CARING FOR OUR COMMON HOME
By Nicholas Hauschild. Sustainability Coordinator, Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide
In the 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey, 51 per cent of respondents identified the environment as one of the most important issues in Australia today, with 26 per cent “very” or “extremely” concerned about climate change. Our planet and our students are crying out for change, highlighting that an ecological conversion is more important now than ever. We acknowledge that responding to this need and minimising our impact on the environment will involve taking time to change procedures and existing practices, shifting the culture of our community towards more sustainable practices.
Recognising the need for more immediate action, Saint Ignatius’ College Adelaide is seeking to become a carbon-neutral organisation. Our hope was that this endeavour would encourage other schools to embark on a similar journey, promoting an ecological conversion and having a positive impact beyond our own organisation.
Becoming carbon neutral involves purchasing carbon offsets – to compensate for emissions resulting from the College – through projects that remove carbon from our atmosphere. This is coupled with carbon reduction strategies that will reduce emissions over time as we take a range of actions to minimize our environmental impact. By better tracking our carbon emissions, we gain the data needed to drive targeted strategies for emission reductions.
We have not yet been able to become a carbon-neutral organisation as planned. However, we are learning valuable lessons that have been helpful in shaping our direction, and we hope this knowledge may benefit others as well.
We engaged a sustainability consultant who assisted us with the process of data collection to prepare a robust carbon inventory. In a world where the appearance of sustainability is appealing but often disingenuous, we chose to seek accreditation through the Climate Active program, a government scheme regarded as the gold standard in carbon neutrality. It became apparent that the process of collecting this data was more rigorous than we had imagined, requiring accounting for each line in the general ledger list and providing supporting documentation such as invoices and bills for numerous categories. We were fortunate to have the support of an excellent consulting company that walked us through the process, generously going beyond the scope of our arrangement to ensure we met the requirements of Climate Active accreditation.
We already had some preliminary estimates for our carbon emissions based on available data from our records and information from other schools. We budgeted accordingly, planning to utilise Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU), considered the most robust and trusted offset source, as well as offset units from an overseas company which employed forest-related emission reduction strategies overseas. While the cost of ACCUs is higher, they are more regulated.
The completed carbon inventory revealed that our emissions were double what we initially estimated. Additionally, the cost of ACCUs had significantly increased, as they are financial products subject to fluctuations like shares in the stockmarket. Although cheaper offsetting options existed, we didn’t feel comfortable funding an emission reduction practice that we weren’t confident would achieve its intended impact (i.e., 1 credit removes 1 tonne of carbon from the atmosphere). Consequently, we couldn’t proceed with Climate Active accreditation as planned.
However, we now have precise data showing us where we need to improve, establishing a baseline against which we can measure the effectiveness of any emission reduction strategies we implement in future carbon inventories. Our focus shifts now towards utilising the budget we had set aside for offsetting to fund emission reductions that would otherwise have been allocated to the following year. This includes implementing changes to our waste management systems, introducing student-run composting systems, undertaking revegetation projects along a creek running through our property, amending procurement processes, adopting reduced plastic use strategies, eliminating gas heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVACs) and switching our energy plans to 100 per cent renewable sources.
We hope that the actions demonstrate a genuine commitment to our community, inspiring an ecological conversion in our students that leads to a change of heart and a desire for lasting, positive changes in this area, not only in their own lives but also in their wider community, fostering a culture of care for our common home.
Feature photo by Pixabay on Pexels.