The rise of energy efficiency and carbon accounting is inevitable, went the consensus at the Green Capital seminar this week, though the frustration at the delays and distractions from real action was palpable. Also, a survey last month to inform the event revealed one of the problems, a lack of consensus on the way forward.
A discussion panel, led by Quentin Dempster from the ABC’s Stateline, cited plenty of reasons for business to act, including minimising exposure to rising energy costs and “inevitable” carbon price impositions, increasing regulation, commercial and competitive risks, community pressure and employee disapproval.
“Progress has been often frustratingly slow and patchy. However, the Australian and global economies are now on an irreversible path to become cleaner, leaner and more sustainable,” said the Total Environment Centre’s Jeff Angel, who was joined by the figures from the likes of 350.org, the Alliance to Save Energy (A2SE), PricewaterhouseCoopers, andEnergetics.
According to Matthew Wright, executive director of Beyond Zero Emissions, “it is becoming more obvious that being able to count carbon is becoming a core competency for businesses, while being able to cut carbon is clever business and a competitive advantage”.
The Green Capital breakfast was titled Doing nothing is not an option, but as Blair Palese, CEO of the grassroots 350.org. pointed out “it looks like what many businesses and government agencies are doing at the moment is exactly that; nothing.”
Another clear message directed at businesses came from Freddy Sharpe of Climate Friendly, who said “businesses should become much more proactive by choosing to act in one or more straightforward areas with clear value propositions and begin delivering measurable and easily communicable progress without delay”.
In terms of action focus areas, different choices or combinations will suit different businesses. Here are some options put forward by TEC:
* Save energy – reduces pollution and current costs, protects against rising prices and offsets higher costs of using renewable electricity;
* Reduce waste – smarter use of often costly resources and reuse/recycling;
* Engage staff – improve recruitment and staff retention of the best people and create a culture of sustainability in the workplace, such as energy-saving behaviours;
* Offset emissions – pay for bona fide carbon reduction as an early action strategy that also develops carbon market knowledge and skills;
* Sell solutions – upgrade products and develop new ones that help customers and establish competitive advantage; and
* Advocate good policy – help make the system work better for everyone, and give your business a seat at the decision-making table.
The Carbon Action Survey
Green Capital’s ‘Carbon Action Survey’, conducted in February-March, was targeted at a spread of sustainability practitioners and observers across the industry, professional services, government, research and community/NGO sectors.
It attracted 330 respondents. Unsurprisingly, most (72.7%) ticked the box, ‘Taking decisive action on climate change is accepted as a business necessity and doing nothing is not an option’. Far fewer (17.9%) chose ‘The case for action is not clear and activity is being delayed pending greater clarity in terms of national and international government policy’.
A clear majority believes the case for action on climate change is being embraced in the organisations they work for or advise.
But the survey also revealed very mixed views when it came to pointing the way forward and where Australia might best head after the debacles around Copenhagen and so far the CPRS legislation.
When asked to choose what national strategy would have the best chance of being approved and implemented to drive significant carbon emission reduction action in the next decade, 22.1% chose an emissions trading scheme similar to the current targets and CPRS model.
But 18.5% opted for the new direction of a national energy efficiency target for improvement of 25% by 2015 and 50% by 2020.
The findings were more positive when people were asked to nominate what target for electricity saving they thought the organisation they worked for could meet in five years and 10 years.
More than a third chose a target of 10% by 2015 and 20% by 2020, while a quarter chose a more ambitious 20% by 2015 and 40% by 2020. The next largest group, some 15.8% of respondents, chose a more modest 5% by 2015 and 10% by 2020.
The smallest group (13.3%) chose the biggest goals of 30% by 2015 and 60% by 2020.