Sitting on a shelf somewhere in Dr Jonathon Howard’s home is a 40-year-old copy of Life on Earth signed by its author, Sir David Attenborough. Jonathon treasures this well-worn tome, acknowledging the British natural historian-turned-activist as a great source of inspiration for his own career and his passion for sustainability.
Compelled from a young age to respect, protect and preserve Australia’s ecosystems, Jonathon now passionately advocates for sustainable living practices.
“I was in Year 6 or 7 – I was a young kid – and David had just released Life on Earth, his book and TV series. He was signing books at the shopping centre and I had bought a copy as soon as it came out. So, I went to get it signed.
“I walked five kilometres to see Sir David Attenborough.
“There was no one around. There weren’t the huge crowds which follow him today because no one knew him then in Australia. I skulked around the books, pretending I wanted to buy one, rather than go up and see him. I was too shy.”
The balancing act we just have to master
The book eventually got signed and Jonathon was highly motivated to create a world worth living in – for animals and people.
“I want to make the world fairer for all life. Stop killing whales for meat, elephants for tusks, snow leopards for fur coats, and treating all other living things as objects of human greed. We need to make sure people get what they need – before others get what they want.
“Sustainability is a balancing act. We have to balance the needs of the environment, humanity and the economy. It’s also about balancing the needs of current and future generations. If we don’t get the balance right there is no future.
“There is no simple solution. No silver bullet. But given it’s our future at stake, I think it’s important we fight the good fight.”
Bush tracks led to Jonathon’s career path
The second youngest of nine children, Jonathon grew up next to a bush reserve in Sydney (where he regularly wandered, conducting his own bird surveys). His family and environment helped him appreciate the concept of fairness and develop a respect for all animal life.
“I grew up with eight brothers and sisters, so I come from a family where fairness had to operate in order for the family to function.
“And, as long as I can remember, I have always valued the bush and nature. My mum tells the story of something that happened when I was in preschool. One night, my parents stopped the car on a dark road coming home from dinner. I asked why. Mum explained they had seen a run-over possum. My parents checked to see if there were pouch young. When they returned to the car they found me crying because the possum was dead.”
So, it was no surprise that Jonathon pursued a career in environmental sustainability as soon as he finished school.
“I went to university and did a Bachelor of Science. Then I worked as a ranger, environmental educator and Landcare coordinator. I started to get more senior roles, so I did a few other degrees by distance education and ended up doing a PhD. During that time, I was employed as an academic at Charles Sturt University. Initially, I coordinated work placements, then moved to Associate Head of School, Course Director and Head of School. Now, I’m Lead of the Sustainable Practices Graduate Learning Outcome.”
Charles Sturt University helps Jonathon start the hard conversations
No matter his job title, Jonathon’s philosophy is to make a difference wherever possible – and Charles Sturt is helping him do just that.
“Any opportunities I find, I try to take up. My Charles Sturt role is about trying to ensure all graduates leave with an understanding of, and skills in, sustainability – whether they be dentists or police. I also manage a number of online short courses that attract students from around the world.
“Thousands of students graduate from Charles Sturt University every year. So, if I can set up processes that mean they understand sustainable practices it might just affect what they do (which is really important in its own right) and mean they’re more open to other sustainability initiatives – even if they don’t think it’s a priority.
“When we see the impact of climate change through fish deaths in the Murray-Darling Basin or the plight of farmers during prolonged drought, we need to be more empathic. Because sometimes, an issue like climate change can seem abstract and simply get shut down.
“That’s why I do this job. It provides me the opportunity to improve our collective wellbeing.
“I would like our graduates to be involved in their communities, doing some sort of sustainable practices. At Charles Sturt we believe in ‘for the public good’ and I’d like to see all our graduates ‘doing’ for the public good.
“I also want them to have an empathy for some of the hard conversations that we are having to have because we are running out of time to do things. Think not just of climate change, but also endangered species, salinity and acid soils, the type of food we eat and the cost it requires to grow our food in terms of resources.”
Regional life is a breath of fresh air
Taking care of our environment is not a nine-to-five ethos for Jonathon, he lives and breathes it – 24/7.
He chaired the NSW Nature Conservation Trust – an organisation that created conservation agreements with many NSW farmers, covering more than 25,000 hectares, including many of the farms in the Macquarie Marshes.
He created the Sydney Bushcare program, harnessing the power of local communities to regenerate native vegetation in the bush.
Instrumental in organising the first Landcare conference in Australia, Jonathon also worked on the education campaign to remove phosphorates from detergents.
And, many of the bushwalks in Northern Sydney’s bushland have signs and walking track brochures created by Jonathon.
Some years ago, he packed up and farewelled the big smoke, making to make his home on a small farm outside Albury. Living and working in a regional area is a breath of fresh air for Jonathon who appreciates the country lifestyle, the local Charles Sturt community, and the endangered squirrel gliders that visit the trees outside his bedroom window every night.
“In a regional area you become woven into the social and environmental fabric. If you live in the city you just become a number. There are some great people in the Charles Sturt community who provide me with inspiration – particularly when I am lucky enough to be part of their lives or listen to the insights they have.”
Jonathon creates a hub of hope around sustainability
Regional life is the perfect base for Jonathon to continue what he loves: making the world a better place.
“I get to focus on a topic that is important to me and is important to our overall collective wellbeing. And while doing that I get to be creative and innovative.
“As an example, Charles Sturt is the first university to create a sustainable practices online hub. It’s a one-stop shop that directors and course design teams can visit to learn how to put sustainable practices into their particular degrees. Whether it be dentistry, policing or occupational therapy.
“Many universities are now copying what we have done.”
The hub helps our educators create teaching and learning experiences to equip Charles Sturt University graduates with the knowledge, skills and abilities to think about our future and engage with ethical and sustainable practices. It’s about education for sustainability, not just environmental education. It helps staff to design courses that motivate and engage students in creating a better future.
Like Jonathon, the hub is firmly focused on our future, helping conserve our limited natural resources and creating a more ecologically and socially just world with the power of informed words and imperative actions.
Create a world worth living in
What does a better world look like to you? Does it mean finding a cure for illnesses, improving education, making new discoveries, leading a movement or developing innovative technologies? Or is it about having an impact in your local community and making a difference to the little guys out there? If you’ve ever wanted to make a difference in a career you’re passionate about, you can with us.
Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. Follow your heart, get qualified and land a job you’ll love with Charles Sturt University. Let’s get to work!