Climate Summit for Local Government

Sept 6-8, 2023 | Melbourne

Many Australian councils have made tremendous inroads addressing their own council operating emissions, the next challenge is to take their communities to net zero emissions. This case study set outs how the City of Port Phillip scoped and set its net zero community target.


The City of Port Phillip in Melbourne’s southeast has set a goal of achieving net zero community emissions by 2050. The City has developed a two-stage approach in accomplishing this: a near-term action plan that focuses on community education and behaviour change which will directly feed into a long-term strategy to realise their community emissions reduction goals.

Toward Zero

Port Phillip’s initial sustainability plan, Toward Zero, had the city committed to “achieving and sustaining a 50% reduction in community greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.” Between 2007 and 2017, the city embarked on a series of programs including behaviour change, solar bulk buys, business audits and action plans, workshops, advice and support. The campaign was successful in lowering Council operational greenhouse gas emissions, but less successful with community emissions. A 15% population increase and difficulty in data collection methods had emissions coming in 34% higher than when the program began.

A new strategy

As they left the Toward Zero campaign behind and began preparations for new plans, council was determined to set a target that balanced aspiration with achievability. They realised they couldn’t manage what they couldn’t effectively measure and had to focus on data, for starters. In addition to more effective data measurement, council implemented other key actions to restructure a new community emissions reduction plan:

  • A doubling of resources directed to community programs, including an easy-to-understand community action plan.
  • Revamp of community programs (including funding for some pilot programs) to build a more meaningful dialogue beyond 2020.
  • Acknowledging that significant levers for the community are in the hands of the Victorian Government (planning scheme, investment in renewable energy, public transport) and they should align their plan to that of the state government’s. 
  • Acknowledging the challenge specific to their demographic (a transient population in high density housing), and developing apartment-specific projects. 
  • Setting goals rather than targets in order to be clear that Council can educate, facilitate and support the community to take action, but ultimately reducing community emissions is a partnership with residents and businesses

Arial photo of Port Phillip with housing, parkland and the port
Tackling Community Emissions

The Sustainability team at Port Phillip was confident that through realistic goals and extensive community consultation they could implement targeted projects that will allow for progress in reducing emissions.

Some of these projects include: 

  • Increasing access to renewable energy – Port Phillip has dedicated solar programs for households, apartments and businesses. They have also partnered with the Australian Energy Foundation to provide residents with a free energy advice hotline. The targeted apartments project is particularly important to Port Phillip because over half of its residents live in ‘high density blocks’. 
  • Encouraging sustainable behaviour change – Council will conduct campaigns through social media, workshops and promotional materials to change knowledge, attitudes and practices that will encourage their community to reduce their emissions, waste and water use. 
  • Purchasing renewable energy for council operations – Through the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, a collective renewable energy buying project , the City of Port Phillip will reduce its total emissions by 87%. All of Council’s electricity – lights in the streets, barbecues in parks, libraries, childcare centres, town halls and more – is currently powered by renewable sources.

Measuring Progress

The table below illustrates Port Phillip’s emissions reduction goals from the Low Carbon Emissions section of the Sustainable Port Phillip website. 

Port Phillip emissions target chart

Port Phillip emissions target chart

The full list of Council deliverables on lowering carbon in the community is also there. Among others, these include transitioning Council fleets to electric vehicles, green lease provisions targeting tenant energy consumption, and delivering a program that supports households (particularly low income) to invest in sustainability retrofits and solar panels. 

Advice for Councils on Setting Community Emissions Reduction Goals

Tip Number 1: Collect Detailed Data

If Port Phillip’s story is anything to go by, it is clear that knowing and measuring data is crucial. Lisa said:

It’s important to understand that a ‘profile’ is an estimate and it can be difficult to access complete and consistent energy use data over time.

  • Ensure that the decision makers understand the difference between your organisational emissions inventory and your community emissions profile.
  • Understand which elements have been ‘modelled’. For example, have employment numbers been multiplied by an emissions factor related to their industry?
  • Advocate hard for access to community electricity, gas and water data.

Tip Number 2: Balance Aspiration and Achievability

Port Phillip was determined to set targets that balanced aspiration with achievability. For other councils going through a similar process, Lisa recommends asking a series of questions that serve as a reality check. 

  • Can your Council realistically overcome community barriers to emissions reduction?
  • How extensive is your communications reach and do you have motivated community groups that can amplify climate messages?
  • How much is your State Government doing in the climate space? If not that much, will your council mostly focus on advocacy to state and federal governments? 
Setting Goals for Your Council

Establishing inventory and measuring your city or region’s emissions is a difficult feat. If you are interested in an initial estimate of your community carbon emissions, visit Snapshot. This can provide a great initial overview to get the net zero community emissions conversation started. Eventually, a more detailed measurement of community emissions will be needed. 

For some more information for councils and communities with a net zero goal in mind, check out Beyond Zero Emissions’ Zero Carbon Communities Guide

Challenges certainly exist in delivering meaningful reductions in community emissions. It is a big job with many variables and a changing landscape, but it is also an extremely important task in the larger picture of mitigating the effects of climate change. The City of Port Phillip is a trailblazer and fantastic resource for local governments all around Australia. 

To view the webinar from City of Port Phillip and Warrnambool City Council on their net zero journeys, click here. The Q&As from the session are also summarised via this document.  

Are you thinking of setting a net zero target for your council? Would you like to talk about ways you can switch to clean energy and reduce emissions? Give us a call or email us anytime


There are other Cities Power Partners committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions: Victoria’s Hepburn Shire is fast making a name for itself on climate and renewable energy with its clean energy plan. The plan incorporates an ambitious target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and 100% renewable energy by 2021 – a mere year from now.