La Trobe University Shepparton achieves net zero emissions

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Achievement: La Trobe Vice Chancellor Professor John Dewar and City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keeffe on the roof of the Shepparton campus where solar panels have helped achieve net zero certification. Photo by Anna McGuinness

La Trobe University’s Shepparton and Mildura campuses are the first in Victoria to achieve carbon neutral certification as part of the organisation’s commitment to addressing climate change.

It’s part of a $75 million commitment the university made in 2019 to become carbon neutral across all its campuses, including Bundoora in Melbourne, by 2029.

All of its regional campuses are on track to achieve the target by the end of the year.

La Trobe University Vice Chancellor Professor John Dewar said there were two main reasons for its ambition.

“It makes financial sense — with the cost of energy rising, the financial returns to the university are significant,” he said.

“The other is we felt we should — it was the right thing to do, and that we have a leadership role to play in the communities where we have campuses.

“We wanted to do the right thing by our staff and students; they want to feel they’re part of an organisation that takes climate change seriously and does everything it can to address it.”

Professor Dewar described the certification process through Climate Active, an Australian Government initiative, as a “pretty rigorous” process.

Carbon neutral: La Trobe University’s Shepparton campus has more than 115 solar panels — enough to provide power for more than 20 hours. Photo by Anna McGuinness

The university implemented a number of changes to help achieve its target in Shepparton including the installation of solar panels across the roof.

“On an average day here solar would contribute about 50 or 60 per cent of our total energy usage,” Professor Dewar said.

All of the campus lights were replaced with low-energy LED and old, inefficient equipment such as chiller plants were replaced to help reduce energy consumption.

Finally, the university has bought carbon offsets through Greenfleet, which it will also provide with 5000 native seedlings grown at its Bundoora campus for revegetation of Kinglake as a result of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

The Shepparton campus is set to begin its $10.5 million redevelopment in October this year and Professor Dewar said La Trobe was committed to building with six-point green star design principles and keeping its carbon neutral certification.

“If anything it will increase our capacity to generate rooftop solar and it will be designed with that in mind,” he said.

Greater Shepparton City Council made its own commitment to addressing climate change in 2020 and Mayor Kim O’Keeffe said it was incredibly exciting to have La Trobe University leading the way.

“They’ve taken really great leadership and showcased what can be achieved when you put your mind in the right space and get the ball rolling,” she said.