A community in New South Wales is aiming to become one of the most eco-friendly tourist destinations in the world.

Three years ago tourist operators in Kangaroo Valley, 150 kilometres south of Sydney, agreed to lower their carbon footprint and the latest figures show they are on track.

Geoff Fearon runs a trail-riding business and accommodation on 230 acres backing onto the Morton National Park. He says one of the biggest issues for his business is dealing with the drought and the cost of feed. "One of the biggest issues for someone like me - we have 37 horses and cattle - is feeding them and what we have noticed in the drought, of course, horse feed, any feed doubles if not trebles," he said.

"We are in the process now of building our own hydroponics growing area, which I can run on solar energy.

"So one, I am doing it in an energy-efficient way. Two, I can control the environment so drought won't affect me. And three, I am going to cut down all those transport costs of people delivering feed.

"There is a win on both sides. It is less expensive and it is less environmentally damaging."

Mr Fearon is one of several tourism ventures in the valley to do a voluntary carbon audit. Since the audit he has introduced energy-efficient light bulbs and heat exchange systems to cut his own greenhouse gas emissions.

"I live on the land and I've seen the changes in climate on the land over the last 10 years," he said.

"Where Kangaroo Valley was one of the wettest parts of New South Wales - getting over a metre of rain a year - in the last few years we had three of our dams bone dry before last Christmas," he said.

"I saw the rainforest wilting. I saw what I believe are the impacts of climate change first hand."

Voluntary program

One-third of the tourist operators in Kangaroo Valley have signed up to the voluntary carbon reduction program.

Leading the charge is the president of the Kangaroo Valley Tourist Association, Chris Warren.

He runs a cottage-style accommodation and supplies half the electricity for his business from solar panels as well as recycling all the waste water from the cottages to irrigate an orchard.

"So what we have got here is a wooden structure that houses 30 solar panels, but instead of simply putting them on the ground a steel structure was used, renewable wood from renewable plantations. Underneath the solar panels is corrugated steel so that collects the rainfall so we can collect 40,000 litres of water a year," he said.

Mr Warren says the current carbon audits are showing some businesses have reduced their usage from 50 tonnes to 14 tonnes.

"Some businesses are producing so much energy now that they are putting it positively back into the national grid," he said.

"I'd like to also stress this has all been done voluntary with no grant funding whatsoever, on no directives from government, local government or anything like that and that indicates that there is a will of the people to make grassroots change."

Carbon audit

David Blakely has established a vegie patch next to his cafe. He says the garden is now supplying 30 per cent of the vegetables and herbs used in the kitchen.

"We have beetroot, shallots, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, pak choy, bok choy, lettuce, celery and it is always changing depending on the season and it reduces the amount of transport that is needed and CO2 emissions," he said.

Mr Blakely has also signed up to do the carbon audit. "We are [in the] process of replacing all our old refrigeration, which is very inefficient. We have put in a clothes line to dry our tablecloths rather than relying on electric dryers - just sensible use of energy," he said.

Glynn Stones rents canoes to tourists and runs a small gift and bike shop. He was instrumental in introducing a plastic bag ban to Kangaroo Valley seven years ago.

"It has not affected business one little bit. It is really quite good. You know, people come here and think it is a great idea. It is actually good for tourism," he said.

For him the next logical step was to try and make energy savings in his own business.

"We have got seven vehicles, six of which were petrol, so one of our big things was to turn everything into diesel," he said.

"It is greenhouse-produced fuel but diesel is a lot more environmentally friendly than petrol is."

The Green Kangaroo project also offsets emissions by planting trees locally and creating wildlife corridors. There are now plans to extend the carbon reduction scheme across the Shoalhaven Shire.


Source: ABC

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