Yarrabilba plans to become Australia’s first circular economy community

November 20th, 2020

Lendlease master planned community, Yarrabilba, is empowering residents to become circular.

Yarrabilba, meaning ‘a place of song’ in the language of the traditional owners, the Yugambeh people, is a master planned community 40km south east of Brisbane. On completion in 2042, its population is projected to be approximately 45,000, making it a similar size and scale to regional cities Bundaberg and Gladstone.  

In 2019, Lendlease released the circular economy strategy for Yarrabilba which acts as a roadmap to guide the course of the development. With a focus on materials, energy, water and transport, the team at Lendlease is empowering residents to engage with the circular economy in an actionable and practical way.    


Karen Greaves is Lendlease's dedicated Sustainability Manager for Yarrabilba and Queensland. Her role covers everything from master planned communities to urban regeneration and retirement living. She explains that the work with Yarrabilba is an extension of the already impressive targets set by Lendlease.  

Lendlease announced two bold sustainability targets in August this year. One focused around climate change: achieve a net zero carbon scope 1 and 2 by 2025 and absolute zero carbon by 2040. The other was a social target: create $250 million of social value by 2025.  

The Yarrabilba team looked beyond the already impressive social, economic and environmental targets that Lendlease has in place to create a long-term circular economy strategy for the community. Karen explains how the idea became a reality:  

“At the outset of any project Lendlease provisions for social, economic and environmental sustainability initiatives. Yarrabilba is part of a Priority Development Area (PDA) with Economic Development Queensland. As part of their Greenfield PDAs, EDQ mandate an implementation charge to encourage employment, community development, ecological sustainability and innovation initiatives. Together, this has allowed Yarrabilba to do things that are above and beyond business as usual.” 

As part of the initial work, Karen was introduced to Jaine and Ashley of Coreo who, together with Ricardo, Energy and Environment and the team at Lendlease, helped to develop the circular economy strategy. Coreo are a circular economy consultancy with experience operationalising the circular economy for a local community through their ‘Circular Experiment’ project. Ricardo, Energy and Environment are a global strategic engineering and environmental consultancy that have been involved in developing circular economy strategies for areas in Europe.  

“As a group we started to explore what we could create," Karen says. "How we, as a team, could look back in 30 years and know the world was in a better position because of some of the initiatives we had delivered on the project.” 


According to the Circular Economy strategy for Yarrabilba, the vision is for the project is to be Australia’s first circular economy community that integrates social, economic and environmental values to provide a dynamic and empowered community that fosters sharing, access, connection, diversity and control.  

A critical part of this strategy is involving the community in building their future city. “We’re eight years into a 30-year project. We know that our cities are going to change so we really want to empower our residents and provide them with opportunities to understand what a city of the future will be," Karen explains.

Lendlease is committed to leading the evolution of our industry to be truly sustainable — environmentally, socially and economically. This is fundamental to our vision to create the best places for people today and for generations to come.


To ensure the success of the project, Karen says it was essential to engage the community and stakeholders from the start. “The team spent a lot of time workshopping the concept with our key stakeholders. Through this we came up with a proposition to not just align the circular economy to waste but align it to resources ... We have some great opportunities here, so we explored them.  It's not often you get an opportunity as a sustainability professional to think big and then implement it.”  

So, what will it mean to live in a circular economy community?  

“We've tried to simplify it to what individual decisions a household can make that impact on their circularity. It's really flipping the narrative and saying, it doesn't have to be everybody to make a difference, you alone in your decisions can make a difference," Karen says. "That's the empowerment piece, really giving people that feeling of a sense of opportunity and a sense of control.” 

Some of the ways the community will be empowered include:  

  • Water awareness campaigns and smart water meters linked to smart phones  

  • Recycled water infrastructure  

  • Solar panels and energy storage systems  

  • Cycle networks 

  • Autonomous vehicles and on-demand transport

  • Electric vehicle charging stations  

  • Large scale composting  

  • Leasing of appliances for homes   

  • Local market scale gardens 

  • Collection of waste materials from home builds for reuse 

One of the principles of a circular economy is to design waste out of the system. “We’re beginning with education and community engagement for residents to reduce waste, ensuring resources can easily be used as well as investigating ways that we can change waste collection. We’re really starting that process now with stakeholder engagement sessions, rather than dictating something, saying, ‘Come along on the journey and help us explore this’.” 

When asked about the barriers to change, Karen says it’s difficult to be the first movers. “Getting people to understand and be willing to do something different is challenging. We’ve been lucky to work with Logan City Council who’ve been prepared to be innovative and forward thinking with us. Sometimes there are regulatory barriers and, yes, no one's done it before, but it's an opportunity.”  


The Yarrabilba community is in the infancy of its journey towards circularity but Karen has already seen benefits from engaging the local community in this project. “We’ve developed a greater relationship with some of our social enterprises, because we look to them first to help us out with opportunities,” she explains. “It’s a really positive outcome that we didn't quite expect so early on.”    

Yarrabilba has also worked with the local correctional centre to introduce native trees into the community. “We have worked with our local ecologist and Borallon Training and Correctional Centre,” Karen says. “There is a species of tree, Melaleuca Irbyana, that is a threatened species, we actually harvest the seeds on site, they go to the correctional centre [where] they propagate the seeds, we then bring them back onto site and site ready them and then they get planted. We do that with quite a few species to really rebuild the ecology of the land.” 

Karen says that through the process of site hardening you end up with bigger trees and more successful ecosystems. Trees are one thing that Karen and her team are especially passionate about for communities. Planet Ark research into the benefits of trees in urban environments found that a 5 per cent increase in tree cover can reduce daytime temperatures by 2.3°C. This research supports the need for initiatives like Yarrabilba in order to create the resilient cities of the future.  

One of Yarrabilba’s first steps in investigating waste collection was to undertake a waste audit to understand the resources that could be recovered from residents. Instead of going outside of the community to hire a consultant to do their waste audits, Karen and her team chose to engage social enterprise Substation 33, an inclusive workplace where people from all backgrounds can learn new skills and transition to employment. This has helped to provide local skills and employment opportunities.  

When asked where she would like to see Yarrabilba in five years’ time, Karen replies: “We want to progress our ARC linkage proposal which undertakes a study on people's perception of autonomous vehicles within a community. What we want to understand is will people use them and what benefit will [they] provide to our communities. We’re also trying to re-embed agriculture and food growing within our community. I would love to see market scale gardens at Yarrabilba and a local food network where people grow and source local produce. Five years might be a little bit ambitious, but if we can be working towards it, then I’ll be incredibly happy”. 

Will this project have an impact on other Lendlease developments too? Karen hopes so. 

“Lendlease is committed to leading the evolution of our industry to be truly sustainable — environmentally, socially and economically. This is fundamental to our vision to create the best places for people today and for generations to come. We have an established working group around circular economy and what it means to Lendlease as an organisation and the communities we create. It’s an evolution of our sustainability approach.” 

Call To Action

“Everybody can make a difference. Everyone can enact change themselves to achieve a circular economy. Every individual decision you make every day will have an impact on how you achieve circularity.”

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