Feature: Greener by numbers
By Alexandra Roginski
Preventing food waste by ‘rescuing’ it from businesses that would otherwise send it to landfill is already one form of environmental sustainability. In this case it is inherent to the operations of VicRelief Foodbank, which donates millions of kilograms of food each year to around 550 relief and community organisations who then distribute it to people in need.
But the charity’s project manager Lisa Shaw felt there was still a lot more the organisation could do to reduce its carbon footprint as part of truly embedding an environmental ethos into the organisation’s culture.
As has been shown time and again in many businesses, chasing environmental goals tends to result in an increase in operational efficiencies.
In 2009 Ms Shaw contacted student John Downie from the Carbon Accounting short course, run through the Swinburne-based National Centre for Sustainability, to help the organisation calculate the carbon emissions it produced during the 2008–09 financial year.
The success of this initial work prompted Mr Downie to put the VicRelief Foodbank in touch with course coordinator Tony Hodgson to arrange the subsequent year’s reporting. Recent graduate Glenn Bailey, owner of Green Box Consulting, took on the task, spending the equivalent of about 10 days over several months conducting a carbon inventory and producing a report with Mr Hodgson acting as independent verifier.
In November the results were in: the VicRelief Foodbank team had reduced emissions per kilogram of food processed by 18 per cent in just 12 months. In that same period, the amount of food rescued and distributed increased by more than a third.
“I wanted to show other people in the community sector that it’s possible to do a carbon inventory, and that it doesn’t have to be expensive,” said Ms Shaw, who oversaw steps such as retro-fitting the VicRelief Foodbank warehouse in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville with eco-friendly technology. Improvements were also made to logistics by encouraging client agencies to order greater quantities of dried goods to avoid future trips. Origin
Energy provided a free efficiency audit.
Depending on available funding, future measures include fitting solar panels on the roof, and one day even buying carbon credits to offset emissions.
Mr Bailey, whose background is in IT and engineering, was an early convert to sustainability. “It was a realisation, when my daughter was born, that there was someone after me, and I wanted to leave the world a better place … That was 18 years ago.”
The Swinburne short course in Carbon Accounting, established in 2008, was the first of its kind to be accredited according to Australian Quality Training Framework standards. It has now trained 400 students from a range of backgrounds and interests – some seeking a career change, some adding sustainability skills to their role, some wanting to consult on sustainability matters, and some incorporating the knowledge into standard accounting practices. Students from Dubai, Belgium, Kenya and New Zealand have completed the course online.
It has been so successful that Swinburne is now licensing it to registered training organisations around Australia. Last year, the National Centre for Sustainability launched the Diploma in Carbon Management, which integrates both subjects from the short course.
“It is through examples such as the work with VicRelief Foodbank that we see the difference that knowledge about carbon accounting can make in the real world,” said Mr Hodgson.