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Environmental Efficiency in the Australian Public Service: a Resource Guide

Department of Industrial Relations logo

Department of Industrial Relations
October 1996

[ Contents Page ]


Techniques for Improving Environmental Efficiency and Cleaner Production

Techniques for preventing environmental problems focus directly on the source of the problem, not just the outcomes. This means looking at the processes and systems being used, and identifying changes which will minimise or eliminate the resulting adverse environmental impact.

If a waste product or a pollutant is the problem, cleaner production shifts attention from ways of treating waste to the way it is created. This is often referred to as shifting focus from the end of the pipe to the beginning of the pipe.

If safety is an issue because of the use of toxic chemicals, the APS can do more than ensure that workers wear safety glasses and have access to effective fume hoods; they can focus on changing procedures so that toxic chemicals are not used at all.

If agency electricity bills are increasing, more can be done than just ensuring that employees turn out lights when they leave offices or conference rooms, although that is worth doing. Examining electricity use in buildings can reveal areas where energy can be used more efficiently. Checking the electricity meter at the end of the day and then again the next morning might show that a substantial amount of power is being used when nobody is working - are computers, printers and photocopiers left on overnight?


Some of the most useful techniques available for use in cleaner production are:
Resource Guide Logo preventing or minimising waste;
Resource Guide Logo preventing pollution;
Resource Guide Logo reducing resource use and impacts;
Resource Guide Logo using energy efficiently;
Resource Guide Logo redesigning products and services;
Resource Guide Logo analysing impacts and services over their life cycle; and
Resource Guide Logo continuous environmental improvement.

Preventing or minimising waste

Waste prevention has received a great deal of attention in cleaner production programs. The need reduce the amount of waste produced reflects community concern, hazards associated with some wastes, costs of disposal and difficulties in siting disposal facilities, the need for conserving non-renewable resources, and the costs associated with raw materials that are not used productively. While a great deal of attention has been focused on solid waste, the general approaches for preventing or minimising solid waste can be equally applied to liquid wastes or air emissions.

Cleaner production is the key to the development of an organisational culture which recognises that potential improvements in the environmental performance of an activity will be most likely to come from the person carrying out that activity. People at the coalface are often best at identifying the source of waste and changes that can be made to avoid or reduce production of waste.

Techniques for avoiding or reducing waste at the source include:
Resource Guide Logo product substitution;
Resource Guide Logo product conservation;
Resource Guide Logo changes in production composition;
Resource Guide Logo changes in input material;
Resource Guide Logo technology changes; and
Resource Guide Logo improved operating practices.

Products can be recycled either in-house or off-site. Wherever possible,
in-house recycling is preferable because it avoids transporting materials.

In-house recycling involves the use of a waste product as a raw material to be used again in the original process or in another process.

Preventing pollution

The basic approach to preventing pollution is quite similar to that for avoiding or minimising waste. A cleaner production approach changes the focus from the treatment of pollutants to changes in the process that is the source of the pollution. Many processes can be modified in ways that eliminate undesirable discharges and use of toxic chemicals.

Reducing resource use and impacts

Many compelling reasons exist for the APS to find ways of reducing overall use of resources, and avoiding materials which have significant environmental impacts.

Globally, the current levels of resource use are already causing possible irreparable damage to the earth's atmosphere, soils, flora and fauna. At the present time, the vast majority of the world's resource consumption occurs in industrialised countries. About 20% of the world's people consume more than 80% of the world's natural resources, produce 75% of the waste, have over 90% of the world's cars and consume more than 80% of the world's electricity, iron and steel, and paper.

Nationally, it is important that Australia uses its resources in a more sustainable way to ensure their protection for future generations.

From an economic standpoint, resources cost money - by reducing the amount used, the APS reduces its costs.

Resource Guide Logo Some questions that can help determine ways of reducing the use of resources include:

What quantities of resources are used in your APS operations?
Can the product/package/service be provided using reduced amounts of resources?

For example, you may choose products which use minimum amounts of packaging, while still providing adequate protection. You could evaluate the environmental effects for each of the packaging alternatives to determine the best environmental outcome.

Can the product/service be made to last longer, to minimise the need for more resources to be used?
Can the product/service be used in a manner that minimises use of resources?

It is important to consider the overall life cycle of a product - even if the environmental impact of the manufacturing stage of one product produces greater environmental impact than the manufacture of an alternative, this may be more than offset by reduced environmental impact during product use.

What resources and raw materials are used?
Are the resources renewable, recycled, recyclable?
How are the resources produced or obtained - using what inputs? with what effect? at what rate?
Can the resources be obtained in less environmentally damaging ways?
Can resources with lower impacts be substituted?

Using energy efficiently

Agencies consume energy at varying rates. While energy use is usually thought of in terms of lighting and heating buildings and operation of appliances and equipment, energy is also consumed in producing materials and goods, in transport and in construction.

Resource Guide Logo Some questions that can help us focus on ways in which energy use can be used more efficiently include:
How much energy is currently required for products/buildings, cars, equipment etc?
Is more efficient equipment (equipment which uses less energy) available?
Can equipment be used in a more efficient way?
What is the source of energy currently being used?
Can energy be obtained from renewable resources, for example, solar or geothermal?
How can the renewable energy resource be obtained and used in the most efficient, least damaging manner?

Redesigning products and services

A number of manufacturers are redesigning their products to make them more environmentally responsible. Agencies could adopt a similar approach in their own operations. Redesign of services could include: provision of hot water for employees using a kettle; placing urns on timers; catering with re-useable dishes and cups; or maintaining grounds and parks with reduced chemical and water use.

Cleaner production at all life cycle stages

In identifying opportunities for cleaner production where a product or service is involved it is important to remember that opportunities occur all through the life cycle. There is a tendency to focus on the manufacturing or construction stage, because the impacts are apparent, and on the disposal stage, because waste is an acknowledged problem. For many products or services, though, the greatest impact occurs during use or operation, because inputs of water, energy or materials are required throughout the time the product is used or the service is offered. Products that fall into this category are buildings, photocopiers and other electrical equipment, and cars.

In many cases, the most effective way of reducing environmental impacts at a particular stage will probably involve anticipatory action at an earlier stage. The design stage determines lifetime environmental impacts for products, buildings and cities. Good design can minimise the use of resources, build in energy efficiency, prevent waste and avoid the need for toxic chemicals.

Cleaner production involves improvements to environmental performance at every stage of the life cycle of a product as well as to the process of project management and administration.

In choosing equipment like photocopiers, those which provide fault-free double-sided copying will reduce the paper volume used and thus the overall lifetime impacts. Looking for office equipment with an Energy Star label provides assurance that the product is energy efficient. Equipment that is readily repairable will allow the equipment to be used longer; environmental impacts are reduced because less equipment must be manufactured.

Continuous environmental improvement

One of the most important aspects of cleaner production is the commitment to ongoing action. Through a process of continuous improvement, the activities of an agency build upon the progress already made, take advantage of new opportunities, make use of financial, physical and human resources as they become available, and benefit from ever improving skills, knowledge and technology. This process is the essence of moving towards sustainability.

One-off environmental improvements or changes, even those involving quantum leaps forward, are less important than recognising that in every area of activity there will always be further potential for improvement of environmental performance. Improvements that can be made today should be made today, but they must be accompanied by a commitment to ongoing changes as better techniques and approaches become available. The development of high quality systematic environmental management plans can help organisations develop long-term strategies for continuous environmental improvement.


Modifying Policies and Practices

Use of cleaner production approaches will help practitioners and policy makers focus on areas where activities could be changed and will assist in identifying some options for change. Making decisions about what changes should be implemented requires more detailed analysis:

Resource Guide Logo using excisting information and resources
Resource Guide Logo conducting a cost-benefit analysis
Resource Guide Logo developing the necessary skills
Resource Guide Logo using expert advice
Resource Guide Logo developing partnerships

Using excisting information and resources

Cleaner production programs have been in place for several years in many countries around the world and in many locations in Australia. A considerable body of information is readily available on specific industries and processes.

In looking for information however, it is worth remembering that an enormous body of information lies with agency staff. People close to an operation often have the best handle on current conditions and on productive changes that could reduce environmental impact. They are also likely to have the greatest stake in reducing on-going problems and improving safety. Appropriate channels of communication need to be put into place and maintained to ensure that this home grown knowledge is put to best use. Agencies should also provide employees with resources, such as training funding or time, to genuinely contribute to environmental efficiency.

Measuring costs and benefits

Many cleaner production projects result in financial savings as well as environmental benefits. Even where short-term savings are not achievable, long-term economic benefits may be significant.

In setting priorities for cleaner production projects and in evaluating options for changes to the life cycle of a product, there is a need to measure the costs and benefits so as to identify actions which will achieve the greatest environmental benefit in the most cost-effective manner.

A cost-benefit analysis should be carried out for every major project. This should take account of:
Resource Guide Logo capital costs: engineering, plant and equipment, capital materials;
Resource Guide Logo operating costs: outputs of products, inputs: energy, water, raw material, labour;
Resource Guide Logo revenue benefits;
Resource Guide Logo compliance with regulations;
Resource Guide Logo OH&S;
Resource Guide Logo public perception; and
Resource Guide Logo transferability of knowledge/experience.

Develop necessary skills

Approaching environmental management in an anticipatory way may be quite different from current styles of operation in many agencies. Excisting technical, organisational and administrative skills may need to be improved.

Make use of expert advice

There are situations in which a best guess is not good enough: solid information and expertise is really required. In such circumstances it is important to identify what is already known and to be as specific as possible about the information wanted and the form in which the information should be provided.

The first place to look for expert advice is within the Commonwealth. Agencies may also wish to hire a consultant. Other sources of advice include universities, professional or technical organisations, consultancies or research bodies.

Many of the activities undertaken by the agency are similar to those of other agencies in the APS. Problems that have arisen in one location are likely to arise elsewhere as well. Innovative solutions developed in an agency can save another a considerable amount of time and money in not re-inventing the wheel. There is considerable value therefore in sharing information within the APS.

Develop partnerships for co-operative action

Cleaner production involves the reduction of environmental impacts at every stage of the life cycle of a product or service. This is most effectively accomplished by establishing partnerships among a number of individuals or groups. As it would be unusual for one individual to have responsibility for all stages of a product's life cycle, a partnership allows all those with responsibility or a stake in the outcome to work together. Partnership also brings together a range of perspectives to develop the creative or innovative approaches needed to eliminate environmental problems.

Some of the partnerships likely to be necessary for cleaner production projects include:

Resource Guide Logo between agencies;
Resource Guide Logo between staff and management;
Resource Guide Logo with trade unions;
Resource Guide Logo with suppliers;
Resource Guide Logo with the community;
Resource Guide Logo with local businesses; and
Resource Guide Logo with other levels of government.


Cleaner Production Survey: an Overview

The Survey of Cleaner Production in Australian Public Service Agencies, sent to all APS agencies, was conducted in May 1996. The results from this survey revealed that a number of agencies have implemented a range of environmental efficiency initiatives.

Some examples of good environmental practice introduced by agencies include:

Resource Guide Logo The development and implementation of purchasing policies with environmental criteria has been achieved in several agencies both in relation to individual contracts and in instances where common use arrangements are made for goods such as information technology equipment.
Resource Guide Logo Electronic distribution and management of documentation using the Internet and Email has been encouraged in an attempt to reduce paper usage in offices.
Resource Guide Logo Active staff awareness programs, including Email, posters and articles in staff bulletins, to educate and encourage staff to take up environmentally efficient measures.
Environmental efficiency initiatives adopted by agencies were incorporated via a number of mechanisms including agency agreements, policy directives, and environmental improvement plans.

Initiatives were also introduced through vehicles such as agency corporate plans, new starter and GAA induction courses, and consultative bodies such as departmental environment committees or through agency specific environmental officer networks.

The Public Service and Merit Protection Commission (PSMPC) has also responded positively to the suggestion that an increased emphasis on environmental efficiency be incorporated into new entry level competency based curricula and resources being developed at the national level.

Key findings

The following information highlights the key findings from the survey including some of the cost savings achieved by agencies. The response rate for the survey was 39%. The results should therefore be seen as indicative of the state of environmental efficiency in the APS rather than as an absolute.

Please note: A copy of the survey, methodology and the complete results can be found at Appendix A.

A) Cleaner production strategies implemented

Resource Guide Logo The majority of respondent agencies (87%) implemented recycling strategies. These strategies included the recycling of paper products including cardboard, toner cartridges, glass, aluminium cans, compostable waste, oils, stationery, and computer disks.


The Department of Transport and Regional Development (DTRD) has introduced paper recycling bins to all floors of the Department's offices to reduce the amount of paper going to landfill. Other forms of recycling are the collection of plastics, glass ware and milk containers all of which are collected in a special bin. All recyclable material is then centrally stored and taken away by a contractor.

DTRD states that on current projections of recycling levels they may be able to reduce the number of waste hoppers going to landfill from two per month to one, saving around $3,000 per month in waste contractors.

Resource Guide Logo A significant proportion of respondents, approximately 70%, identified and implemented energy and/or water savings.

Resource Guide Logo 50% of respondents appointed an officer responsible for environmental matters.


Joint House Department (JHD) has established a continuing program of internal and external audits to target cost effective conservation projects in Parliament House. A number of conservation projects are implemented annually to eliminate ozone depleting substances, reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These projects are funded from savings achieved.
  • Since 1988-89 annual consumption has fallen 37% for electricity and 61% for gas.
  • Consumption of energy is now 3% below the reasonable target for commercial office buildings and was reduced another 3% during 1995-96.
  • 1995/96 savings generated by conservation was 3.3%.

Measures adopted by JHD to achieve these reductions include improved airconditioning control strategies providing improved temperature and humidity control; more appropriate illumination levels; the installation of more efficient lamps; reducing operating hours for lighting; variable speed drives; and contaminant sensors in carparks.


The Department of Environment, Sport and Territories (DEST) have a dedicated position in place to deal with environmental matters within the agency. This officer is responsible for coordinating the Department's EcoNET officer network and for the development and implementation of the Department's Environmental Management Plan. This includes:
  • developing and implementing strategies to reduce energy consumption and paper use;
  • minimise waste; and
  • encourage recycling.

The officer is also responsible for the development of purchasing criteria which take account of environmental impact issues, and for the promotion of environmental efficiency to staff.

B) Benefits identified in adopting cleaner production techniques

Resource Guide Logo 70% of respondent agencies saw a reduction in energy costs as a direct consequence of adopting cleaner production techniques.


DTRD has four buildings in Civic, Canberra. The department has established a refurbishing program that as each floor is due for refurbishment:
  • replaces excisting lighting systems with better quality and more energy efficient light globes;
  • establishes block lighting patterns that enable sections of each floor to be lit rather than the whole floor; and
  • installs light sensors on conference and training rooms.

The cost of changing over to more energy efficient systems should be repaid in approximately two years. Whilst savings have not been formally accounted for at this stage, as the refurbishment is still underway, it is estimated that the Department should save around 10% on its electricity bill over the next 12 months.


DEST experienced a 30% reduction in their electricity costs for a single building; a saving of $50,000. This was achieved by:
  • removing fluorescent tubes from vacant areas;
  • reducing the number of tubes used elsewhere (a reduction of approximately 30%) while maintaining adequate lighting levels; and
  • introducing zoned lighting and timers for lighting, hot water units and all other office equipment not already installed with power save switches.

Resource Guide Logo Just under 40% claimed reduced material costs.


The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs realised a 33% reduction in freight costs with the development of a stronger, lighter paper for their printed forms - 60% of which are destined for overseas posts. Environmentally, this initiative also resulted in reduced greenhouse gas emission through less road and air transport used to achieve the same outcome.

C) Cleaner production arrangements with the agency's suppliers

Resource Guide Logo 20% of respondent agencies had established environmental arrangements, that is, returning cardboard/packaging, with their suppliers.


The Government's Environmental Procurement Policy aims to place the Commonwealth at the forefront of environmentally sound procurement practice by:
  • seeking to buy goods and services with the least adverse environmental impact;
  • working with industry to encourage continuous improvement in the environmental impact of the goods and services it buys; and
  • assessing the environmental impact of goods and services against approved standards.

D) Cleaner production initiatives pursued through agency agreements

Resource Guide Logo 25% of respondents pursued cleaner production initiatives in the context of an agency agreement.


The Department of Primary Industries and Energy (DPIE) agency agreement included the following clause:

"The parties recognise the particular energy conservation responsibilities of DPIE as the Commonwealth department with responsibility for energy. The parties note the Dept. of Finance Resource Agreement relating to energy conservation and associated savings. Subsequent to these requirements there are other potential resource savings relating to resource conservation and recycling. The parties see potential for additional savings in DPIE running costs available through resource conservation and recycling. As such, the parties are committed to implementing a team based resource management program including a commitment to actively reduce paper and resources consumption and increase the use of reusable stores and stationery items.

The program will include the following elements:

(a) one person to be nominated per Division to administer the program part time. All persons nominated shall meet on a regular basis to discuss progress and share ideas;
(b) program principles are reduce, reuse and recycle.

The program aims to achieve:

  • (i) reduction in resource consumption;
    (ii) reduction in consumable office supplies (including paper and other stores);
    (iii) increased use of reusable office supplies (eg refillable pens);
    (iv) implement recycling initiatives to reduce waste volume.

(c) the focus of the program is on environmental benefits and reduction in running costs.

The program will also include reference to the following issues:

  • (a) use of facsimile machines and photocopiers;
    (b) use of time switches to save energy;
    (c) use of electronic mail for rapid, paperless information dissemination;
    (d) paperless drafting processes;
    (e) utilisation of 'green' technology and environmentally ethical organisations;
    (f) air conditioning;
    (g) car pooling; and
    (h) encouragement of public transport and alternative means of transport."

Please note: Additional information to help agencies develop their own environmental efficiency clauses for their workplace agreements can be found at Appendix B.

E) Cleaner production strategies promoted in formal or on the job training programs

Resource Guide Logo Approximately 65% of respondents explained recycling procedures to staff.


F) Encouragement

All respondent agencies with one exception felt that government policy decisions would encourage their agency to introduce cleaner production initiatives. Almost 60% identified environmental regulation.

Additional methods of encouragement included budget supplementation through new policy proposals; the development of guidelines, procedures and educational products for small and large agencies; and the use of government purchasing power to allow companies offering environmentally friendly products and services easier access onto government contracts.


Resource Guide Logo Australian industry

A comparison of the APS survey results with key findings from a similar survey of major Australian manufacturers revealed:

  • Over 75% implemented paper/cardboard recycling with many companies adopting waste water recycling/treatment, and oil, metal and other waste/by-product recycling strategies compared to 87% of APS respondent agencies;
  • 70% reduced overall production costs, particularly material costs, and water and power bills. This is somewhat similar to the APS where 70% of respondents reduced energy costs and almost 40% reduced material costs;
  • Over 36% had cleaner production arrangements with their suppliers and/or clients, compared with 20% of APS respondents.
  • Both the private and public sector survey respondents identified financial incentives, regulations, education/promotion programs and access to information, particularly on cost-effective strategies for recycling waste disposal, as ways of encouraging industry to adopt cleaner production techniques.