Greening councils

More local councils are looking to improve their green credentials by improving their sustainability performance. But do they have the tools to measure results?

Councils provide a host of frontline services to local businesses and communities and represent our closest and most tangible experience of government. This means they are uniquely positioned to promote positive environmental behaviours among ratepayers and to model sustainability through their actions.

A quick scan of local government websites reveals that most councils are deeply engaged in local environmental issues.

What’s more, they demonstrate a high degree of accountability for sustainability outcomes by publishing annual state of the environment reports, as required by state and territory governments. These reports cover the local impacts of human activity in areas such as biodiversity, water, waste, energy, air and landscape.

What’s harder to tell is whether councils are making progress in their efforts to become more sustainable – surprisingly few published state of these environment reports contain objectives or indicators by which to measure councils’ sustainability performance.

This is a challenge facing many institutions.

Some councils will privately say they’re reluctant to set environmental targets because they feel they don’t have the tools and resources to succeed – especially when factors like temperature extremes, wind, rainfall and bushfires can dramatically raise water and energy use.

And one only has to recall the protracted debate over the setting of a national greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to be reminded of the difficulty in setting meaningful, achievable environmental performance targets. This was the same reluctance that plagued world leaders at the failed 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

A fundamental challenge facing institutions that are seeking to raise their green credentials is their ability to track and monitor underlying metrics such as use of water, electricity, fuel and gas, and outputs such as waste and carbon emissions.

For many institutions environmental data management and reporting are complex and time-consuming activities. This is especially true for large disaggregated organisations that many have numerous utility providers and a myriad of environmental data systems locked in isolated information silos that don’t talk to each other.

This diminishes the critical ability to measure – and therefore manage – one’s environmental performance with ease and confidence. Further, organisations that don’t have a clear picture of big ticket cost items like electricity, fuel and water cannot make informed decisions about where to target organisational efficiency programs. Nor do they possess ready access to data that permits them to assess the impact, payback period and return on investment of efficiency programs.

Sustainability management is a continuous process – not one that should be governed by annual data gathering and reporting activity. It requires an organisational ability to communicate and collaborate within and beyond organisational boundaries – with partners, customers and supply chains.

Rising energy prices, the looming carbon tax, and water conservation requirements mean that ad hoc reporting and legacy information systems are no longer sufficient for the strategic management of environmental resources.

As a result, numerous councils are adopting enterprise level technology that provides the ability to track, monitor and manage their environmental outcomes within a performance management framework.

For example, the Southern Sydney Region of Councils (SSROC) this year adopted CarbonSystems Enterprise Sustainability Platform (ESP) tailored drive the sustainability performance of SSROC members.

Commenting on the move to adopt technology, SSROC’s general manager Alan Northey said. “We see this as developing into a community resource to drive positive environmental action at a local level. In the tender documentation we were very clear that we wanted a software solution that was flexible and scalable enough to serve councils, small businesses and householders.”

“It means business owners and householders will have greater awareness of their environmental footprint, which could help drive down energy and water bills through well targeted home modifications and behavioural changes,” he said.

“ESP is a single scalable solution that accommodates households, small businesses and council operations. Councils get the power of a full service enterprise carbon and energy accounting platform, while households and SMBs get access to a simple, intuitive self service tool that provides easy-to-understand environmental information.”

Media contact: Dan Gaffney, m +61 411 156 015

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