CSIRO upholds the principles of ecologically sustainable development (ESD) outlined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) through both its operations and research activities.

Contribution to ecologically sustainable development

To achieve its research goals, CSIRO operates numerous types of infrastructure, such as laboratories, glasshouses, farm properties and telescope facilities, as well as managing plants and livestock.

Although these activities require significant quantities of energy and water and produce waste, the research outcomes contribute to ESD principles as shown in the examples listed in Table 3.1.

CSIRO’s Environmental Sustainability Commitment

CSIRO’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy (ESS) 2008–15 is designed to minimise the Organisation’s environmental footprint, while CSIRO delivers sustainable science outcomes to external communities. The strategy impacts on our daily work practices and involves all staff.

Our waste reduction to landfill is on track to achieve the 50 per cent reduction target by 2015, while carbon emission reductions and reducing mains water consumption are proving challenging in light of new sites and expanded boundaries compared to 2008–09.

Consequently, CSIRO is reviewing its carbon emission reduction strategies with emphasis on long-term solutions, such as building efficiency and renewable energy solutions that provide sustainable energy and emission reductions.

CSIRO met all 2012–13 government compliance environmental data reporting requirements, including the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme; Government Greenhouse and Energy Reporting, the National Pollution Inventory and relevant National Environmental Protection Measures.

Carbon and energy

CSIRO’s ESS carbon program targets emissions derived from electricity, fuels, gas, refrigerants and air travel. Emissions from electricity and gas consumption comprise the majority of CSIRO’s carbon footprint, expressed as kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2).

As shown in Figure 3.4 below, CSIRO’s energy consumption (electricity and gas) and emissions have remained relatively constant over the past five years.

In 2012–13, CSIRO’s electricity consumption decreased by two per cent compared to the previous year, despite increases at several sites due to impacts such as energy-intensive projects (e.g. Pullenvale). During the same period, CSIRO’s gas consumption decreased by five per cent.

More than 30 CSIRO sites recorded reductions in energy consumption, including Black Mountain, Newcastle, Waite, Floreat and Werribee. Energy reductions were also achieved through relocation of staff into new facilities (e.g. North Ryde, NSW and Belmont, Victoria).

Over the last five years, energy consumption per staff member has averaged 116 Gigajoules (GJ)/full-time equivalent (FTE) (see Table 3.2). CSIRO is continuing to explore opportunities to reduce energy per staff member.

CSIRO air travel was approximately 116 million air kilometres in 2012–13 or 20,214 air kilometres per staff member, equating to a one per cent increase compared to 2011–12. CSIRO remains committed to reducing its air travel through increased use of video-conferencing facilities and webcams.

More than 200 kilowatt (kW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells was installed at CSIRO’s Kensington site in Western Australia. Half of the PV was installed onto the Pawsey Centre, which supports the geoscience and nanoscience communities and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder radio telescope.

The PV cells will generate enough electricity to offset the energy used by pumps in the geothermal air conditioning system, resulting in an energy-neutral cooling solution (see: The Pawsey Centre ). An additional 100 kW was installed onto adjacent buildings at the Australian Resources Research Centre.

Completion of a Sustainable Properties Manual will guide the planning, design and commissioning of new sites, buildings and research facilities, as well as their operation and maintenance.

CSIRO’s role in the development of Australia’s five global research precincts will provide the opportunity to integrate sustainability requirements into the design of new facilities at CSIRO’s Black Mountain (Canberra) and Clayton (Melbourne) precinct sites.


CSIRO engaged a new service provider, SITA Australia, to provide organisation-wide commercial and industrial waste and recycling services, including the provision of hazardous waste collections. Up to 25 waste and recycling streams (types of recyclable material recovered/diverted from landfill) will be handled.

CSIRO, proud signatory to FluoroCycle.

For the first time, CSIRO will also be provided with a comprehensive site, state/territory and national waste profile including tonnes of CO2 avoided, cubic metres of landfill saved, and clearly identified areas for improvements.

The Recycling Station Office Program (waste/mixed recycling/organics) was rolled out across 33 sites where CSIRO has carriage of the waste and management services. The expanded national external collection service will spearhead resource recovery targets and generate significant savings over the next five years.

In July 2012, CSIRO was proud to become a signatory to FluoroCycle, a voluntary program that seeks commitments from organisations to divert all mercury-containing lighting (for example, fluorescent tubes) for disposal from landfill and into resource recovery.


CSIRO’s water consumption reduced from 406 megalitres in 2008–09 to 368 megalitres in 2012–13, although there was an increase of two megalitres in 2012–13 compared with the previous year.

However, a downward trend is shown over the long-term, with a reduction of 12 per cent over the past five years (see Figure 3.4).

Water reductions have been achieved through general conservation measures and use of rainwater and recycled water for applications such as irrigation.

CSIRO is also investigating other opportunities to use recycled or rainwater. Table 3.2 shows that water consumption per staff member decreased from 69 kL/FTE in 2008–09 to 64 kL/FTE in 2012–13, a reduction of seven per cent over that period.

The Sustainable Properties Manual includes a water reuse and recycling guide for the safe and sustainable use of non-mains water sources, for example, rain, waste water from mechanical devices, water purification systems and laboratory equipment at CSIRO sites.

As part of the manual development, CSIRO is investigating new end uses for harvested water that will be crucial to achieving its water reduction targets.

Staff engagement

During 2012–13, key staff engagement initiatives supported the Recycling Station Office Program, with focus on altering behaviour to reduce waste generation, increase recycling and minimise contamination.

C-Greens at CSIRO’s Marsfield site constructing a native plant garden which reduces the heat generated from the adjacent metal wall of a building and minimises the energy required for air conditioning to keep the building cool.

The initiatives included the involvement of tenants who contribute to waste targets on CSIRO sites.

Other waste-related initiatives included a trial to investigate the diversion of laboratory waste from landfill and a Business Clean Up Week in June 2013 which focused on e-waste (electronic).

The C-Green Program, which is made up of a network of volunteers from all staff levels and roles has expanded from 50 to 147 staff, an increase of 190 per cent.

The Program plays a key role in ESS-driven initiatives, such as trials for laboratory oven timers, recycled toilet paper and paper towels, re-usable cafeteria coffee mugs, joint promotions with local government to reduce bottled water consumption, converting from hard copy to digital subscriptions, vegetable and native plant landscaping, and fridge/freezer energy management.

CSIRO is also a supporter of Earth Hour, an international energy reduction awareness event.

Table 3.1: Examples of CSIRO’s contribution to ESD principles

Principles CSIRO’s activities

Decision-making processes should effectively integrate both long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations.

Energymark is a household energy efficiency program developed and tested by CSIRO, which uses peer-to-peer networks to achieve behaviour change. Energymark was trialled in New South Wales and in the Brisbane and Redlands City Council areas, where participants recorded average energy savings of between 12–23 per cent over the duration of the 8–12 month program.

If there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.

Research undertaken by the South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative (SEACI) determined how climate change and variability are affecting rainfall and runoff in south-eastern Australia, its impact, and anticipated future outcomes, which will improve current management of water resources.

SEACI is a partnership between CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment.

The principle of inter-generational equity – that the present generation should ensure that the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained or enhanced for the benefit of future generations.

The Pawsey Centre, built, commissioned and operated by CSIRO on behalf of the Interactive Virtual Environments Centre (iVEC), is gaining an extensive international profile for its use of groundwater cooling for the supercomputer – one of a few such facilities in the world. The cooling solution is designed to reduce energy and water consumption associated with the operation of state-of-the art ICT facility.

The process involves pumping water with an ambient temperature of around 21°C from the Mullaloo aquifer through an above-ground heat exchanger to provide the necessary cooling effect for the supercomputer, then reinjects the water back into the aquifer. Potentially detrimental hotspots are avoided by moving the discharge point. The system is estimated to save approximately 38 megalitres of cooling water per annum when compared with a conventional cooling system.

The conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity should be a fundamental consideration in decision-making.

FishMap is a free online mapping tool that allows the identification of fish species at any location or depth throughout the marine waters of Australia’s continental shelf and slope. The tool was developed by CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship and the Atlas of Living Australia and assists the management and sustainability of Australia’s marine biodiversity.

FishMap has myriad uses, including plotting the range of threatened species, or identifying fish spotted during a dive, to plotting the range of a threatened species, or improving quality of data collected by citizen scientists, field workers and scientists, or determining the possible species composition for catches of any fishery in the waters of Australia’s continental shelf and slope. Further details can be found at: So many fish, one great map

Improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.

CSIRO, in partnership with its collaborators, has a number of research programs aimed at improving the utilisation and cost-competiveness of low-emission and renewable energy technologies. For example, CSIRO, six Australian universities and three international universities formed the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative, to support long-term research programs that aim to transform Australia into a global leader in concentrated solar power technologies. The goal is to lower the cost of solar thermal power to 12 cents a kilowatt-hour by 2020 (more in Program 1).

CSIRO’s Future Manufacturing Flagship is addressing the high cost of silicon solar cells and their complex production process by developing alternative solar cell technologies using organic photovoltaics (OPVs). OPVs have the potential to lower the cost of environmentally friendly production methods, the ability to mass produce and will result in a marked change in how and where energy can be generated.

Figure 3.4

CSIRO energy and greenhouse gas emissions (electricity and gas only) and water consumption

Table 3.2: CSIRO’s energy, air travel and water intensities

Theme Performance measure Indicator(s) 2008
Energy Relative energy uses Green energy purchased divided by the amount of electricity purchased Amount of energy (electricity and gas) consumed per employee (GJ)/FTE53 13% 116 17% 114 18% 119 19% 117 17.5% 116
Air travel Air travel Air travel (million km) Air travel per employee (km/FTE) Not available Not available 82 13768 116 20069 114 19930 116 20214
Water Relative mains water use Amount of total water use per employee (kilolitres (kilolitres) /FTE) 69 72 68 64 64
  1. Data as July 2013
  2. FTE refers to CSIRO Officers as at June 2013

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