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When a preschool teacher asked Lesley Ottey if cucumbers grew underground, she knew she had to step up. “I realised there was a bit of a gap in knowledge, so I set up some workshops and it hasn’t stopped growing from there.”
That was nine years ago and, as Lesley says, her business – Eco Educate - has grown significantly since. From those initial gardening workshops, Lesley has diversified into a Sustainable Resource Education organisation that provides educational workshops and workplace assessments to help reduce the impact on the environment and preserve our natural resources. Lesley and her small team work with over 130 Canterbury schools and preschools to educate children (and teachers!) on topics including recycling, sustainability, waste rethinking, gardening, composting and worm farms. The number of schools putting their hands up to be involved in Lesley's programme is steadily increasing.
It was this extensive reach, as well as Lesley’s obvious passion for her business, that led the judges of the 2018 North Canterbury Business Awards to present Eco Educate with the inaugural Environment Canterbury Environmental Step Change Award.
The award was introduced in 2018 to acknowledge businesses or organisations that have acted to protect or improve the natural environment. The Awards judges said, “Who wouldn't be charmed by the innovative and quirky approach to environmental and waste minimisation educational programmes as provided by Lesley Ottey and her team? This is a well-run business with much scope for further development.”
Development is something Lesley is constantly planning. “There is new information continually coming in around recycling, which means we are always updating our teaching resources to keep them relevant.
“I’m also continually looking for new opportunities to expand the business through contracts with other councils, DHBs, associations such as Playcentre or Kindergartens, garden groups and service clubs such as Lions and Women’s’ Institute.”
Lesley says that winning the Environment Canterbury Environmental Step Change Award was a real ‘stamp of credibility’ for her business and a great boost for her target market. “Students in schools loved hearing about it,” she said. “And that was the best buzz – knowing they are all a part of this.
“At Eco Educate we consider it an absolute privilege to be able to do what we do. We get to inspire and work with the future and it’s just a bonus having been able to turn it into an expanding, successful business.
“The goal for this business was always for me not to be needed because the problem had been sorted. But I think I’m going to be busy for a long time yet.”
Eco Educate currently operates throughout the Waimakariri and Ashburton Districts. Find out more about Eco Educate here >>