Environmental report 2014–15

Ecologically sustainable development and operational environmental performance

Date published:
1 October 2015

This report details the department's environmental performance and contribution to ecologically sustainable development, and supplements our 2014–15 annual report.

About this report

Commonwealth agencies are required to meet statutory annual reporting requirements under Section 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). Government departments report annually on:

  1. how activities accord with and contribute to the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD). 'Activities’ consist of two main areas:  core business (e.g., policies, plans, programs and legislation) and daily corporate operations (use of buildings, energy, vehicles, information and communications technology, etc.)
  2. the environmental performance and impacts of day to day operations on the natural environment, the mitigating measures to minimise impacts and the mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of measures.

The department operates under the Australian Government’s Energy Efficiency in Government Operations (EEGO) Policy to improve the energy efficiency and reduce the whole of life cost and impact of government operations. Under EEGO, agencies are required to comply with energy intensity performance targets, minimum energy performance standards for government tenanted office buildings and appliances, and provide annual reporting of energy consumption against core performance indicators.

The Australian Government’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Sustainability Plan 2010–2015 aims to improve environmental performance and reduce carbon emissions across government by assisting government agencies to utilise ICT resources more effectively, improve efficiency, increase productivity, and reduce the environmental impact of its ICT operations. This plan reinforces government agency obligations under the EPBC Act, and EEGO Policy and takes into account other government and industry initiatives relating to product stewardship, in particular the National Packaging Covenant (NPC) and the National Waste Policy (NWP). Under this plan, agencies are required to meet mandatory energy efficiency performance targets for ICT equipment and data centres, resource use and consumption targets for equipment and paper and environmental standards for ICT procurement.

The department’s environmental performance under the EPBC Act, EEGO Policy, and ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–2015 is summarised below.



Contribution of core business activities to ecologically sustainable development

The department seeks to uphold the principles of ESD through the development and delivery of policies, plans, programmes, legislation, advice, education, and scientific services that reflect economic as well as environmental and social sustainability. Examples of core business activities that accord with ESD are provided below, with detail on how the department’s activities have embedded ESD and its principles and advance them on an on-going basis.

Examples of contribution to ESD

Industry programmes

The department’s Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Programme enables industry-led research partnerships to address major long-term challenges such as ecological sustainability. CRCs developing solutions include the Invasive Animals CRC, Plant Biosecurity CRC, CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities and CRC for Low Carbon Living. 

Under the Clean Technology Programme, Australian manufacturers were encouraged to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency and improve their competitiveness in a carbon constrained environment.

The Community Energy Efficiency Program, Low Income Energy Efficiency Program and Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program supported small businesses, community groups, local councils and households to implement technologies and behaviours to reduce energy use.

The LPG Vehicle Scheme provided incentives for motorists to reduce vehicle fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through the use of LPG*.

* While this programme closed on 30 June 2014, claims could be lodged until 30 September 2014 for conversions done prior to, and including, 30 June 2014.

Development of Science and research priorities

The department, in conjunction with the Office of the Chief Scientist, has developed a set of national Science and research priorities. The priority areas include food, soil and water and environmental change. The implementation of these priorities integrates both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations.

Develop policies and regulate legislative requirements to assist households, businesses and community groups to take practical action to improve energy productivity and reduce consumption of energy

Improving the energy performance of appliances, equipment, and commercial and residential buildings supports ESD principles by encouraging lower energy consumption and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Increased consumer education and awareness enables greater understanding of the environmental and financial cost implications of energy decisions. Working through the Australian Government's Energy Council on market reform to accommodate emerging energy technologies allows the energy market to respond quickly to new opportunities to move to cleaner energy solutions. These activities contribute to Australia's new National Energy Productivity Plan, which will deliver up to 40 percent improvement in energy productivity.

Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Environment) Regulations 2009 (Environment Regulations)

An object of the Environment Regulations is to ensure that any petroleum or greenhouse gas activity occurring in Commonwealth waters is carried out in a manner consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD). Proponents of offshore petroleum projects must set out environmental performance outcomes that are consistent with the principles of ESD in order for the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, the national regulator for environmental management of offshore petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters, to accept an offshore project proposal. An accepted proposal is a prerequisite to undertaking an offshore project.

The Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for the mining industry (LPSDP)

This program promotes sustainable development and industry self-regulation through proactive adoption of leading practice principles. The LPSDP provides practical guidance to the mining industry and other stakeholders to assist with the implementation of leading practice to improve social and environmental performance. An underpinning principle of the program is to encourage, within the mining industry, a shift in approaches and attitudes, as well as in the practices and technologies available thus ensuring knowledge sharing with others to deliver social and economic benefits.

Environmental monitoring services: analysis of air, water, soil, animal and plant samples for environmental contaminants

Through the National Measurement Institute (NMI), the department provides scientific services to government, regulators, industry and research stakeholders. NMI's services are provided to a broad range of clients, including other environmental laboratories that use NMI's specialised, high-end capabilities to meet their needs for test data to meet legislative requirements. NMI's ultra-trace level testing for persistent organic pollutants is unique in Australia. NMI's definitive analytical results provide clarity in disputes and lead to better quality risk assessments and planning for environment-related issues. NMI's chemical standards, certified reference materials and chemical proficiency testing services improve the quality of data available to decision-makers.


Operational environmental performance

The effects of the department’s corporate, operational activities on the environment and its progress towards achieving mandatory targets in the Australian Government’s Energy Efficiency in Government Operations (EEGO) Policy, ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–2015 and elements of the EPBC Act are summarised below in the environmental performance indicator table. The measures taken to minimise effects of the department’s operational activities on the environment and the mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of measures to reduce impacts are also outlined below.

Key performance indicators for departmental operations: office/building and transport energy use, resource efficiency and ICT sustainability:

Performance measure and indicator Target 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 Change
Energy use        
Total energy consumption (GJ) 1 n.a.* 87,749 86,436 84,019 -3%
Stationary energy (GJ) – buildings n.a.* 74,892 75,175 73,946 -2%
Total green power consumption (GJ) n.a.* 6,255 5,382 5,390 0%
Net greenhouse gas emissions (t CO2-e) from energy use n.a.* 20,702 24,498 17,245 -30%
Energy intensity: TLP 2 (MJ/person/annum) ≤7,500 4,663 5,147 4,017 -22%
Energy intensity: CS 3 (GJ)/m2) ≤400 n.a.* n.a.* n.a.* n.a.*
Energy intensity: laboratories (MJ/m2) n.a.* 1,563 1,487 1,154 -22%
Energy intensity: public buildings (MJ/m2) n.a.* 551 451 447 -1%
Energy intensity: other buildings (MJ/m2) n.a.* 130 107 133 +25%
Energy intensity: computer centres (MJ/m2) n.a.* 24,746 25,801 21,865 -15%
ICT sustainability        
Desktop energy per end user (kWh/annum) ≤250 n.a.** 336 277 -18%
Desktop computers off after hours 4 90% n.a.** n.a.** 45% n.a.*
Desktop computers to printer ratio 20:1 n.a.** n.a.** 18:1 n.a.*
Power usage effectiveness (PUE) – computer centres and data rooms ≤1.90 n.a.** 2.000 1.715 -14%
Resource efficiency and waste        
Office paper recycled – national sites 5 (t) n.a.* 83.80 115.69 96.65 -16%
Total waste diverted from landfill – national sites 5 (t) n.a.* 121.53 155.96 136.60 -12%
Total waste generated – national sites 5 (t) n.a.* 170.83 214.07 192.80 -10%
Waste diverted from landfill – all ACT office sites 5 (%) n.a.* 69% 73% 95% +30%
Air travel        
Total number of flights n.a.* 27,040 22,755 20,722 -9%
Total distance of flights (km) n.a.* 25,826,593 22,314,887 21,295,416 -5%
Vehicle fleet        
Transport energy – all vehicles (GJ) n.a.* 12,857 12,924 10,073 -22%
Energy intensity: passenger vehicles only (MJ/km) n.a.* 3.79 3.63 2.93 -19%
Total fuel purchased – passenger vehicles only (KL) n.a.* 341.01 300.46 271.44 -10%
Total distance travelled – passenger vehicles only (Km) n.a.* 3,065,274 3,102,446 2,937,169 -5%
Copy paper per end user 6 (reams per person per annum) 9 8 6 5 -17%
Percentage of paper purchased with 100 per cent post-consumer recycled content 5 100% 77% 95% 99% +4%

GJ = gigajoule; kWh = Kilowatt hour; m2 = square metre; MJ = megajoule; n.a.* = not applicable; n.a.** = not available; t CO2-e = tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent; t = tonnes.

1Includes transport and stationary energy sectors (passenger vehicles, offices, public buildings, laboratories, warehouses and data centres).

2TLP: tenant light and power - energy used for tenant operations in office space, including lighting, office equipment, and supplementary air conditioning.

3 CS: central services - a measurement of energy used providing services common to all tenants in office buildings, including building air conditioning, lifts, security and lobby lighting and domestic hot water.

4 Relates to virtual desktop.

5 Relates to only those sites where data was available from providers. E-waste has not been included.

6 General use of office copy paper is regarded as plain A4 size paper, mostly 80gsm.

Mitigation measures and methods for reviewing effectiveness

Office and building efficiency

The department improved its energy performance in 2014–15, achieving a 3 percent reduction in total energy use (comprised of a 2 percent reduction in stationary energy and a 22 percent reduction in transport energy) and surpassing the EEGO Policy per capita energy intensity target for tenant light and power (TLP) of 7,500 MJ/person/annum by 22 percent, reporting 4,017 MJ/person/annum. This was achieved through the rationalisation of the property portfolio into fewer, more efficient tenancies and by integrating energy-efficient features into building fit-out designs. The department does not currently report against the central services (CS) target of 400 MJ per metre squared per annum, as it does not currently have any properties in this end use category. A significant reduction in energy intensity was reported for the department's laboratories and computer centres at 1,154MJ/m2 (22 percent decrease) and 21,865MJ/m2 (15 percent decrease) respectively, as evidenced in the table above.

The energy performance of the property portfolio is rated using the National Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) for offices. The department strives to occupy office buildings and tenancies that are designed to achieve the EEGO policy’s minimum energy performance standard of at least 4.5 stars. NABERS office energy ratings (without green power) for the department's main tenancies currently include:

  • 2 Philip Law St, Canberra: 5.5 stars Tenancy | Base building currently being rated
  • 10 Binara St, Canberra: 3 stars Tenancy | 5 stars Base building
  • 341 George St Sydney: 5 stars Tenancy | 4 stars Base building.

The property at 2 Philip Law St, Canberra has also achieved an outstanding Green Star Office Design v3 and Office As Built v3 ratings of 6 Stars, which represents ‘world leadership' in environmentally sustainable building practices.

To ensure that the department's larger tenancies operate at the required level of energy efficiency, inline with EEGO minimum energy performance standards, landlord and tenant obligations are managed under Green Lease Schedules by implementing site-based energy management plans, quarterly Building Management Committee meetings and separate metering.

The department purchased 5,390 GJ of green power from electricity services in NSW and the Australian Capital Territory, procured through the whole-of-government electricity contract.

The department participates in Earth Hour to promote greenhouse emission awareness and to review lighting system operations.

The department continues to enhance governance processes to review and report on its environmental performance. The table above outlines the department’s performance against the EEGO Policy and ICT sustainability plan targets over time.


The department is committed to the reduction of waste sent to landfill and more efficient use of operational resources through the implementation of a waste management plan that supports the waste hierarchy of waste avoidance and recovery over waste disposal.

The department actively works with waste contractors to improve rates of recycling across sites. Signage, bins and bags are progressively being upgraded to meet Australian standard AS 4123.7-2006 AMDT 1 2008 Mobile waste containers—Colours, markings, and designation requirements and support ongoing behaviour change.

Where possible, obsolete ICT desktop equipment is re-used or sold rather than being disposed of or recycled and all toner cartridges are recycled with zero waste to landfill.

ICT sustainability plan and ICT Policy: energy and carbon management

The department's ICT sustainability plan and ICT Policy is aligned with whole-of government ICT sustainability guidelines, and supports the goal of lowering the department's carbon emissions by providing a framework to review and report on ICT practices, including efficient use of energy, energy star ratings and measures for the reduction of hazardous substances. The department has exceeded the ICT sustainability plan target for desktop devices to end users of 1.2:1 with a ratio of 1.05:1 in 2014/15.  It is expected that this ratio will be maintained or reduced with the implementation of the Flexible Workplace Project and other initiatives.

Throughout 2014/15, energy efficiencies were made through the consolidation of ICT infrastructure within the department’s data centres. As a result the overall PUE has dropped from 2.0 in 2013–2014, to 1.715 in 2014–2015.  The continued use of virtualisation technology to consolidate and reduce the amount of physical ICT infrastructure enabled the department to run multiple servers on a single piece of infrastructure, therefore reducing data centre energy usage. This technology underpins most of the department’s ICT infrastructure and supports the efficient and effective delivery of ICT operational services. The department also utilises a virtual desktop environment, which reduced desktop power consumption by replacing conventional PC’s with low power thin client devices. Virtual desktops support the department’s flexible working arrangements, enabling staff to work remotely using bring your own device (BYOD) capabilities. Offsite flexible working arrangements reduce the reliance and use of thin client devices, further reducing power usage.

Increased video conferencing capability in 2014–15 has enhanced connectivity between state and regional offices, reducing travel requirements and subsequently travel-related carbon emissions (refer to key performance indicator table above). The positive uptake of video conferencing technology by staff throughout the department in 2014–15 is demonstrated by a 112% increase in equipment usage (minutes in use) and a 133% increase in VC capability (units deployed) since 2013–14, indicating that many staff now use this technology over travel.

The department continues to minimise the use of printers through mandating multi-function devices (MFDs) with a 'follow-me' printing capability enabled and default to double-sided printing, to optimise paper and toner cartridge use.  In addition, the MFDs have automatic sleep function enabled, which also reduces energy consumption.

Performance of public buildings: Questacon

Questacon manages the impacts of its operational activities through an Environmental Management System certified to ISO 14001:2004. 

Questacon installed in excess of 300 solar panels at its Parkes site and implemented a changeover of incandescent external lights to LED to gain further power efficiencies.

Questacon currently recycles all waste from office areas including organic waste. Questacon recycles cardboard weighing more than 16,000kg pa, metal from workshop, batteries, pallets and all clean paper products.

Questacon exhibitions are designed with regard to the environmental impact of construction, operation and disposal. Increasing use of computer-aided design technology is assisting in the reduction of waste during the production stage.

Procurement of goods and services

In line with the requirements of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, the department considers environmental sustainability as part of its value for money assessment. The department's procurement and grants toolkit provides guidance to staff on both the Sustainable procurement guide and the Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–2015.

In line with the requirements of the Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–2015, general use office copy paper purchased by the department must contain 100% post-consumer recycled content.

The department utilises the whole-of-government Desktop Equipment Panel, which includes environmental criteria in the selection process, to source ICT desktop equipment.

National Measurement Institute (NMI) laboratories

NMI's laboratories are accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia, and its operations are conducted in accordance with relevant standards and regulatory environmental requirements (including National Environment Protection Measures relating to hazardous goods storage, waste and discharges).

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