Chickens have been added to the Oak Flats Bowling and Recreation Club.

For not-for-profit organisations like clubs, cutting energy, water and waste bills has a double benefit. It reduces operating costs and is also a valuable tool for member and staff engagement, according to chief executive of Oak Flats Bowling and Recreation Club Matt O’Hara.

The club, located at Shellharbour in the Illawarra just south of Port Kembla NSW, was recognised as Australia’s first carbon-neutral club in 2012. But the journey towards that status began more than a decade earlier.

O’Hara says it was driven by himself and the board, who had been hearing about the concept of carbon neutrality and had a “strong urge to do the right thing”, partly because many of the board being older people had memories of a time when air was cleaner and there was a greater degree of self-sufficiency in the community.

They did their research, which included a trip by the board and management to see Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and embarked on an ambitious staged program of sustainability initiatives including building services upgrades, improvements to building lighting, improvements to thermal efficiency, changing the bowling green, reducing waste, introducing chickens and a vegetable garden, installing rainwater storage and staff and member education and engagement programs.


Matt O'Hara
Matt O’Hara

“We found it was a good way to engage staff. The people it appealed to most were the generation Y who were at that time aged 18-20, and the seniors,” O’Hara says.

He says members also responded, and that many expressed strong support for the club “doing the right thing” at the quarterly members’ meetings. It particularly resonated with senior members. Sustainability information is now part of the quarterly club newsletter.

“It was infectious from there, once the external stakeholders were engaged – the members – there was a strong connection on a values level. And all up, for the business it has been very good.”

At the start of the sustainability path, the club had about 2200 members. That has grown over the decade to about 11,000 plus another 8500 members of the recently acquired Illawarra Yacht Club, which is now itself going to benefit from sustainability upgrades during a refurbishment.

Changes made

One of the big changes made around waste has been a decision to sell beer on tap rather than in cans and bottles. O’Hara says that while this decision was made on environmental grounds, to cut the waste in terms of bottles and cardboard by replacing them with refillable and reusable kegs, it also has a financial upside as the margins on draught beer are higher than those on beer in bottles and cans, and there is less cost in waste disposal.

It all helps keep the club healthy financially, he said.

Other savings have been made around energy, with the club carrying out two lighting upgrades over the decade with assistance from government programs.

The building has been insulated, and louvres added to the north and east that reduce glare and heat loads in summer while still being angled to allow for a degree of passive warming in winter. The airconditioning system has had its functions upgraded so it is more energy-efficient.

Food waste no longer goes to landfill, as the club has a flock of hens that eat all food scraps, and a vegetable garden that uses compost produced onsite, with produce from both supplementing supplies for the club’s kitchens.

O’Hara says that while the cost savings provided by these measures are not substantial, the methane emissions footprint reductions are, and they have also been a major benefit in terms of staff and community engagement. This includes breaking down barriers between different member age groups by providing literal common ground in the form of working in the garden.

Visitors to the club are also able to take away ideas regarding sustainability, which could be easily implemented into their own workplace or home including using biodegradable straws, harvesting rainwater for use in the bathrooms and installing energy-efficient lighting.

The club has maintained its carbon neutral status, and O’Hara says the final step of setting up data systems was “surprisingly easy”.

In 2012 the club purchased $3400 worth of carbon offsets to bring emissions to zero. Current carbon offsets are purchased from Australia, India, New Zealand and Germany.

The club introduced an option for members where they can pay an extra $1 a year on membership and have the club purchase offsets on their behalf. O’Hara says the initial goal was around 250 members choosing this option – instead it had about 600 in 2013, the majority of them regulars.


There have been some initiatives that have proven a learning curve, such as the decision to replace the grass bowling green with synthetic greens to save on water and maintenance.

O’Hara says that after eight years the club returned to grass as the synthetic greens proved somewhat “unforgiving” in terms of how they perform for bowlers, the maintenance was not reduced substantially, and the club has bolstered its 125,000 litre rainwater storage capacity by a further 50,000 litres to ensure watering is not a cost issue. This water is also used for toilet flushing, which cut the club’s mains water usage by 44 per cent when the new hydraulic system was implemented.


Grass clippings from the newly-replaced grass greens are also used around the site by the garden maintenance team as mulch.

The installation of skylights has also been instructive. While they reduced artificial lighting requirements in the club, O’Hara says they do require maintenance or they start to leak. So the refurbished Yacht Club will not be installing them, instead it will use solar-powered LED panels that have been recommended by the builder.

The Yacht Club is also having wall-hanging bike racks installed, with a couple of bikes permanently affixed to give people the right idea. And it will also feature the type of louvre installation that has proven effective at the Bowling Club on the north and east, and have double glazing retrofitted to the south.

A new cycle

O’Hara says the Oak Flat Club is now entering a new cycle of engagement, education and capital expenditure to improve sustainability.

“We are at that stage now where we’ve done a lot of what they call the low-hanging fruit,” O’Hara says.

“The next part of our major capital expenditure will probably be solar power for both our clubs.”

The other major capex will likely be a $600,000 upgrade to the airconditioning.

The Club is a Gold Partner in the NSW Government’s Sustainability Advantage Program. He credits the Office of Environment and Heritage NSW with “keeping us right on track” while also acknowledging there is a need for the club itself to keep staff and members on track.

“There are the normal business cycles of renewal and staff turnover, and we have recognised we need to go through the process of staff engagement again,” O’Hara says.

“It’s a lifecycle, you can’t rest on your laurels in terms of engagement.”

Other clubs tackling energy and food waste

Clubs Australia says many clubs have undertaken Energy Saver training programs and subsidised energy audits through the NSW OEH Energy Saver program, and that many are also introducing energy reduction programs including incorporating solar power generation systems.

Where solar hasn’t been a viable option due to roof orientation or other limiting factor, clubs have reduced power bills through installing sensors and dimmers, properly maintaining systems and equipment, and introducing energy-efficient lighting technology.

Bankstown Sports Club in Sydney has installed LED lighting, recycling bins and touch-free taps. The club will also be installing an 85kW solar photovoltaic system at its Baulkham Hills Sports Club premises that is expected to generate 10 per cent of the site’s electricity needs.

The club has also installed a large indoor composter to process the 54 tonnes of food waste generated each month, with the compost to be donated to the community.

The solar and compost upgrades, along with a number of other energy saving initiatives, were partly funded by $2.2 million in finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Commonwealth Bank’s Energy Efficient Loan program.

Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic Club in Sydney has found environmental sustainability initiatives deliver significant benefits including reduced energy usage and corresponding carbon emissions, and a reduction in the amount of waste reaching landfill.

The club has set specific corporate social responsibility environmental goals for energy use and water and waste reduction by 2017 including achieving a 70 per cent waste recycling rate, reducing energy use by 10 per cent against 2013/14 financial year baseline across all venues and achieving a 10 per cent water reduction by Financial Year 2016. The strategic approach to sustainability is supported at Board and senior management level, and filters throughout the organisation.

Initiatives are integrated into everyday work practices, and the Dooley’s “Green Team” meets monthly to review progress and develop new projects.

Staff are given regular updates on environmental projects through meetings and the staff newsletter, all new staff inductions include an overview of the club’s sustainability principles, and the community are given regular environmental tips through its website and Facebook page.

Wireless energy management technology is used throughout all venues, to give real-time energy data via a website – this allows management to track down and eliminate energy wastage.

The club’s health and fitness centre has high efficiency lighting, solar hot water, water efficient showers and taps and energy-efficient hand dryers.

$250,000 has been invested in its Regent Park Sports Club for solar PV, gas-powered air conditioning and heat reflective roof paint and window tinting. This eliminates the need to upgrade the electricity supply as well as significantly lowering power usage, carbon emissions, and energy costs. $420,000 was also spent on a high efficiency refrigeration system, which will save enough power each year to run 16 houses in NSW and cut carbon emissions equivalent to those produced by 27 cars a year.

Moorebank Sports Club spent more than $700,000 transforming an outdoor area into a community garden and farm. This came about because the club was looking for new ways to enhance their current offering for families whilst being conscious of the environment.

All of the animals’ food is supplemented with food scraps from the club’s kitchen and café, contributing to a balanced and varied diet for the animals, and this also helps reduce waste produced by the club. The next stage will be to start producing manure from the kitchen waste to use on the gardens. Members can take home some of the produce, ­including herbs, lemons, tangerines and eggs.

The Moorebank Sports Community Garden Project has also enabled the club to increase engagement with their staff through more personalised interactions between children and their families, with staff taking responsibility for the animals and actively ensuring their health and wellbeing.

Currumbin RSL in Queensland has established an onsite veggie patch and worm farm, which was made from recycled materials. The worms consume 10 tonnes of green kitchen waste per year – allowing the club to remove a three cubic meter bin that was formerly being emptied twice a week.

The Mount Isa Irish Club in Queensland will eventually be home to over 1700 solar panels and 420 kilowatts of power, becoming the second largest solar power plant in the state. With stage one and two recently completed, the club currently generates 300 kilowatts of power – enough to run the club solely on solar power for about two to three hours a day.

The club is already using about 1400 kilowatts less mains grid power a day when compared to the same time last year. Placement of the solar panels will also help shade the building, reducing the workload for the airconditioning that accounts for up to 56 per cent of the club’s power usage, which before solar was reportedly costing $60,000 a month.

Making better use of waste heat and wastewater through onsite reclamation

Clubs NSW says many clubs are making use of the waste heat produced in cogeneration for space heating, hot water and heating swimming pools. Where trigeneration is installed, the heat is also converted to chilled water for air conditioning and refrigeration and other cooling purposes.

Mingara Recreation Club has a swimming centre including 50m pool and hydrotherapy, also a fitness centre, restaurants and other facilities. The club got assistance via a government grant to install a co-generation system in August 2013 to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on grid-supplied power. The system comprises two 229kW cogeneration units that operate 15 hours a day, seven days a week and generate over 50 per cent of the electricity required to power the club.

The waste heat from the cogeneration units is used to heat all the pools of the aquatic centre as well as to provide hot water for showers at the aquatic and fitness centres. The estimated reduction in the club’s carbon footprint is 26 per cent.

Club Banora in Queensland has facilities including a golf course, a 3700 square metre building and two outdoor swimming pools, which previously opened only in summer. To provide energy-efficient facilities, and also to extend the swimming club’s operations while reducing costs, the club installed a trigeneration energy system in July 2014.

The system generates over 50 per cent of the electricity required to power the club, and the waste heat from the cogeneration process is used to heat two outdoor swimming pools with the 50m pool heated to 27°C and the 20m kids’ pool heated to 32°C during winter.

During summer, when pool heating isn’t required, the waste heat is diverted into an absorption chiller that provides airconditioning for the Club’s main building.

The club expects these initiatives will reduce its carbon footprint by 30 per cent.

Clubs in NSW take on the “Bin trim” program

Clubs NSW says the average club in NSW is spending $33,000 on waste disposal every year. The NSW Environment Protection Agency has $465 million of grants available under its “Waste Less, Recycle More” program, which organisations can access under various options, including “Bin Trim”, a program that a number of clubs have accessed to improve their sustainability.

Armidale City Bowling Club on the New England Tablelands had a 58 per cent recycling rate. After the Bin Trim assessment this figure improved, with an additional 6.4 tonnes of food waste and 1.8 tonnes of containers recycled per year.

Dapto Leagues Club increased its recycling by a further 28 per cent after participating in the program. The specific improvements in recycling rates included 4.5 tonnes of cardboard, four tonnes of food waste and 1.7 tonnes of commingled recycling now diverted from landfill each year.

Sutherland District Trade Union Club [aka Tradies] is a Silver Partner within the OEH’s Sustainability Advantage program. It increased its recycling rate from 16 per cent to 55 per cent in two years by introducing food waste recycling for over 100 tonnes of food waste and the diversion of over 16,500 black plastic bags from landfill.

In addition, in 2014, staff from Tradies donated 141 hours to green initiatives and the club has also employed a full-time sustainability manager to reduce electrical and water consumption across all its venues.

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