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A sustainable career years in the making

Michele Frankeni  |  25 May 2020

Every educational post helped build Bernard Holland’s commitment to environmental sustainability, culminating in his role as Catholic Earthcare Australia Director.

As a teacher and principal, Bernard Holland always took roles in places where he felt he could make a difference.

‘I worked in regional, rural, remote, Indigenous, multicultural schools, and my last gig was as foundation principal at a new school at Brisbane’.

He said the driver of all change is usually money and when you’re starting a new school money is often in short supply.

‘Doing things efficiently, designing things efficiently becomes so important. What I had learned over the years enabled me to put together the best way of founding the school.’

Bernard concentrated on the really practical and achievable.

‘It’s having conversations about things such as “Why are you putting in raised garden beds in this shape? You’ll have to pay extra money for gardening to tidy the edges.” If you put bricks on ground level, then you can run a mower over the edge.’


Other conversations ranged from what to plant, whether to do solar, arrangement of the buildings, how to work with local government, and how to influence communities.

‘The key thing was what should this school look like in the relationship to all its structures and the ground it sat on and the parent community.

‘One of the pleasures of a new school is you decide on the plantings. Working with the architects we decided on native plantings from the local area which was fantastic because that then built local eco-systems for the honey eating birds and insects and built natural shade to keep the classrooms cool.’

Bernard said investigations into solar showed that, at that time, the school would be far better on working on energy saving. ‘So, I was starting to learn about economics.’

Economics, however, was only part of the process of getting a new school off the ground. Bernard said there was also energy and water conservation, biodiversity and waste management services.

There was also a need to influence communities to use the innovations. ‘We didn’t want them to say, isn’t the bike path lovely and then drive up.’

Bernard received a Churchill Fellowship that allowed him to look at eco-construction and eco-type learning programs around the world.


‘One of the programs I came across was Eco-Schools, and two years later I returned overseas to run that network globally.’

Eco-Schools is a schools-based sustainability education framework operating in 68 countries.

‘At the time I was involved (10 years ago) it was 54 countries.’ Bernard is most proud of working to get India on board with the program, as well as bringing it back to Australia. 

He said the program is built on making changes.

‘It exists in all geo-political situations, all faith dimensions, and in all parts of the world, from impoverished African countries to the USA, Australia, England etc. It is a low-touch, big-impact program.’

The next step for Bernard was to do the Catholic version of what he had done overseas in Australia.

Bernard was appointed director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, which is an ecological agency established by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

‘There are wonderful eco programs in schools globally but as far as I’m aware there’s no global program in the Catholic Church.


‘The key point of difference for us is that formation is critical. You must do the formation part for the heart to lead the rest of the body.’

He said Catholic Earthcare has developed a criteria over five stages to certify schools. ‘This certification process is a way of good practices in existence coming into a holistic system.

‘Youth are wanting to do something, so this gives them the process.’

He said, however, the process must be student-led and faith-driven.

‘The key to combatting climate anxiety is for students to do the things they have control over and influence the people they can.’


Catholic Earthcare’s Convocation

A two-day Catholic Earthcare Australia Convocation booked for Melbourne in early September has been transformed into a series of online interactive forums.

Organisation director Bernard Holland said the convocation was an important forum and rather than cursing the virus it was a chance to embrace an opportunity to expand the audience.

Bishop Vincent Long, chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, said opening up opportunities of an interactive series of forums was a great way to spread information and bring the audience along the journey of personal and organisational change.

See for more information on the online convocation program.


Catholic youth

Young Australians have the opportunity to take part in a National Youth Laudato si’ competition. During September Catholic Earthcare will host a national convocation online to discuss how we can respond to Laudato si’ and the current ecological, sustainability and climate crisis.

The goal is to inspire conference attendees into faith-driven actions through deeper formation, which truly cares for our common home. To do this, each attendee is asked to examine their own lives, make positive, informed changes and influence those around them to do the same.

Those aged 16 to 25 who are prepared to share their story within one of four topic areas: My ecological conversion; What is God asking us to do; Change me, change my family; or Change me, change my world, could win one of four winning entries to co-present and chair national online Convocation sessions in September.

See for more information.


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