Future directions in environmental management

Future Directions is a regular feature. This month we interviewed Gavin Mountjoy, Manager Sustainability and Environment, Maribyrnong City Council, Victoria.

As Manager Sustainability and Environment at Maribyrnong City Council, Gavin Mountjoy manages the Sustainability and Environment team, which is responsible for reducing Council’s carbon footprint, water conservation and quality improvements, as well as waste minimisation.

He said the two most critical issues facing our world and local economy are climate change and peak oil (where the world has reached peak extraction of oil and production will forever decline).

“Our communities have a reasonable understanding about the impacts of climate change, but I am not sure that the urgency of the task is that well understood,” he said.

Maribyrnong Council understands that equivalent carbon dioxide levels (eCO2) must remain under 450 parts per million to reduce the risks of runaway climate change.

“We are presently at 430 parts per million eCO2,” Gavin Mountjoy said. “Average global temperature increases of two degrees or more are considered the trigger point for irreversible catastrophic global warming. With ‘business as usual’, we will reach eCO2 levels of about 450 parts per million within ten to 15 years. Therefore, we have only about ten to 15 years to become carbon neutral.”

Maribyrnong Council has made a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2015. Council has also taken on the challenge of working with the community – both residents and business – to become carbon neutral by 2020. Council is becoming carbon neutral through the following actions:

  • reducing energy consumption by approximately 37 per cent through the introduction of energy efficient measures in Council buildings, street lights and fleet vehicles
  • purchasing 100 per cent green power, such as solar, wind or biomass, which will reduce emissions by 62 per cent
  • offsetting remaining carbon from Council’s fleet through a Greenfleet program, a further reduction of eight per cent. Greenfleet provides an innovative way to reduce a car’s impact on the environment through tree planting.

Greenfleet calculates the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by a car based on vehicle size and fuel consumption. Participants can then render their car carbon neutral by paying for Greenfleet to plant and maintain native trees that will absorb the car’s yearly carbon dioxide emissions.

A detailed action plan will be submitted to Council in December 2007.

Council is also exploring the following ideas with residents and businesses to become carbon neutral:

  • measurement tools for domestic houses such as the ecometer
  • facilitation of mass rollouts of solar hot water systems and rainwater tanks through regular repayments with energy and water providers
  • a Council rate rebate scheme for green star rated commercial buildings. This sends the right triggers for businesses to invest in building energy efficiency
  • a local community owned wind farm, with a 1.5 megawatt turbine, which would be located at the foot of the Westgate Bridge. Over 190,000 commuters travel across the bridge daily
  • discussing with developers how new estates can become carbon neutral.

“The issues of climate change and peak oil are enormous,” Gavin Mountjoy said. “But we must keep well informed, discuss them thoroughly and then we must take courage and lead. Our communities will not thank us if we keep them in the dark about difficult issues. Councils are in a great position to articulate a vision for the future – a ‘carbon free’ future and economy that builds community, is inclusive and celebrates diversity.”