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The Carbon Neutral Public Service programme

In February 2007 the government announced that the core public service departments would take the lead on achieving carbon neutrality. A lead group of six core agencies were chosen for the first stage of the programme. Those agencies were:

  • Department of Conservation
  • Inland Revenue
  • Ministry for the Environment
  • Ministry of Economic Development
  • Ministry of Health
  • The Treasury.

This group was chosen for the first stage because good information existed, or could quickly be obtained, about their energy and transport use and they were a representative cross-section of core government agencies.

In addition, moving the public service towards carbon neutrality involved 28 other core agencies. The six lead agencies listed above were aiming to be carbon neutral by 2012 and the other 28 were aiming to be on a path to carbon neutrality by the same date.

The Ministry for the Environment led the programme, which had a budget of $10.4 million over three years (Budget 2007).

The Carbon Neutral Public Service programme was discontinued in March 2009.

Achieving carbon neutrality

There were three aspects to achieving carbon neutrality under this programme.

Measuring emissions

Measuring carbon emissions is the essential first step in effecting behaviour change and managing emissions. Agencies gathered accurate information on the greenhouse gas emissions linked to their energy and electricity use, transport (including domestic and international air travel), and waste sent to landfill. The credibility, transparency and reporting methods used aligned with international public and private sector carbon neutrality efforts.

Reducing emissions

Reduction planning is an essential part of the carbon neutrality process. It involves identifying opportunities to reduce emissions.

The six lead agencies aimed to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they released by putting in place:

  • energy-efficiency measures, which included conducting energy use audits, educating staff on using less electricity, installing low-energy lighting systems and more efficient heating and cooling systems, and buying equipment that used less electricity
  • travel measures, which included creating workplace travel plans to eliminate unnecessary journeys, buying more fuel-efficient vehicles, and using transport alternatives such as videoconferencing facilities
  • waste reduction and recycling systems.

Agencies were expected to lower their carbon emissions, not reduce them to zero which would have been impractical with the available technology.

Agencies did not undertake emissions reductions that lessened their effectiveness. More emphasis was put on making procurement decisions that had the lowest overall cost in the long term, rather than a low initial purchase cost but high running costs.

Offsetting unavoidable emissions

Offsetting emissions without having made plausible efforts to reduce emissions first would have compromised the credibility of the Carbon Neutral Public Service programme and could have prevented external verification of departments’ carbon neutral status. It was not feasible to reduce the public service’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero, so some offsetting would have been required.

Individual departments were not asked to identify or implement their own offsetting programmes. The Ministry for the Environment investigated the most environmentally appropriate and cost-effective offsetting options for the six lead agencies. The preference was for New Zealand-based, forestry-related projects on Department of Conservation land, but other New Zealand-based projects were also considered.


The Ministry for the Environment’s emissions inventory and reduction plan provide an example of the outcomes of the Carbon Neutral Public Service programme.

More information

Last updated: 12 June 2009