The Yarra City Council environment team with Mayor Jackie Fristacky

Yarra City Council in Melbourne’s inner north has become the first council in Australia, and only the third in the world, to gain the stringent One Planet Living certification, pipping the City of Fremantle in Western Australia, which is also on track to achieve a rating.

The council’s carbon neutral status, high public transport rates, 6 Star Green Star target for all new major buildings and 80 per cent reuse and recycling target for construction waste were key to achieving the certification.

The tool, which is based on 10 principles that form a sustainable living framework, has been developed to promote living within the finite limits of the planet, and includes metrics such as ecological and carbon footprinting, as well as cultural, health and happiness indicators.

Yarra gained the highest level of certification – International Leadership – for its sustainability efforts.

“To be recognised as an international leader is a fantastic affirmation of Yarra’s visionary commitment to sustainability,” City of Yarra mayor Jackie Fristacky today (Wednesday) said.

Ed Cotter and Jackie Fristacky

“We will wear this as a badge of honour and use the recognition as motivation to examine new ways for Yarra to be a model for sustainable inner-city communities.”

Ms Fristacky said the certification enabled Yarra to measure up against other leading councils, and to see where there is room for improvement.

Ed Cotter, managing director of BioRegional Australia, a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to promote One Planet Living, told The Fifth Estate councils wanted to be able to benchmark their sustainability performance but didn’t have a consistent method to achieve this. The One Planet Council framework, he said, offered this consistency.

There had been a “bit of an arms race on sustainability” between Yarra and Fremantle to achieve the rating, Mr Cotter said, though because Fremantle had taken a different approach, it would take a little extra time to get the certification, but it was now not far off.

Other councils poised to get One Planet certification included Geelong and Bayside in Victoria, with undisclosed progressive councils in South Australia and Western Australia also in the process.

Mr Cotter said the One Planet Council initiative had been designed to be flexible, so councils could “take an approach that works for them”.

Yarra, he said, had been very pragmatic in how it met the challenge, and had given BioRegional a lot of insight into how the program needs to function for other councils.

Large metropolitan councils such as City of Sydney and City of Melbourne were playing in the international domain with programs like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and were also very different to other councils, Mr Cotter said.

“While C40 is great for capital cities, there was a need for something else. Our intention is to create a national sustainability program for councils.”

The end game for Cotter is “to make the one planet lifestyle a reality”. With many Australians consuming about three times the biological capacity available per person globally, councils encouraging and enabling people to move towards living within the bounds of one planet is an important step.

Concept design for the 6 Star Green Star North Fitzroy Hub

Yarra initiatives that assisted One Planet Living certification

Zero carbon

  • Yarra municipality will produce zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 through the council-established Yarra Energy Foundation
  • Second council in Australia, following City of Sydney, to be certified carbon neutral
  • A greenhouse emissions reduction target of 50 per cent reduction by 2015, with over 30 per cent achieved to date
  • One of the first councils in Victoria to retrofit all streetlights
  • 20 per cent of organisational energy needs from local low carbon sources, with solar panels on over 30 council buildings and cogeneration installed at all three recreation centres.
  • Won the 2013 Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria Pam Keating Award for Corporate Carbon Management

Zero waste

  • Significant reductions in community waste to landfill, especially via the Food Know How program, which targets diverting food waste from landfill
  • Establishing a 24-hour recycling depot in Clifton Hill for all residents and businesses to drop off non-standard recyclable and reusable goods any time of the day (such as light globes, TVs and clothes)

Sustainable materials

  • Supported the development of Sustainable Design Assessment in the Planning Process (SDAPP), which encourages planning applicants to consider 10 key sustainable building categories within their design
  • Target for all new major council buildings to be 6 Star Green Star rated, with new North Fitzroy Library designed as 6 Star Green Star
  • Target for a minimum 80 per cent reuse and recycling for complete or partial building demolition projects

Sustainable transport

  • Australia’s leading cycling municipality with 8.5 per cent of population cycling to work – eight times the national average
  • 41 per cent of residents use sustainable transport to get to work, with a target of 60 per cent by 2020
  • First municipality in Australia to reduce all local roads to 40 kilometres an hour zones
  • Advocated and supported improved public transport options such a new tram route terminating at Victoria Gardens, and campaigning for a public transport alternative to the East West Link

Local and sustainable food

  • Accelerating urban agriculture in Yarra via facilitated street gardens and footpath planterboxes
  • Supported large community gardens
  • Employing Australia’s first Local Government Urban Agriculture Facilitator

Sustainable water

  • Construction of a raingarden in the historic Edinburgh Gardens, tapping into the main stormwater drain to filter and harvest the water to irrigate 50 per cent of the gardens
  • Collingwood Leisure Centre was redeveloped to incorporate a 200,000-litre underground water tank
  • Achieving annual reduction in organisational water use since 2007 of 33-58 per cent below base year usage

Land use and wildlife

  • Four new parks have been established since 2010, towards a planned six new parks by 2020
  • Supported Melbourne Water to redesign Dights falls, including a new fish ladder allowing local fish species to travel up-stream to spawn
  • Constructed wetlands and biofiltration on the Merri Creek and Yarra River to provide native habitat and improve water quality

Culture and heritage

  • Valuing and supporting Yarra’s heritage and multicultural nature, including community participation through community festivals and events
  • Providing significant focus on celebrating Aboriginal History in Yarra and the current community
  • Running the annual Yarra Sustainability Awards, celebrating the community’s innovation in sustainability

Equity and local economy

  • Focus on attracting and supporting green business in Yarra, including in Draft Local Economic Development Strategy
  • Program and promotion to “Discover your own backyard” in Yarra
  • Established Yarra Energy Foundation, which supports business sustainability via Yarra Project Zero, including business pledge, support, and solar PV and LED lights projects

Health & happiness

  • Council’s “Your health YOUR LIFE” program supports employees to achieve work-life balance and help make healthy and informed choices
  • Yarra holds an annual community fun run/walk to support wellbeing and raise funds for local community groups
  • Council has a Climate Change Adaptation Plan to build resilience and adapt to climate change, and is currently developing an Urban Forest Strategy
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  1. Congratulations guys. Really great news. I was wondering if any thought had been given to sustainability in your computer rooms? These power hungry beasts can use significant energy to power and cool IT equipment.