By David Brawn, ESRAG Director and PDG of District 9675

In November, 2023 District 9705’s Environmental Envoy Outreach Program won an award for Communication and Engagement in the prestigious Keep Australia Beautiful Tidy Towns Contest for New South Wales. Judges commended the extraordinary growth of environmental action by Rotarians since the Envoy program began in 2021.

In the middle of a global pandemic, a handful of Rotarians launched a program to engage and equip our clubs to embrace goals and actions many had never envisioned before.  Within two and a half years, 80% of the District’s Rotary clubs have put Rotary’s newest Area of Focus into action. Together, our clubs have launched 122 environmental projects completed or underway by June of 2023.

Key ingredients in our success are

  • the support of district leaders
  • team-building
  • consulting our stakeholders
  • delegation, and
  • providing a menu of impactful projects and people qualified to provide technical assistance.

Here’s how we did it.

The New Environmental Area of Focus (AoF)

In June 2020, then RI President Mark Maloney announced that the Boards of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation had unanimously approved “Protecting the Environment” as the seventh AoF for Rotary. This major and very significant development resulted from successful lobbying by the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG).   District 9705 in Australia committed to implementing this important new direction.

Launching the new AoF globally

Launching a new AoF in Rotary is not trivial. It had never been done before and was therefore complicated. The six established AoFs had been simply created by aggregating similar projects developed over many years. Rotary needed to develop guidelines covering an array of new eligible goals and projects – such as renewable energy, climate resilience, and biodiversity. The leaders of Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation gave themselves just a year to do it before the Foundation began accepting global grant proposals under the Environmental AoF on July 1, 2021.

Launching the new AoF in Rotary District 9705 – and the Challenges

District 9705 is situated south and southwest of Sydney. In 2021 the District had 78 Rotary clubs spread across an area the size of England. The new AoF was launched in March 2021 at the D9705 District Conference in Bathurst, NSW*, by then-District Governor Michael Moore, who is passionate about the environment. DG Michael appointed me as the District Environmental Leader.

Many significant challenges faced the launch of the new AoF in the District, but the main concerns were the lack of any significant prior involvement of many clubs in environmental activity, the competition with established club activities, and the fact that there was no existing District environmental leadership in place. The prolonged COVID pandemic also did not help with club communications.

2021 – Getting the Outreach Program established

The first and most crucial launch priority was to recruit experienced and passionate Rotarians to join the District Environment Team. With the assistance of the six Area Governors in the District, sixteen Rotarians were recruited in mid-2021. They were called District Envoys and were asked to support about seven clubs each. Four Envoys were certified as ESRAG Ambassadors after attending the inaugural Ambassador course organized by ESRAG’s Oceania Chapter in late 2021.

The Team then developed a Team Plan in consultation with the Area Governors and others, and gained approval from the District Governor, Leo Farrelly, in September 2021. The initiative was named the “Environmental Envoy Outreach Program” to recognise the Team’s focus on personally supporting clubs to embrace environmental action.

The Plan recognised the importance of recruiting Club Environmental Representatives (now known as Club Envoys), and, once again, with the support of Area Governors, the Team Plan was communicated to Presidents at Group President Meetings via Zoom in late 2021. The Presidents were asked to nominate club environmental representatives; most were very supportive. There are now 57 Club Envoys in the District, out of 74 clubs.

2002 – Rolling out the Outreach Program

Following the establishment of the Environmental Envoy communications infrastructure in 2021, the District Team introduced a range of initiatives to support clubs in 2022 at the Presidents-Elect Seminars in March 2022. Apart from ongoing Envoy club support, these included:

  • A new District environmental Facebook page to support communication around the District.
  • The introduction of a District Enviro Club Awards recognition program to encourage environmental action in clubs.
  • The introduction of the Rotary Adopt A Tree program through a partnership with District 9675. This raises funds and arranges tree-planting events (11,000 trees planted in 2022/23). Website at https://rotaryadopta
  • Raised A$55.000 from 27 Rotary Clubs for two Fiji School solar installations

2023 – Extending the Outreach Program

In 2023, the Outreach Program was expanded to build upon the successful 2022 Program and, at the Presidents-Elect Seminars in March, announced a new, more proactive Outreach strategy with two key elements.

The Team recommended eleven significant environmental projects for consideration by clubs across the 6 ESRAG theme areas.Then, two new categories of Envoy were recruited to be subject matter experts to support clubs who wanted to implement any of the nominated projects. Project Envoys (x 7) who are experienced Rotarians and Partner Envoys (x 4) assigned by third-party environmental organisations. They initially included Landcare NSW, Birdlife Australia and Keep Australia Beautiful.

The Envoy Outreach program is considered a success in the District, with 122 environmental projects being completed or work in progress by the end of June 2023.

2023 – Validation of the Outreach Program

Recently, the D9705 Envoy Outreach Program entered a prestigious national environmental awards competition in early 2023 called the ‘Keep Australia Beautiful Tidy Towns Award Scheme’. The competition recognises communities that make significant positive improvements in their local environments.

Keep Australia Beautiful NSW seeks to “transform behavior to create a less littered and more environmentally sustainable New South Wales…our programs inspire individuals, organizations, businesses, and government to actively care for their local environment.”

I attended the Tidy Towns NSW Awards Weekend in early November 2023, and was pleased to collect a Highly Commended Award in the “Communications and Engagement” _category on behalf of District 9705. The Communication and Engagement Award is for “programs and projects that inspire environmental action through education, media and community engagement campaigns.”

Formal feedback from the judges included the following positive comments:

  • “A good initiative that focuses the local volunteer work of Rotary on broad global issues.”
  • “The project is truly inspirational.”
  • “An impactful project delivered through a well-established (Rotary) network.”

*Bathurst, where D 9705 launched its environmental program, was named the 2023 Overall Winner in the Keep Australia Beautiful NSW Tidy Towns competition.  Bungendore Rotary Club won a top award in the Resource Recovery and Waste Minimisation category for their success in securing roofing material to be reused in rebuilding communities devastated by bushfires and hailstorms.

Change of District Environmental leadership

After two years in the role, I recently stood down as District Environmental Leader to pursue other interests, including as a Director of the ESRAG Board. Dr Stephen Utick, an experienced and well-qualified environmentalist and a previous District Envoy, has accepted the District role.  I hope the roadmap and experiences I’ve reported here will help you mobilise your District as well.  Feel free to reach out to me with questions – I’m glad to help.

David Brawn is Past District Governor of District 9675 and moved to D9705 in 2010.  All of the last four District Governors of 9705 supported the Environmental Envoy program and the current DG, Andrea Grosvenor, celebrated the success of the program by presenting David with a Paul Harris Fellow Award at the October 2023 District Conference.  

He gave a talk on the Environmental Envoys program to ESRAG’s Climate Solutions Task Force on April 13, 2023, and you can watch the recording at this link. Other Districts who want to engage and motivate clubs to undertake environmental projects can consult this talk as a useful guide.