Business leaders on the path to sustainable communities

Tuesday, 14 July, 2020

Business leaders on the path to sustainable communities

An expert panel at the Future-Proofing Business Series hosted by UNSW Business School’s Responsible Business Program said that collaboration between business and local communities would help create employment opportunities, modernise infrastructure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Discussing Australia’s potential to become a renewable energy superpower, the panel examined ways that businesses can take the lead in managing climate risk in the short and long term, supporting local communities to create a better future for all. By generating jobs in renewable energy, business leaders can mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change and help build more sustainable communities.

The panel discussed what steps businesses can take to enable sustainable communities...

Support community-led initiatives

City of Sydney Council’s Dr Jennifer Kent said businesses need to look at flattening the ‘unsustainability curve’ — the acceleration of unsustainable practices around the world and the existential challenges faced as a result.

Co-Founder and Company Secretary at Zero Emissions Sydney North Ursula Hogben explained that Australian communities are best placed to understand what they need.

“With community-led initiatives, we’ve got, ideally, local skills and local jobs meeting local needs now and in the future,” she said.

Hogben gave examples of successful, localised cooperation during Australia’s devastating bushfire season, which saw fires destroying lives, communities, wildlife and infrastructure. With the subsequent flooding and storms adding to the damage, hundreds of properties were running diesel generators and faced lengthy delays before regular services resumed.

During this time, the Resilient Energy Collective — a collaborative effort funded by the family office of Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes — installed solar systems provided by 5B along with battery solutions provided by Tesla in communities unable to access energy via the grid.

“Very swiftly, there was a significant issue with rural and remote communities having access to power,” Hogben explained.

“So in Tobago, they [the Resilient Energy Collective] helped with 24-hour electricity to man the emergency power of the emergency community towers — and that was for the police, fire services and emergency crews communication.”

Another example is the transformation of the Newcastle and Hunter Valley region from a coal energy hub to a renewable energy hub.

“That’s a considerable supplier of jobs in the area which is now looking at being part of the green steel revolution, which is important from a business perspective, low emissions perspective and a community perspective in terms of the environment and also the economy,” Hogben said.

Modernise infrastructure to generate employment

The Director of the Industrial Relations Research Centre at UNSW Business School, Professor Peter Sheldon, said business must act quickly to support job growth in areas where it’s needed.

For example, the shutting down of coal-fired power plants could become an opportunity to create jobs and reskill the current workforce.

“Every time you decommission a coal-fired power station or a coalmine there is work for 10–15 years just in the remediation and potential rehabilitation of the site,” Professor Sheldon said.

“These are similar jobs in terms of skills in the coalmines, or in the petrol stations that are operating heavy machinery. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t pay the same amount or any reason why they shouldn’t provide the same job security or access to training and development,” he said.

“I think it’s more important to start with what we can easily do and where we can get consensus relatively quickly.”

Back a reduction in carbon emissions

Hogben explained that during the current period of stimulus spending, there’s an opportunity to create resilience and sustainability within communities by supporting renewable energy businesses in manufacturing, regenerative farming, regenerating mining land, planting trees and land restoration.

“Businesses can help by offering finance… by making an ideological shift to more financing of renewable and sustainable projects,” she said.

Dr Paul Twomey from the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at UNSW Sydney reminded the audience that while there are several encouraging stories of industries moving towards sustainability, an important question to ask is are we achieving success at the speed and scale required?

“It’s not clear to me that [we are],” Dr Twomey said, adding that the change would require more in-depth thinking about capitalism, democracy and sustainability.

To read the full story, click here.

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