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Uniting Communities – a First in South Australia Certified Carbon Neutral

Brian Phillips

Uniting Communities – a First in South Australia Certified Carbon Neutral

The first South Australian organisation to gain Commonwealth Government certification as Carbon Neutral is – Uniting Communities! It is also the first registered charity in Australia to be recognised in this way.


Being carbon neutral means that emissions from all Uniting Communities’ activities state wide are net zero. How does a large organisation reduce its carbon emissions – from electricity, gas, waste, paper consumption, auto fuel and even workers commuting to and from work – to such an extent that it can be accredited as carbon neutral?


It has been a organisation-wide five year process. In 2010 the Board made a decision to achieve carbon neutral status by 2015. The Board and Executive Staff remained committed to this goal throughout, even though there were times when it looked as though the task was too difficult.


Co-ordinating staff education and training when staff work in offices throughout the state and sometimes have to travel huge distances to do their work is no mean feat. The process has been ongoing with various campaigns aimed at reducing fuel consumption, electricity and waste. Lighting upgrades, building modifications, purchasing recycled paper products and instituting recycling of all waste, have all contributed and have saved Uniting Communities hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and have improved the working environment.


The raised consciousness of the hundreds of staff and volunteers who are committed to the programme has been crucial. Ensuring lights are not left on unnecessarily, computer monitors are turned off when not in use and reducing car use and airline flights by using tele and video-conferencing and car-pooling have all added up to significant reductions.


Perhaps, the most intractable issue for any organisation or, for that matter, a family, is ‘How can we reduce our fuel use for car journeys?’ For Uniting Communities, with a fleet of 100 cars and an even larger number of cars driven by employee/owners, the fuel use for everyday use travelling to meetings, transporting clients to medical appointments, providing remote area services, visiting staff working at scattered locations, will always make a significant contribution to the organisation’s carbon emissions. A first priority was to ensure that the fleet would consist of only the most economical vehicles: all new vehicles are now, by default, hybrid cars, unless a case can be made for the necessity of a vehicle that is not a hybrid. An arrangement with CMI Toyota ensures that the emissions generated by the cars is offset by the planting of native woodland in re-generation areas near Langhorne Creek and in the Coorong. Employees commuting to and from work and the ‘grey fleet’ - cars owned by staff and driven by them for their work – are accounted for by purchasing offsets.


What motivates a large organisation like Uniting Communities to engage with such a project – and commit itself to reaching ‘carbon neutral’ status? Significant capital expenditure was required but that is being paid back through the significant savings achieved. Economies in energy use – electricity, gas or auto fuel – saves money, money that can then be directed into the programmes that benefit people.


A reduction of 34% in emissions has been achieved so far and has brought the following savings:  electricity use – saving $55,000 per annum  gradually changing the fleet over to hybrids – saving $50,000 per annum  a 76% reduction of waste to landfill – saving $225,000!! per annum. Those who pour scorn on emission reduction programmes because they are ‘too costly’ should take note of the savings that have been achieved so far.


At this stage, approximate annual savings are $330,000 and accumulated savings so far are over $1,000,000.


Savings are welcome of course, but at the core of this programme is a moral imperative. As the Chief Executive, Simon Schrapel says: ‘Becoming carbon neutral makes sense for our organisation; we have a strong moral compass and research tells us that climate change will most affect people in our client base – the elderly, socially disadvantaged and people on lower incomes.’


It is a moral compass that has guided this agency of the Uniting Church for well over a hundred years – care and compassion for those who can so easily be excluded and be left without support on the margins of society. A very contemporary expression of this has been to take a leadership role that might encourage other businesses throughout Adelaide and beyond to consider how they too might reduce their emissions – emissions that undeniably contribute to an increase in climate variability – changes that will impact most those who are poor and least able to defend themselves.


For more details on the Uniting Communities’ story see:

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