Green Steps involvement in a waste audit at Urban Reforestation

25 April 2012 – Interns from the award winning Green Steps program run by Melbourne’s Monash University Sustainability Institute have successfully tackled challenges such as an energy efficiency plan for Darwin international airport and the first ever carbon footprint and inventory for The Body Shop Australia.

Erin Simpson who has been managing the project since 2010 told The Fifth Estate 475 interns had been placed in public and private workplaces since it started 12 years ago.

Ms Simpson, who became part of Green Steps as a Monash student in 2007, began her environmental career with the Louisville Air Pollution Control District in the US before moving to Australia. She is a former sustainability products and services manager for the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Green Steps interns offer organisations the opportunity to kick-start a new environmental initiative or accelerate an existing one.

Businesses host Green Steps interns up to 15 days. They can be not-for-profit organisations, small businesses, local, state and federal governments and large corporations across a range of sectors, from banking to mining and aviation to habitat reclamation.

Ms Simpson cited many successful placements.

For example Gary Leung, a student from Sydney’s Macquarie University Green Steps program, was placed at Northern Territory Airports to develop an energy efficiency plan as part of DIA’s environment strategy.

As a result of his data analysis, several metering and energy use anomalies were discovered and the DIA was able to claim a large sum of previously unaccounted funds for energy use.

He also reviewed a carbon footprint that was developed as part of its national greenhouse and energy reporting which revealed that errors had been made and the airport was in fact reporting double its actual emissions from electricity use.

The airport’s energy costs have been more accurately accounted for (with high  savings). Due to a smaller than expected carbon footprint, the airport is able to develop more realistic carbon management measures.

Environment manager for NTA Jill Holdsworth said Mr Leung had brought a fresh look and perspective to the energy efficiency plan.  “He was very professional from the outset and having him embedded in the organisation, as opposed to an external consultant, meant that he could find the relevant information more quickly and interview key personnel at short notice,” she said.

Jen Orange, a Green Steps student at Monash University, was able to calculate the first ever carbon footprint and inventory for The Body Shop Australia and identify a number of opportunities to manage carbon and reduce emissions during her internship.

She estimated that by reducing staff air travel through video-conference and better travel management, the Body Shop would be able to prevent over 300 tonnes of its existing emissions.

“As a result of the foundations she laid we are now a fully carbon managed business, with regular measuring and reporting procedures” Adam Valvasori, values manager for The Body Shop Australia, said.

The company has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 12 per cent on 2007 levels and increased its offset by 19 per cent.

Paul Greco also found new ways for Melbourne’s Puffing Billy Railway to reduce its environmental footprint.

Interns in training at Monash

The interns are trained in areas directly relevant to the implementation of ResourceSmart programs. Internships last 15 days, (often one to three days a week over several weeks) and cost $3500 plus GST for business and government, or $1750 plus GST for not for profit organisations and educational institutions.

Ms Simpson said students were paid a stipend to cover their meals and travel costs and the rest of the internship fee helped cover Green Steps’ training costs.

The core of Green Steps was the training course in environmental sustainability and internships for university students, Green Steps @ University but the program had grown to incorporate two other components: a professional training consulting service and Green Steps @ Work, Ms Simpson said.

The program was started in 2000 by a group of Monash University students who wanted to work directly with businesses to reduce environmental impacts and promote environmental sustainability.

The students decided their university courses lacked the practical environmental assessment and change management content that they knew was essential for them to be effective in their work with businesses.

They developed the Green Steps sustainability education and leadership program which included both intensive training in environmental assessment and change management and internships with companies committed to environmental sustainability.

Since then it has grown into a national program which has won prizes including the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award, the United Nations Association Education Award and the Banksia Environmental Award.

Employers have been enthusiastic about placements. For example: From the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital: “Time and resources are a limitation for the hospital.  The intern was able to gather a range of data and information that gave a baseline and overview that we could not have resourced internally,” and:

Erin Simpson

From Victorian Legal Aid: “Green Steps provides a much needed resource (people with energy, knowledge and skill) to help  fill the gap that exists between the expectations placed on organisations surrounding sustainability and the capacity to meet those expectations” .

Changes made by organisations as a result of the program include:

  • Changes made to lighting, waste management, electricity use, stationary purchasing, transport, recycling of paper, batteries and co-mingle products
  • Upgrading signage for public place recycling
  • Intern’s project work utilised to make program decisions and improve waste management procedures through incorporated research into relevant reporting
  • Development of a new website with information and stories
  • Switching to more efficient light globes and put a timer on the urn
  • Waste auditing and raising the general awareness of carbon footprint amongst staff
  • Development of a sustainable office initiative
  • Implementation of the EMS that the intern helped to develop
  • Establishing baseline, action plan and completed FRD24c reporting and complimentary reports for company’s intranet
  • Increasing recycling of paper, batteries and co-mingle products
  • continued with measuring, recording and reporting on our carbon emissions
  • Initiated a green team
  • Work to reduce emissions and verification of carbon accounting
  • Embedding policy and procedures, development of strategies and practical presentations.