Our approach

Environmental management is an important component of Downer’s Zero Harm philosophy. Downer is committed to managing the environment in a responsible manner and to mitigating the impact of our activities on the natural and built environment. We are committed to meeting and exceeding our environmental compliance obligations.

Downer is also conscious of our social licence to operate – and we respond to this by improving the sustainability of our operations, aiming to achieve Zero Harm to our people, minimise harm to the environment, avoiding legal liability and always striving to positively impact Downer’s reputation, business value and ultimately shareholder wealth.

Downer’s Urban Services focus delivers many environmental and social benefits, including a move to lower capital intensive and lower carbon activities, which supports Downer’s climate change resilience and decarbonisation pathway, as detailed in the Our Performance section.

Our environment and sustainability commitments are outlined in our Environmental Sustainability Policy and our Zero Harm Management Framework. Our 10 Environmental Principles are critical to ensuring our employees and broader stakeholder groups are engaged and aware of our environmental sustainability commitments.

Downer’s environmental management system (accredited to AS/NZ ISO 14001:2015) is integrated into our Group-wide management system, The Downer Standard, which ensures a consistent approach to identifying and controlling environmental hazards and risks, and monitoring our environmental performance across the entire organisation. In addition, the environment management system is audited, both internally and externally by independent third parties.

The effective management of our environmental aspects and impacts is fundamental to Downer's approach to the delivery of our services. We place significant emphasis on ensuring effective controls are implemented through our Critical Risk program and continuous improvement through lessons learned to sustain the natural environment for future generations.

GHG emissions

Downer’s commitment to decarbonisation has been enshrined in the registration of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target with the Science-Based Target Initiative (SBTi), and the inclusion of GHG emissions reduction KPIs in our new Sustainability Linked Loan (SLL) facility.

Downer recognises that we play a key role in minimising emissions that occur throughout our value chain. Therefore, we have expanded our commitment to decarbonisation to incorporate Scope 3 emissions.

Downer remains focused on developing solutions to reduce our consumption of natural environmental capital, such as energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing our cost competitiveness. We are also committed to developing strategies that will improve the resilience of our assets and portfolio to the impacts of climate change.

Contamination management

Downer owns, occupies and operates facilities where historical activities have caused land and groundwater contamination. These include emulsion manufacturing, asphalt manufacturing, rail maintenance, Defence facilities and legacy commercial laundry and dry cleaning sites.

Contamination liability remains a key consideration for Downer, in particular, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. There is growing industry concern about the impact of PFAS chemicals on human health and the potential damage they present to the environment. The issue has grown in prominence and there has been significant media attention on the West Gate Tunnel project in Melbourne, Victoria, and various airports and Defence facilities in Australia and New Zealand. In FY20, Downer undertook a review of its legal risk and mitigation strategies for the management of PFAS contamination risk across the Group. The review identified some governance and procedural recommendations when assessing contracts and the consideration of latent condition and unforeseen contamination issues. The review also involved understanding Downer’s insurance policies with respect to PFAS contaminations and the limits of cover. The review confirmed that Downer has a comprehensive insurance regime, which provides extensive cover for any significant events. Downer holds two insurance policies that indemnify the company in response to events that cause contamination, including PFAS in most cases, which include:

  • General Public Liability Policy: provides coverage for ‘sudden and accidental’ incidents
  • Contractor’s Pollution Liability Policy: provides coverage for ‘gradual’ contamination incidents.

A Group-wide Contamination Management Procedure has been integrated into The Downer Standard, and sets out processes when acquiring or divesting a business or entering or exiting a lease. In addition, the Group-wide Contamination Risk Register has been updated to reflect the recent divestments of Downer’s Laundries and Mining businesses. The Group Contamination Risk Register and supporting information is provided to Downer’s Finance team to ensure that financial provisions are accounted for to cover any make good or site remediation obligations.

The sale of Downer Blasting Services (DBS), a drilling and blasting Mining business, and Spotless’ Laundries business in FY21 considerably lowered Downer’s land contamination risk profile and associated financial liability.

Waste management and the circular economy

Downer advocates for the circular economy in a number of ways, including reducing the amount of waste we generate through resource recovery, avoidance, reuse and recycling.

The development of the Reconophalt™ asphalt pavement product is an example of this focus in action, representing principles of the circular economy in incorporating recycled soft plastics into the asphalt product.

Downer’s preferred waste management contractors are Cleanaway in Australia and EnviroWaste in New Zealand. In Australia, Downer and Cleanaway have agreed to ambitious key performance indicators to drive improved waste management practices and innovation that will ultimately reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. The KPIs consist of:

  • Cleanaway dedicating a Resource Recovery Specialist to work only on Downer sites
  • Quarterly National Contract Review meetings to include the Group Sustainability Manager
  • Annual site visits (twice annually for sites with a spend greater than $100,000) to recommend improvement to waste practices and diversion, and offer innovation with site reports feeding into the Quarterly National Contract Review meeting
  • Cleanaway to demonstrate improvements to waste practices and innovation to achieve an agreed dollar value saving per annum.

Water management

Downer delivers complete water lifecycle solutions for municipal and industrial water users. Downer’s expertise includes water treatment, wastewater treatment, water and wastewater network construction and rehabilitation, desalination and biosolids treatment.

While Downer provides end-to-end water management solutions to its customers, we are also acutely aware of the need to manage our own water usage and the associated impacts this has on the environment and surrounding communities. Downer collates water data on a consolidated level allowing us to understand, at a high level, where our largest impacts lie and to develop an estimate for disclosure in investor questionnaires, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Water disclosure.

Most water usage and discharges across the organisation relate to those with public utilities providers, including operation of wastewater treatment plants, which treat various forms of wastewater to provide recycled water for non-potable uses, such as for irrigation and agricultural activities.


To Downer, heritage consists of all aspects that make up a country’s identity. This includes historic buildings and sites, spirit and ingenuity, and unique living landscapes. One of our top four environmental Critical Risks is ‘Unauthorised clearance of protected areas’, which relates to preventing unlawful heritage damage.

We have a detailed Group-wide Heritage Management process in place, which requires all practicable measures to be taken to limit the impact of our operations on heritage sites. This includes the immediate notification and response procedures to limit potential impacts in the event of an unexpected discovery of heritage sites, Indigenous artefacts or remains.

When working in a high-risk area, a preliminary investigation must be undertaken. This includes collaborating with the landowner, the local Aboriginal or Iwi (Māori tribe) authority, the affected community and the relevant regulatory authority, as well as searching publicly available information to determine if a heritage site can be impacted.

A comprehensive heritage study must also be conducted in conjunction with project design and must take into consideration any potential for adverse impacts on surrounding heritage sites. In circumstances where our customer provides the heritage study, Downer validates the results prior to performing any work activities.

Before commencing any work, heritage requirements must be determined and included within the Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The EMP may require approval from the regulatory (Aboriginal/Iwi) authorities prior to the actual or potential disturbance of a heritage site. In accordance with the EMP, effective controls are implemented to prevent any unauthorised damage to heritage from occurring. These controls are subjected to regular inspection and monitoring for their effectiveness throughout the duration of the works.