Doing well by doing good: Murdoch’s big plans for environmental education

SOURCE: Harry Butler Institute
The Harry Butler Environmental Education Centre will transform environmental education in Western Australia.

By U2B Staff 

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Murdoch University in Australia has embarked on an ambitious multimillion-dollar plan to create what it describes as a “world-first” facility to transform environmental education in Western Australia.

Upon completion, the Harry Butler Environmental Education Centre will help industry deliver maximum economic value to the communities they serve, while at the same time safeguarding the environment. 

Located at Murdoch’s campus in Perth’s south, the centre will be the home of the Harry Butler Institute, a research space launched in 2018 to explore the symbiotic relationship between economic development and environmental conservation.

The logic behind the new centre is that environmental conservation need not come at the expense of business progress and vice-versa – quite the contrary, both can co-exist harmoniously. By bringing together researchers, students, private industry and the wider community on collaborative programmes and research projects, the centre’s primary function is to facilitate this co-existence.


“We support high-quality research in the co-existence of business (human endeavour) and biodiversity, and are shaping the next generation of leaders in conservation and environmental management,” the university says on its website.

“Our research programmes ensure the continuation of Harry Butler’s outstanding environmental outcomes, based on excellence in both scientific research and industry practice.

“Key stakeholders and end-users of research at the institute will include industry partners from the energy, water, mining, health, land development, food and tourism sectors; the state government of Western Australia, the federal government and the community sector.”

The name Harry Butler is synonymous with environmental education. A household name in Australia, the naturalist and environmental consultant first gained fame in the 1970s when he was a presenter in the popular “In the Wild” TV series on ABC.

Crowned Australian of the year in 1979 and made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2012 before being added to the National Trust of Australia’s National Living Treasures, the late Butler also famously spent a good portion of his career lecturing in biology and natural science in Australia, America and Canada, before moving on to become an environmental consultant.

During his 50-year association with Chevron, now the foundation partner of the Harry Butler Institute, Butler defined how industry could co-exist and actively conserve the natural world. His work to protect the unique environment of Barrow Island has created a benchmark for industry in Australia and globally.

The new environmental education centre, the university says, pays homage to Butler’s achievements and upholds his legacy. 


It also comes at a particularly pivotal time for Australia, a country now struggling to cope with the worst bushfire crisis it has seen in decades. Extreme drought and record-breaking temperatures from last September set large swathes of the country ablaze, a situation environmental conservationists and activists claim was made worse by the government’s poor record on climate action.

The goverment, however, has held strong to its resolve that there is no direct link between climate change and the fires, sparking a polarising debate in Australia amid public anger and anguish over the devastation.

Through research and education, the Harry Butler Environmental Education Centre will help add clarity to all these issues and more.

Murdoch University is currently seeking expressions of interest from interested contractors and architectural teams to design the centre. 

After the EOI, shortlisted teams will compete in a single-stage design competition organised by CityLab, with the winning design to be announced by mid-2020, according to ArchitectureAU.

Entries are open to multidisciplinary teams led by an Australian architect and must include at least one architect registered in Western Australia. Those interested can register here.