Not-for-profit Uniting Communities has become the first South Australian organisation and the first registered charity in Australia to receive certification under the Federal Government’s Carbon Neutral Program.

The certification comes after a five-year commitment from the organisation to significantly reduce its carbon footprint.

‘We committed to our Carbon Neutral program in 2010,’ says Simon Schrapel, Chief Executive of Uniting Communities. ‘Becoming carbon neutral makes sense for our organisation; we have a strong moral compass and research tells us that climate change will most affect people in our client base – the elderly, socially disadvantaged and people on lower incomes.

‘This is also a big win for Adelaide, with its goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city through the Premier’s Carbon Neutral Adelaide initiative. It’s a tremendous example of a locally based company taking leadership and “walking the talk” to reduce emissions and transit to a low-carbon economy. We are hoping other South Australian businesses will follow suit and take up the challenge and opportunity to become carbon neutral.’

Uniting Communities will celebrate the achievement with an event this Tuesday morning, to be attended by dignitaries including Minister Simon Birmingham on behalf of the Australian Government, Minister for Climate Change, Ian Hunter, representing the State Government; and organisations who have supported Uniting Communities.

‘Over the five years we have been reducing our carbon emissions, substantial dollar savings have been achieved, which far exceed the costs outlaid in achieving the national certification,’ Mr Schrapel says. ‘The conversion to hybrid vehicles alone has achieved annual savings of over $650 per vehicle. With the passenger fleet now being 65% petrol-electric, that’s over $50,000 a year in savings and this figure is rising. All fleet vehicles are also carbon offset through local company, CMI Toyota.’

‘Our relationships with our suppliers have been integral in helping us to achieve carbon neutrality,’ says Carbon Neutral Program Manager and carbon advisor, Suzanne Ridding. ‘We’ve been working with CMI Toyota now for more than seven years.’

The organisation has examined purchasing practices and engaged suppliers who can provide 100% carbon neutral products, such as carbon neutral copy paper through Fuji Xerox and stationery from Lyreco International – a demonstration of local businesses working together to combat climate change.

Other carbon reduction activities have included energy-efficient building upgrades to two residential aged care facilities and the city-based head office. With 85 sites across South Australia, Uniting Communities has supported staff to commit to lowering emissions by switching off lights and computers when not in use and reducing waste to landfill.

Mr Schrapel confirmed that a low-carbon approach was now part of organisational policy and culture.

‘We have site representatives across the organisation to facilitate emissions reduction,’ he says. ‘And all position descriptions within the organisation include a commitment to carbon reduction.’

Through a competitive tender process, Carbon Neutral was chosen as the primary carbon offset supplier for the 2015/16 financial year. Uniting Communities has purchased 2,448 tonnes of carbon offsets in the Yarra Yarra Australian Native Reforestation Project – a Carbon Neutral developed project that has been certified under the International Gold Standard, and which has restored over 10,000 hectares of degraded farmland into a healthy landscape of native vegetation and wildlife in a biodiverse global ‘hotspot’.

The project employs mostly local indigenous people, consults with the traditional owners and engages over 80 local businesses.

Commencing this year, Uniting Communities will be redeveloping its Pitt and Franklin Street head office into a modern mixed-use high-rise development which will showcase sustainability from all angles. It will aim to achieve a high-level building rating, demonstrating the organisation’s ongoing commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

For comment
Simon Schrapel, 0411 643 132

For more information
Suzanne Ridding, Carbon Neutral Program Manager, 0411 520 830