10 La Trobe alumni eco-champions fighting for a sustainable future

What do a climate change expert, a botanist and an ethical fashion pioneer have in common? They’re part of an ever-growing group of La Trobe alumni who’ve dedicated their careers to protecting our environment.

Among La Trobe’s alumni ranks are some of Australia’s best-known environmental activists, zoologists and sustainability leaders. Meet 10 of them here and discover the many impressive ways they’re caring for our natural world.

1. Professor Tim Flannery FAA – Chief Councillor of the Climate Council of Australia

Professor Tim Flannery (La Trobe Distinguished Alumni Award, 2007) is an internationally acclaimed scientist and conservationist, as well as a leading author on climate change. Tim is highly awarded for his work, having been named Australian of the Year (2007), NSW Australian of the Year (2006) and Australian Humanist of the Year (2005), and an Officer of Saint Charles, Monaco (2011).

In 2006, Tim’s critically acclaimed book The Weather Makers (2006) became a New York Times Best Seller. It won the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Non-Fiction, the NSW Premier's Literacy Prize for Best Critical Writing and the Australian Book Industry Awards’ Non-Fiction Book of the Year. Tim also received the Jack P Blaney Award for Dialogue in 2015, which recognised of how his writing and research has advanced people’s understanding of climate change.

As a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (2012), Tim’s scientific research has been recognised by the Australian Museum Lifetime Achievement Award (2014), the US Academy of Natural Sciences’ Joseph Leidy Award (2010), the Centenary of Federation Medal (2003) and the Troughton Medal for Mammalogy Research (1997). Today, Tim continues his environmental activism as Chief Councillor of the Climate Council of Australia; through regular writing and presenting gigs on BBC, ABC and NPR; and as the Australian Museum’s Distinguished Visiting Fellow.

Tim completed a Bachelor of Arts (1978) at La Trobe University.

2. Professor Kate Auty – Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, ACT

A sustainability expert with tertiary qualifications in environmental science, law and history, Professor Kate Auty is a sustainability leader who keeps others accountable. As the ACT’s Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, she inspects the Territory Government's environmental performance and endorses ecologically sustainable policy that has future generations’ wellbeing at heart.

Kate began her extensive career as a solicitor advocate in Victoria (1980-85), before becoming a magistrate, coroner and mining warden in Western Australia (1999-2004). During this time, she also worked as a magistrate in Victoria, where she established the first Victorian Koori Court.

Kate later drew on her studies in environmental science as a climate change advisor for the National Environmental Law Association, and while serving as Chairperson for the Victorian Ministerial Reference Council for Climate Change Adaptation and as a member of the Premier's Reference Group on Climate Change. In 2009, she became the Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, and in 2014 contributed to La Trobe’s sustainability research program as a member and Chair of several University Advisory Boards.

Currently, Kate splits her time as ACT’s Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment with roles as Chair of the Banksia Foundation’s Board and Director for the Business Council of Sustainable Development Australia.

Kate completed a PhD in Law and Legal Studies (2000) at La Trobe University.

3. Jim Thomas – CEO and Co-Founder, Tenkile Conservation Alliance

Zoology alumnus Jim Thomas (Distinguished Alumni Award, 2012) is a passionate conservationist. His career has taken him from zookeeper to internationally-recognised expert in wildlife conservation, rainforest protection and community development.

After more than nine years at Zoos Victoria, Jim co-founded the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2003. The organisation’s crucial work saved the tenkile tree kangaroo from extinction, a feat Jim achieved by collaborating with some 13,000 people in 50 rainforest villages who are the custodians of Torricelli Mountain Range. Jim’s dedication helped triple the endangered tree kangaroo population in eight years.

In 2013, Jim was named Australian Geographic Conservationist of the Year, was highly commended by the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Peter Rawlinson Conservation Hero Award, and in 2018 was awarded the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation's Biodiversity Award. Today, Jim continues to lead the TCA and has released a documentary, Into the Jungle, about his organisation's work. Jim is also a member of the International Union for the Conversation of Nature (IUCN), contributing to their Primary Forest Task Team, World Commission of Protected Areas (WCPA), Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) and Species Survival Commission (SSC).

Jim completed a Bachelor of Science (1995) at La Trobe University.

4. Nick Savaidis – Founder and CEO of Etiko

Arts alumnus Nick Savaidis has enjoyed a varied career. Before launching award-winning ethical fashion label Etiko in 2005, he worked as a high school teacher and assisted Aboriginal communities to create local social enterprises. When the time came to start his own ethical venture, Nick founded Etiko so he could be certain his clothing and footwear were made with minimal environmental impact, no child labour and zero worker exploitation.

Known for its slogan ‘Wear No Evil’, Etiko has since supported the sustainable production of apparel and shoes, along with the human and labour rights of countless organic cotton growers, factory workers and their families. Nick has led the company to win a Telstra Business Award for Social Responsibility (2008), Victorian Premier’s Small Business Sustainability Award (2008), Australian Fairtrade Product of the Year Award (2013 and 2014) and an Australian Human Rights Award (2016). He’s also overseen Etiko’s ongoing achievement as highest ranking brand (2013-19) in the Ethical Fashion Report and the company’s status as a Certified B Corporation (2017).

Today, Etiko is on track to become a carbon-neutral by 2020 – an impressive 30 years ahead of the 2050 goal set by the Australian fashion industry. Determined to close the loop on fashion waste, Etiko recently started taking back old footwear at the end of their life, with the shoes being recycled locally in Melbourne. Through Nick's determination and company vision with Etiko, it’s clear that using business to solve social and environmental problems is not only possible, but profitable, too.

Nick studied subjects in Arts in 1978 at La Trobe University.

5. Professor Tim Entwisle – CEO and Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Alumnus Professor Tim Entwisle (La Trobe Distinguished Alumni Award, 2013) is a highly respected scientist, scientific communicator and botanic gardens director. And while he’s interested in preserving plants of all kinds, Tim is particularly passionate about freshwater algae. In fact, he even has a genus, family and order of algae named after him!

Throughout his career, Tim has created thriving plant havens where nature, culture and science converge. First as a Horticultural Assistant, then Research Manager, at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Next, as Director of Plant Sciences (1998-2003), then Executive Director (2003-11) at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens Trust. And later, in London, as Director of Conservation, Living Collections and Estates at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2011-13).

Returning to Australia, Tim began his current role as Director and CEO of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in 2013. A year later, he was awarded Horticulturist of the Year by the Australian Institute of Horticulture (2014). Today, he combines his roles as head of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Honorary Professorial Fellow at The University of Melbourne, with regular contributions to radio, magazines and his own blog, Talking Plants.

Tim completed a PhD in Botany (1987) at La Trobe University.

6. Dr Michael Looker – Senior Advisor at The Nature Conservancy

Over three million hectares of Australia’s most environmentally iconic landscapes are now preserved thanks to the work of alumnus Dr Michael Looker (La Trobe Distinguished Alumni Award, 2013). As a trained botanist and former Director of Trust for Nature (2000-05), as well as The Nature Conservancy's Australia Program (2005-13), Regional Strategies and Infrastructure team (2013-2016) and New Zealand Program (2016-18), Michael has dedicated his career to protecting our natural environment from development. Today, Michael is a Senior Advisor to The Nature Conservancy’s global Indigenous People and Local Communities team.

Michael's conservation leadership has helped preserve some of Australia’s most significant savannas and outback deserts, along with major rivers, wetlands and marine environments. Among them are swatches of Murray River frontage in northwest Victoria, as well as 180,000 hectares of former graziers’ land along the Daly River in Australia’s north, which is now being managed by traditional Indigenous owners.

In 2016, Michael became Director of The Nature Conservancy’s new program in New Zealand. Today, he’s helping protect the country’s freshwater and marine landscapes – places like Hauraki Gulf, and key habitat areas for the rare, yellow-eyed penguin. Michael also serves on La Trobe’s Advisory Board for the Securing Food, Water and the Environment research focus area.

Michael completed a Bachelor of Science (1975) and a PhD in Botany (2002) at La Trobe University.

7. Senator Richard Di Natale – Leader of the Australian Greens

A qualified medical doctor, Senator Richard Di Natale worked as a general practitioner and public health specialist before launching his political career. Richard was elected to the federal parliament in 2010 and became the leader of the Australian Greens in May 2015.

Under Richard’s leadership, the Greens’ policy priorities have emphasised the inextricable links between the health of people and the health of the environment. Alongside his push for preventative health initiatives, for example, Richard has championed policies to address the environmental and health impacts of climate change.

Today, as the Australian Greens’ Senate spokesperson for climate change and energy, Richard argues for moving to 100% renewable energy, phasing out coal, sparking the electric vehicle revolution, and prioritising affordable public transport, walking and cycling.

Richard completed a Master of Health Sciences (2004) and a Master of Public Health (2005) at La Trobe University.

8. Professor Barry Hart AM – Chemist and Director at Water Science

Professor Barry Hart is an internationally reputed environmental chemist and Director of environmental consulting company Water Science. Throughout his more than 30-year academic, Board and consulting career, Barry has championed the health of vital waterways across Australia, Asia and the Pacific. He has advised widely on ecological risk assessment, protecting and enhancing natural river flows, catchment management and water quality.

Barry’s expertise has influenced the management of catchments as diverse as the Fitzroy River Basin in Queensland, the Mekong River in Southeast Asia and the waterways affected by PNG’s Hidden Valley gold mine. His work has been recognised by several awards, including the Australian Society for Limnology Medal (1982); the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s Environmental Chemistry Medal (1996) and Applied Chemistry Medal (1998); and the Australian Government’s Centenary Medal for services to water quality management and environmental protection (2003).

Barry retired as Director of Monash University’s Water Studies Centre in 2006, after a 33-year teaching and research career. In 2012, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia. Today, alongside running his own environmental consultancy, Barry Chairs a range of water advisory groups and is a non-executive Board member for water resource management firm Alluvium Consulting.

Barry completed a Diploma of Applied Chemistry (1959) at the Bendigo School of Mines, an antecedent institution of La Trobe University.

9. Tricia Caswell – Director, Tricia Caswell & Associates: Sustainability Leadership & Strategy

Tricia Caswell is an internationally recognised sustainability strategist with almost two decades’ experience. She became the first female Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation in the early 1990s; founded the Global Sustainability Institute at RMIT University in 2000; and was appointed CEO of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries in 2004. In this role, Tricia shifted the Victorian forest industry to become sustainability-focused, driving new policy and sustainability reporting across the industry.

Since founding her sustainability leadership and strategy business, Tricia Caswell and Associates, in 2008, Tricia has advised on sustainability issues relating to mining, forestry, water, urban planning and education. She’s developed sustainability guidelines for businesses, universities and the global mining industry. And, as Board Director of the PNG Sustainable Development Program Company, she’s advised mining giant BHP on how to best clean up and revegetate the natural environment damaged by the Ok Tedi Mine.

Tricia completed a Bachelor of Education (1975) at La Trobe University.

10. Phillip Toyne AO (1947-2015) – Co-Founder of Landcare

La Trobe alumnus Phillip Toyne AO was a leading Australian environmental campaigner, former head of the Australian Conservation Foundation (1986-1992) and former deputy secretary of the federal environment department. Phillip co-founded Landcare Australia, a grassroots movement dedicated to managing environmental issues in local communities. Using an historically significant approach, the Landcare movement sought to unite environmental and farming communities across Australia, and the program has since been adopted in Africa and the US.

Phillip was also a prominent indigenous rights activist and lawyer who recognised the interconnections between social and environmental justice. He negotiated the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act and the successful native title claim of the traditional owners of Uluru in 1983. Later in life, he also helped establish Natural Carbon, a large-scale project that saw the Olkola people Indigenous to Cape York practise traditional savannah burning, in order to fulfil a Federal Government carbon farming initiative.

In 2012, in recognition of his distinguished efforts in environmental law, protecting and restoring Australia’s natural landscapes and to Indigenous Australians, Phillip was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. Phillip died in 2015 aged 67 after a long battle with cancer – but his passion, vision and environmental legacy lives on.

Phillip completed a Diploma of Education (1973) at La Trobe University.

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