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Sustainability

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is shaping up to be the corporate mantra of the 2020s, with the majority (83 per cent) of Australians concerned about climate change, according to the annual Ipsos Climate Change Report 2022. 

In Europe, we have seen the introduction of supply chain legislation that will make companies accountable for the behaviour and performance of their suppliers in a way never seen. As is the way of these things, we will no doubt be seeing a similar legislative effort on our own shores in the near future. 

The way we view our responsibilities as corporations, from the board down, is shifting. But this change has been slow. Current measures are not enough, on their own, to push corporate Australia down the necessary path to Net Zero.

Board buy-in is necessary  

Only 18 per cent of businesses have set a Net Zero goal, and of those businesses that have set a goal, only 21 per cent are taking steps to achieve it, according to research at Energy Action. That’s a fraction of the buy-in that we need.

At present, it can seem complicated and expensive for companies to get on board with Net Zero, which we know from just going through the journey ourselves.

There’s a growing demand for not only the cheapest power but the cleanest power. Before anything else, you need board buy-in. Currently, only around three in 10 Australian boards consider the Net Zero strategy a priority. To lift this number, a board-level commitment is non-negotiable.

Sometimes getting to that place can require a cultural shift, but it can be easier to achieve once you realise that solid environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) credentials aren’t just a feel-good box to tick off. Done right, ESG can be profitable and drive positive social and financial outcomes.

Steps toward Net Zero 

Net Zero certification doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult; it just requires an organised approach. In many cases, you can distribute the initial costs over time. The key steps to Net Zero energy are simple: measure, reduce, buy green, and offset. 

First, comprehensively measure your emissions. If you don’t measure what you’re currently consuming, you can’t bring that number down, and you won’t know what your offset burden will be. We thoroughly audited our last two financial years to find that number and identify several ways to reduce our energy usage.

Then, you convert your power to as many green sources as possible. Different companies will have different capacities to switch to green sources. Some might be able to install solar panels, upgrade to electric vehicles, and so forth, but everyone can change their purchasing decisions to make greener choices.

In our case, energy consumption was our biggest emissions contributor, so we were able to change our buying to mitigate that. We also switched to make the greenest possible purchasing decisions for all items we might need to run our business.

In some cases, these products may be slightly more expensive, but this is a cost distributed throughout the year, so it doesn’t have to be painful. Long-term, we hope to continue to transition to more and more Net Zero suppliers as those options come to market.

Carbon credits are the last piece of the puzzle. A range of certified credits – both nationally and internationally created – can be purchased to suit different needs and budgets.

But it all starts with board direction and the belief from the board level that Net Zero is important to the future of your business. If you aren’t there yet, you may want to consider it sooner rather than later. With investor mandates becoming more routine and consumers are increasingly interested in the ESG credentials of the products and services they buy.

The future; reporting, strategies, and commitment 

Current mandatory reporting, including National Greenhouse Emissions Reporting (NGERs), has been in place since 2007, but realistically this is a regulatory reporting doorstop with limited ability to change behaviour.

On the other hand, voluntary reporting through the government’s Climate Active program produces quantifiable and auditable emissions reporting but is just that – voluntary – and not without cost.

At a policy level, the challenges are that emissions reductions or, more broadly, ESG outcomes are driven by standards rather than a mandate to “achieve Net Zero”. Those standards have complicated implementations that take years to achieve and will be frustrated by paid lobby groups.

Instead, a strategy that leverages what we have already seen with domestic photovoltaic solar uptake around the country is needed. Incentives introduced in the late 2000s resulted in a vibrant and sustainable PV installation industry to this day, effecting meaningful long-term impacts on improving Australia’s energy security.

Targeted Net Zero could have the same effect. Properly supporting Climate Active certification could result in many more businesses finding innovative and cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and accelerate Australia’s Net Zero economy.

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Last week, Australia passed its first significant climate legislation in more than ten years, establishing legally binding targets to reduce emissions further.

The Climate Change Bill mandates a 43 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, up from the previous administration’s target of 26 to 28 per cent.

Australia will have mandatory climate targets under the legislation, which the Senate approved with a vote of 37 to 30, and Climate Minister Chris Bowen will be required to report annually to parliament on the government’s progress on emissions. 

Experts believe that many details remain hidden about Australia’s plans to reduce carbon pollution. For instance, in mining and resources companies, the uncertainty in policy and regulation is high and increasing. 

As of November 2021, the Australia Institute identified 44 new gas and oil projects and 72 new coal projects in the planning stages. It predicted that if fully utilised, these would produce 200 coal power plants’ worth of CO2 emissions annually or 1.7 billion tonnes.

Australia’s carbon credit programme is now being reviewed, and the Climate Change Authority just published a study on how Australia’s carbon markets ought to connect with international systems.

Rob Fowler, a Partner in the Energy Transition practice at Partners in Performance, believes that the real work in transitioning to renewable sources of energy has just begun.

“Australia is waking up to the challenges and the opportunities of rapidly reducing carbon emissions across the economy. And once again, Australia’s high-carbon companies are dancing with the policy wonks and bureaucrats to chart a path forward. Many of us have been here before.”

“Australia would remain on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050 because of the enhanced pace of carbon reductions. The faster rate of decarbonisation will present several difficulties in a country where fossil fuels produced 67 per cent of the electricity in 2021 and renewable sources made up 32.5 per cent. Rob adds that a few crucial components are different this time as Australia attempts to end the long-running carbon warfare. 

The first difference is that investors will actually care in 2022. They put significant pressure on boards and management to explain and implement their decarbonisation strategies.

Technology is the second significant distinction. It really has a positive net present value (NPV) to replace diesel or fuel generators on a mining site with a sizable hybrid wind-solar-storage solution. Thirdly, Australia possesses the knowledge to accelerate the transition at a lower cost than we initially anticipated.

“A critical aspect of the decarbonisation challenge includes what is known as basic chemicals — ammonia, fertilisers, and explosives, all of which are crucial inputs to our economies and food systems. Key producers of these basic chemicals are exploring how the enormous investments already made in these value chains can be leveraged in a decarbonised world,” Rob says. 

“They are asking how their feedstocks and carbon emissions can be changed and transitioned while demand for these important chemicals increases rapidly.

“While these fundamental changes roll through capital expenditure programs of the chemicals sector, there is a growing demand for ‘carbon neutral’ cargoes,” Rob adds. 

“Everything from LNG, to ethylene, to metallurgical coal has been delivered to customers in East Asia with carbon offsets stapled to the physical products. If this trend continues, there will be massive demand for carbon offsets to meet the needs of traders, and customers, in these new types of commodity trades.”

New opportunities

Earlier, in order to remedy the “broken” environmental regulations in the country, the Greens have proposed a climate trigger. The proposal would prohibit new fossil fuel developments emitting more than 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from receiving environmental approval. 

It also establishes a cut-off point for projects that emit between 25,000 and 100,000 tonnes of carbon annually to be subject to environmental reviews. While the party would support the government’s emissions measure in the legislature, according to Greens leader Adam Bandt, more needed to be done, like its climate trigger legislation.

“As the world comes together in Glasgow to fight climate change, Australia is putting its foot on the accelerator and doubling down on fossil fuel expansion,” Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at the Australia Institute, said in a statement last year.

“The Australian Government is aggressively pursuing a huge expansion of coal and gas projects, equivalent to over 200 new coal power stations. To point to China is disingenuous; Australia’s planned gas and coal expansion would be four times the amount of new coal power stations planned by China and almost double the carbon footprint of global aviation.

“This scorched earth policy has exposed Australia’s net zero 2050 plan as a fraud. Australia cannot claim to be acting on climate change while simultaneously expanding fossil fuel projects.”

Meanwhile, Rob notes that reusing and repurposing existing power grid infrastructure will be critical to meeting Australia’s ambitious target. This includes retaining and leveraging the existing electricity infrastructure in coal-fired power complexes across the Latrobe Valley, Hunter, Illawarra and Collie regions.

“With just 87 months until 2030 begins, Australia has an enormous amount of work to do and a huge dose of uncertainty to digest,” added Rob.

“The sooner we combine and deploy the finance, technology and smarts at our disposal, the sooner we will truly see the green mining, green metals and green basic chemicals that our ‘Net Zero future’ undoubtedly demands.”

For more information on Partners in Performance’s solutions, visit pip.global.

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The English translation of the Sanskrit word “Bhumi” is “Mother Earth.” In an industry rife with child labour and disastrous health effects from grower to consumer, Bhumi products take pride in being ethically made using organically grown cotton with no harmful pesticides, toxic dyes, child labour, and net zero carbon emissions.

“Seed to Shelf” refers to Bhumi’s ability to track the entire ethical and ecologically sound supply chain, from farmers sowing the organic cotton crop to the dyes used to colour the cotton fabric to the finished goods shelf. 

But Bhumi, like many eCommerce brands, struggled to maintain inventory levels that kept up with its rapid growth and allowed them to meet its true sales potential. 

This is the story of Bhumi, which began five years ago for Vinita and Dushyant Baravkar, and how Bhumi was able to triple its sales revenue in just one year.

The inspiration

When Dushyant and Vinita Baravkar moved from New York to Australia in 2010, they were passionate about living sustainably and being ethical consumers.

“The inspiration for Bhumi comes from my time in New York. I used to live very close to the Wholefoods flagship store, and I used to wonder why people would go there and purchase products at twice the price,” Dushyant Baravkar says.

“That led to my curiosity about the products sold, how they were made and if they were sustainable. I met Vinita there while she was working with the United Nations on the ground with WHO, and she was experiencing first-hand the negative impacts of textiles and conventional cotton.”

Vinita has been fortunate to travel to many exciting destinations and experience the beauty of nature and world cultures. With a background in Health and a Masters’ in International Public Health, Vinita saw first-hand the disastrous health and environmental impacts of traditional cotton growing with farmer suicides, child labour, pesticide poisoning, congenital disabilities, harmful dyes and toxic waterways.

Initial days

In 2017, Dushyant and Vinita founded Bhumi to pursue their passion. With Bhumi, they have created a range of premium products made from organically grown and ethically produced cotton.

Dushyant says, “the inspiration if I had to summarise everything in one word would be – curiosity. I’m your stereotypical corporate financial services person. I spent much time in the United States, primarily in management consulting, before moving to Australia, where I have been with ANZ on the institutional side and then Australia Post, among other roles. 

One thing led to another; Dushyant and Vinita came to Australia, and Dushyant decided to leave ANZ because of his curiosity to start a socially conscious business. 

After they launched, they started visiting small markets and stores where they found a huge demand from local customers. Neither Dushyant nor Vinita had experience in eCommerce, but after a few years of success selling their products through physical stores, they eventually opened their first online store with Shopify.

Getting suitable product material has proved a big challenge for Bhumi as it requires much capital. They considered bringing on investors to provide this capital but were worried it might impact their ability to deliver social impact.

Dushyant came from a career in finance, so he was well aware of the challenges he would face when trying to scale Bhumi. 

“This is a very capital-intensive business,” said Dushyant. Bhumi’s suppliers required a 30 per cent upfront payment for all stock, and at the pace, they were growing, they always needed to purchase more inventory than they had the cash for; “we often missed out on potential sales as we didn’t have the stock to sell to customers who were ready to buy” says Dushyant.

Managing cash for both inventory and marketing is a tricky balance to strike: “the two biggest issues for cash flow are related to inventory and spending on marketing. You have to have both of these hummings in parallel”, says Dushyant.

Dushyant and Vinita explored the option of bringing on investors. Still, they were worried that giving up control of their company would hold them back from delivering on their social impact mission. 

“We wanted to grow organically, not taking on investors who would dilute the value of our brand and challenge our ethos”, says Dushyant. However, their need for capital did not go away “if we don’t get the funding we need, at the right time, it would be a big issue,” tells Dushyant.

The Bhumi team approached Wayflyer to discuss how they could find a solution to this problem. What appealed to them about Wayflyer’s offering was the ability to get the funds they needed to grow without giving up any control or ownership. Bhumi decided to take capital from Wayflyer to fund their inventory purchases and have gone on to take multiple rounds of funding for each order they make.

“We tripled our sales last year; we simply could not have done this without access to the right capital”, says Dushyant. This growth has also significantly boosted the social impact they deliver. Every Bhumi sale has a positive environmental and social impact, helping to fix many of the current problems in the textile industry. More sales for Bhumi means more social impact for people and the planet.

The vision

Dushyant has long had a passion for socially conscious enterprises and textiles. Dushyant’s vision for all businesses today is to have a purpose beyond profits. He firmly believes that companies should be financially sustainable and at the same time provide economic, social and environmental benefits to local and global communities.

Vinita and Dushyant knew it was time for positive change. Vinita’s background in Health and years in the field meeting with amazing NGOs, combined with Dushyant’s finance and technology background, has seen Bhumi grow into a global platform.

Making a difference with its efforts

According to the company, since Bhumi chose to use certified organic cotton over conventional (non-organic) cotton, 1,361,464k of driving emissions have been avoided, and 7,1910,375 days of drinking water have been saved, and 645,500m2 of land have been farmed without pesticides.

After the United States of America, Australia has the second-highest global textile consumption rate per person. Each Australian uses 27 kilogrammes of new clothing annually, and 23 kilogrammes of that clothing are discarded in landfills, making up 93 per cent of the textile waste produced, according to the Department of Climate change, Energy, the Environment and water.

Fast fashion, which refers to clothing retailers selling inexpensive, primarily synthetic garments inspired by the newest trends and intended to be worn for a brief period of time before being discarded and replaced by new garments once trends change, is a significant factor in this situation.

Second-hand clothing stores contribute to lowering landfill waste from textiles. There are 10,000 charity collection bins, 33,000 volunteers, and 5,000 jobs supported by Australia’s 3,000 charity and social enterprise retailers. However, more must be done to lessen fast fashion’s adverse effects and landfill waste from clothing.

More about Bhumi here; more on Wayflyer here.

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In what might sound like an unlikely source of inspiration, it was Freya Tasci’s studies in literature and philosophy that would go on to inspire her successful business idea.

Coming across references to oilskin used to wrap items in transit, the entrepreneur decided to test it out herself.

“I was buying expensive organic veggies for my small children who had allergies and they’d wilt in the fridge after a few days – I needed better wrapping to keep them safe,” she recalled. “I also wanted to avoid introducing harmful chemicals like plastics into the house.”

When she couldn’t find anything like this in the market, trials into creating her own oilskin (cotton soaked in beeswax) ensued. Eventually, she landed on her hit product: Apiwraps, named after the Latin word for ‘bee’.

She elaborated, “They’re waterproof but also breathable, making it the perfect item to wrap veggies and other food items like that. And since its beeswax soaked in cotton, it can be washed and used again.

“Beeswax is the most incredible material. It’s beautifully versatile and natural. It’s something that you can even eat and there’s no chemicals or anything in it.”

Freyja’s practical, eco-friendly product can be used around the kitchen and with proper care and attention, one Apiwrap will last around a year. Significantly, due to its sustainable impact, it’s estimated that Apiwraps has replaced the need for more than 10 million metres of single-use plastic wrap over its last ten years of business.

an image of beeswax kitchen wrapping used to cover a salad
Source: supplied

Supporting small businesses

She started the business in November 2012, selling Apiwraps in Byron Bay markets.

“People would walk past and say to me ‘you’ve got to build this business, you’ve got to scale it, this is amazing’,” Freyja grinned.

Today Apiwraps are available across Australia through their website, local vendors, and major retailers like Aldi and Woolworths.

The production of Apiwraps combines the efforts of numerous small Australian businesses: a family beekeeping business for the wax, one of Australia’s last standing textile manufacturers for the cotton, and local artists who create the unique designs.

Freyja elaborated, “My mother was a fine artist, so I love having the opportunity to support the arts and other small businesses with this commercial product. That’s the beauty of being in business and keeping business in Australia, we get to meet and work with these amazing people.”

COVID as a ‘reset’

Like many other entrepreneurs, she suddenly found herself “on pause” for two years when the pandemic hit. Having to scale back expenses, they had to cut the team down to the bare minimum, move out of their warehouse at the end of the lease, and find a way to continue orders.

“It’s a reset in a way of everything. And now I’m launching any product at the gift fairs in Melbourne, at the end of the month, and I’m doing a product launch from scratch for the first time in 10 years!” she laughed.

“To do that, I followed my own advice. I reached out to our retailers to pick their brains. What was working? Do you think the customers might like this? What about if we did so-and-so? It was invaluable to get that information, to inform me on the product I’ve got.

“It’s now an exciting time to go into a product launch and this all came from taking that step back during the pandemic.”

Source: supplied

Entrepreneurship and motherhood

With her children’s allergies playing a pivotal role in inspiring Apiwraps, it’s no wonder than Freyja continues to find inspiration and drive from them, now 13 and nine.

“When you’re in the thick of running a business and it lives or dies with your effort, you have this temptation – ‘what if I sold this and got a job?’ It could be so easy to do that, to get a more reliable income,” she observed.

“The fact that I am juggling motherhood and the responsibilities with my business, I know that I would never have that flexibility anywhere else. I really want to work for myself so I’ll make this effort.”

The best advice received

Freyja still remembers the valuable advice one of her uncles provided in the early days of the business.

“I felt like I was in an endless cycle of investment, and we were inching, painfully slowly, forward. That’s when he said to look at it as a series of experiments in order to find the solutions.

“It’s a subtle shift, but realising the world isn’t against you is a really empowering mindset change.  You’re creating something from nothing and this is simply the process. I’ve since applied it to everything I do in business, whether it’s a new product launch or a new advertising strategy – it’s just a series of experiments that will reveal the best way forward.

“Business is hard and it’s not always going to be easy. But just because something’s not easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it or that it’s not a worthy idea.”

READ MORE: Founder Friday with Jacinta Timmins: the secrets of launching a sustainable apparel brand

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“Plastic is not created equally,” says Heidi Kujawa, CEO of ByFusion. “It’s super complex, which is why this problem is really broken.”

Amy Lombard

The very short version of the problem goes like this: Despite all those triangle-arrow symbols on the bottom of your bottles, most plastic is not recyclable. And the stuff that is often isn’t recycled anyway, because the process is dirty and cumbersome. Which means your recycling bin may be emptied into a landfill.

Kujawa wants to fix this. She had a successful career in entertainment and tech, but was looking to do something more meaningful. Around 2015, she heard about a company that had developed an interesting concept: It smushed old plastic into blocks, which could be used as construction material instead of concrete or bricks. “They had a prototype and it kind of worked, but not really,” Kujawa says. The company had since closed, and the patent had lapsed. “I said, ‘I know I can make that better.’”

Related: How to Make Sustainability More Than a Buzzword

Now she has. Her company, ByFusion, builds machines that literally fuse up to 30 pounds of plastic — no matter the type or how dirty it is — into blocks that can be used to make walls, furniture, small structures, and more. Its work is starting to appear around the country: A park bench was installed in Boise in February, followed by projects in Tucson and .

Below, you can follow the process of a block — as well as Kujawa’s journey to reviving a once-failed idea, and putting old plastic to real use.

 LAUNCHING A RADICAL IDEA

As Kujawa looked to fund her company, she knew she was in a bind: She’d innovated inside the waste and construction industries, both of which are in need of new ideas — but “waste management and construction are two massive industries that VCs typically never invest in,” Kujawa says. How can entrepreneurs get funding in an overlooked space? First, prove the idea: Following the sale of her last company, she bootstrapped the first few phases of ByFusion herself — establishing the market and tech before going to investors. Second, seize the moment: As the culture shifted, with the talking more about climate solutions, “VCs started to say, okay, I guess we have to start focusing on this,” she says. She’s raised a $1.5 million seed round.

Related: What You Can Learn From the Rise of Sustainability-Focused Entrepreneurship

 BACK TO BASICS

“I grew up with a hammer in my hand, not necessarily a Barbie doll,” Kujawa says. She always loved construction–“but I realized early on that it’s probably not a good career path back in the ’70s and ’80s for a girl.” That’s why she went into tech and entertainment. “But I never dropped the hammer.”

 WHO’S THE CUSTOMER? 

ByFusion’s plan isn’t just to sell blocks of plastic. It sells the machines that make the blocks, and has designed them modularly so that a broad range of clients, from waste management companies to municipalities, can utilize them to fit their needs and then produce the blocks themselves. Kujawa pitches it as a financial, logistical, and landfill diversion solution: Instead of transporting worthless plastic and dealing with associated compliance issues, cities and companies (and even universities) could create these blocks. ByFusion will buy back any surplus and sell to market on their behalf. “As we saw with the pandemic, there’s been a shortage of building materials. So let’s give them the ability to create their own material.”

Image Credit: All Photographs by Amy Lombard

Related: The Business of Sustainability

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It’s time for legacy institutions to do their part and implement more environmentally friendly practices.

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May 26, 2021 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the world embraces the Paris Climate Agreement, legacy institutions have no choice but to embrace the mission to go green. 

The climate crisis is hardly ever a pleasant topic to discuss. Global greenhouse-gas emissions currently stand at over 10,000 million metric tons of carbon. At this rate, stands to displace two billion people worldwide as a result of rising ocean levels, cost the global billions of dollars and lead to 250,000 deaths per year before the year 2100. The list of harmful effects is endless and justifiably led to public outcry in recent years, pressuring industries to go green and be more environmentally responsible. One of the biggest questions remains: Who’s to blame? 

Related: 3 Simple Ways Cultivators Can Shrink Their Carbon Footprint

The blame game

Between expert opinions, industry narratives and public sentiments, people are pointing fingers in different directions, but one good look at the data reveals the clear perpetrators-in-chief. Close to 100 investor- and state-owned fossil-fuel companies are responsible for around 70 percent of the world’s historical emissions. The numbers speak for themselves, highlighting the need for more effective clean- solutions.  

Then again, many would argue that blame shouldn’t solely be placed on fossil fuel companies, as wealthy countries also tend to contribute toward significantly. The U.S. alone has emitted more CO2 than any other country — by as much as a quarter of all emissions since 1751. By comparison, despite ’s huge rise in emissions over the past decade, emissions per person still sit at less than half of that from the U.S. 

This, in turn, brings us to the energy-consumer level, and here, there is also room for the blame game. Out of a total of over 33 billion tons of carbon dioxide produced globally, the average American household only produces 8.1 metric tons. Once we get past the average, however, we see that the wealthiest tenth of people consume about 20 times more energy overall than the bottom ten, wherever they live. This puts the blame on the social elites, with their multiple cars, huge mansions and jet-setting lifestyles.

Amid the spats and the outcry, the world is now waking up to the climate change threat and moving to counter it. The Paris Agreement, one of the most recent landmarks for climate action, calls for a massive shift of the global economy toward renewable-energy sources, such as natural gas, wind and solar power. This has sparked a frantic search for solutions that are greener and more sustainable, ones that address the climate crisis more effectively.

Related: How to Create a More Sustainable Supply Chain

The new renewable-energy ecosystem

Assertive but isolated initiatives, such as minimizing the use of plastic straws and promoting public transportation, do make a difference, but ultimately have minute effects when considering the sheer scale of greenhouse-gas emissions. What we need is comprehensive, industry-level change embracing sustainable innovation across a plethora of sectors. The energy industry, as noted before, is a sphere where this need is the most urgent, and it’s no surprise that is now one of the hottest topics of discussion among entrepreneurs, policy makers and consumers alike. As such, innovations are emerging across four primary dimensions of global power systems: 

  • Enabling technologies. This refers to technologies, such as electric-vehicle charging, that play a key role in facilitating the integration of renewable energy. Blockchain companies are also stepping up to provide a new level of sophistication to energy supplies, as seen with WePower, Power Ledger, The Brooklyn Microgrid and The Sun Exchange.
  • System operation. This refers to companies that provide innovative ways of operating the power grid, with solutions that expand the use of renewables, not just for power generation, but for other purposes as well. Renewable technology can do more than that — Nostromo, for example, offers an ice-based, thermal-energy-storage solution to make traditional building-cooling systems more environmentally friendly. Legacy chillers tend to exert a large amount of energy throughout the day just to cool the water used to provide air conditioning. Nostromo’s technology leverages literal blocks of ice to supplement the water chillers used to cool buildings, opening the door to reduce the overall energy consumption of buildings and even entire cities.
  • Business models. This refers to innovative models that enhance the flexibility of systems and incentivize the further integration of renewable-energy technologies. Notable examples include energy-as-a-service and pay-as-you-go models.
  • Market design. This refers to new market structures and changes in regulatory frameworks that encourage flexibility and value services in a renewable-based power-energy system. Notable examples include time-of-use tariffs and net billing.

Now is the time for business leaders, policy makers and industry drivers to stop pointing fingers and take action. Instead of spending time and resources on shifting accountability, it would be best to step up and take on renewable-energy initiatives to cut emissions and do their part in fixing the climate crisis.

Related: Top Renewable Energy Stocks to Buy Today? 4 Names to Watch

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New research by Australia Post and the Banksia Foundation looks at key issues that SMEs are facing when it comes to small business sustainability in a post-COVID world.

The study shows that almost half of SMEs in Australia, which make up 98 per cent of businesses and employ almost half of the nation’s workforce, see sustainability as a key driver for their future growth and success.

The Small business sustainability in a COVID-19 world report, which is part of a broader effort by the researchers to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), suggests that sustainability is critical for the long-term survival, security, and competitive advantage of small businesses.

Key findings

1. Operating responsibly

The small business sustainability report found that SMEs are motivated to operate responsibly for three main reasons:

  • Balancing purpose and profit: profit is crucial to ensuring financial sustainability for all businesses, but many SMEs are seeking to balance purpose and profit by establishing themselves as a force for good.
  • Changing stakeholder expectations: a shift in generational thinking means more conscious consumers and purpose-driven employees who expect SMEs to be proactive in their sustainable practices.
  • Future-proofing the business: SMEs recognise that sustainable business practices are necessary for long-term survival, but they can only thrive if the communities they serve and operate in are also sustainable.

SMEs identified three important issues at the heart of their sustainability practices:

  • Reducing waste and rethinking materials: SMEs see waste as a burning issue and are reevaluating the materials they use in their products, while focusing more on reuse and recycle operations.
  • Sustainable packaging: e-Commerce-focused businesses consider packaging to be a significant concern, and one in three SMEs are now committing to Eco-friendly packaging for their products.
  • Supporting local communities: 38 per cent of SMEs said that they integrate community support into their sustainability approach, with many focusing on philanthropy, sponsorship, and initiatives that stimulate local employment.

2. Building resilience

SMEs identified three ways to build greater resilience in response to weakened supply chains and a lack of contingency planning:

  • Rethinking supply chains: Many SMEs will need to consider how they can reshore production and integrate diversity into new and existing supply chains.
  • Transitioning to a circular economy: SMEs may benefit from coming up with new business processes, connections and ways of linking the supply and manufacturing chain as natural resources decline and supply chains are disrupted.
  • Digital disruption: SMEs should be looking to adapt to online environments in the post-COVID world of social distancing, self-isolation, and the closure of bricks and mortar stores if they are to remain viable.

3. Regeneration in a world impacted by COVID-19

The SDGs serve as a global blueprint for creating a world that is comprehensively sustainable: socially fair, environmentally secure, economically prosperous, inclusive, and more predictable.

Adapting to sustainable business models could open up new market opportunities worth up to US$12 trillion a year and generate up to 380 million jobs by 2030.

4. Small business sustainability roadmap

SMEs can follow a practical roadmap to improve their approach to sustainability.

Image source: Australia Post

Australia needs small businesses ‘now more than ever’

Australia Post Executive General Manager Gary Starr called small business the “engine room of our economy” and urged business owners to take advantage of new opportunities to incorporate sustainability into their practices.

“There has never been a more important time for small businesses to be directing their focus towards sustainability and improving their overall resilience,” Mr Starr said.

“Research consistently finds that consumers are more likely to purchase from brands that are sustainable, and many are willing to pay more for products and services that protect the environment or don’t infringe on human rights, and this trend has only been accelerated by the pandemic.

“As many small to medium businesses are often occupied with the immediate concerns of running a business, sustainability isn’t always top of mind, but developing more sustainable products and operations is becoming increasingly important, and it’s easier to get started than many businesses realise.

Banksia Foundation Chief Executive Officer Graz van Egmond also called on small businesses to consider implementing sustainable strategies “in a way that also delivers positive commercial outcomes,” despite the limited resources available to them.

“Now more than ever Australia needs small businesses, and we have a real opportunity to build a more sustainable and inclusive economy than the one we left behind prior to COVID-19,” Ms van Egmond said.


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Australian sustainable packaging startup Planet Protector Packaging has been one victim of the Chinese-Australian trade tensions, after their deal to provide the packaging of rock lobster exports was put on hold. 

Planet Protector Packaging (PPP) was established in 2016 in response to the global plastic waste crisis. Their product aims to eliminate polystyrene from supply chains by replacing it with environmentally responsible WOOLPACK Insulated packaging made from sheep waste wool.

With an estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year, and 42 per cent of this plastic emanating from the packaging industry, CEO and founder Joanna Howarth said she was eager to build a packaging product that did not rely on polystyrene.

“Our solution consists of two interlocking liners that slip inside the cardboard carton. The carton is recyclable, and the wall is biodegradable,” she said. “If you were to plant the wall or put it in compost, within six months it would have broken down and returned valuable nutrients to the soil.”

Large corporations DHL and Blackmores are now using the Planet Protector Packaging solution, as well as smaller clients Loving Earth and Bondi Meal Prep.

In early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, PPP spent nine months conducting trials with the lobster industry to export rock lobsters from Australia to China. 

Joanne Howarth, CEO and founder of Planet Protector Packaging

A $10 billion dollar industry, Ms Howarth said the company would have had $2-3 million worth of revenue coming from Australian lobster trade. 

“We worked with the industry to create a 100 per cent plastic free solution, that would keep the lobsters alive while they travel,” she said. “We wanted to get ahead of Chinese New Year, but then COVID struck.” 

China has put a pause on Australian imports of rock lobsters, and are currently inspecting between 50 and 100 per cent of them, citing concerns about trace elements of metals. However, the halted lobster trade is said to be part of China’s response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison lobbying for an international inquiry into the origins of the virus.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has threatened to take the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if China does not comply saying: “We expect China to play by WTO rules and if they don’t we’ll have to make consideration with industry around what our next action is around the independent umpire.”

Due to trade tensions, Ms Howarth’s deal with the lobster industry has been put on further hold, as “tonnes of lobsters are just sitting on a dock in China now.”

“The whole lobster industry is shut down,” she said. “As an entrepreneur you learn to be resilient, but this was really something none of us foresaw.”

“The tension between Australia and China is going to have enormous repercussions across jobs, globally. What are the different sectors supposed to do – wind, timber, coal, sugar wheat? 

“That’s $8 billion of our GDP, gone.”


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