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CEO News Archive

CEO News Archive

Why put all our energy eggs in one fossil fuel basket ?
27 March 2015
The announcement by the Australian Government of a review of the nation's emissions targets inevitably throws up a question about energy choice, which in turn brings into sharp relief the very reasonable question as to what other countries are doing about future energy choice. Read more...

Their Future is also Ours, so what will it take for us to be Ambitious?
20 March 2015
In a week when Australia continues to ponder about what to do about the findings of its Intergenerational Report, and in the year that the United Nations will agree international Sustainable Development Goals, on 17 March 2015, the Welsh achieved a first. And I'm not talking about climbing ahead of Australia to be fifth in the World Rugby Rankings (although they did that too!). The Welsh National Assembly enacted a plan for their current and future generations by passing a piece of groundbreaking legislation; The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill. Read more

To enjoy a beer you don't need to own a brewery!
11 December 2013

The Republic of Poland today convened an Environmental Conference and Business Forum in Brisbane. SBA attended the Conference and Forum, held in Brisbane, and participated in the presentations and contributed to business to business matching.

Inside the "matter of fact" COP
WME Business Environment Network

The climate change Conference of Parties held in Poland's National Stadium had modest expectations it was dubbed the "matter of fact" COP. Despite faltering moments it delivered, writes Andrew Petersen.

Although the achievements may seem small steps, they may go a long way in building some sorely lacking trust as we progress towards a universal agreement in Paris. And while it was also a small COP, with just over 8000 attendees roughly equally divided between Parties and observers, it delivered 32 decisions and had 172 agenda items.

Alliance on transparent reporting to help drive informed business strategies
18 September 2013

Global Reporting Initiative Focal Point Australia (GRIFPA) and Sustainable Business Australia (SBA) today announced an alliance between the two organisations.

Under their agreement, GRIFPA and SBA will develop the corporate sustainability agenda to include governance on risks associated with social and environmental impacts. Read more...

"Green goods" encourage consumption
13 August 2013

The sustainable development agenda has implications for growth and consumption. SBA recently spoke with ABC Radio Australia about the challenge of green goods encouraging consumption, on the back of University of British Columbia's Professor Peter Dauvergne recent visit to Australia.

Innovation @ theReaDy - Sydney
Address by Minister Kate Lundy

24 July 2013

SBA held a luncheon at KPMG in Sydney on 18 July 2013, as part of our "Innovation @ theReaDy" series of forum events being hosted by KPMG around capital cities this year and we were very pleased to have as SBA guest and keynote speaker, Senator the Hon Kate Lundy, Minister Assisting for Industry, Innovation and the Digital Economy, and Minister for Multicultural Affairs. Senator Lundy covered green growth and innovation, broad trends in green growth transition, the policy challenge for Australia, government support, innovation initiatives and much more.

2013 NSW Green Globe Awards
24 June 2013

The recognition of excellence and innovation in environmental management and sustainable practices is a great incentive which will undoubtedly attract many entries for the NSW Green Globe Awards this year. I was honoured to be invited by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet to be a member of the independent judging panel for the 2013 Green Globe Awards.

Besides participating as judge, I look forward with great interest to seeing the innovative work, expertise and vision in sustainable business practices that the awards will uncover.

There are fifteen award categories in 2013 for business, government and community sectors, as well as individuals. The Premier's Award for Environmental Excellence will be the highest honour, awarded to the best overall entry decided by the judging panel.

Award finalists will be announced in August and the Awards ceremony will take place on 24 September 2013.

Green Globe Awards can provide inspiration to the community as well as new companies with energy-efficient products, according to David Whitfield, CEO of enLighten Australia, which won two awards at the 2011 NSW Government's Green Globe Awards - the Energy Award for overall contribution to sustainability through energy saving initiatives and the Innovation Award.

"Winning a Green Globe Award is a landmark for our young and emerging company. It enhances enLighten's credentials as a leader in energy-efficient lighting whose Smart Lighting patents are leading the world, not just Australia. More importantly, to win will help focus wider community attention on the potential for energy saving," he said.

Further information on the 2013 NSW Green Globe Awards as well as details on winners over the past seven years can be found on the OEH website here:

Are consumers the vital link?
11 June 2013

Is this the new reality? Could the consumer be emerging as the missing piece in the business sustainability agenda? And how can consumerism bring countries together?

Capitalism is often characterized as working in the opposite direction to sustainability in that it encourages people towards massive consumption and ranks people according to how much they are able to accumulate and consume. The conundrum for business is that it embarks on sustainable business strategies and targets and yet fails to meet them. The intersection between sustainability and profitability is often a hotly debated topic amongst executives who are seeking to pinpoint the price point where sustainability makes sense, let alone cents.

But are we moving beyond that phase, into post-industrial capitalism, where people are differentiating, and in that differentiation they gain status, and that by being distinctive, then there's lots of ways of gaining status? Let's scrutinize what one major brand says.

Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca-Cola Company was quoted in a recent article in CNN Money that what was he seeing in the way of new and important trends in consumers globally was this very point. In a CNN business forum he said:

"I think the important thing that we see that is changing, shifting at a very dynamic rate is that consumers no longer want to be talked to by companies that make products, that they actually want to have a dialogue with consumers.

"...In the past, 15 years ago, you used to make a quality product ... get it onto the shelf, get it onto retail points of sale, and have good advertising, in other words create positive consumer impressions of those products and essentially that was how business worked.

"Today positive consumer impressions are no longer important. You actually have to create positive consumer expressions and have consumers talk about your products in a positive manner with each other." [1]

In other words, the character of a company needs to get much closer to what the consumers expect, not less of themselves, and therefore everything that they do - the way they operate, their social values - everything needs to get closer to what is expected of a company by consumers.

The challenge is how to create them and how they are sustained which is the key to success.

Consumers now have much more information than they ever had, and they have the ability to access to that information as quickly as, and in some cases quicker than, the companies. They want to understand that the company stands for something, that there is a mission that there is a purpose beyond the product. So how does a business do this? Again the work of Coca-Cola is instructive. It recently undertook an interesting, and potentially dangerous, social and commercial experiment.

Under the banner of "Small World Machines"[2], it installed high-tech vending machines fitted in Lahore and New Delhi shopping centres and then provided live communications portal linking strangers in the two cities.

The company claims that it wanted to provide happiness and cultural understanding, and no doubt sales along the way. Cynicism aside for one moment, connections occurred. Consumerism brought two countries, albeit briefly, together.

Can Coca Cola be criticized for wanting to be profit-maker as well as peace-broker?

The danger is that this civilian-to-civilian interaction is viewed as being blind to the larger political narrative and dumbing it down to a consumer-to-consumer one.

But if the message is about small scale cooperation and that bridge opens markets, then the prospect of reduced conflict resolution must be a desirable one.

But business is not able, nor has the social mandate, to right all of the macroeconomic, social and environmental policies challenges. It does, however, have a role in being part of the solution to those ills.

But perhaps it is time to look at the sustainable business agenda through the lens of the distinctive customer.

[1], as at 6 June 2013

Are we ready to hear about our Future?
27 May 2013

Have you read the National Sustainability Council Report yet? Why not? It is at least as significant as the Intergenerational Report, first released in 2002. It is more relevant to charting this nation's future prosperity than the 2013 - 2014 Budget Paper. And yet it will be the most important document you will never read, but should, this year. Here's why.

In short, the Report, Sustainable Australia Report 2013: Conversations with the Future is a tool to enable Australia's policymakers to move beyond the narrowness of GDP to a broader indicator of economic, social and environmental progress and human well-being. Australia's transition to an inclusive and sustainable economy requires new insights, new data, new indicators that go beyond the prevailing narrow focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) so it can assist government, business and the broader community to a broader way of tracking economic, social and environmental progress. This report shows us that we need those metrics.

Many vital resources - water, energy, as well as certain minerals and metals - are scarce or will become scarce commodities in the near/medium future. This adverse effect, which is an external or "non-financial" aspect, is factored into the commonly used expression of wealth of our country, the GDP. In other words - the GDP is a very incomplete manifestation of a national balance sheet. Equally we cannot ignore the value that Australia's healthy, educated, cohesive and inclusive society brings to the current prosperity of our nation.

Historically, the cost of environmental management and protection has been viewed by Australian business as a cost "sink", and not as an integral part of conducting business. Australian policymakers and business need to move beyond the few environmental metrics that have been mainly driven by regulatory-agency permits, inspections and audits because it creates a major disconnect between environmental performance and business performance.

Up to now reliable, consistent and verifiable indicators of our nations environmental health were not available to optimize environmental performance or to understand the long-term impacts of our decisions on either our business, our society or the environment. All decisions were made within a limited point of reference. This report has the opportunity to expand and contextualize that reference point.

Many of today's environmental metrics evolved from the end-of-pipe command-and-control regulatory approach that has been implemented in a piecemeal fashion over the past 30 years since the 1992 Earth Summit. Detached from this are the GDP growth rates and changes in growth rates that are often used as an indicator for an economy's well-being and development. Yet due to the lack of integrating all aspects of development drivers - natural resources, efficiency, innovation capabilities and social cohesion - the GDP describes only an inaccurate and incomplete picture.

Current GDP levels therefore have limited informative value relating to the future potential of achieving and sustaining inclusive development and creation of wealth. We need to build a new set of comprehensive metrics that will drive greater valuation, productivity, growth and inclusion of our future sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

SBA believes that Australia needs a GDP model to include all relevant pillars of sustained growth and wealth creation of our nation - natural capital availability, resource intensity, innovation and business capabilities, and social cohesion. The work of the NSC and the sustainability metrics that are developed from it will be a driver of change.

The work of the NSC will enable this country to start formulating that model. Australian policymakers, smart business and community organisations now need to work together to identify groups of feasible indicators, which could include those such as CO2 productivity, energy productivity, water productivity, water and land resources, environmental goods and services, energy pricing, and environmentally-related taxes.

We must ensure that we grow a sustainable economy that complements the need for capital creation with the scientific realities of natural resource constraints. The work of the NSC is the forerunner to create that blueprint to for that economy. The next step should be to create a set of development objectives. SBA supports the recommendations of the joint report of the UN Global Compact / WBCSD to the United Nations in March of this year that any objectives must include:

  • Adequately addressing the nexus of water, energy and food; and the effective management and maintenance of biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services;
  • Continuing to address universal access to healthcare and education, since these are pathways to decent, qualified and productive employment, without which an economy cannot grow and prosper;
  • Customizing goals for different business sectors, while at the same time promoting a universal framework of integrated reporting encompassing financial, natural and social capital

Leading overseas business groups and think tanks such as World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the UK Aldersgate Group and the US Business for Social Responsibility have been calling for action of this type by countries for some time. Like those organisations, SBA has been calling for this type of work to be carried out for over 10 years.

SBA also believes that a number of business will be looking for policy outcomes from this work necessary to ensure successful implementation of any future development objectives that are created from it. For example, the use of more public-private partnerships, creating more effective incentives for businesses to adopt sustainability practices, and enhancing corporate sustainability disclosures, such as "integrated reporting".

SBA stands ready to support the next step of the NSC's work.

CEO News
Why social responsibility is smart business
22 April 2013

It is that season again... the American corporate earnings season and activist shareholders will demand their CEOs demonstrate how corporate social responsibility programs benefit them.

Even after 40 years of corporate social responsibility in America and Australia, many still believe it adds nothing to, or even worse, reduces shareholders' profits. But Milton Friedman's description of corporate social responsibility as "hypocritical window dressing" only being acceptable if it "cloaks self-interest" is wrong.

The faith of Americans and to a certain extent Australians in institutions has faltered, and they now expect transparency, social responsibility and two-way communication far exceeding what was demanded in the past.

Research by Michael Barnett, Vice Dean of the Rutgers Business School, reveals that firms with the highest corporate social performance also have the highest financial performance, as long as they establish credibility with stakeholders by making a commitment to social investments over time.

Meanwhile, other research shows companies active in social responsibility experienced greater employee satisfaction and retention rates, a stronger relationship with outside stakeholders and a greater ease of doing business with potential partners who see a company as being good.

Again, in the US a recent Business4Better research report reinforces previously anecdotal evidence that companies' aspirations to help people and nonprofits in their local communities through programs that simultaneously increase business performance, drive employee participation and improve brand reputation.

This research report is based on findings produced by a first-of-its-kind survey of 173 business executives from mid-sized companies that employ between 100 and 5,000 employees. Highlights of the report include:

  • Two-thirds of mid-sized companies are seeking to either enhance or establish their CSR programs to do business with a purpose.
  • About 60 percent of mid-sized companies focus their CSR efforts on education, demonstrating companies' dedication to people-focused initiatives that cater to young people and the development of the workforce of the future.
  • Mid-sized companies need tools to measure success and often miss opportunities to tie CSR programs to positive business performance. Only about 20 percent measure their CSR program's success by its financial impact.
  • Companies' community involvement is championed from the top; half of mid-sized companies' CSR efforts are led by the executive leadership team.

While not conclusive, this report illustrates that there is a growing number of mid-sized US companies that choose to do business in a way that positively impacts communities through corporate and non-profit partnerships, even during the current financial challenges that the US economy is facing.

The report also identifies best practices that companies can apply to business models, such as placing increased importance on the collaboration of C-suites and marketing or human resources departments for successful CSR program implementation and providing training for those who measure and track these programs.

Do we have any of this evidence in Australia? Regrettably, no. Perhaps it is time.

So Friedman was wrong. Corporate responsibility now goes beyond the shareholders when social responsibility becomes part of companies' cultures, so that both they and society benefit.

CEO News
A Sustainable Future for Australia-China
16 April 2013

"Sustained development is still of paramount importance to Asia, because only development holds the key to solving the major problems and difficulties the region faces," said China's new president, Xi Jinping, at the annual forum in Boao, on the southern Chinese Island province of Hainan last week. In other words Australia's Asian Century must be a green one. Here's why.

The growth in the population and prosperity of countries like India, Indonesia, the Middle East and East Asia, has moved the global economic centre of gravity back to the East where it had been prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late-18th century.

And then of course there is China. Its economy expanded at an annual average of 10.5 per cent over the past decade and the new premier Li Keqiang has stated that the country needs to achieve growth of 7.5 per cent a year to meet the country's targets for 2020.

During the week it was reported that Asia is moving along a dangerously unsustainable energy path that will result in environmental disaster and a gaping divide in energy access between rich and poor, unless the region dramatically changes course, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report. Asia could be consuming more than half the world's energy supply by 2035, and without radical changes carbon dioxide emissions will double.

So while China's government hierarchy may seem to value economic development at any cost, including the health of its citizens and eco-destruction, there are signs of a thaw in the icy silence that shrouds much environmental action in the country.

The Chinese government's recent admission that cancer villages exist (SBA CEO News last week) shows that the environment ministry has acknowledged that pollution has led to people getting cancer. For some of that country's environmental advocates, it shows that this issue, of environmental pollution leading to health damages, has drawn attention.

Coupled with public outcry over the thick blanket of toxic smog that covered Beijing earlier this year, there are glimmers of hope that the Chinese people may succeed in wresting some measure of control over their environment - and their lives - back from government and industry leaders.

And while Asia has great potential in shale gas, with the PRC having the world's largest endowment, there are technical uncertainties such as leakage and water contamination that they recognise they must address.

A far greater focus on green, energy efficient cities and transport systems, along with scaled-up research into clean energy, is also likely. This will require creativity and resolve, with policymakers having to grapple with politically difficult issues like fuel subsidies and regional energy market integration.

Renewable energy development and installations will also become a proven, key part of China's efforts to decarbonize its economy. China is aiming to produce 190 billion kilowatt hours and install 100 gigawatts of grid-connected wind energy by 2015. In 2012 alone it delivered a 41% growth in electricity from wind power.

And there is the growth of the Chinese middle class creating greater demand for premium goods and services while the resources required for producing them are becoming more scarce. For example, this middle class is willing to pay higher prices for premium food and wine produced in a clean environment, with stringent regulatory settings. To that end Australia's food and wine sectors in particular are reliant on access to natural resources such as land, water, healthy soil and sustainable wild fish stocks.

The result must be a natural eco-system framework that enhances the reputation of our food and wine, grown in clean air, clean water, healthy soil and pristine seas. Yet our natural environment also presents challenges, in particular our constrained water resources.

To increase production and the quality of production in these constrained circumstances, while maintaining the natural environment has required innovative approaches, particularly in the area of water management, and sustainable use of water. Adopting innovative approaches will enhance the ability of Australia to supply our food to the world.

For instance, plants which rely less on fresh water will help to meet these future food requirements. Another example of innovation in response to natural constraints is seen in the transition to sustainable commercial fishing and aquaculture in the Southern Bluefin tuna industry, which has allowed massive growth in the industry without depletion of fishing stocks.

Other examples of agricultural innovation generated are through those developed by our research institutions, working with industry, and will include the development of drought resistant crops, low-rainfall farming practices and high-efficiency irrigation, through to innovative market research and value chain analysis.

We should have high hopes for China understanding that they need to import this capability because they have embedded high scientific capabilities in their leadership class. They know this challenge is serious. They are acting much faster now than we are. We must respond to this opportunity.

The Chinese have it within their capabilities to come back in 30 years with the guarantee of complete energy independence - all alternative and sustainable forever. Australia must be their supplier, partner, and trusted advisor in this transition.

In short, Australia needs increase environmental and commercial cooperation and to accelerate work that has already been taking place between Australia and China for a number of years.

So here are just nine ways SBA believes that Australia and China can work together to reduce pollution and protect the environment, as well as to open new markets, jobs and enterprises for Australian technologies, products and know-how:

1. Cleaner Fuels: Powering planes, cars and trucks with cleaner fuels can clean the air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance energy security. China has pledged to adopt cleaner fuel standards that will take effect by 2017. Australia needs to introduce similar standards to that of California's path-breaking Low Carbon Fuel Standard that requires a 10 percent reduction in the carbon content of fuels by 2020. By doing this we will drive innovation in our alternative fuels sector which will be looked on with interest and investment by a country eager to embrace cleaner emissions fuel.

2. Sustainable Communities: Designing communities to enable people to walk, bike, or take public transit to get to more of the places they want to go can both significantly reduce pollution and improve the quality of life. Australia's property sector and local government sector is already a world leader promoting sustainable communities. China is developing hundreds of new sustainable cities, but does not yet have any widely accepted benchmarking standards for such development.

3. Energy Efficiency: While China has made significant progress in energy efficiency it still requires twice as much energy to produce one unit of GDP as the world average. Enormous opportunities still remain in both Australia and China to save energy more cheaply than it can be produced, and that innovation needs to be created and commercialized here for sale to a ready market in China.

4. Renewable Energy: Australia adopted a Renewable Energy Target, requiring our retailers to derive 20% of their power from clean sources by 2020. This is helping spur the rapid growth of the clean energy industry. China, the world's largest investor in renewable energy, leads the world in wind power capacity and solar hot water heating, and has set ambitious renewable energy targets for 2020 (including 200 GW of wind power and 50 GW of solar power), but still faces technical, economic and regulatory hurdles in increasing its utilization of renewable resources. Australia knows how and can help.

5. Cleaner Power Plants: China is exploring ways to reduce its reliance on coal, which currently provides 70 percent of China's energy and 80 percent of its electricity. Several Chinese cities and regions are piloting the use of a cap on total coal consumption, which we hope will become a binding national coal cap in the next five-year plan (2016-2020). To be part of this commercial opportunity Australia needs to ensure that its carbon pricing mechanism is maintained to ensure long-term investments that utilities make on behalf of their customers go to cleaner and more efficient power plants.

6. Green Ports: Because of its distance from major markets Australia needs to become a world leader in efforts to reduce pollution from ports and shipping, a key source of dirty diesel emissions. Marine emissions are the leading source of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate pollution in Hong Kong, which has pledged to enact legislation requiring at-berth fuel switching to low sulphur fuel. Hong Kong has also begun discussions with the neighbouring ports of Guangzhou and Shenzhen to develop a regional approach, including the possibility of seeking designation as a regional Emission Control Area by the International Maritime Organization. Our major ports need to become the first green ports in the region.

7. Regional Air Pollution Control: Although Beijing has already enacted some of the most advanced clean energy policies in China, it continues to suffer from hazardous levels of air pollution, in part because much of its pollution comes from neighbouring provinces, some of the most coal-dependent regions in the world. Although China is considering amendments to its Air Pollution Law that would address this problem, it currently has no regulatory structures in place to address air pollution on a regional basis. NRDC recently invited one of the top regulators from the Southern California Air Quality Management District to share her experiences in combating Los Angeles' infamous smog through a regional management approach.

8. Cap and Trade Programs: California's cap and trade program puts a price on carbon pollution and holds the state's largest emitters accountable. In China, seven Chinese cities and provinces have been developing pilot programs for carbon emissions trading, with the first city, Shenzhen, planning to begin emissions trading on 17 June 2013. Australia is acknowledged as a world leader of carbon market development, including the financial products / instruments that underpin their operation. This know-how can and must be exported to China.

9. Natural Resource Management (including water catchment management, wetlands restoration and land remediation): Australia needs to ensure that a strong national natural resources management (NRM) model operates in partnership with industry and communities to produce the clean, green products that China will demand. Australia's sustainable management practices must be viewed in the context that they can support productivity, contribute to broader NRM outcomes such as soil health, water quality and conservation of ecosystems, and be a unique area of professional services that we can provide to the market.

Australian business needs to begin a new engagement model of commitment and effort to support this process. The Australia-China announcement of future annual meetings as well as Cabinet-level dialogues is important for Australia's views to be heard. This significant building block on the march toward political trust between the two countries must also blossom into a business dividend.

CEO News
8 April 2013

China's environmental predicaments seem to arise on a scale as sweeping and epic as the vast nation itself and a 2007 World Bank study estimated 460,000 people were dying prematurely in China each year due to exposure to air and water pollution. Layered across these problems is the Chinese government's reticence about introducing anything that might imperil the country's economic development - including environmental regulation. So what is to be done? What role can Australia play?

What is the scale of the challenge? Let's look at air pollution. According to the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency's air quality scale, any pollution rating above 300 means the air is unsafe to breathe. Under these conditions, people should stay indoors with an air purifier running and remain as motionless as possible, according to US Embassy Beijing guidelines. In January 2013 alone, there were 19 days when the index in Beijing surpassed that 300 threshold, according to the The Washington Post. Readings above 500 are no longer unusual.

And while manufacturing industries and Beijing's 5 million-plus cars all contribute to the city's air pollution, most experts primarily blame the coal-burning electrical plants that power China's breakneck economic growth. China now burns 47 percent of the world's coal, roughly equal to the amount used by all other countries of the world combined, The New York Times reports.

What about water pollution? The Economist recently pointed out that more than half of China's surface water is so polluted it cannot be treated to make it drinkable. One-quarter of it is so dangerous it can't even be used for industrial purposes. Groundwater isn't any safer.

And what of biodiversity? With China's history of intensive agriculture going back millennia, it is unsurprising that much of the nation's 9.6 million square kilometres of territory has been subject to deforestation. Population pressure, albeit reduced due to the One China policy, has seen the conversion of forests to farmland, and hydroelectric and other infrastructure projects have placed China's remaining forests at risk. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) lists the country's forests as threatened.

Related to this issue is that of desertification. About 2.6 million km2 of China is now under desertification, or in other words about one-quarter of the country's total land surface. The resulting blinding dust storms, mud-choked rivers and eroded topsoil are the results. While there have been recent gains in reforestation and grasslands restoration, the desert continues to expand each year by about 2,460 sq km, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Closely related to deforestation and desertification is the issue of habitat loss and the resulting drop in biodiversity. As vast areas of forest are cleared for farmland, bamboo plantations, timber and fuel wood, endangered animals like pandas struggle to survive.

Perhaps no other issue underscores China's apparent disregard for environmental and public health more than the existence of "cancer villages," entire towns, usually heavy industrial complexes, that have been written off as so polluted that simply living there is a cancer risk. Reuters reported recently that in Shangba, a city in southern Guangdong province, the river that flows through town changes from white to a startling shade of orange because of varying types of industrial effluent. Many of the river's contaminants, like cadmium and zinc, are known to cause cancer.

What's more of a concern to Chinese environmental advocates is the growing affluence of China's middle class, who are now adopting Western-style consumer patterns. While items like red meat, liquor and automobiles were once considered forbidden luxuries, more and more families are driving their car to a market to buy tenderloin beef, 120-proof baijiu liquor and other consumer goods. The health risks associated with these kinds of purchases are symptomatic of problems in the developed world: Binge drinking and alcohol-related hospitalizations have now reached "epidemic proportions," the Guardian reports.

These consumer trends, multiplied across a large and heavily populated country, have a global dimension that touches everything from sugar prices in Europe to climate change in Greenland. Scientific American reports that most climate experts agree China's industrial growth and its dependence on coal-burning are significant drivers of climate change.

China's increasingly restive population of 1.3 billion people is now starting to demand government action to combat the deadly plagues of pollution and disease that are stalking the 21st century's economic powerhouse. Chinese officials, however, have only just started to acknowledge the problem. Can Australia help China to change course? This is something we will explore next week.

CEO News
25 March 2013

It's the time of year again, Earth Hour. By now you probably know that the idea is turn off your lights for an hour to show your concern for the environment. This year, organizers expected more than 7,000 cities and towns, across 152 countries and territories and on all seven continents to take part - including some newcomers. The Palestinian territories, Rwanda, Tunisia, Galapagos, Suriname, French Guyana and the remote island of St Helena all participated for the first time. It is the single largest symbolic participation event in the world. Some argue is it all just empty symbolism. Here's why Earth Hour isn't a dim idea.

Earth Hour was born in Australia six years ago, when the Sydney contingent of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) sought the help of the Leo Burnett advertising agency in focusing the popular mind on climate change. The result: a campaign encouraging participants to switch off their lights and spark up a candle at a specified hour - a show of solidarity and commitment to addressing climate change and making the world a better place.

The campaign has grown immensely since it started - from 2.2 million participants in 2007 to an estimated 1.8 billion people last year. There are those who say Earth Hour is just symbolic and doesn't do anything tangible for the planet. One of those critics is Bjorn Lomborg, an academic and environmental writer who wrote a best-selling book, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

"Global warming is a real problem, but Earth Hour is not the answer," Lomborg stated. "Taken to its logical conclusion, if switching the lights off for one hour is a good idea, why not for all the other 8,759 hours of the year?"

But WWF says the campaign is about raising awareness for the long term, not saving energy for an hour. As noted by Keya Chatterjee, director of international climate policy with WWF: "Earth Hour does not purport to be an energy or carbon reduction exercise, it is a symbolic action," she said in answer to Lomborg's criticisms. "Earth Hour is an initiative to encourage individuals, businesses and governments around the world to take accountability for their ecological footprint and engage in dialogue and resource exchange that provides real solutions to our environmental challenges."

It has also served as the catalyst for other actions with, one might say, more concrete outcomes. The Global Earth Hour City Challenge 2013 is an initiative that takes Earth Hour beyond the symbolic gesture of switching off lights for one hour, encouraging concrete action on the ground to combat climate change. The City Challenge is designed to identify and reward cities that are prepared to become leaders in the global transformation towards a climate-friendly, one planet economy. Working in collaboration with the leading association of cities and local governments dedicated to sustainable development, ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, WWF worked across six countries (Canada, India, Italy, Norway, Sweden and USA), from which a total of 76 cities registered for the City Challenge. Critically, the Earth Hour City Challenge demonstrates that cities across the globe are at the forefront of efforts to meet the global climate challenge. Cites have strong potential to work with their citizens and other stakeholders to drive the transition to a more sustainable future.

WWF reports that $350 trillion dollars is expected to be spent globally on urban infrastructure investment and use over the next three decades. This type of investment will either lock us into a fossil-fuel dependent future - or help drive a global transition towards a sustainable, climate-responsible future. A future proposed expansion of the City Challenge reflects an urgency to encourage cities to follow the great examples described above and become global solution hotspots for a climate friendly and sustainable future.

Overall, the Earth Hour City Challenge demonstrates that cities across the globe are at the forefront of efforts to meet the global climate challenge. Cites also have strong potential to work with their citizens and other stakeholders to drive the transition to a more sustainable future.

WWF believes that highlighting strong city actions can also place further pressure for determined action at national and global levels, which will be pivotal in deciding whether humanity can stave off catastrophic climate change and secure its long-term wellbeing. Symbolism foments action.

So let's be clear. Earth Hour is not about demonizing electricity. It simply seeks to raise awareness about resource use, resource constraints and the looming consequences of doing precisely nothing to address climate change. Participating in Earth Hour makes a powerful statement that can last far longer than 60 minutes. Tackling the world's problems amid finite cash resources presently may well be zero-sum. Talking about them certainly is not.

CEO News
11 March 2013

International Women's Day is celebrated annually on 8 March to build support for women's rights and to raise awareness about the struggles still faced in achieving gender equality. But is there such a thing as a "green ceiling"?

It is a day that traces its roots to the women's suffrage and labour movements, and has since evolved into a celebration of the progress women have made, besides being a day to look ahead at opportunities for future generations. As many global and national leaders have stated over the last few days, investing in women carries huge returns for society and business.

At SBA we believe that promoting women's empowerment is required for stable, just, and prosperous societies and economies. Unfortunately many of our current environmental challenges, such as climate change, make this critical goal harder to achieve.

Many women have livelihoods highly vulnerable to climatic conditions. At the same time, rural women are responsible for water collection in almost two-thirds of global households, according to UN Women.

Even a short examination of almost any culture across the world throughout history, will show how women have always worked the land. Often they are out in fields with the plough, as well as caring for the children. But inequality and discrimination against women is still rife in today's world, either in the workplace, or in the general community, especially in relation to property, land and wealth ownership.

And yet the relationship between women and the environment can be hard to trace since records frequently leave out their contribution. For many centuries history has been written by the patriarchy, which omits women from the canon. But women produce up to 80% of the food in the developing world.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland - the former Prime Minister of Norway, former head of the World Health Organization, and UN special envoy on climate change - recently said:

"I believe the next increment of global growth could come from the full economic empowerment of women. Half of humankind's collective intelligence and capacity is a resource we can no longer afford to lose out on."

Unfortunately many communities are still missing out. If you are a working-woman today, you would do well to move to New Zealand, according to The Economist. Their "glass-ceiling" index, compiled and released to mark International Women's Day, shows where women have the best chance of equal treatment at work. Sourcing their data from the OECD, it compares five different indicators across 26 countries. New Zealand scores high on all the indicators. Finland does best on education; Sweden has the highest female labour-force participation rate (78%); and Spain has the smallest wage gap, at 6%. Where you don't want to be: South Korea and Japan, partly because so few women hold down senior jobs in those societies (although the new President of South Korea is a women). Where does Australia come? Fifth. A distinction, but not a high one.

Policies that protect and value the planet also stand to support women (as well as men). Women play an important role in conservation, environmental protection, and in addressing the threat of climate change. In the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, examples of women's contribution to the protection of the environment can be found all over the world in all areas. Great scientists, such as CSIRO's head, Dr Megan Clark, and environmentalists today, like Jane Goodall and Rachel Carson, stand together with a long line of women botanists, scientists, paleontologists, and horticulturists. But even in these fields it is no secret that we still have a long way to go before seeing gender equity.

Women campaigners have changed the course of human history. Helen Caldicott has campaigned for over 30 years against nuclear weapons and more generally, nuclear power. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

Women are remaking cities - former City of Sydney Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull, and the dymanic duo of current City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and CEO Monica Barone come to mind - all in the name of sustainability and equality.

The recent decision at COP 18 in Doha by UNFCCC Secretary-General Christiana Figueres, in announcing that Gender will be included as a standing item on the COP agenda from now on, released a report entitled "Promoting gender balance and improving the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and in the representation of Parties in bodies established to the Convention of the Kyoto Protocol", which is a step in the right direction. But more needs to be done.

SBA believes that women's empowerment must be a cornerstone of sustainability on a national and global scale. Business must partner with women around the world to help them overcome the challenges they face and realize the opportunities they promise.

Economies and nations cannot survive, let alone thrive, without involving half the population in their success. Responsible and smart business cannot neglect women and girls as community members, employees, consumers, and stakeholders.

In celebrating International Women's Day, we should also remember not only the great women whose names we know, but the many thousands of women who work tirelessly and campaign every day, often invisibly, to preserving and caring for our planet's precious natural resources and for the betterment of society, whether they are doing so in the corporate sphere, in NGOs, or (and let's face it men, its often AND) in the home.

SBA will be looking to help its members create partnerships with women, and to identify trends and best practices in women and sustainability, including community investment, supply chain engagement, employee recruitment and retention, and stakeholder dialogue.

CEO News
28 February 2013

SBA's inaugural "Innovation@theReaDy" business forum hosted in Brisbane on 25 February by Benefactor member and strategic partner KPMG attracted around 60 representatives from various sectors focused on innovation as a key part of sustainable, green economies.

Keynote speaker was UNSW SMaRT Centre Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla and panellists included AusIndustry's Tom Gilbert and KPMG's Dr Lou Muller. SBA Chair Ben Waters provided the closing remarks at the forum, in which he emphasised the importance of collaborative innovation for developing new ideas and products, similar to GE's CEO Steve Sargent and CSIRO CEO Megan Clark in this recent video clip.

CEO News
19 February 2013

While this week's announcement about a new policy of jobs by the Government is a welcome one, what is really needed is a Green Jobs Contract between government, business and the community.

The Head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde recently described 2013 as a make or break year for the global economy and urged governments to maintain the reform momentum in their countries. High unemployment rates and the dilemma of jobless growth continued to be a source of concern at across the globe.

Meanwhile boosting the long-neglected manufacturing sector is suddenly in vogue, even in such countries as the US and the UK, where de-industrialization was for many years seen as a badge of economic progress. And recently WEF Davos attendees were treated to a narrative of how manufacturing is being transformed for the 21st century.

Examples include (literally) weaving components for aircraft engines from carbon fibre on purpose-built looms, and using 3D printers to execute designs for anything from medicines to car parts. Boris Johnson, speaking to British business leaders, argued that manufacturing could be a key growth area for Britain. "Why," he asked, "should we not partially reindustrialise our economy?" Why indeed.

Last year a UN report highlighted that shifting to an economy that decouples growth from emissions or pollution could generate up to 60 million additional jobs over the next two decades and promote social inclusion.

This report finds the transformation of key sectors such as agriculture, energy, construction and transport, which are all key sectors of the Australian economy, has already created tens of millions of jobs and will eventually affect at least half of the global workforce, equivalent to around 1.5 billion people.

The report says globally the renewable energy sector now employs close to five million workers, more than doubling the number of jobs from 2006 to 2010, while energy efficiency is an important source of green jobs in the construction industry, which is among the hardest hit by the economic crisis.

Three million people are employed in the US environmental goods and services sector, while government figures show UK's green goods and services grew £5.4bn last year.

In the EU alone, according to the report, 14.6 million direct and indirect jobs exist in the protection of biodiversity and rehabilitation of natural resources and forests. What is the Australian equivalent figure, you might well ask? We do not have the data to know.

Net gains of 0.5 to two per cent of total employment are possible in developed countries with a shift to low carbon technologies and practices, and these are dwarfed by the potential in emerging economies and developing countries, which can leapfrog to green technology rather than replace obsolete resource-intensive infrastructure.

The shift is also likely to benefit women as well as the poorest and most marginalized people, the report says, adding employment gains will more than offset job losses in carbon-intense industries.

And here is a crucial point. It notes only around eight per cent of the workforce in industrialised countries is employed in the 10 to 15 industries that generate between 70 and 80 per cent of CO2 emissions, so only a fraction are likely to lose their jobs if policies are adopted to green existing enterprises and to promote employment.

Environmental sustainability is not a job killer, as it is sometimes claimed. Indeed, if properly managed, it can lead to more and better jobs, poverty reduction and social inclusion.

And here's the "but". We need to get the right mix of policies that are low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. That is crucial. Governments and policymakers need to promote and implement sustainable production processes, particularly among small-and-medium-sized enterprises, as well as expanding skills training and facilitating effective social dialogue between employers and trade unions.

So while SBA welcomes the announcement of the "Industry Innovation Precincts", there should also be regional working groups and sustainable development clusters in a bid to accelerate the spread of green business best practices. We need to give a local and specialized nuance to many of the national-level sustainability issues. We must and we can develop and promote green business best practices and map out a pathway towards an economy that can sustainably support growth, inclusion and environmental value. That's the deal we deserve.

CEO News
CEO Cookoff Raises over $1million
11 February 2013

The 2013 CEO Cookoff in Sydney brought together celebrity chefs and CEOs to promote awareness around food security, the plight of homelessness and youth in crisis. CEOs raised over $1million for OzHarvest, The Big Issue and ONE80TC, thanks to donations from generous supporters.

Back L to R: Ben Cottle CEO FDC Australia, Andrew Petersen CEO Sustainable Business Australia, Freddy Sharpe CEO Climate Friendly Pty Ltd, John Gissing CEO Qantas Regional Airlines. Front: Poh Ling Yeow
(Click photo to enlarge)

CEO News
11 February 2013

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Three seemingly disconnected issues converged for me this week; food and the plight of our nation's homeless, green skills and job creation. What's the thread? Well, for me it's the convergence of human dignity and the capacity of business leaders to recognise that we need ways to scale up solutions, not just be charitable.

An initiative of Qantas and OzHarvest, the 2013 CEO Cook off highlights the challenges facing Australians in need in the areas of food security and homelessness. In Australia, every night 105,000 people are homeless. Of that figure 60% are under the age of 35, almost 50% are women and 1 in 10 is under the age of 12. Over the last five years, the rate of homelessness has increased by 8% nationally and a staggering 20% in NSW, VIC, TAS and the ACT.

Sobering statistics. And such events are important for raising awareness and galvanizing action. And how much more purposeful would it be if each CEO (myself included) were to offer each person who came to the Cook Off the opportunity of a job. Challenging I know. And here are some sobering challenges, but also some intriguing rewards.

At the World Economic Forum at Davos recently the press agency Associated Press organized a sobering session on unemployment: Can countries (particularly in the developed world) create new jobs and especially good jobs in the face of modern technology that has replaced workers with robots and other machines in any task that can be routinized?

Overall, the private sector in Europe and America has been unable to create many good jobs since the beginning of the current century. Even in China and other parts of the world with growing manufacturing sectors, productivity improvements often related to job-killing automated processes account for most of the growth in output. Those suffering the most are the young, whose life prospects will be badly hurt by the extended periods of unemployment that they face today.

Jobs are a problem, but politicians still don't have the answers. Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people are still unemployed or under-employed in the northern hemisphere following the 2008 crisis, jobs tend to be the after-thought at the end of many political speeches.

It should be instructive then that companies are actually talking more constructively about jobs and the skills gap than politicians are, and some of the big blue chips are actually beginning to get into the education game themselves, partnering with community colleges or setting up schools in the developing world.

Given how beleaguered public budgets are, I think that corporate involvement in education is something we're going to see more and more of, possibly in the form of some kinds of partnerships.

And I am struck at the opportunity that lies before business to create new career pathways into new enterprises in a sustainable economy and to reimagine what "making work" can be.

In all this, cities could have such a powerful role to play - for example, by linking young people to apprenticeships at local manufacturers that are transit accessible; through enhanced education tools which include TAFE-run practical sustainability training packages for the construction, plumbing and electrical sectors; on-the-job training partnership programs run by the VETs and companies such as Lend Lease and GPT; and by creating innovative programs through partnerships with TAFE colleges and high schools to support both vocational and traditional education.

Traditional charity has been and remains, for the most part, invaluable in bringing about alleviation of social and environmental distress, but rather ineffective in achieving resolution of the problems themselves. So by all means we must feed those who cannot feed themselves, but smart business leaders can also teach a person how to fish. And for that matter they can invest in a person's fishing business, and be part of how to sustain the fish stock for current and future generations, that will feed themselves and others for a long time to come.

CEO News

Sustainable business comes in from the cold
4 February 2013

It was Milton Friedman who once famously said "the business of business is business". And yet at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, amidst a fragile but growing confidence that the global economy was finally turning a corner, it was becoming increasingly clear that sustainable business, not just successful business, was high on the global agenda and the minds of leaders - both young and old. But why, you might ask?

Davos is the host location of the invitation-only World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (the WEF). The WEF is a Geneva-based non-profit foundation best known for the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together top business leaders, international political leaders, selected intellectuals and journalists, serves many different agendas: idea platform and generator, political logbook of the year gone by, corporate marketing exercise, expensive cocktail party. So it is easy to mock the WEF. But it is also a place where those at the forefront of their fields come inform us mere mortals to deliberate about what is going to happen in the year ahead. Or not. So it pays to listen.

As the leaders gathered at Davos from 23-27 January 2013, signs of economic hope were upon us. The global economy is on the mend. Worldwide, the middle class is expanding by an estimated 100 million per year. And the quality of life for millions in Asia and Africa is growing at an unprecedented pace. So it was apt that this year's inelegantly expressed theme "Resilient Dynamism" sought to address a more stable global environment: one that continues to innovate without creating bubbles and achieves widespread prosperity without consuming more natural resources than the planet has or can regenerate. Or as Karl Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, defined it:

"The system should be strategic, not crisis-driven. Most of our energy is currently absorbed by reactive rather than proactive measures. Managing crises instead of thinking about the future leads to defensive attitudes; We must adapt to a changing world, not defend out-dated models."

Why is this happening? Technology, the growing demands of conscious consumers, globalization, and intense media scrutiny are all playing their part. And of course, threats abound. One neglected risk - climate change - appears at last to be rising to the top of agendas in business and political circles. For example, when the WEF recently asked 1,000 leaders from industry, government, academia and civil society to rank risks over the coming decade for its Global Risks Report, climate change was in the top three. Neglected but not forgotten then.

Into this context Davos provided CEOs with an unequalled platform to advocate a more transparent, responsible and ethical approach to business. For example, at a session hosted by Antony Jenkins, Barclays' new CEO, the discussion focused on how business leaders should address the destructive issue of youth unemployment in the developed and developing world. Meanwhile Bill Gates was the speaker at a session on the transformative power of free online education to aid the world's poor. They were not alone in wanting to find solutions to the world's most pressing problems and showing that the successful businesses of tomorrow will have a clearer purpose beyond profit.

And the Meeting outed itself on the issue of gender and business. Thirty-nine years after the forum's annual meetings began, female participation has yet to exceed 20 percent of delegates. And that's for the entire conference. So Davos reflects a global community in which women are still struggling to become leaders. Women represent just 17 percent of independent directors at companies in the S&P's 500 stock index, barely above the 16 percent level of 2007, as executive recruiter Spencer Stuart said in a November 2012 report.

It was left to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Christine Lagarde to inspire those attending to focus on the power of what she termed "inclusive growth", or as she put it in her speech: "The evidence is clear, as is the message: when women do better, economies do better."

Today, visionary companies that initially embraced this notion through corporate philanthropy are now making investments in women a pillar of their business strategies.

And in a further glimmer of hope was the propensity for business leaders to discuss the importance of Return on Human Capital (RoHC). With interest rates dropping to near zero (at least in the northern hemisphere), cash is in abundance and skills are quite scarce. This means that measuring business success based on dated financial parameters has become less relevant. Many CEOs felt that the time had come for companies to measure success based on innovation and ideas, not merely on productivity. There was an observed groundswell of support for this thought, which brings the power to transform organizations.

And dare one say, make them more sustainable.

February 2013

Canberra community radio 2XX ( presents "Biodegradio", a weekly "wholesome enviro-tainment" program on environmental topics and issues each Sunday - covering local through to global issues. Presenter David Jenkins talked recently to SBA's CEO Andrew Peterson and discussed green business ideas both in Australia and around the world. Listen to the program (MP3 files):

CEO News
What Obama's climate commitment signals to business
29 January 2013

Climate change remains one of the most contentious policy battlegrounds in the US as we look into the second term of President Barack Obama. Mentions in the inauguration speech and the recent publication of a national document on climate change provide fodder to argue that smart business can be integral to the mitigation solution that simultaneously boosts businesses' bottom lines and arrests GhG emission growth. But how?

The President underscored the challenge of climate change and the opportunities embedded with new technology in the inauguration speech.

"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations...

The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise."

Just one week earlier, on 11 January, the White House announced the publication of the first draft of the National Climate Assessment, saying this "scientific document [which] makes no policy recommendations is intended to provide the public with the facts around climate change and the implications for our 'health and livelihoods and the ecosystems that sustain us.'"

"Responses to climate change fall into two broad categories," the assessment continued.

"The first involves 'mitigation' measures to reduce climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles, or increasing removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. ... More effective mitigation measures can reduce the amount of climate change, and therefore the need for adaptation in the future."

So what will he do and what does it mean for business? The White House is realistic about the slim chances of advancing comprehensive climate legislation in Congress, where many Republicans are staunchly opposed.

Obama may take actions that don't require congressional approval or spending. He has form on this front. Take for example the increase in motor vehicle fuel economy standards set during his first term that will cut carbon pollution and fossil fuel use dramatically over 25 years. And the innovation renaissance throughout the global automotive sector is just being realised.

Obama also wants to explore "targeted and smart investments to help catalyze renewable energy technologies. Already, forward-looking companies are seeking to create internal incentives for green investments". For example, US-based companies like Unilever, Johnson & Johnson and UPS have been taking actions to reduce internal hurdle rates and shift strategic thinking to the longer-term horizons that many green strategies need.

The Administration has proposed emission standards for new power plants, which it will likely finalize in 2013, but work remains to be completed for standards on existing power plants as well as for a broad array of other sources, including refineries and other manufacturing facilities. Technologies and programs to implement these standards will usher in new efficiency measures for business as well.

In addition, the loss of life and extensive destruction of homes and infrastructure from Hurricane Sandy points to the need for a serious discussion of ways to foster smart business approaches and technologies to promote adaptation to climate change. The role of the building and construction sectors is critical here.

And the President's promise to attack climate change is likely to light a fire under US federal agencies slow to comply with a mandate to cut energy use - which could be important news for businesses that specialize in systems that save power.

But what more could he do to send signals to business to engage and invest? More needs to be done to spur clean energy innovation and enhance implementation of technologies from research to market. The President could also work to accelerate reforms in his key departments (the Department of Energy being the most obvious), as well as proactively reorganize the energy agencies' research offices to eliminate technology stove-piping and provide the maximum flexibility to partner with industry to move research to market. The President could get even more aggressive by proposing new clean energy deployment policies that explicitly tie research to market outcomes, such as through a "Race to the Top" energy program, or the creation of regional energy innovation consortia.

Signals such as these would welcome by smart business, both within the US and also overseas. After all, the possible solutions as well as the challenges to climate change are global.

CEO News
SBA welcomes the new year with a new intern, Annika Stott
27 January 2013

Annika Stott has joined SBA as an intern and she will be working through the first half of 2013 on SBA's policy position papers and assisting in the preparation of submissions to government.

Annika holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Notre Dame. After completing an internship at Baker & McKenzie and having recently worked for an NGO in Nepal, Annika is now keen to apply her legal and business degrees to support, develop and encourage the implementation of viable environmental solutions to drive positive change in communities and workplaces.

CEO News
In 2013, what is the Climate for Green Business?
20 January 2013

"We need corporate sustainability to be in the DNA of business culture and operations' UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared at the beginning of 2012.

There is a general perception both within the business sector and also, I suspect, in the broader community, that it has been a grim few years for sustainability given the depressed economy. But we still have about 1 billion people who go to bed hungry every night, and there is still the unaccountable and therefore unsustainable use of valuable resources, like water. At the same time, there is the perception within the community that all business cares about is how to use society and the environment to be successful. But is that right?

Globally, companies continue to make, meet and even sometimes exceed their sustainability goals, and they are investing in clean energy. Nearly half of all S&P 500 companies now report their non-financial environmental indicators. Clean energy patents grew by 24% in 2011. Prices of solar panels are in free-fall, while installations are going up, even in the absence of tariffs.

But let's not be Pollyanna about this. There are a number of disconcerting signs, particularly for companies as they seek to navigate and monetise the risks and potential costs of doing nothing, particularly on climate change. Other toxic emissions (mercury is the new one to watch) continue to climb, despite efforts to curtail them. In short, business is fast waking up to the fact that issues such as climate change, water, food, and energy stress are symptoms of the same thing: unsustainable growth in a finite world.

Smart businesses are readily connecting the dots in recognising these challenges as interlocking. Addressing sustainability is no longer an optional, nice-to-do activity. It is an expectation- and certainly no more PR-worthy than safety, quality, employee retention, or customer satisfaction.

Let's be clear, business won't always have the solutions, but there is a growing sense that some businesses are pushing the sustainability envelope further than others, providing an example of the way companies should embed sustainability into their DNA.

Just look at the characteristics and calibre of the winning projects and programs that were winners in the 2012 Banksia Foundations Awards, or the NSW Government's Green Globe Awards. They are evidence that the sustainability way is not necessarily the easier way. And leadership is definitely needed when in comes to sustainability, especially in medium to large companies in Australia.

In 2013 we are therefore likely to see a wave of proactive efforts by corporations eager to join up and talk up sustainability activities in the context of new, broader narratives that go beyond mitigating issues in silos and describe instead more holistic, integrated, big picture plans.

So, while a tough economy will certainly make it more challenging to devote resources to sustainability efforts, companies will be hurting themselves by not trying and they will, in the words of Unilever's Paul Polman "be thrown out of office" by the consumer, the community and potentially also the investor. If people can bring down a regime in Egypt in 17 days, they can probably bring down a company in the blink of an eye if it doesn't participate, find and share solutions.

Revolution and regime change, then? No, just a commitment to a long-term value creation model that values and respects all stakeholders, not just a few.

Through our coming program of events in 2013, SBA will aim to widen the conversation this year - in Australia and the region. We look forward to your support.

Sustainable Business Australia supports innovative industries and new jobs for green economies
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