We need more movers and shakers like these

The imperative of acting on climate change is starting to make itself apparent among our public servants. More strength to their arm. [27 May 2008 | Peter Boyer]

Wrestling with climate issues can be an isolating experience, so it’s a tonic to share your wrestling with other concerned folk. I’d like to report on a recent such experience with a new class of public servant – the Tasmanian government’s “climate champions”.

When the government decided that putting its climate house in order needed people like me and Margaret Steadman of Sustainable Living Tasmania to talk to the troops, as a former long-time public servant I confess to some misgivings about prospects for success.

Expected to account for their actions, government agencies focus a lot on how they do things – which may explain public servants’ reputation for being unresponsive or indecisive or unable to reach outcomes. No such shortcomings were in evidence at our workshops.

Nine major agencies, responding to a call from the government’s Climate Change Office, brought together people with a declared intention of seriously reducing the government’s impact on climate.

To start, they looked at four main categories – saving energy, travelling smarter, reducing waste and getting other people on board. In keeping with last year’s “framework for action” report to government, they focused on real reductions in emissions ahead of offsetting.

The discussions were vigorous and stimulating, with a sense of urgency and a determination to make a real, physical difference to their working world – all reflected in long lists of things to do to reduce greenhouse emissions.

This is just a small first step. The long, tough journey to reduce the government’s greenhouse emissions will really start only when the ideas have been translated into real, physical actions.

That’s where leadership will really come into play. And if I have any criticism of the process to this point, it’s that too few senior public servants – the executives who make the big decisions – were involved in these significant meetings.

This is going to be a problem for any organisation, given time pressures on busy executives. But unless these people (along with their political masters) are across at least some of the science they won’t appreciate the absolute primacy and urgency of this undertaking.

Climate change demands we change everything we do – quickly – and while that’s tough for everyone it’s especially tough on people in authority, used to calling the shots. And yet it’s these people who are best placed to make a big difference, leading by example and ensuring new rules are adhered to.

Finding the time, and the nerve, to look squarely at the problem, understand its many twists and turns and join more junior “climate champions” in the supremely important task of cutting emissions, will be their special challenge.

Some ideas for a climate-friendly government

First meetings of the government’s “climate champions” came up with a wide array of local and personal actions to reduce greenhouse emissions. Here’s a small selection:

Travelling smarter

•    Set up car pooling systems, improve bus services, provide free buses and other incentives to use alternative transport

•    Replace executive car-and-petrol packages with alternative benefits

•    Provide better facilities for cycling including change-rooms, bike racks, more cycle-ways

•    Employ local people where possible to cut travel

Saving energy

•    Use natural light where possible, remove unwanted lamps from fittings

•    “Switch off” stickers, use timers and movement-detectors for lights, re-wire for more selective use of lights

•    Ensure equipment is switched off when not in use, using automatic systems where possible

•    Solar panels on rooftops of all government buildings

•    Avoid using lifts – in one building audited lifts accounted for 43 per cent of power usage

•    Set air conditioning closer to outside temperatures, new buildings to have openable windows

Reducing waste

•    Get used to editing electronically, electronic records, pay slips, focus on internet delivery

•    Print double-sided, ensure photocopiers have “sleep” mode, use recycled paper only

•    Use procurement practices to foster climate-friendly attitudes among suppliers

•    Ensure recycling bins are close at hand in every workplace

Getting people on board

•    Set up “green teams”, monthly competition for “climate champion of the month”

•    Provide regular updates in visual form on progress toward targets, such as fuel/power/paper used, air kilometres

•    Add climate measures to individual performance review process

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