is an example of the impact that can happen when somebody with passion, solicitude and appetite grabs the opportunity to create a meaningful impact. Her actions encompass what it is to selflessly and passionately drive change while also ensuring it does as much personal good as social good. Her eagerness to contribute to conversations, provide support to those who need it, and drive awareness and education cannot be unstated at our University.

>  Wider societal impact

Charlotte’s actions stretch across all sustainable development goals, giving the work she does the advantage of spreading across Dunedin. Through social and environmental sustainability, she has created meaningful impact in many spaces across the wider community and established a ripple effect of positive change.

This can be seen through:

  • Supporting the targets for SDG 10, reduced inequalities, by supporting minority communities first-hand.
  • Using Sustainable Development Goals as a tool to bring businesses, organisations and community groups together in a collaborative space.
  • Bringing conversations into rooms outside our University.
  • Establishing community rather than competition among environmental groups aiming to achieve the same outcomes but unfortunately competing for the same funding.
  • Connecting wider-community groups in Dunedin to students hoping to create impact on campus, through collaborative events and campaigns.
  • Ensuring the Community Garden remains just that, by signing on a “open gate” policy to enable anyone to enjoy the garden.
  • Ensuring people who require additional support are receiving that and being supported throughout that process.
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