Sustainable Living Case Studies

SLP Case Study 4 - Book boxes and box gardens

(Joanna's case study, first published in 'Thinking Eco' newspaper, Christchurch)

Growing vegetables and caring for school books is an unusual combination for an office workplace.

Transforming National Library, School Services South, into a more sustainable environment has proved fascinating, says Joanne Churcher, Administration Coordinator at their Manchester Street, Christchurch premises (pre-Quakes). They supply book loans to schools.

Along with some colleagues, Joanne has created a mini edible paradise providing vegetables within her workspace, as well as introducing a raft of sustainability initiatives to complement the existing paper recycling and composting that is led by her colleague Beth Clayton (at Joanne's left in the photo below). These include replacing paper systems with digital, moving to eco friendly cleaning products and the use of recycled paper options. Books for schools are packed in recycled paper instead of plastics.

With 22 staff in the section, Joanne might have expected some resistance, but says all her colleagues have been supportive. "I am the only one who's been on a Sustainable Living evening course, but a lot of the guys here are interested in sustainability and ask how it's done. We have reduced our waste going to the landfill skip by a factor of ten, to half a Kilogram a week; and that's from all of us!"  At over $120 to cart away a large skip these waste reduction actions are useful public money savers, too.

At home, Joanne and husband Phil have a thriving and productive garden where soil is fed using EM Bokashi and traditional composting. "I use the two bucket Bokashi system and no toxic chemicals, and have a home made garlic spray available if pest insects arrive." Helpful insects such as lacewings and hoverflies are encouraged to do their natural pest control by providing nectar from flowers such as hyssop and phacelia. 

Joanne harvests food and makes preserves at home (photo). In her kitchen, she minimises use of plastic bags and wrap, stores dry foods in bulk, and gets meat from the butcher not the supermarket, to avoid polystyrene trays. Joanne says the Sustainable Living course helped her in practical ways, and she met others there who could share sensible alternatives to everyday waste of resources and fuel, sometimes saving money as well.

While it can take time to research new options, or start new habits, Joanne is impressed by "the available alternatives at work as well as those at home, once you look. I asked our suppliers to search out greener options for a lot of the things we use at work, and the results have been very positive. Our cleaning and dishwashing products became more eco-friendly, and we are using a strapping on our outbound book cartons with part-recycled plastic. Our copier paper and envelopes are now 100% recycled.

"The water-cooler fills real glasses instead of throw away cups, and when we host courses here the plates used are compostable. We find our visitors are ready to do the right thing."

But Joanne is most excited about starting the compost-fed box garden sitting on the roof terrace at work (photographed), applying her home garden experience plus the evening course ideas. "This summer we grew tomatoes, capsicums, carrots, radishes, spring onions, strawberries, salad greens and herbs here, that we can harvest for lunches."

A philosophical Joanne, added that, "I'm losing my administration job here as part of the public sector cuts, but I know people's interest in being environment friendly here at School Services will continue. The way that colleagues are getting into gardening tells me that, and so does the strong demand for environmental book loans at the schools. It's the way of the future."

Details of Sustainable Living learning opportunities from our regional pages on this website.


SLP Case Study 3 - Doing your bit for a better world

Living a more sustainable, environmentally aware lifestyle is easier than you think.  Just a few small yet meaningful changes can help you limit your impact on the Earth and make a real difference to the local city environment.  And did we mention the health benefits and cost savings?

For Lisa, who attended a Sustainable Living course several years ago, it was the variety of topics covered that really appealed.  The information gathered is still useful.

“The course offered so many different ways of looking at sustainability.  Whether you’re interested in house improvements, like I was, or gardening or transport – there really is something for everyone.”

The course timing was also an attraction – it was easy for her to attend and worked in really well with her job.

The Sustainable Living programme offers tips and techniques that are practical, realistic and can make a real difference.  In Lisa’s case, she learnt about ways she could improve her house to make it warmer in winter and cooler in summer, without costing a fortune. 


“Since the course, we’ve put our heaters on timers and bought a dehumidifier which has made a huge difference to our house comfort in winter.  All our light bulbs are now energy efficient and this, along with switching off appliances when they are not in use, has really reduced our power bills.  We now almost qualify to be what our power company calls a ‘low user’.”

Bulk-buying was another handy tip that Lisa picked up from the course – buying items loose or from bulk bins not only saves on packaging, it’s also cheaper. 



Lisa already biked to work, or caught the bus if it was raining – both of which are low-emission forms of transport.  She is a keen gardener and has always grown some of her own vegetables.  However, the course really reinforced her commitment to composting, and showed her some new ways she could improve her garden.  Since then she's dismantled a garage and turned that space into extra garden!

“One of the things the course showed me was how to create a ‘no watering garden’, which is what I have done in the front of our house.  It’s mainly natives and if plants can’t survive without extra water, then they get replaced with something that can.”

Lisa’s story is an example of the appeal of the Sustainable Living Programme to young professionals.  Her story features on one of our national promotional brochures, while a second brochure features Margaret, a busy mum of teenage children who was switched on to the programme when her children brought home an interest in sustainability from school.  These brochures are available to readers on request as PDF files (to email) or in print (to mail) so that you can tell others about the Sustainable Living Programme.  Contact rhys (at) by email, phone 03 693 8726 or write to PO Box 58 Geraldine 7956 to request either version plus some free posters promoting the website.



Secondary Schools using parts of the Programme for Year 12 Curriculum

Secondary schools can use three of our topics (shopping, waste reduction and travel) to provide one term's interesting activity in the classroom with year 12 students.  NCEA Level 2 Achievement Standards in Education for Sustainability can be taught and assessed internally at schools using teacher guidelines developed for us by Jocelyn Papprill of Christchurch, an experienced teacher and member of the NZ Association for Environmental Education.  Science, geography or social studies teacher enquiries about these new materials welcomed by the National Coordinator, Rhys Taylor 03 693 8726, or Jocelyn by Email:

Sustainable Living Programme has been endorsed by the NZ committee of UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.


Similar ideas in Oz


Interesting to see that a fairly similar sustainability education programme in Australia (Living Smart) is sharing their participants stories too in a blog  and on Facebook.

Tip: Home grown and spray free!
Learn some basics of organic gardening, for healthy food at home, in our Gardening guide.