Brisbane City Council recently achieved carbon neutral status in line with the Australian Government’s National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS). We take a closer look at how one of Australia’s largest organisations achieved this sustainability goal.

What is carbon neutral?

Put simply, carbon neutral means that a company or organisation’s greenhouse gas emissions are equal to zero. This status is reached by a combination of two initiatives.

Firstly, the organisation reduces as far as possible the greenhouse gas emissions directly generated by its activities. After doing so, some emissions will usually remain. To offset the remainder, the organisation buys carbon credits (offsets). These offsets represent surplus greenhouse remission reductions that are generated by other organisations and sold on the open market.

Council’s achievement

Brisbane City Council’s carbon neutral status was achieved despite having an operating landfill and a large public transport fleet, making it the only organisation in Australia having done this to date.

Announcing the achievement in February, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said: “Our carbon neutrality has been achieved through investments in internal energy efficiency and emissions reduction projects, along with renewable energy and carbon offset purchases.  As part of maintaining our carbon neutral status, Council will eliminate and offset around 800,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, with an annual investment of $6 million.”

Carbon footprint snapshot

Council’s four largest emissions sources are landfill, fuel use, electricity use and construction. These accounts for 67% of the total carbon footprint.

The remaining 33% is comes from indirect supply chain sources such as third-party controlled street lighting and waste transportation.

What Council did to reduce emissions

  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy generation included retrofitting 25,000 streetlights with energy efficient lamps, and installing solar power systems on buildings and facilities including a 100kW system at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
  • Purchasing renewable energy amounted to more than 860,000 MWh of renewable energy since Council started purchasing GreenPower for City Hall in 2003.
  • Reducing the impact of public transport included almost 600 buses running on compressed natural gas, and the choice of high-efficiency Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle (EEV) diesel engine technology for all new buses.
  • Council’s low emissions fleet includes eight fully electric vehicles and around 50 hybrid vehicles. Some fleet vehicles have also been replaced with smaller, more efficient models.
  • Actively managing and reducing waste included capture of landfill gas produced at its operating landfill at Rochedale as well as five closed landfills. This gas is either used to generate electricity or is flared to destroy the methane component. Emissions at the Rochedale landfill are also reduced through Council’s green waste recycling service which collects and diverts garden waste for alternative treatment and use as compost.

Offsetting the remaining emissions

Council purchases independently verified carbon offsets to negate the residual emissions from its operations, after emissions reduction initiatives have been taken into account.

Between July 2007 and June 2016 Council purchased almost one million carbon offsets to negate the emissions from its fuel use and business travel. From 2016-17, Council will offset all residual emissions annually to ensure it maintains a net zero carbon footprint.

Why should your business go carbon neutral?

Some good reasons include:

  • brand benefits
  • becoming part of the solution
  • attracting employees
  • better engaging with customers.

The Sustainable Living Guide says the sensible business response to climate change is to understand your exposure to carbon risk particularly in your operations and supply chain, then minimise that risk. Carbon risk includes price increases as well as legislative and regulatory change.

It also makes commercial sense to demonstrate to your clients, staff, and potential recruits that your business cares about the environment and our future.

Getting started

  1. Make sure you understand the National Carbon Offset Standard which states requirements for an organisation to gain carbon neutral certification in Australia. The NCOS is supported by international standards.
  2. Read the Federal Department of Environment and Energy’s Guide to going carbon neutral (PDF – 2.28 MB) 
  3. Look at some Australian case studies, such as these examples from carbon management advisors The Carbon Neutral Group and Balance Carbon. Engaging such advisors will help you define your goals and simplify some of the complexities involved, particularly the purchasing of carbon offsets.