Our sustainability

As the Ministry for the Environment, we know that we need to be walking the talk and leading by example when it comes to achieving the targets in our Sustainability Strategy.

Walking the talk

For us, sustainability as an organisation means operating within our baseline, minimising our environmental impact, and giving our people what they need to thrive.

We launched our latest Sustainability Strategy covering the period 2020-2022 at the beginning of the 20/21 financial year. The strategy contains many ambitious short-term targets and longer-term goals.

Since then the Government has announced a climate emergency and has launched the Carbon Neutral Government Programme.

The work we have planned and have already completed ensures that we are meeting all the commitments outlined as part of this programme. These commitments include setting gross emissions reduction targets in-line with a no more than 1.5 degrees of warming pathway (for us this means reducing our gross emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 from our 2017/18 baseline).

Progress towards our targets

In 2020/21 we have achieved or made significant progress towards many of our targets.

This includes:

  • A staff volunteering pilot, where eight teams from around the Ministry participated in volunteering projects such as weeding to protect native seedlings, and distributing food, toys and clothing to families in need in the Wellington region
  • Our Te Ao Hurihuri (Māori-Crown capability and capacity building) strategy was designed and implemented
  • Normalised our way of working to be flexible by default by enabling and empowering our staff to work remotely
  • Recertification of the Rainbow Tick
  • Reduced turnover from 25.8% in June 2019 to 8.7% in June 2021
  • Launched Tui Raumata, our Diversity and Inclusion Policy
  • Provided annual staff events that celebrate our diversity, such as: Rainbow Tick celebration, Women in Science, Lunar New Year, Christchurch and Auckland Pride events, Women’s Day, NZ Sign Language Week, Autism Awareness Day, Ramadan, Pink Shirt Day, Eid-al-fitr, and Global Accessibility Day
  • Implemented our Gender Pay Gap Action plan
  • Measured and externally certified our carbon footprint [Toitū website]
  • Reduced our emissions by more than 26% from our 2017/18 baseline (see Figure 1 below)
  • Reduced our waste to landfill from our head office by more than 50% from our 2017/18 baseline (54% reduction in 2020/21)
  • Reduced our paper use by more than 50% from our 2017/18 baseline (69% reduction in 2020/21)
  • Measured and reported on our financial and non-financial results via our annual report.

Progress in other areas

We have also made significant progress in other areas and meeting these goals fully will be our focus for 2021/22

This includes:

  • Ensuring our new head office building (which we move into in mid-2022) achieves at least a five star Greenstar Building rating
  • Continuing to use our environmental reporting programme to inform greater action on sustainably managing our natural assets
  • Fully operationalising our refreshed engagement and partnerships strategies so we achieve measurable environmental benefits
  • Ensuring staff feel engaged and empowered to use alternatives to travel
  • Embedding procurement practices that are both sustainable and inclusive
  • Developing and implementing a capability framework that identifies opportunities for the everyday development of our people
  • Regularly measuring staff wellbeing and take action to improve it
  • Ensuring sustainability is at the forefront of our minds and is woven into our everyday policy actions, advice and outcomes
  • Co–ordinating and managing our funds for the greatest environmental impact/benefit and in line with our priorities
  • Ensuring sustainability criteria are reviewed and updated in the funds we administer. 

Reducing our emissions

In our Sustainability Strategy, and to meet the requirements of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, we have committed to measuring, reducing and reporting on our emissions profile, and having it externally verified. We are proud to have achieved the Toitū carbonreduce certification for the fourth consecutive year.

In 2020/21, we emitted 367.46 tCO2e, a 44 per cent reduction on the previous year (660.31 tCO2e), and 72 per cent lower than our 2017/18 base year (1324.12 tCO2e) – see Figure 1. The bulk of our emissions come from air travel and electricity for our three offices. COVID-19 has prompted us to place a much greater emphasis on online meetings, and we have improved our in-house technology and software to assist this shift.

Figure 2 shows how our emissions vary per month. The impact of COVID-19 lockdown is apparent from April onwards in our 2019/20 trendline.

No international flights were taken in 2020/21, as shown in Figure 3. This is due to the impacts of COVID-19, where we have suspended all international travel. We have instead met our international obligations by using technology to participate in meetings online.

We have a variety of measures to support reductions in our travel emissions by:

  • guiding staff on sustainable travel options and behaviours
  • setting internal emissions budgets, alongside financial budgets, for our policy groups
  • rolling out better video conference technology to work remotely far more effectively, and to meet with stakeholders around the country
  • providing a low-emissions fleet of an e-bike, bikes, and scooters for staff to attend meetings around the city.

Despite growing our full-time equivalent (FTE) staff numbers over the past four years, our overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and emissions per FTE have decreased, as shown in Figure 4.

Specifically, our emissions per FTE (tCO2e) have decreased by 84.7 per cent on our 2017/18 baseline year, despite growing almost 300 FTE in four years.

As an organisation, we have made a conscious effort to cut our travel emissions on top of significant emissions reductions due to the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has taught us a great deal about working effectively online. Over the past year we have continued to change our travel behaviour and to work with stakeholders in new ways.

figure 1 total emissions tco2e
figure 1 total emissions tco2e
Total emissions tCO2e comparison by month
Total emissions tCO2e comparison by month
transport emissions 2017 18 to 2020 21
transport emissions 2017 18 to 2020 21
total gross ghg emissions per fte
total gross ghg emissions per fte

Our annual emissions reporting period is from 01 July to 30 June of the following year. For auditing purposes, we require FTE numbers in the fourth quarter of each financial year. These figures may differ from the FTE numbers in the Organisational Health section of this report, which are based on FTE numbers as at 30 June.