By Angela Dorizas
Councils in New South Wales and Victoria have achieved the best results from sustainability policies and practices, but there is still room for improvement in changing staff behaviour.
Internal research by independent ‘environmental scorekeeper’ Planet Footprint found that of its 203 local government clients, councils in NSW and Victoria were the best performers in sustainability, while councils in Tasmania and Queensland were the worst.
Planet Footprint managing director Andrew Wales said across all councils there was a need for further behavioural change.
“I think a lot of councils are leaping over the day-to-day steps they can be taking and aiming for the big end of town,” he told Government News.
“There is still a lot that can be done in terms of changing employee behaviour – switching off lights, switching off air-conditioners and unplugging computers.”
Mr Wales said the municipal properties achieving the best environmental and financial results were administration buildings.
“The properties that have generated the best returns for councils in terms of energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions were admin buildings,” he said.
“Where the buildings have been around for a long time, the improvements are coming from things like lighting retrofits, but most importantly – and this was really surprising – behaviour change.
“Behaviour change can actually deliver real outcomes.”
Mr Wales advised councils to create a culture of accountability within their workplace, set achievable targets and verify the outcomes of staff behavioural change.
Seven steps to best practice
Planet Footprint service manager Jen Guice said there were seven key elements of best practice performance in sustainability.
The first was decentralisation of responsibility for the organisation’s sustainability performance.
“The responsibility is shared right across the council,” Ms Guice said.
“The load is shared right across the council and the engagement therefore is shared right across the council.”
The other six factors were shared accountability; achievable targets; transparency and communication; closure of the project loop; networking with other councils; and a focus on outcomes.
Closure of the project loop was particularly important for councils seeking to implement effective sustainability policies and practices.
“This sounds really basic, but what we find is so many councils don’t actually go back and verify their projects,” Ms Guice said.
“They get a bucket of money in from a grant, complete the project and move on to the next thing. There’s no assessment as to what outcomes have been achieved as a result of the project.”
Ms Guice urged councils to look beyond the data and focus on the outcomes of sustainability measures.
“So many councils are focused on the data – they’re focused on the numbers, but they cannot move past them to actually get an outcome,” she said.
“The most successful councils are outcomes focused. They move past measurement to actually achieve something.”
Planet Footprint’s local government program provides regular reports on organisational performance in relation to energy, water, fleet, waste, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.
The program also allows councils to compare their performance and share information within the network.
The results of their internal research were released at the Sustainable Councils conference in Sydney this week.
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