CSIRO has adopted government policy to reduce its emissions by five per cent by the end of June 2020 (compared to 1999–2000 levels).

This aggressive carbon emission reduction target represents a 20 per cent reduction, measured against business-as-usual projections. As a result, CSIRO’s Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions will fall from a projected 282 kilotonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (ktCO2-e) to approximately 227 ktCO2-e by 2020.

Emission reductions will be achieved through six focus areas:

  • Sustainable buildings
  • Sustainable laboratories
  • Travel and transport
  • Low-emission energy technologies
  • Sustainable procurement
  • Site consolidation and greater use of facilities to meet future research and enterprise needs.

Energy consumption (electricity and gas) decreased by two per cent compared with 2014–15. Energy consumption has fallen by four per cent over the last five years (see Figure 3.3). Electricity consumption has plateaued over the last five years, while natural gas use decreased by 13 per cent over the same time frame.

Factors that have influenced electricity and gas consumption in the last year include:

  • CSIRO’s Highett facility closing, and ongoing remediation of CSIRO’s Belmont facility, resulting in significant decreases in electricity and gas consumption and an offset of increases at other sites, such as at Black Mountain and Kensington
  • building improvement projects, such as lighting upgrades and building tuning
  • operational changes to facilities and commencement of new research projects (resulting in increased consumption)
  • increased electricity demand by the Investigator research vessel when it is in port
  • reduced capacity for electricity generation at CSIRO’s Newcastle facility, which has increased consumption of grid-fed electricity at the site.

The reduction in gas consumption enabled CSIRO to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions from 122 ktCO2-e in 2014–15 to 117 ktCO2-e over the past year. Over the last five years, CSIRO’s carbon emissions attributed to grid-fed electricity and gas have fallen by eight per cent. Site-consolidation activities, focused efforts to improve building energy efficiency, and engagement with staff have contributed to emission reductions. Changes to research activities can influence the year-to-year energy consumption at any given site. However, the general organisational trend in our energy consumption and emissions is downwards.

Our water consumption remained steady at 350 megalitres compared to the previous year.

CSIRO's environmental performance in energy (electricity and gas)  consumption in terajoules, greenhouse gas emissions in kilotonnes CO2e, and water consumption in megalitres from 2011 to 2016.

Table 1. Summary of Figure 3.3: from CSIRO's 2015-16 annual report.
(electricity & gas terajoules)
Greenhouse Gasses
(kilotonnes CO2e)
2011-12 670 128 366
2012-13 687 372 129
2013-14 658 374 122
2014-15 657 340 122
2015-16 645 350 117

Figure 3.3: CSIRO Energy and water consumption, and Greenhouse gas emissions (electricity and gas only)

CSIRO air travel had been trending down over the last four years, with a decrease in 2014–15 primarily driven by government and internal policy (see Table 3.1). However, an average 17 per cent increase in air travel occurred during 2015–16, with a 13 per cent increase in domestic air travel and a 20 per cent increase in international travel.

Table 3.1: CSIRO energy, air travel and water intensities
Performance measure Indicator(s) 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16


Purchased energy (electricity and gas) consumed per employee (GJ/FTE)1






Air travel

Million air kilometres travelled (km)






Air travel per employee (km/FTE)






Relative mains water use

Amount of total water use per employee (kilolitres/FTE)






Vehicle fleet

The first of 10 completely electric (petrol-free) Nissan LEAF vehicles were unveiled to staff at Canberra's Black Mountain site in Canberra in April 2016. This was the first of a multi-site rollout, and the latest initiative aimed at reducing CSIRO’s carbon footprint and drawing attention to the opportunities. Other CSIRO locations that will take delivery of new electric cars include: Clayton, Pullenvale, Townsville, Hobart, Floreat and Newcastle to complement the 36 electric/petrol hybrid cars that were introduced to the CSIRO fleet in 2015 to replace petrol-only vehicles.

To ensure that emissions attributed to recharging the vehicles are minimal, we are installing a 30 kilowatt photovoltaic solar array on Black Mountain to offset the grid-fed electricity used to charge the vehicles; any residual power generated will provide a small portion of the building’s electricity requirements.

Building energy-efficiency

CSIRO continued investing in improving building energy-efficiency as part of the Sustainable Buildings Program under the CSIRO Carbon Strategy. The Clayton site lighting upgrade was expanded to include more buildings and laboratories, resulting in almost 500 tonnes CO2-e emissions less per year and estimated annual cost savings of $60,000. The Building Recommissioning Program was expanded also to investigate potential efficiency opportunities at Black Mountain, Floreat, Kensington, Newcastle and Kintore Avenue sites, resulting in identifying more than 300 tonnes CO2-e of potential emission savings.

CSIRO is participating in an industry trial to evaluate commercial fault diagnostic and detection tools. The trials are part of a collaborative research project led by the CSIRO Energy team, with support through the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Low Carbon Living. The trial will progress for the next 12 months.

Implementation of a new submetering program has commenced. In the coming year, approximately 500 submeter points will be connected to a central data-collection system that will greatly improve CSIRO’s internal and external reporting, assist with monitoring projects under the CSIRO Carbon Strategy, and improve data building information and its availability.

On-site renewable generation

A feasibility study has shown that there are good opportunities to install at least five megawatts of PV cells across a number of CSIRO sites, enabling CSIRO to reduce carbon emissions by approximately nine ktCO2-e per year. The study is the first step towards large-scale, on-site generation under the CSIRO Carbon Strategy. At present CSIRO has approximately 0.5 megawatts of PV capacity installed across sites in New South Wales and Western Australia.

Following promising results from a test of First Solar thin-film solar panels on the western façade of the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle, CSIRO proceeded to integrate this solar panel in the new design of the façade. The new 24-kilowatt solar façade combines the thin-film panels with other coloured-glass panels to generate electricity, while being aesthetically pleasing, waterproof, and allowing light but not heat to enter the atrium. The new western façade increases the total installed PV capacity at the Newcastle site to 299 kilowatts.

Waste and Recycling

Improved oversight of waste and recycling practices across our national sites under the CSIRO National Waste and Recycling Services Contract highlights the benefits of a nationally coordinated approach to waste and recycling, with the added bonus of a national dataset. We now actively manage 30 waste and recycling categories.

CSIRO diverted 11,233 cubic metres (weighing 3,765 tonnes) of waste from landfill, equating to 995 tonnes CO2-e saved in the period May 2015 to April 2016. The organisation currently remains at an approximate 40 per cent diversion rate by volume. The target of 50 per cent diversion from landfill by December 2015, although not met by volume, was met by weight on a rolling 13-month average – CSIRO achieved a 50.2 per cent diversion rate as measured by weight. We have calculated cost savings (via national contract service delivery) on a worst case to best case scenario of $1.8 million to $3.8 million respectively, over five years.

CSIRO continues its signatory status with FluoroCycle, committing to recycling all mercury-containing lighting on sites where CSIRO has operational control of the facility.

To ensure a whole-of-life approach is applied to material flows in and out of CSIRO, the Environmental Sustainability Team is leading a collaborative project involving expertise from CSIRO’s industrial ecology and life-cycle assessment researchers to develop the CSIRO Sustainable Procurement Strategy 2020. Initial results indicate that at least half of CSIRO’s carbon footprint is made up of Scope 3 emissions, attributable to our supply chain. It is anticipated that the Sustainable Procurement Strategy will be delivered for ET and Board endorsement by January 2017.

Our Carbon Strategy 2020 commits us to a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by June 2020.

Engagement with our staff

Cultural shifts are necessary for staff to incorporate environmental sustainability in their day-to-day decision-making. A key pillar of the Carbon Strategy 2020 is the Sustainable Labs Program, which focuses on reducing energy and water consumption, and related emissions – plus reducing costs – by embedding sustainable behaviours in our labs and increasing environmental awareness.

The ‘Shut the Sash’ initiative’s goal of having 90 per cent of fume cupboard sashes shut when unattended has been met by nine of the top 10 energy-consumption sites, and our engagement (including training) continues with the remaining sites. The program has already achieved an estimated electricity reduction of 2.2 megawatt-hours, reduced Scope 2 and 3 emissions by 2.6 ktCO2-e, and saved approximately $207,000 across sites.

CSIRO has implemented the behavioural change initiatives for staff using Variable Air Volume (VAV) fume cupboards and is now conducting a trial upgrading VAV fume hoods at our Black Mountain site to increase energy and maintenance savings.

The next phase of the Sustainable Labs Program focuses on reducing energy consumption from fridges and freezers, using the Hobart site as a pilot site.

CSIRO’s change-management approach to increase staff ownership and accountability during 2015–16 was underpinned by a variety of promotional campaigns. These included: commitment to environmentally sustainable action in staff Annual Performance Agreements, battery recycling and recharging, office recycling, Earth Hour and inclusion of environmental sustainability implications for Capital Expenditure approval.

Environmental Management and Heritage

Heritage management

CSIRO recognises its responsibility to protect and conserve the Commonwealth and national heritage values of the places it owns or controls, and we manage these values in accordance with the requirements of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. CSIRO has prepared a Heritage Strategy for CSIRO Land and Buildings 2016–20263. The strategy outlines our objectives and responsibilities for the management of heritage values and has been endorsed by the Australian Heritage Commission.

In recognition of its responsibilities, CSIRO intends to nominate parts of the Ginninderra field site for inclusion on the ACT Heritage Register for its Indigenous and historic heritage values. This will ensure the protection of these heritage values are not compromised when the land status changes from National Land to Territory Land.

Environmental management

After CSIRO scientists reviewed due diligence reports and independently identified values that reflect CSIRO’s aspirations, the proposed Ginninderra redevelopment has preserved 80 hectares in addition to the area required under the legislation for items of heritage and threatened species such as grasslands, birds, insects and trees. 

The approach to conservation and heritage management at the CSIRO Ginninderra site is part of an overall avoidance and mitigation strategy that seeks to limit the impacts of urban development as far as possible.

Contribution to ecologically sustainable development

CSIRO upholds the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) outlined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) through its operations and research activities. Table 3.2 provides examples of how CSIRO supports the ESD principles.

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. These activities require significant quantities of energy and water, and produce waste.

Table 3.2: 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.

The Ocean and Atmosphere eReefs models aim to improve management of the Great Barrier Reef. This comprehensive, real-time, reef information system provides an important tool for reef managers by helping them improve environmental decision-making. The system’s capability to forecast the outcomes of different scenarios is expected to greatly assist in setting water-quality targets and support the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan. There are already a number of users of the eReef models, including:
•  the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
•  the Queensland government
•  BOM (and the users of its online marine water-quality dashboard).

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.

Data61 is reducing the risk of bushfires through the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program, which informs the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) fire reduction activities, including improvements to electrical infrastructure. In 2015, reports showed that our activities had resulted in investment in network protection with a 15.7% reduction in relative risk.

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.

AAHL provides diagnostic, surveillance and response service for the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR), but also serves hundreds of customers through its quarantine-testing service. It enables the movement of biological products and animals to maintain environmental integrity, biosecurity and food security, and is now designated a World Organisation for Animal Health International Reference Laboratory for zoonotic diseases.

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

ANIC is a critical and authoritative resource for systematics, evolutionary biology, ecology, natural resource management, biosecurity and biogeography. For example, ANIC is mobilising the biodiversity data of Papua New Guinea to provide to the Papua New Guinean government so it make informed management decisions for sustainable land use and development.

Improved valuation, pricing and incentive mechanisms should be promoted.

One of the CSIRO Strategy 2020 objectives is to embed a rigorous impact and investment planning, monitoring and evaluation framework into our business and employ it to continually optimise our performance. The organisation under Strategy 2020 demands greater emphasis on and a culture of delivering and providing evidence of triple-bottom-line impact and evidence of progress against planned milestones.

  1. GJ/FTE is gigajoules per full-time equivalent [staff]. FTE refers to CSIRO Officers as at June 2016.
  2. Updated after we received new June 2015 data.
  3. The Heritage Strategy, along with a list of CSIRO land or buildings with Commonwealth heritage values can be found at: Heritage management.

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