Local Government Magazine

Emissions in remission

Emissions in remission: 3 responses to the carbon challenge Featured Image

Local authorities are uniting to push for urgent and more ambitious government action to address the effects of climate change. Ann Smith tracks three local body responses to the carbon challenge.

Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse announced the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration at the Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference in Auckland late last year.

Since then the declaration has become a significant point from which each council can look after the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of its constituents and contribute to a sustainable low carbon economy.

Such a commitment requires a step up in thinking about how each organisation can measure, manage and mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions. Irrespective of size, geography or population, each council’s first major move is to look at its greenhouse gas emissions sources and measure its carbon footprint.

Stewart McKenzie, senior technical advisor at Enviro-Mark Solutions, notes the activities that often produce the most significant emissions include waste to landfill, building energy use, and fuel consumption from vehicle fleets.

“A lot of what needs to be measured is obvious,” he says. “And often the process for identifying and measuring the emissions sources can produce ideas of how to manage and reduce the emissions.”

Once measured, the greatest impacts of an organisation can be understood and managed more efficiently in order to reduce them.

A sound understanding of the boundaries of its carbon footprint has already enabled Enviro-Mark Solutions to help Kapiti Coast District Council identify biosolids disposal practices at its landfill as the single biggest contributor to its emissions total.

“Changes to these practices, along with conversion of our sewage drying from a diesel-powered boiler to a wood chip fuel boiler resulted in a combined reduction in our emissions of around 6000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent,” says Jake Roos, senior advisor, climate change and energy at Kapiti Coast District Council.

Technology presents step-change opportunities in emissions and cost reductions. Looking across all its innovations, Kapiti Coast District Council has so far reduced its overall footprint by 50 percent since becoming CEMARS certified, and is using the cost savings to fund new reduction projects.

The complex nature of environmental challenges that councils face is reflected in their diverse approaches to emissions reductions. Initiatives and technology abound to help government organisations get their house in order.

They also mean there is no silver bullet. And each organisation will need to consider its own set of direct opportunities and challenges in order to respond to the carbon challenge.


Wellington City Council has launched the Smart Buildings Challenge in order to lower energy consumption in the capital city’s commercial buildings by 10 percent. Its own Wellington Central Library building is one of the first 25 participants. In the first five months it had already reduced consumption by eight percent.

Managers measured and analysed the building’s energy. The first step was to update the meters to ensure they could capture meaningful data. Then Sandy Winterton, energy manager at Wellington City Council, could review the usage charts regularly.

“Having meaningful data on hand – and making time to monitor it regularly – means you can apply a disciplined approach to finding a problem should it arise,” says Sandy.

Regular monitoring of the measured energy usage identified two problems – previous building work and a failed building management system (BMS) controller – potentially saving the council around $24,000 a year in unnecessary energy costs.


For an organisation like Wellington Zoo, partly funded by Wellington City Council, finding solutions to reduce power use is challenging because of the high power demand from infrastructure like electric fences, veterinary equipment and heating systems for animal enclosures that are required to run 24/7.

So investing in solar panels was an obvious next step to make a measurable difference after having already addressed unnecessary power use. The zoo has installed a 48-panel solar array and estimates this will save the same amount of power used by one and a half average households per year.

“Electricity is still the largest contributor to our carbon emissions profile which is why we installed the solar panels,” says Daniela Biaggio, the zoo’s conservation manager.

Wellington Zoo became the world’s first carboNZero certified zoo in May 2013. Since then it has maintained its certification by continual reduction initiatives, like the solar panel project, and saving during that time approximately 10 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).


Dunedin has stellar night skies and the city council wants to keep it that way. So it is working towards the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) idea of ‘lighting what you need, when you need it’.

Council is embarking on the upgrade of an aging street lighting network to LEDs – around 13,000 city lights in total.

Recommendations on how to do this, while protecting and enhancing the night sky, have been made by the city’s Dark Skies Advisory Panel, which the council established last year to look at key city projects that have a significant external lighting component.

The chair of the panel, local astronomer and Otago Museum director Ian Griffin, says the upgrade offers the opportunity to improve night sky vistas, save on energy and maintenance costs, and boost tourism as Dunedin explores becoming New Zealand’s first Dark Sky City.

And switching 13,000 city lights will reduce the council’s carbon footprint, with estimated annual savings of 209 tonnes of carbon.

The city has a ‘night sky city’ task as part of its energy plan and the council’s transport staff have been investigating and planning the upgrade in consultation with key stakeholders. Progress will be measured and reported on.

This article was first published in the August 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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