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How big is Police’s environmental footprint?

Take the biggest Police-issue boot you can find and multiply it by 10,000 – about the number of staff who work for Police.

And it’s not getting any smaller.

Some of those staff, however, are trying to “do the right thing” and create more sustainable police stations.

Detective Mike Bracegirdle is chair of Dunedin Central Police Station’s Sustainability Committee. Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Such groups are a rarity in Police, but Mike and his small team of about eight are hoping that will change.

At the moment, he says, Police’s performance on sustainability is “a national embarrassment”.

He would like every police station, including the “flagship” Police College premises, to start having a conversation about sustainability in their patch, as has happened in Dunedin.

The key, though, says Mike, is that the change has to come from the top, with policies integrated into organisational strategies, even recorded within Our Business.

“What is happening to the thousands of tonnes of refuse generated by our stations every day? Where does our voluminous e-waste end up and what about the thousands of worn-out patrol car tyres sent to the landfill every year?

“We are leaders in so many other fields within government departments. We need to add responsible eco-citizenship to our sworn, day-to-day duties and address the environmental impact of our stations and services in our regions.

“I wonder if our executive understands that instituting intelligent energy efficient and sustainable practices can lead to budgetary savings?”

Sustainability and the environment are big topics elsewhere, Mike says, but, sadly, there seems to be little in-house discussion within Police, despite the fact that these days most successful and innovative corporates have such policies.

In his patch, it was several years ago that he and a few other staff members felt the need to make changes. “You didn’t have to be much of a greenie to notice the large volumes of waste being generated by a station the size of Dunedin Central and to start feeling guilty about where it was headed,” he says.

“Particular issues were station clean-up days, when e-waste, old desks and other office furniture were just tossed into miniskips and sent to the landfill.”

In the early 2000s, his proto-action group instigated three-colour stacking recycle stations, which, he says, was soon copied in many other stations.

Even now, though, he notes, it can still be tough getting a hard-working cop on his lunch break to dispose of his rubbish in the proper way.

“A minority of staff are fantastic, but, sadly, in our busy working days, recycling is not at the top of our tasks. Education is the key with staff and our attitude is that every single piece of plastic or glass put in the right bin is a win.”

One piece of good news at Dunedin, Mike says, is that funding has been approved for soft-plastic collection stations to be installed on all four floors of the station. A committee member has been tasked with tracking monthly electricity usage to see how it might be reduced.

Mike says that while the bosses are happy for staff to implement changes themselves, making meaningful change from the bottom is almost impossible – it has to come from above.

“The essential first move for Police to aspire to right now is at the very beginning of procurement policies, which need to be carefully looked at. Recycling is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

Purchasing decisions are key to preventing waste.”

Mike is optimistic about what can be done: “With just a modicum of leadership and direction from the top, we could start moving in the right direction. We are a potent force when we choose to pull together on any challenges and the sky is the limit for what we could achieve in being an environmentally responsible organisation.”

He would like to help create a movement within Police and a national network of sustainability groups. He’s sending out the call and hoping that younger staff especially will take note. “New, young police officers and non-sworn staff of today must see sustainability as quite the norm. Where are their voices?” – ELLEN BROOK

What do you think Police should be doing about environmental sustainability within the organisation? Email us your ideas to [email protected].

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