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Cheeky Chicken: ACTsmart Business Sustainability Awards

Wendy Johnson

If the team at Cheeky Chicken is passionate about anything, it’s keeping everyone at its early learning centre comfy and cosy, but not by cranking up heat in winter and air con in summer. It’s by cranking up efforts to be green.

It’s far from a cheeky approach, and so it’s no surprise that this small business won big time for its serious commitment to the environment at the recent ACTsmart Business Sustainability Awards.

The Cheeky Chicken Early Learning Centre in Hughes took out both the Energy Star and Water Star awards. While Neil Hawke, Public Officer of Cheeky Chicken, says it’s great to be recognised for accomplishments, and clever to save money through green actions, these aren’t his main motivators.

So what is?

“We’re not doing what we do for the monetary aspect,” says Neil. “We’re doing it because we need to demonstrate and lead. I have a child and am conscious more than ever about how we’re destroying the environment without even thinking. Everyone needs to take positive action and that includes teaching this generation how to look after our city.”


Cheeky Chicken Early Learning Centre in Hughes

But what if you don’t own the business you work in? Or what if the space your business operates from is rented? Why should you care? Why should you bother?

“Because you can and should,” says Neil who challenges all businesses, and those who work within them, to act smart and do everything possible to be socially responsible (see tips below). The first thing is to shift mentality. Stop making excuses or not caring and start implementing actions that make a difference.


Cheeky Chicken, which has now been open for about 13 weeks, was an old church built in the 1970s. When Neil bought the site he had a vision to do something ‘cool for the community’.

The centre insulated its roof, replaced old windows and upgraded LED lights to reduce energy use. It adjusted orientation to maximise natural light, resulting in 75 per cent of the building not requiring artificial light for most of the year. To reduce water bills, the centre installed a six-star energy rated plywood floor that can be dry-mopped and upgraded taps and toilets to energy efficient models.


While some actions required funding, many were easy, simple and didn’t cost a lot.


Cheeky Chicken Public Officer Neil Hawke

Here are some tips to get you started, says ACTsmart:

  1. Draught proofing. This basic necessity can be as easy as using door snakes, draft strips on doors (just peel off and seal), or stretching window insulation film over your windows.
  2. Change lighting. Switch downlight bulbs from halogen to LED to save as much as 80 per cent of energy costs (savings vary based on the number of bulbs and the length of time lights are on).
  3. Upgrade insulation. Ensure at least 20 centimetres of thickness of insulation in the ceiling and fill gaps. It’s often a small investment that will be paid off quickly. A five per cent gap can reduce insulation value by about 50 per cent.
  4. Check hot water settings. Ensure hot water is set at no more than 60 degrees to avoid wasting energy.
  5. Recycle responsibly. Register to put efficient recycling and waste management into action through ACTsmart’s free 10-step Business Recycling This program is being implemented at more than 750 sites throughout the ACT and Queanbeyan, enabling more than 40, 000 staff to recycle in their workplace.
  6. Take advantage of free resources. Conduct a bit of research to uncover practical and free online tools, services, guides, programs and tips. Start by heading to actsmart.gov.au, ‘What can I do to take action’?
  7. Take five minutes to educate, to include staff in initiatives and build ownership. Dictating doesn’t work. Bringing staff into the mix by explaining why and how does. Also provide incentives to motivate staff.
  8. Apply for grants or rebates. Rebates of up to $5,000 are available to eligible ACT businesses wanting to upgrade to more water-efficient and energy-efficient technologies, including under Actsmart’s Business Energy and Water Program. This program has helped more than 330 small businesses reduce energy and water consumption, with businesses saving on average $2,500 each year on energy bills.
  9. Encourage your commercial cleaners to act smart. Tell cleaners about the free ACTsmart Business and Office Cleaner course that gives them with nationally recognised training.
  10. Establish a good relationship with your landlord. If renting, don’t feel handcuffed. Talk to your landlord about how to save on costs by implementing measures that will also increase the value of the building. It can be a win-win.

Minister for Environment Simon Corbell presents Neil Hawke with Energy Star Award

The ACTsmart awards, now in their sixth year, celebrates Canberra businesses going green by finding new and innovative ways to minimise waste and save money. While saving money and maintaining comfort is a big incentive for many, these local businesses are driven by their passion to protect the environment.

This year Minister for Environment Simon Corbell presented 11 awards to organisations from across the territory.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author

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