Edge Environment opens Edge Chile, catalysing sustainable change in the South American nation

Edge ChileEdge Environment is excited to announce the launch of our first international office. Here, Director of Projects Ken Lunty recounts all the intentions and coincidences that brought the Edge Chile idea to fruition.

Edge Environment opened our first overseas office, in Santiago, Chile, in July 2017. I already feel like I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world, but discussing how we could create economic, environmental and social value on the other side of the world really topped it off. So, why Chile, you ask?

A coincidence

Six years ago, Michelle Senerman, a business administration graduate from Chile studying a Masters in Sustainability at University of Sydney, walked into our office. Edge had collaborated with her workplace back home, Fundación Chile (a not-for-profit think tank, similar to CSIRO), and she quickly convinced us she’d be a valuable addition to our team during her year in Sydney.

She became our much-loved, hardworking intern and, over the next six years, she returned regularly to deliver projects with us in various capacities. Her deadly combination of business smarts, sustainability passion and infectious personality makes her perfect for the work we do. However, in late 2016, Michelle returned to Chile permanently. It was a sad goodbye, but it wasn’t the last we’d hear of her.

Determination, confidence and passion

Fast-forward to April, 2017 and Michelle is back in Sydney – sitting in front of the Edge board making a business case to support a branch in Chile.

During her six months in Chile, Michelle had launched a sustainability consultancy in Santiago with colleague Camila (lawyer and LLM of Pontificia Universidad Catolica of Chile) called Mari Mari (meaning ‘hello’ in the local indigenous language) and employed Javiera. They won a number of projects with the Ministry of Environment, Concha y Toro (the largest producer of Latin American wines) and Fundación Chile.

Michelle saw that Mari Mari’s vision and mission mirrored that of Edge Environment, so the team of three travelled to Sydney at their own expense and delivered a compelling pitch to become Edge Chile.

Drawing parallels

So, Jonas and I are en route to Santiago, excited and curious about what lay ahead. Edge Chile had a jam-packed agenda for our trip; most importantly a long list of clients to meet, including the Ministry of the Environment, the Chilean Chamber of Construction, the Chilean Food Industry Association, Falabella (Chile’s version of Westfield) and various other local champions of sustainability.

We quickly learned how different it is to do business in Chile, but how similar their issues are to ours in Australia. The Chilean borders map out a large area of mostly rugged and harsh landscape (sound familiar?). The population is relatively small and dispersed across the country, concentrated around cities (anyone thinking what I’m thinking yet?). Mining and agriculture are the country’s main economies and there is significant investment in infrastructure (yes: Australia and Chile are more similar than you’d think).

Our conversations with the Ministry of the Environment echoed those we have had here with the Office of the Environment and Heritage. Discussing sustainable infrastructure with the Foreign Affairs Manager of the Chilean Chamber of Construction made me realise how much an ISCA-style tool could drive industry change over there like it has here. We saw countless opportunities to help clients in Chile develop in a sustainable way. Walking back to our modest Edge Chile office, we saw posters promoting sustainability in the local government area. There is a clear agenda for this emerging economy to grow more sustainably and learn from the mistakes of the developed nations who might have done things differently if they had the hindsight.

Success will come down to good chemistry

Our first five days were spent meeting clients, implementing business processes and keeping up with delivery deadlines in Australia. We were averaging four hours’ sleep a night but it was worth it; we were in a start-up business again. The Edge Chile team, which by then had grown to five (hello, Mariana and Felix) stayed up late working with us and soaked up every shred of information and experience we could give them.

Our last three days were spent in the seaside resort town of Valparaiso. Michelle and Camila had organised a tour of restaurants, bars and sights, and it didn’t disappoint. The beaches were beautiful, the pisco sours were refreshing and the food delicious… but the conversation always came back to the same thing: “How can we build a successful business that catalyses change?” Yes, we spent those last three days strategising, developing proposals and thinking about opportunities every chance we got. And our four-hours-a-night average persisted for the rest of the trip.

The week had felt like two and we all agreed that it had gone better than we could have imagined. There is a lot of work ahead, but we have the right team over there; a passionate team who love what they do and know where to find opportunities to change their country.

It’s been over a month since we arrived home and our teams are fully integrated: we’ve adjusted weekly meetings so Edge Chile can join; we’ve developed joint proposals using staff from both offices. It really feels like one Edge. It will be interesting to see how everything goes in the next few years but I am confident that there will be many more trips across the Antarctic for our staff to share knowledge between these two countries that seem so different but have so many similarities.

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