Disability services provider Kith and Kin began a journey towards environmental sustainability and ended up saving money in the process.

Former Kith and Kin president, the late Barry Whitehead, was not only passionate about supporting people with disability and mental illness, but the environment as well. He had a vision that the organisation he loved would be as ecologically sustainable as it could be. He started Kith and Kin on a path that has resulted in it being almost entirely self-sustaining in its energy consumption, has brought in a host of new partners, and is generating significant savings for the organisation.

“It was a win-win no brainer. To do something that benefits our clients, the community, the environment – an opportunity we just couldn’t miss” Kith and Kin CEO Alfred Wimblett said.

More than solar panels

Kith and Kin’s environmental sustainability project got underway in 2009 when the organisation was successful in receiving an Australian Government Department of the Environment grant (no longer available) to install 40 solar panels, or 6.6KW, at their premises. This effort soon found local government support from the Townsville City Council which was becoming increasingly active in promoting renewable energy, recycling and other sustainability measures, and connecting up local businesses with organisations which could help them achieve sustainability.

An introduction to Ergon Energy led to a Network Demand Management project which included pro bono audit, advice and installation of a range of products to decrease the organisation’s energy consumption. Ergon assisted to install solar reflective paint on their building’s roof, install LED lighting throughout the building’s interiors and make modifications to air conditioning unit condensers so they ran more efficiently. Ergon contributed $2,300 to the project.

Kith and Kin did not stop there. At a Townsville City Council networking event they met NQ Cardboard and Plastic Recycling who now provide all of the organisation’s recycling services on a pro bono arrangement. Further activity to increase environmental suitability include: all cars in their fleet have four cylinder engines reducing fuel consumption; rubbish bins in the office were replaced with recycling bins; all printers were set to print double sided to significantly reduce paper consumption; and an additional 18 solar panels were installed on the roof through raised capital.

Savings and impact

The savings to Kith and Kin have been significant and the impact has been larger than expected.

“We’re not paying for electricity anymore and we’re getting paid for electricity generation,” Alfred said. “Two percent now of our additional income comes from renewable energy. Savings come on top of that. We’re now saving $8,000 a year in electricity. It’s not an amount to be sneezed at.” He estimates the return on investment over the life of the project to be $135,000.

But the project has had other benefits. “The new networks that we’ve been able to access…getting our profile out there; it’s given us another feather in our cap.” Alfred says they only regret not going bigger, investing more in solar panels and other technologies. “It’s had so many benefits.”

Advice

Alfred says Kith and Kin’s success on this project is largely due to Barry’s leadership and vision. “The key for any organisation is having someone passionate and interested to lead the project. Once we had that, anything was possible. Once you have the key driver, you just have to look at what opportunities are already under your nose. You might start out with some grandiose ideas but it quickly boils down into a set of achievable goals and projects.”

He also cites the new partnerships formed as quintessential to raising the resources needed to help the organisation meet its goals. “Pre-existing relationships won’t always allow you to move outside of the square that you’re in. We had to make some new contacts for these projects.”

Alfred has a lot of advice for other organisations seeking to be more energy efficient and in turn contribute to their own financial sustainability. While Kith and Kin own their building, “people leasing or renting can also change what they do and what they use inside their buildings even if they don't own them. For example, we purchased small desk top fans for some staff so we could reduce the building air conditioning temperatures to 25C without affecting them (and) introducing or increasing recycling. These things expand an organisation’s positive impact in the community and the environment and further establish NFP (not-for-profit) organisations as real leaders in social responsibility. The environment is just an extension of that.”

Kith and Kin was fortunate to have received the federal government grant to purchase their first solar panels and while that grant is no longer available, there are other available grants, such as the Queensland Government Gambling Community Benefit Fund. 

“In addition to grants received specifically for sustainability, Kith and Kin also invested some money,” Alfred said. “This came from funds raised specifically for the sustainability project, and reserves. All NFP's should have a number of different reserves set up for different purposes. Some reserves may be there just for rainy days or to deal with specific contingencies…if organisations wish to move beyond reacting and the changing requirements of various governments, they need to take control and become proactive. Creating and investing reserves in areas that will reduce costs and increase long term sustainability is a great way of doing this. I think all NFP's can be more than just viable, they can become sustainable in the broadest sense of the word.”

Case study key themes

Leadership – Barry's vision as Kith and Kin's president initiated the project and, importantly, inspired Alfred and his team to carry it through.

Investment – Kith and Kin invested reserves and raised capital in order to purchase technologies that would return to the organisation more than they cost over their lifetimes.

Proactive and opportunistic – Kith and Kin jumped on opportunities when they presented, such as the federal government grant, and the Townsville City Council’s sustainability push.

New partnerships – New partnerships with government (and different areas of government) and business were required to gain the expertise, in-kind support and access to technologies in order to complete the project.

Rethinking existing resources – Although Kith and Kin purchased new technologies, they also rethought and repurposed their existing built assets to earn income or create savings for the organisation. 

This case study appears in the Rethinking Resources: Case Studies of Financial Resilience from Queensland Community Services report. 

Listen to the interview with Alfred

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