SGA caught up recently with our patron, Josh Byrne, to hear how he became interested in sustainability, and what he’s up to with the team at Josh Byrne & Associates.

Josh has been a sustainable gardener since getting involved in his family garden growing up in coastal Western Australia. Josh had his own veggie patch, and looked after his dad’s extensive collection of herbs. He was committed to gardening without using herbicides and pesticides from the start, maybe inspired by his interest in the natural world and growing up on the amazing Esperance coast.

That commitment influenced Josh’s selection of subjects at high school and later at Murdoch University – he was fascinated by the natural world, and developing his understanding of how the built environment could work best in it.

Developing a career pathway

Josh ran a part time gardening round while he was a student. He continued developing his understanding of sustainable gardening, focusing on water conservation and coping with the sandy soils around Perth, with the aim of gardening better in a challenging environment.

While Josh was studying environmental science at Murdoch University, he lived in an old student rental house, where he and his mates developed a working, productive and attractive garden. Josh became attracted to permaculture principles and the importance of good design to achieving good outcomes. That, in turn, led to his involvement in a research group at Murdoch, working on environmental technologies for regional and remote areas.

Josh in his veggie patch (Photo: Rob Frith – Acorn)

Josh first appeared as a guest presenter on the ABC’s Gardening Australia nearly 20 years ago in 2 segments about his student garden. That led to an invitation to be Gardening Australia’s regular Western Australian presenter. At first he declined the invitation to pursue overseas travel, including working as a volunteer on a permaculture project in Africa, as well as spending time on a Kibutz in Israel learning about advancements in irrigation technology. He returned to Perth and eventually picked up the role where he demonstrates practical ways to create attractive, productive and water efficient gardens to a national audience.  Josh is a regular contributor to the Gardening Australia Magazine and author of two best-selling books, The Green Gardener published by Penguin, and Small Space Organics published by Hardie Grant.

Working for sustainability and community engagement

Perth Cultural Centre Urban Wetland project (Photo: Adrian Lambert – Acorn)

Josh saw an opportunity to be involved in creating productive and attractive gardens, and educating people about how they could get involved.  He established Josh Byrne & Associates which aims to deliver projects for sustainable communities with an integrated approach to landscape architecture, environmental engineering and sustainability, community engagement and communications.

Josh has recently been awarded a PhD from Murdoch University and is a Research Fellow with Curtin University’s Sustainability Policy Institute and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Low Carbon Living, and an Adjunct Associate Professor with the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales. His research activities continue his early interest in urban design, particularly high-performance housing, water sensitive design and sustainable urban developments.

Josh consults to West Australian state agencies such as Water Corporation, LandCorp and the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority on matters relating to urban water management, environmental technology and design and has contributed to projects around Australia. Josh’s interest is in doing urban design better. He’s looking at improving urban sustainability and water conservation with innovative, affordable, sustainable design and developing shared spaces, parks, facades and streetscapes so that as cities become denser, we develop a high quality public realm. On the Density by Design website, Josh seeks out the leading minds and ground-breaking ideas on sustainable higher density residential projects around Australia, that are inspiring change through demonstration.

White Gum Valley stormwater sump redevelopment project (Photo: JBA)

In addition to design and development, nuts and bolts gardening is still a key activity, as is community consultation and involvement. One of Josh’s key interests is the responsible use of garden nutrients. In conjunction with the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions River Guardians’ program and Water Corporation’s Waterwise program, he has developed and presents workshops providing Perth residents with the ideas and inspiration to create a successful garden while helping the Swan and Canning Rivers to stay healthy.     The program included a personalised online assessment tool which aims to provide Perth residents with the knowledge and tools to create a successful garden without impacting the Swan Canning Riverpark.

The program is an example of how, as gardeners and community members, we all have opportunities to encourage councils and governments to incorporate great (and sustainable) shared spaces in urban areas, maybe to garden (sustainably!) a little or a lot, to reduce water use, recycle waste and use energy more efficiently.  Environmental problems might seem so big that they are insurmountable, but we all have opportunities on our back or front door steps to contribute to the solution.

Josh is a recipient of the Australian Water Association’s WA Water Professional of the Year Award, and Murdoch University’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Science and Engineering.  He is Patron of the Conservation Council of WA and Sustainable Gardening Australia, an Advocate for the national collaborative 202020 Vision urban greening initiative (a national campaign to increase urban green space in Australia by 20% by 2020) and an Ambassador for the Living Smart household sustainability program and Nature Play WA.