The department recognises that disadvantaged and vulnerable groups are more likely to be affected by the negative effects of climate change, and is committed to minimising the environmental impacts of its operations.

To improve environmental performance, we utilise an Environmental Management System (EMS) and implement organisation-wide strategies in environmental sustainability and climate change adaptation.

Integrating environmental design into new and existing public housing is part of this work. Saving energy and reducing greenhouse emissions is a key aim of the Victorian Government Greener Government Buildings program.

We are required to report our environmental performance publicly through our annual report  - refer to Financial Reporting Direction 24. 

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In 2016 the Secretary endorsed a revised environment policy to align with our priorities and responsibilities. The policy recognises the link between the health and wellbeing of the environment, and the health and wellbeing of Victorians. The department is committed to protecting the environment, improving the management of our operations and reducing environmental impacts.

Read more in the Department of Health and Human Services Environment Policy (Word, 41KB)

Environmental management system

All Victorian Government departments are required to develop and maintain an Environmental Management System for office-based activities, according to the AS/ISO 14001 standard.

The EMS identifies our environmental impacts of energy, water, waste, transport, paper and purchasing. Actions are identified and environmental projects undertaken to improve environmental performance in each of these areas. In recent years, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability has recommended the expansion of EMS beyond office-based activities. 

We promote Earth Hour in March, World Environment Day in June and the Ride to Work Day in October, as well as educating staff on improving energy efficiency.

Each year, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability conducts a strategic audit of Victorian Government EMS programs, which is then tabled in parliament. The Commissioner’s 2013 Strategic audit highlights the department’s work over recent years in improving the environmental sustainability of public and social housing. The latest Strategic audit can be found on the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability website (external link).

Every two years, the department’s EMS is reviewed by an independent auditor and recommendations for improvement are implemented

Performance reporting

Environmental performance data is based on office-based environmental impacts and includes energy, greenhouse gas emissions, water, waste, transport, paper and purchasing.

In line with the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability’s recommendation that government departments extend environmental management to non-office facilities, we also report energy, greenhouse and water performance data for 44 high-rise public housing buildings and several large disability services.

Read more about our latest environmental performance in the Department of Health and Human Services annual report.

Climate change strategy

Adaptation action plan

Adaptation to climate change needs a systemic approach to prepare for actual and expected changes to:

  • minimise harm
  • act on opportunities
  • cope with the consequences.

Such strategic and planned adaptation to long-term climate change is different from responding to year-to-year climate variability or ongoing disaster risk management.

Therefore, an important part of planning for adaptation to climate change is building the capacity of organisations, processes and people to change.

The challenge of climate change adaptation adds to the task of managing a diverse and complex health and human services system that delivers high-quality services to Victorians.

The department recognises these challenges and we're leading climate change adaptation in health and human services. Our pilot climate change adaptation action plan is the first step in a long-term process of building resilience to climate change. It will help the sector to further embed climate change considerations into policies, planning and operations, and to respond to the significant risks climate change poses to health and wellbeing and the health and human services system.

For more information, see the plan:

In parallel with this plan, we're also preparing an emissions reduction plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the department, and in health and human services funded agencies.

Together, the emissions reduction plan and the adaptation action plan will form an integrated climate change strategy, recognising that action in both these areas is urgently needed to protect the health and wellbeing of Victorians from the climate crisis.

Environmental sustainability in public housing

The department has a strong focus on improving energy efficiency and thermal comfort in public housing. This will help the households most in need to reduce their energy costs and support positive health outcomes.

This is consistent with putting the client and their needs at the centre of the service system, responsibly managing infrastructure and resources, and is an important step in managing climate change risk and financial pressures.

Actions undertaken by the department to improve the environmental sustainability of public housing in recent years include:

  • for higher density and larger projects, developing bespoke sustainability requirements to reflect the complexity of these types of developments. For example, the Public Housing Renewal Program is procuring housing to achieve a minimum 5-star Green Star rating (Australian Excellence level) and an average 7-star Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) building energy efficiency rating. This exceeds regulatory compliance requirements for building shell performance under NatHERS by 1 star
  • building new lower density developments to a standard higher than regulations. The standard of design used is described in the Design Guidelines. The Guidelines include the installation of solar photovoltaic systems, coupled with efficient all-electric appliances and achieving a 7-star NatHERS rating, where feasible. These initiatives deliver a safer and more comfortable internal temperature for tenants, reduced energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • continuing a rolling high-rise apartment upgrade program, which uplifts typical NatHERS thermal performance in apartments by more than 2 stars, improving thermal comfort and reducing bills and emissions
  • facilitating tenants of public housing to install solar panels on the property they rent, if they are able to fund the purchase. Tenants are required to seek permission from their local department office, and if approved, are responsible for installing the solar panels through an accredited supplier.

Recent public housing projects which demonstrate the department’s strong sustainability approach

EnergySmart public housing program

The EnergySmart Public Housing Program is replacing inefficient electric water heaters and space heaters and delivering tailored thermal upgrades to 1,500 existing public housing properties. More information can be found on the Housing.vic website.

Greener Government Buildings - public housing program

The Greener government buildings program is a Premier’s Sustainability Award winning program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency across Victorian Government facilities. As part of the program, Victorian government departments upgrade infrastructure to improve energy and water efficiency in a cost-effective manner, generating a financial pay-back to government.

We are implementing the program in public housing by undertaking upgrades to lighting and boilers across high-rise public housing estates.

We are also progressing Greener Government Buildings projects across the health portfolio and participating in whole of Victorian Government energy-efficiency programs.

Read more about this on the Health.vic and Department of Treasury and Finance websites.

Social Housing Pipeline project

The Social Housing Pipeline project (new housing on underused and vacant land) is being constructed to integrate solar energy generation, 7-star NatHERS building energy efficiency and highly-efficient appliances.

Horsham Catalyst project

The Horsham Catalyst project involved four two-bedroom homes built in 2011 in Horsham, a region vulnerable to temperature extremes. The homes featured leading-edge residential environmental design elements such as solar panels for electricity generation, a solar hot water system with gas boost, double glazed windows and drought tolerant landscaping. Passive solar design principles were followed, with high thermal insulation levels resulting in an 8.9-star NatHERS rating.

We commissioned RMIT University to assess costs and benefits over a three-year monitoring period to quantify:

  • householder benefits including energy cost savings, personal comfort, health and overall wellbeing
  • upfront maintenance and long-term financial implications
  • environmental resource efficiencies and learnings.

Read more about this in the research and evaluation summary report.

Carlton housing redevelopment

Across three precincts, 192 medium density public housing apartments in Carlton were replaced with 246 new public and social housing apartments, with 670 new private apartments being built alongside. The existing high-rise buildings are being retained as public housing.

This significant redevelopment provides energy saving features and onsite renewable energy to minimise greenhouse gas emissions. These measures have helped minimise energy costs for both the public and private housing residents.

K2 Apartments

The award-winning K2 Apartments located in Windsor began as a design competition in 2001, which was won by DesignInc Melbourne. As well as environmental performance, the design brief called for an emphasis on the social and economic aspects of sustainability. It resulted in a 96-unit public housing development which has led the way in sustainable design for medium density developments.

Passive solar design led to four connected buildings on the 4,800 square metre site. The four buildings were oriented on an east-west axis to allow for maximum northern exposure. The height of the buildings and the distance between the front and back pairs was carefully calculated to ensure all units received northern sun for natural light and heating, particularly in cooler months.

In addition to the energy efficient building envelope, roof-mounted solar panels, efficient lighting systems, individual sub-metering, energy efficient lifts and a roof-mounted gas-boosted solar hot water system were installed. The building was completed and tenanted in 2007.

Monitoring studies for K2 have demonstrated:

  • annual energy and water bill savings in the order of $145 per tenant based on 2009 electricity prices
  • an average 7.1-star NatHERS energy rating
  • 22 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, when compared with ‘business as usual’ for the industry in 2008
  • $2.4 million whole-of-life saving when compared with ‘business as usual’

The project also delivered several technology learnings, particularly in relation to the management of grey water systems, which have informed subsequent projects.

Sustainability in health care

For information on sustainability in Victorian healthcare services read the Sustainability in Healthcare Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2018-19 to 2022-23 on the Health.vic website.