Carolyn Ingvarson spent 15 years turning a small grassroots climate group into a force for change by building a bridge between decision makers and her community. She is a winner of the 2020 Rawlinson Award for conservation.

Photo: Julian Meehan

When Carolyn Ingvarson helped found climate group Lighter Footprints in 2006, she “started with a small group of like-minded people who felt together we can do something we can’t do on our own.” 

Her inspirational leadership and dogged determination has seen the group expand from a core group of 20 to over 2,500 members and become one of the most influential climate groups in the country.

From the start, Carolyn worked to attract a broad range of people from Melbourne’s traditionally conservative inner east and create a safe space where people of differing viewpoints can work together.

Photo: Julian Meehan

Lighter Footprints is non-partisan, with an inclusive culture and an emphasis on educating and empowering their community to talk to decision makers about the need for greater action on climate change. For Carolyn, this is critical to the group’s success.

“Climate change is such an important issue it cannot belong to a particular political party. We define the common good and seek to unite not divide. 

“We talk to all parties to ensure progress doesn’t get undermined each time there's a change of government.” 

The group is known for their promotion of scientists, industry experts and academics who share the latest thinking on the science and economics of climate. This is a deliberate strategy to empower people with the confidence to raise issues in their communities and talk to their elected representatives. 

Photo: Julian Meehan

“We rely on the community’s want for change … we’re able to provide a bridge into what that change might look like in practice and start the process of communicating that to politicians who then say, ‘This what my community wants’. It's shifting a community view into a political change. That's what I think we’re good at.”

Lighter Footprints has nurtured some very effective climate advocates in an area – Melbourne’s leafy inner eastern suburbs – not known for activism, and influenced all levels of government in a positive way

Lighter Footprints provides meaningful opportunities to take action through candidate forums and working groups — their letter writing group had 535 letters published in 2020.  

Last federal election, the group coordinated the Kooyong Votes Climate candidates’ forum, and in the recent Victorian state election, Lighter Footprints spearheaded a campaign to make climate a central issue in the conservative seat of Hawthorn. This was the first time the seat had changed hands in over five decades.  

Photo: Julian Meehan

Reflecting on a decade and a half with Lighter Footprints, Carolyn says “We’ve built a sound base within this community that can have significant impact on change based around concern for climate. They want action and  we're now perceived to epitomise that.”

While she is stepping down from the day to day running of the group, Carolyn says she is looking forward to remaining involved and being a sounding board for the new committee. 

“I can never not be involved in climate change action. It’s a bit like being a feminist — these things are long and slow and in your soul.”

Established in 1992, the Rawlinson Award is given annually in memory of ACF Councillor Peter Rawlinson — a zoologist, lecturer in biological science and environmental campaigner. The Award celebrates individuals and groups who have made an outstanding voluntary contribution to protecting the environment in Australia.

Matilda Bowra

ACF Storytelling Volunteer