Following South Pole's first live event of 2021, Climate Leaders Forum in Brisbane on 25th May, co-hosted with McCullough Robertson, Regional Marketing Manager Carly Youd reflects on the insights and opportunities uncovered in the workshop.
We hosted our last Climate Leaders Forum in Brisbane in March 2020, just as COVID was taking hold. In the months prior, Australia was ravaged by the Black Summer bushfires and people took to the street to demand climate action - but Australia's Government was firmly against setting a Net Zero target.
Fast forward to today and a lot has changed. Despite the pandemic, climate action has rapidly accelerated - the US, EU and our close neighbours and trading partners in Asia have stepped up Net Zero ambitions, and all of Australia's states and territories have committed to Net Zero by 2050.
While the federal Government still has no official target, the narrative is changing and the Prime Minister now says Australia is "on the road to Net Zero emissions". With COP26 on the horizon and the recent
landmark ruling by the federal court of Australia that the government has a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis, progress is inevitable.
Despite all this political uncertainty, Australian companies have continued leading the way on climate, recognising sustainability is key to the COVID recovery.
We welcomed some of these climate leaders to our event in Brisbane, inviting them to share the challenges they are currently facing on their Net Zero journey and explore these topics in workshops with our audience of sustainability professionals.
Our Climate Leaders Panel represented some of the key sectors in the Australian economy that are critical to decarbonisation - manufacturing and export, responsible investment and the built environment. While representing diverse views, the challenges uncovered during our panel all had a similar theme: the need for engagement and action across the board, from consumers, business, investors and government. Companies are stepping up and taking action, but how can they have more impact and contribute to climate action while also increasing demand for their offerings?
With such an interesting panel and the enthusiasm of an in-person event after over a year of virtual conferences, the scene was set for an engaging afternoon of discussion and learning.
We were joined by David Rynne, Director, Policy, Economics & Trade at the Australian Sugar Milling Council. David's challenge to the group was:
How can Queensland's sugar milling industry unlock the huge potential of renewable co-generation using waste products from the milling process to help decarbonise the state's energy system?
South Pole's Head of Climate Action Tom Schroder participated in David's workshop and shared these comments:
"It was fantastic to have David at our forum. Sugar milling is a critical rural industry in Australia and employs more than 23,000 people, but it is facing commercial challenges. David identified the really exciting opportunity to use sugar milling waste product, known as bagasse, to generate dispatchable on-demand renewable energy to alleviate gaps in wind and solar electricity generation, which would not only help the industry diversify in challenging times, but also make a significant contribution to decarbonisation efforts. So far the sector has not been able to engage government on the topic, and without incentives and support the sector cannot advance this co-generation opportunity. One suggestion was that energy retailers should be mandated by the regulator to purchase an amount of carbon neutral dispatchable supply.
We also discussed the power of a big PR campaign to capitalise on the potential of the sugarmilling industry to empower regional Australia and create local jobs. We know that campaigns like this can gain the attention of the public and pressure the government to take action. The discussion also unearthed some alternatives that the sector could explore to diversify further, such as ethanol or biodiesel for electric vehicles, aviation or shipping fuel or the possibility of pelletising the bagasse and exporting it. There may also be opportunities for the sector to generate carbon credits, for example through soil carbon projects, which we look forward to exploring with David and the ASMC."
Also on our panel was Sara Parrott, Chief Executive Officer of Hand Heart Pocket and Director of sustainability consultancy 2050 Hindsight. Sara challenged the group with the following question:
With responsible investment in the headlines, how can investors and corporates collaborate to drive meaningful climate action?
South Pole's Business Development Manager Tara Oakley joined Sara's workshop and shared her key takeaways:
"I very much enjoyed the engaging discussion with the group and learning about Sara's first-hand experience in successfully driving change towards responsible investing. We covered a variety of aspects that encompass the overall complexity of this topic, including:
Among many others interesting points raised, our discussion provided the following key takeaways on how to tackle this challenge:
We were also joined by Jason Flanders, Development Director at Frasers Property Australia. Jason asked the group for insights on:
Engaging with customers on climate issues and encouraging shared ownership of the Net Zero challenge.
"I really enjoyed our group's robust discussion and noted the key themes that anchored the approach were:
These are a great set of talking points that I will take back to the sustainability team for consideration while developing a number of initiatives geared towards achieving our net zero targets."
Our final panellist was Evan Smith, National Sustainability Lead at Holcim Australia who joined via video to challenge the group on:
Increasing transparency and driving demand for low carbon building materials.
Evan's colleague Ryan Roberts, R&D Innovation and Process Improvement Manager, hosted the workshop on this topic and shared the following reflections:
"It was great to share the work we have done on low carbon concrete and Environmental Product Declarations with the group. We have a great product but at the moment, but there is not enough incentive to drive demand for this level of transparency and reduced environmental impact. Companies buying large amounts of concrete are either not aware of the benefits or aren't willing to pay the small premium.
Schemes like GreenStar and ISCA are helping to educate the sector and provide a framework, but ultimately regulation around emissions reporting will be crucial to level the playing field. This could drive sector-wide change if applied to the many infrastructure projects being funded by State and Federal governments at the moment. We also see a role in the residential sector for end consumers, the home buyers, to receive incentives for making sustainable choices, such as tax breaks and rebates.
South Pole provided a great forum for us to discuss our ambitions for low carbon building materials and the workshop provided fresh perspective and insights from people outside our sector which we will be incorporating into our product planning efforts."
Thanks to our co-hosts McCullough Robertson and all our speakers and guests for a lively and engaging Climate Leaders Forum. With such energy and creative thinking being applied to the climate challenge by Australia's corporate leaders, plus powerful global political and economic drivers, we expect to see great strides towards Net Zero in 2021.
Contact us to discuss your climate journey today.