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Michael Bennett receives VASA Legend Award

Chair of the Australian Refrigeration Council board and former Refrigerant Reclaim Australia general manager, Michael Bennett, was presented with the prestigious VASA Legend Award at the Wire & Gas 2022 Gala Dinner.

Michael Bennett (right) receives the VASA Legend Award from VASA president Ian Stangroome

The Legend Award was joined as a VASA awards category more than 20 years ago when the VASA board decided it should pay special recognition to those rare individuals who stand out in the crowd and deserve special recognition. It was named the Legend Award for obvious reasons.

Well known for his long history with Refrigerant Reclaim Australia, Michael deserves to be elevated to the status of VASA Legend.

Michael has spent most of his career involved with all manners of industrial gases, beginning at BOC in the 1980s. There would be little he doesn’t know on the subject. Many in our region and globally have benefited significantly from his guidance and advice.

Grassroots VASA members have been amongst these beneficiaries. In the early 1990s, along with HVAC&R and industry leaders, Michael was instrumental in establishing Australia’s first refrigerant recovery, reclamation and destruction scheme; Refrigerant Reclaim Australia.

Michael Bennett speaking at Wire & Gas 2013
Michael Bennett speaking at Wire & Gas 2013

Michael began managing the program on a consulting basis in early 1997. As the recovery program expanded and the destruction of recovered refrigerant increased rapidly, the need for full-time general manager was realised and Michael was appointed to the position in mid-2000.

Since its commencement, the recovery program has grown from 50 tonnes per year to more than 500 tonnes today. With Michael at the helm of a dedicated board, steering perhaps the world’s most successful refrigerant stewardship program, RRA has received a number of prestigious awards including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Montreal Protocol Implementation Award, and two awards from the United States of America Environmental Protection Agency, one being for stratospheric ozone protection, and the other for climate protection.

In addition to long-term efforts for RRA, Michael has also contributed to national and international initiatives, particularly in the field of extended producer responsibility and product stewardship. Michael assisted the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) with their publication, Extended Producer Responsibility: A Guidance Manual for Governments.

Michael Bennett speaking at Wire & Gas 2015
Michael Bennett speaking at Wire & Gas 2015

He was also a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Technical and Economic Advisory Panel (TEAP) special report, Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System. The IPCC and TEAP authors were collectively awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Many Wire & Gas 2022 attendees may have been unaware before the awards ceremony that they shared the room with a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In recent years, Michael has stepped aside from his leadership role at RRA, remaining involved with specific projects and supporting his successor Kylie Farrelley. He also remains chairman of the Australian Refrigeration Council board, where his knowledge and experience stand the organisation in good stead.

Michael Bennett speaking at Wire & Gas 2018
Michael Bennett speaking at Wire & Gas 2018

Presenting the award, VASA president Ian Stangroome said: Under Michael’s leadership, our industry has had a strong voice for all matters relating to the handling of refrigerants. Michael and RRA have been the go-to point for any counsel relating to environmental compliance of refrigerants.

“Mike is a friend and an ally to the industry. Comrade is often a word used when Michael is in the room. He is one of those people who you’ll be glad to have on your team. He has certainly been on our team since the beginning, attending and supporting many Wire & Gas events.

“Michael has been described as, and I quote, a strong industry voice and an environmental warrior. I would add to that, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and a damn good bloke.

“It is my honour on behalf of the VASA board to present Michael Bennett with the VASA Legend Award for your vision and leadership at the helm of Refrigerant Reclaim Australia, providing support and guidance to VASA and the Australian automotive industry to achieve world-leading environmental compliance for the handling of refrigerants.”

Accepting the Legend Award, Michael Bennett thanked Ian Stangroome for “amazing words, warmly received”.

“When it gets down to it, I’m sort of more like a VASA groupie or fanboy if you like, in today’s terms,” he joked. 

“I just think that VASA is a fantastic thing because of all the people.”

Michael Bennett makes his Legend Award acceptance speech at Wire & Gas 2022
Michael Bennett makes his Legend Award acceptance speech at Wire & Gas 2022

Michael Bennett then went on to encourage VASA members to recruit new people to the cause.

“You know, if you’re just the one person, someone in the workshop, and you want to say something, you’re a voice in the wilderness and, and people aren’t going to listen to you. But collectively, you support an organisation, like VASA – and though I may not know a compressor for a convection oven frankly – I can tell you, one thing I do know is that the world run by the people that turn up and VASA turns up every day for you, for your industry and VASA turns up because of you who are here supporting VASA and becoming members, and so it gives you a voice.

“Never, ever, ever underestimate how strong that voice can be because VASA sits at the same tables as all the big international players, they sit at the same tables as the government, they feed it information, so you get better regulations, you get better safety, you get better outcomes because you have someone speaking for you.

“So get all the other people you know in the industry to be members of VASA because the more of you there are then the stronger you become. And I think that’s fantastic. Good, strong industry associations are terrific for you but also for consumers because consumers end up getting a better deal from having more professional people working on their vehicles in a space of extraordinary change.”

On the subject of change, Michael Bennett highlighted the opportunities the future holds for the sector represented by VASA.

“Many of you here would have been around when there was R12. Then there was R134a and now you’re moving to R1234yf. And now you’re going to move to electric vehicles. There’s a huge opportunity in that,” he said.

“Here’s the thing, if your air-conditioning broke down in a current car, you just open the window. If the air-conditioning breaks down in an electric car, the thing just doesn’t go. So there’s some serious opportunity in that.

“You’ve got to manage all the legacy, the 15 million (internal combustion engine) vehicles that are on the legacy side, but over the next few years, we’re going to have millions and millions of electric vehicles coming onto the market and I just think that’s a terrific opportunity for people who are able to step up and do those sorts of things.

“So anyway, good luck with that – I’m retiring.

“It has been absolutely my pleasure to be involved with VASA over all these years and the magnificent people who have been there I can’t even begin to thank everyone individually as there’s far too many; they all know how fantastic and how wonderful they are.

“What a great industry, thank you all for being here and thank you for the award.”

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