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When Leura restaurant owner James Howarth established Leura Garage in 2011, he revitalised a mechanic’s workshop that had previously been inconspicuous to Leura Mall pedestrians. James introduced a unique ‘fun dining’ experience inspired by his international travels with his family. His vision to create “an immersive space, inviting for all” was quickly realised. The menu highlights the best seasonal organic produce and wines the region has to offer, the interior design reflects modernity whilst paying homage to the past, and the business provides opportunities for others, investing locally whenever possible. Sustainability is its foundation.

James chose local multi-award winning building contractors Blue Eco Homes to re-develop the property, maximising its northern aspect and re-inventing the building’s core structure. 22,000 litres of rainwater is stored under the garage, providing the restaurant with enough water to be self-sufficient. Harvested water is also diverted into 300 metres of piping under the cement floor, heated with an evacuated tube solar gas boosted system. It produces a gentle, warm heat that is evenly distributed throughout the space.

Heating can be a major cost deficit for businesses in the upper Blue Mountains in winter. Joe Mercieca’s Blue Eco Homes team incorporated measures into the design of Leura Garage that were not only cost-efficient in the longer term, but proficient in energy production, self-reliance and environmental sustainability. Taking advantage of the north-facing aspect of the building, large windows were incorporated, with bi-fold doors and a skylight allowing solar light and heat to permeate and radiate. A 10kw solar panel system, covering nearly 100sq metres of roof space, generates sufficient power fed back into the grid, lowering the electricity bill by $6,500 annually. Heating initiatives save James $7,000 in gas costs.

Other sustainable initiatives include energy efficient LED and fluorescent lighting, 3- and 4-star rating bathroom fixtures, a light monitor sensor in the bathrooms, low-emitting VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint throughout and natural ventilation with assisted industrial fans. Leura Garage boasts two Master Builder Awards, a 2015 NSW Tourism Award and a gold rating from the BM Low Carbon Living program.

Another renowned local business taking sustainability seriously is Leura’s Bygone Beautys Treasured Teapot Museum & Tearooms. They have been reaping the benefits of Blue Eco Homes’ environmentally conscious renovations since 2013, resulting in a Low Carbon Living gold rating. Refurbishments to the 100 year-old building (circa 1917) took 19 months and were recognised by the NSW Master Builders Association, winning multiple awards. “After an extensive research, we could not have chosen better environmental builders,” says Maurice Cooper OAM, co-owner of this iconic business since 1992.

Hydronic underfloor heating using rainwater from storage tanks maintains a constant heat in winter. Insulation in the roof ensures the internal temperature remains above 13.5˚C. Double-glazed windows throughout the property retain the heat in winter and deflect direct sunlight in the summer. Fly screens allow windows to be opened and air flow to cool the interior.

The LCL carbon audit suggested novel sustainability options, and Maurice implemented what was possible, finding solutions to problems as they arose. Four watt LED globes in the chandeliers, display cabinets, utility rooms and kitchen areas guarantee 30,000 hours of lighting. A commercial curtain reduces fluctuation in the freezer’s temperature. Accumulated waste is separated into recyclable, landfill and organic bins, with organic waste composted and used in Bygone’s flowerbeds and offsite. Employees are aware of environmental practices and turn off lights in areas not being utilised. Limited table linen reduces laundry costs and tea towels are recycled. Bathrooms supply interleaf towels, reducing waste and toilets use grey water from the detention water tanks.

Katoomba’s Mountain Heritage Hotel & Spa Retreat, on the cusp of the Jamison Valley, is serious about its environmental impact and is making progressive change. The rewards are encouraging and have ensured successful business outcomes - cost reduction (higher profit), improved business efficiency and market awareness, invariable ethical business practices and client satisfaction. Due recognition has reverberated in the community with a double win at the 2016 Blue Mountains Business Awards and a silver rating from the Low Carbon Living Program. “Running an organisation actively reducing its carbon footprint has been an exceptionally positive experience”, says General Manager Eric Sward.

Eric began the journey of reducing the hotel’s carbon footprint by finding a mentor – an energy management consultant, Eco Profit Management, to help pave the way. Audits were conducted, waste, water and energy usage reviewed and the accumulated carbon footprint calculated.  A sustainability policy was drawn up and a Sustainable Supply Chain Management plan (SSCM) was put into effect.

Implementation began immediately - the evaluation of solar power and a hydronic hot water system, the re-negotiation of contracts with energy supplier ERM for favourable competitive rates, investment in Aircon Off Smart Remote controlled energy-efficient air-conditioning and sourcing an ethical, organic linen supplier and local laundry service provider. 

The decision to choose an eco-friendly linen supplier was an easy one. Lithgow’s Access Industries, a not-for-profit that supplies and launders the hotel’s linen and provides employment opportunities to people with disabilities, recommended EcoLinen Australia.  Founded by textile importer and supplier Tim Ower Mohavi and his wife 15 years ago, EcoLinen is the first certified organic bed linen supplier in Australasia. It offers ethically made 100% cotton and bamboo bed linen certified by the Global Organics Textiles Standards (GOTS) and uses Oeko-Tex® approved European organic dyes. Considering cotton is sprayed with 25% of the world’s pesticides, EcoLinen is hypo-allergenic, carcinogenic- and toxic-free and helps regulate body temperature due to the extra wide, superior yarn for better breathability.  

Having worked for almost 30 years in the textile industry Tim could see where improvements could be made. “A broader range of sustainable products, increased fair trade opportunities and a greater use of organic materials. People want to make ethical choices and we wanted to provide an alterative”. EcoLinen also supplies Mountain Heritage with cotton/polyester towels that last 30% longer than regular towels, and take 30% less time to launder.

Recently joined LCL-BM members Palais Royal Palais Royale also use Access Industries Lithgow laundering services, and are keen to introduce additional carbon saving initiatives over time.

Mountain Heritage’s other sustainable initiatives include LED lights throughout, soap recycling, reverse-cycle air-conditioners, timers and sensors for lighting systems, general recycling and food waste collected and composted by Leura’s Whispering Pines owners.

Katoomba’s family-owned business Blue Mountains Explorer Bus and Fantastic Aussie Tours is Australia’s first carbon neutral transport company, credited by the National Carbon Offset Standard Carbon Neural Program (NCOS). The 43 year-old business is reducing its carbon footprint by offsetting unavoidable carbon dioxide emissions from its mostly diesel-fuelled buses by investing in efforts to remove 100% of the carbon dioxide produced. Linda Brillante, the company’s strategist, explains that the decision was made to gain recognition from the NCOS program because of its extensive guidelines and procedures, its rigid and structured process, its comprehensive audit and exact emissions calculation from across the supply chain, encompassing every aspect of the business. “It is with great pride that we can state that we are the first transport company in Australia to be recognised as carbon neutral”.

And the accolades continue, with the Blue Mountains Low Carbon Living Program awarding BM Explorer Bus with a gold rating, acknowledging the high efficiency of the bus fleet and completing the rigorous NCOS process permitting carbon offsets for energy used by vehicles of transport companies. Program Director, Dr John Merson, revised the LCL rating system and approved a change of policy to allow for the assessment of transport companies who are making every effort to lower carbon emissions. A transport business category is now included that better reflects the emissions profile of transport-orientated businesses.

BM Explorer Bus currently has 4 red Volvo Olympian Alexander Royale double decker buses imported from Scotland, with a fifth recently purchased, 8 coaches, 20 drivers and 10 staff members. The investment in reliable Volvo engines and Scottish engineering has guaranteed high efficiency and low maintenance. Darryl Booth, chief mechanic and a partner of the business, ensures the fleet is maintained to the highest standard ahead of schedule, reducing the replacement of parts and the possibility of breakdowns. Every component is recycled, the oil is carbon neutral and metal is reused. Bus drivers are required to have regular, updated training on how to operate the vehicles efficiently, considering variations in seasonal weather and passenger load.

In 2007 Katoomba was the first Australian community declared a Cittaslow International town, for its commitment to improving residents quality of life. Goolwa (S.A) and Yea (Vic), have also joined 233 Cittaslow cities globally to slow life down, highlight and protect local unique natural environments, promote local history, culture and creativity, and share locally sourced food,. Local sourcing of food and processing of waste are essential aspects to reducing the carbon load associated with transporting and processing food and waste around the country and globally.

As an evolving part of the Slow Food philosophy, Cittaslow is embracing a slower more meaningful lifestyle that brings people together around common goals to create quality of life for the whole  community.

Sue Bell (BMCC Principal Urban Designer), Anne Elliott (Slow Food convenor) and Janet Cahill (Katoomba Chamber of Commerce & Community) collated Katoomba’s membership application.  Eco architect Nigel Bell is the Cittaslow convenor. “Katoomba has an established genuine community”, says Nigel, so meeting Cittaslow critera wasn’t difficult. “This community embraces the Cittaslow philosophy. One of the biggest challenges is bringing everyone together to achieve common goals,” says Anne Elliott.

Trading local energy was the topic of discussion at Katoomba’s March 2017 Big Ideas Futures Forum: a Blue Mountains Living Lab initiative co-hosted by the Blue Mountains Youth Summit. The idea is that if you have solar panels and storage batteries you can  trade your solar energy on a virtual a platform that connects you with community members who want to buy it. If you are concerned about rising energy prices, the platform offers the opportunity to purchase locally farmed clean energy at a competitive rate.

Nexergy founded by Darius Salgo and Grant Young, is creating a fairer energy system, where individual investment in renewable energy is rewarded and more sustainable living can be made available to all.  Similarly to 'Airbnb', Nexergy’s local energy trading platform is "a win-win: those with solar and batteries get better returns, and buyers reduce their energy costs”.

The concept is not new for other parts of the world, but Nexergy is introducing the benefits to communities around Australia and developing a following that will hopefully create more inspiring success stories. Grant Young points out that Australian rooftop solar energy now exceeds Snowy Hydro Scheme production. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that by 2040 a third of Australia’s energy supply will be produced "behind the metre": from privately-owned PV solar systems.

The Escarpment Groups ‘Hydro Majestic Hotel’ at Medlow Bath has entered a new phase of sustainability with five direct injection compost units, or ‘Macerators’ to be installed at the Hydro Majestic, Lilianfels Resort & Spa and Echoes Boutique Hotel this month to manage the vast amount of organic waste produced.

The macerator grinds up all kitchen food waste and pumps it into a tank that is electronically monitored.  When approaching full capacity, notification is received by the service company and a truck takes the reduced contents to an organic ‘pulp’ to an EPA approved broad acre farm to be ‘directly’ injected onto a paddock

The Hydro Majestic produces 1.5 tonnes of food waste weekly. A national hospitality sector food waste study estimates 40% of restaurant and hotel food ends up in landfill annually. Escarpment Group’s Chief Engineer, Peter Redman, has spent 7 years researching sustainability options to lower the Group’s large amount of food waste, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decision was prompted by a $127,000 NSW government’s Bin Trim Business Grant, to invest in direct injection units for their commercial kitchens at a total cost of $300,000.  “Considering we spend $311 per tonne sending food waste to landfill, and produce two to three tonnes of food waste across Lilianfels, Echoes and the Hydro Majestic Hotels, the gross savings amount to $75,000 a year.  The investment will be recuperated in two years, the venture is commercially and environmentally viable and sets a precedent’. says Peter.

Also moving towards low carbon operations, Blue Mountains City Council’s Carbon Abatement Action will identify “carbon hotspots” within Council operations, and develop and fund projects to reduce carbon emissions in those areas. Council’s introduced green bin service and ongoing education and capacity building programs have reduced domestic organic waste going to landfill.

Business organic waste to landfill remains an issue. Council is supporting and promoting the NSW EPAs highly successful Bin Trim program for businesses interested in reducing carbon emissions due to waste going to landfill go to: http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/managewaste/120792-bin-trim.pdf

One Escarpment Group long-term goal is to develop their Parklands’ 3000sqm kitchen garden to fully supply all four local properties. Another goal is to invest in solar energy. General Manager, Ralf Bruegger, explains that design, durability and investment return are all factors being considered.  Hydro Majestic’s current energy provider is Origin Energy. “The hotels’ energy consumption is predominantly during off-peak times (night and weekends) so gas and electricity bills are not exorbitant”,

Ralf argues that “it is important to meet our guests’ expectations of a luxurious experience, but also be conscientious of our carbon footprint”. Ralf is confident guests are aware of what can be achieved without lowering standards or compromising on comfort.

Katoomba’s Shelton-Lea Bed & Breakfast’s owners, Jenny and Paul McLaughlin, manage four self-contained private suites at their classic Blue Mountains bungalow. They are Gold rated LCL members  with solar panels, a water tank, LED light bulbs, waste recycling, energy-efficient fridges and appliances, separately zoned central heating, environmentally-friendly toiletries in the bathrooms, free-range meat, eggs and local produce-sourced breakfasts, worm farming and composting.  They have a TripAdvisor ‘Green Leaders’ Platinum level distinction.

Jenny and Paul began worm farming four years ago with two worm farms shaded at the rear of the property. Worm farms can consume large quantities of food waste and  produce copious amounts of ‘worm tea’ and castings, an ideal nutrient-rich garden fertiliser. “The worms came with the starter kits and we have thousands of worms now”, says Jenny. They are fed food scraps from the B&B with the exception of meat, citrus and eggshells.

Katoomba North Public School (KNPS) is the first school to join the Blue Mountains - Low Carbon Living program, committing to reducing its carbon footprint. Whilst constrains of the public school system make localised change challenging, the KNPS community are determined to make a change.  KNPS’s Principal, Cathy Clark, has embarked on a sustainability plan involving the whole school community. Encouraging environmental awareness, providing ongoing educational opportunities, and encouraging community contributions towards developing a wholehearted sustainable living mindset and practices, are key.

Local owner of the award winning Rooster Restaurant and Jamison Guesthouse, Ross Delaney has made significant renovations to the heritage-listed building to ensure energy efficiency without compromising the 1890s Edwardian architecture or structure. Double-glazing, time regulated central heating, waste management, LED lighting and energy efficient globes he been installed since joining the LCL Program 2 years ago.  

Katoomba’s Bendigo Bank is the first Upper Blue Mountains bank to invest in solar panels. The bank is making a conscious effort to reduce its carbon footprint, commit to helping the environment and set an example for other businesses.

“Renewable energy isn’t just an environmental statement, it’s economically smart,” proclaims a billboard mounted on the pavement outside its branch.

Lillianfels impressive efforts to reduce energy use include lighting upgrades, changes to cooling and heating controls, and the implementation of a sophisticated energy recovery system. These measures have contributed to a 25% decline in electricity use per customer since 2010. The carbon savings from this drop in energy use equate to over 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year – a 20% saving compared to what emissions would otherwise have been.

Wild Valley Art Park features an impressive range of sustainability features. All electricity is obtained from solar panels, and all water is sourced from rainwater tanks or the on-site dam. Due to this self-sufficiency, Wild Valley’s carbon footprint is estimated to be less than one tenth of what it would be if energy and water were sourced from the NSW electricity grid and water supply.

Silvermere Guest House have reduced their potable water usage by around 40% by implementing a number of innovative water saving initiatives.  These include recycling roof and bath water, filtering stormwater through ponds, and minimising garden watering using mulch and grass cuttings.  The reduction in water usage has in turn resulted in a significant decline in Silvermere’s carbon dioxide emissions.