Disability services group Endeavour Foundation has always had a grip on the social element of the triple bottom line, but is now ramping up its focus on environmental sustainability, with initiatives across property assets, business activities and fundraising.

One of the ways the organisation raises funds to build more homes for people with disabilities is through lotteries, and the current one is an eco-home in the Sunshine Coast hinterland that has been certified under the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s EnviroDevelopment tool.

Leanne Ferris, Endeavour Foundation’s executive general manager of supporter enterprises, says the decision to build an eco-home was driven by customer feedback.

Ferris says that two years ago when customers were asked what they wanted to see in a prize home, sustainability features were the top request.

“Then when we asked about what people understood it to be, they said solar PV and rainwater systems,” she says. “But we thought, we can take this further.

“We saw an opportunity to take that prize home to the point where it can be certified by EnviroDevelopment. So it is not only a beautiful home, it’s a good thing in terms of communicating and educating people about what sustainability really means.”

The early indications from open house inspections are that customers are loving the fact it’s a sustainable home.

The home, which is worth just over a million dollars, is also fully furnished. Ferris says the interior designer’s brief was that everything had to be sustainable, and either recycled or recyclable. This was achievable for every product except the mattress.

“We didn’t know how much it would cost. It did cost us a little more, but it wasn’t cost-prohibitive.

“That tells me that these days, for anyone, being able to buy sustainable products is not cost-prohibitive. And whatever you spend, you make back quickly.

“We are already saving thousands of dollars in the running of this home on things including power, water, pool chemicals and waste.”

The home is fully powered by solar panels, and has 45,000 litres of rainwater storage, enough for the house, the pool and the native landscaping. Orientation has been used to maximise ventilation and minimise summer heat gain, as well as make the most of natural light. Cooling is provided by oversized fans installed near operable louvre windows to generate circulation, and heating is provided by a bio-ethanol fireplace.

The pool uses a chemical-free system, and has a variable speed pump programmed to operate when the solar panels are generating power, and there is an onsite “envirosystem” for processing all wastewater and sewerage, which is then dispersed into the ground once treated.

It’s the way of the future

Ferris says that while they may not build another lottery home with every one of this house’s features, the organisation will continue to build homes with as many sustainability features as possible. On the agenda for every home from here on in are solar power, rainwater, good orientation and sustainable materials as a minimum.

“Those are all key elements that drive down the cost of living in a home,” Ferris says.

“I think it’s the best house we’ve ever done. We want to have more and more sustainability features in every home.

“It’s about ongoing education. When people think about sustainability they think about cost-saving measures, but it is also about decreasing the environmental impact. Over the next generation, I think that will become the norm, and the combination of the two will be weighted more evenly.”

Green industry generates jobs and income

As well as addressing what the market said it wanted, Ferris says the eco-home approach reinforces the organisation’s position as a good corporate citizen, one that both raises funds for people with a disability, and is also doing good for the environment.

The organisation operates 29 employment sites across NSW, Queensland and Victoria, and also operates recycling and tip shop services on a contract basis for local councils including Gold Coast City Council and Brisbane City Council. In addition, it has 30 recycled clothing stores.

Among its enterprises are three e-waste processing sites in Queensland that are operating as part of the National Computer and TV Recycling Scheme and achieving a 95 per cent recovery rate of reuseable or recyclable parts and materials from TVs and computers.

Amelia Salmon

Endeavour Foundation’s environmental sustainability manager Amelia Salmon says the high recovery rate is due to labour-intensive processing methods, with the majority of work done by hand. This also creates a substantial number of meaningful jobs and training opportunities for people with disabilities.

In the 2013-14 financial year, the organisation employed 2125 people with a disability across all its enterprises and the council-operated sites.

The recycling teams diverted 25,676 tonnes of paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, metals, and textiles from landfill, 750 tonnes of TV and computer parts, and a further 42,095 tonnes of unwanted items were recycled or processed through tip shops, the second hand clothing shops and other enterprises.

Reducing the footprint of the property portfolio

The foundation’s property assets have also been the focus of sustainability efforts, Salmon says. It has more than 270 properties it either owns or manages, including residential homes, industrial buildings, administration buildings and 30 stores.

Salmon says each property is individually audited for energy, waste, water and landscape.

Reducing energy bills has been a key focus, as every dollar saved on power is another dollar that can be put towards providing services.

Since 2010 the organisation has installed 176 kilowatts of solar power generation capacity, as well as solar hot water, LED lighting and energy-efficient appliances for many of the properties.

Salmon says LED lighting and solar hot water or heat pumps are now standard for all new residential builds.

“We build with the best technology we can.”

Older residential properties are being gradually renovated, with solar power, solar hot water, water-efficient appliances and LED lighting among the retrofit items. Instigating recycling systems at the homes has also been a focus.

A good example with educational value

Salmon says the various initiatives have a strong educational value, not only for the residents themselves, but also for staff and for the families of residents.

The same initiatives are also being integrated into the organisation’s Learning and Lifestyle Centres. These provide services not only for people living in foundation-supported accommodation, but also for people with a disability living independently in the community or with their families.

Cooking is one of the activities at these centres that has become a focus for sustainability learning, and communicating and implementing the organisation’s waste strategy, with centre users taught about recycling and composting. Where the centres have either a vegetable garden or sensory garden, the use of on-site compost is encouraged.

At the foundation’s administration properties, a range of measures are being implemented, depending on the energy use profile and whether it is owned or leased.

Salmon says that the head office energy audit showed that 70 per cent of the energy use was from the heating ventilation and airconditioning system. As the system is only eight years old, replacing any parts would be a wasteful solution due to their being more than a decade of useful life left.

Instead, 30kW of solar was installed on the roof to offset energy use and reduce the peak load. This resulted in an eight per cent reduction in the power bill. The HVAC is also now operated on a staggered start regime that reduces power consumption and will extend the useful life of the system, Salmon says.

Making the business case

In the industrial properties, one of the key focus areas has been the replacement of hi-bay fluorescent lighting with LEDs. This has the benefit of reducing power use for lighting, and reducing the heat loads. For Queensland facilities, Salmon says this has made an enormous difference to the level of comfort for workers, and reduced the energy use of the factory HVAC systems.

Outdated equipment in many facilities has also been upgraded to more energy-efficient equipment.

Because any capital expenditure needs to be approved by the board of the Foundation, Salmon says being able to demonstrate savings is key.

“Replacement of equipment is expensive, but if we can show the board it will reduce running costs and save on power, then we can make the business case,” she says.

The organisation also applies for a substantial number of grants for solar power systems, solar hot water systems and LED lighting retrofits.

In addition to all of the other initiatives around energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy, the organisation has also detected and had corrected overcharging by electricity retailers, changed properties where necessary to the correct tariff and negotiated with water suppliers to reduce bills due to undetected water leaks.

The benefit to the bottom line of all the sustainability initiatives in combination in 2013-14 was more than $150,000 of savings that were deployed directly into providing services.

“Sustainability is about finding the balance between environmental, economic and social benefits. We had the social down pat, now we are working on environmental sustainability, which benefits our economic sustainability by reducing our running costs,” Salmon says.

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