Let’s Imagine a Connected, Efficient, Sustainable Australia – Then Plan For It

Close your eyes and imagine that your home town is suddenly the perfect place to live. What do you see? Chances are good public transport is there, along with accessible jobs, education and healthcare; high-quality affordable housing; clean air to breathe; and green spaces to wander in.

So there’s your vision. Now how would you get us there? An infrastructure spend is going to be involved, but there are so many options. Across Australia, our needs are many, budgets are limited and the money is coming from you and me – the taxpayers. How can we be sure we are getting the best bang for our infrastructure buck?

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Although many governments tend to spell the word “infrastructure” T-R-A-N-S-P-O-R-T, it actually goes far beyond that new train station or road bypass. Every major facility from the schools where your kids learn, to your local swimming pool is infrastructure.

At the Infrastructure Sustainability Conference on Wednesday, ASBEC will launch Bang for Buck – Delivering better business cases to realise more value from our infrastructure investments, which shows how delivering better business cases can help Australia get the most from our infrastructure spending.

Right now, our infrastructure development is piecemeal. Politics is often a big factor, with governments and politicians wanting to be remembered for delivering that bypass or new hospital. Unfortunately, this limits vision to the short three or four years of a political term, when actually infrastructure projects need to be bipartisan, long-term efforts that benefit all of us.

The way we make decisions on infrastructure spending is also an issue. Different arms of government often see things very differently. An environment agency might see an infrastructure development in terms of its capacity to reduce carbon emissions, for example, while a transport agency might be focused on what it means for traffic congestion.

The obvious solution here is for Infrastructure Australia (the independent statutory body that prioritises and progresses nationally significant infrastructure) to lead on this issue, by setting consistent standards and measurement to evaluate all infrastructure proposals.

What do you see when you imagine a new train station in your neighbourhood? You might see a quicker journey time to work or a reduction in cars on the road meaning less pollution to aggravate your asthma, but many decision-makers see nothing but rows of red zeros on next year’s bottom line.

This focus on short-term financial assessment is a big barrier, especially in regional Australia. One person’s “transport” project might be another’s “job or health access” project.

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Consistent data is needed

Even the data we use to assess needs and solutions varies wildly. Right now, governments and departments are collecting different information using different methodologies. More data is not necessarily better, but consistent data would be a huge improvement, allowing decision-making based on a common understanding of what we need and how to supply it. Again, it makes sense for Infrastructure Australia to lead on a consistent approach.

So where does all this data end up? In a business case for or against an infrastructure spend. We hear so much about business cases, from secret ones that we can’t see for commercial-in-confidence reasons, to flawed ones that take no account of Australia’s international obligations to reduce carbon emissions. One thing is obvious: there’s currently more than one way to write a “business case”.

Often business case methodologies are imported wholesale from overseas, with no thought to local conditions. But of course, what works in Europe or the US may not apply here, with our unique challenges of enormous distances and an extreme climate.

Again, Infrastructure Australia could address this by creating a nationally consistent set of business case methodologies, but they would need the resources and a mandate from the federal government to do this.

Telling the story in a way that we can all understand is crucial. Agencies need to work harder to demonstrate the value to our community beyond the spend of taxpayer dollars. Will that new broadband capability mean we don’t have to travel into the city and will it create a massive number of local jobs?

Will the new train station attract tourists and revitalise a forgotten precinct? Will the extra cycle path mean we’re all healthier, saving money from the health budget 20 years from now?

We need to all see the vision of a connected, efficient, environmentally friendly Australia. Good infrastructure decisions benefit all of us. We need to be able to imagine a better future before we can create it.

Suzanne Toumbourou is executive director of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.

Source: The Fifth Estate

No One’s Buying Electric Cars in Australia

Australia is lagging behind in electric vehicle ownership while some countries are streaking ahead, with a new report calling on more local incentives to convince car buyers to make the switch.

In China, sales of electric cars increased 80% in September compared to last year, reports the South China Morning Post, and that was after a 76% spike in August.

Meanwhile, in Norway electric vehicles are 23% of new car purchases, according to the Electric Vehicle Council, with France at 1.4% and even the USA seeing 0.7%.

But in Australia, just 0.1% of new car sales are electric – 1,108 out of the 1.1 million new vehicles sold in 2015.

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“The electric vehicle industry is surging internationally. Australia simply needs to decide whether it wants to share in the benefits,” said Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari.

A new report by the policy think tank the Australia Institute, points out cars currently emit 10% of Australia’s total carbon emissions, with each vehicle emitting more on average than in Europe.

Jafari said electric cars also free the country from a dependence on foreign fuel.

“At the moment, a major international crisis could see Australia’s road-based transport fleet seize up within weeks,” he said.

“Shifting to an electric vehicle fleet will bring savings to consumers and a healthier, cleaner environment.”

The Australia Institute’s If You Build It, They Will Charge report, released this week, blamed a lack of government incentives for the low take-up of electric vehicles.

“An electric vehicle purchaser in California could earn both a federal tax credit of US$7,500 and a US$2,500 bonus payment from the state. In Australia, no such bonus schemes exist,” the report read.

The Australia Institute recommended four ways Australia could accelerate adoption of electric cars:

Waive the luxury car tax

Currently the only concession electric and hybrid vehicles have in Australia is that the price threshold when the luxury car tax kicks in is slightly higher than for normal cars — $75,526 compared to $65,094. The report recommends all electric vehicles be exempt from the tax, to lower the upfront cost for buyers.

Unrestricted bus and transit lane use

Norway allows all electric vehicles to freely use high-occupancy lanes – road lanes dedicated to public transport or for cars with multiple passengers. Such a policy could be policed by giving electric cars a differently coloured number plate.

Norway also allows electric cars to drive on toll roads for free, pay no parking fees anywhere and avoid consumption tax and annual registration charges, although the report does not recommend this for Australia.

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Boost charging station rollout

Australia’s long distances mean stranded without a means of fast-charging is a genuine concern for many car buyers. For example, Business Insider this year drove a Tesla from Sydney to Orange this year and had to leave it plugged in for two days to safely make the return journey.

But charging stations are expensive to build and maintain. The Australia Institute report recommends offering grants to companies willing to construct charging stations, citing the 75% rebate offered in the US state of New Hampshire as a guide.

Carbon pricing

A carbon pricing system would naturally reduce the cost of electric vehicles compared to conventional cars, making it more attractive for potential buyers. France has a scheme that subsidises green vehicles with revenue from higher emissions cars, although the report notes a balance needs to be achieved if such a system is to be self-funding.

Source: Business Insider

Australia To See More M&A in the Energy Space: Survey

Australia will be one of the top five countries for energy investment and M&A, a new survey has found.

The study for Change: Investing in a smarter energy future, by law firm Pinsent Masons and Mergermarket, surveyed 250 senior executives from 200 businesses with revenues of $US1 billion ($1.3 billion), and 50 investment groups such as banks, private equity firms, and wealth funds. It found approximately 90 per cent of utilities surveyed indicated they are considering joint ventures or acquisitions in order to respond to the changing energy market. More than 80 per cent of respondents also expected M&A in the sector to increase over the next 12 months.

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However, a third believed that ongoing uncertainty in government policy and legislation was a major obstacle to investment, a factor which saw Australia fail to rank within the top 15 countries with a clear smart energy policy, behind China.

“Countries without a cohesive energy policy are usually in turmoil when it comes to issues around energy distribution and management,” one unnamed chief financial officer of an Australian utility said.

“For investors looking to enter that market with smart energy solutions its means a lot of uncertainty.”

Investors, rather than utilities, will be the most active in Australia, with 26 per cent of investment groups surveyed stating they will target the country, while only 11 per cent of utilities put forth interest in the market. This view of Australia as an investment hub is supported by EY’s most recent renewable energy country attractiveness index data, which ranked Australia fifth globally, ahead of France and Japan, but trailing China, India, the US and Germany.

EY global power and utilities corporate finance leader Ben Warren also forecast greater collaboration and M&A in the energy sector.

“Collaboration is the answer, whether through partnerships or acquisitions,” Mr Warren said.

Deals are expected to continue their growth trajectory, as the sector records a doubling in annual deal values from $US150 billion to $US300 billion between 2012 and 2016, while deal volumes rose 45 per cent within the same period from 527 to 763.

“Robust performance at the start of the year – with 380 deals recorded in the first half of 2017 – suggests that year will likely see similarly high levels of deal activity,” the report stated.

The big winner in the M&A rush is expected to be smart energy technology startups, which utilities will acquire to gain a foothold new growth areas or create supply chain synergies.

“Traditional utilities – including the big ones – are looking for new business areas,” Pinsent Masons partner Dr Torsten Wielsch said.

“Declining returns from electricity sales means they are trying to expand into other business fields, and one of these is smart energy companies such as software developers,” Dr Wieslch said.

This has already been seen in Australia, with companies like Origin partnering with startups such as Power Ledger and Bidgely, which provide demand management and consumer energy efficiency technology. One in three utilities surveyed said they will carry out either an acquisition or investment in order to gain access to these new technologies.

“Utilities will look to use smart meter data in their downstream supply activity to understand consumers better, enhance customer experience, and enable new product and service lines,” Pinsent Masons technology partner Chris Martin said.

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“The best ones will also use it in terms of upstream activity to optimise the efficient management of energy supply and demand,” Mr Martin said.

In the short term, utilities will look to smart meter technologies and end-user communications; in the longer term, cloud based management systems and virtual power plants are forecast to be the main acquisition focus.

Investors are mainly looking to data analytics and battery storage companies as their core focus.


Source: The Age

How To Tell if a Company is Really Doing Good

One of the most significant recent trends is the desire of consumers and investors to achieve social good with their money. Companies such as Toms, who give away a pair of shoes to the disadvantaged for every pair of shoes purchased, have found that the strong resonance of their message has resulted in phenomenal growth and unheard-of customer advocacy.

Here in Australia, social enterprise Thankyou, which sells Thankyou Water and a range of other consumer products, now outsells many of its global competitors as a result of its engaging model.

However, as the desire to shop and invest in line with personal values increases, there is a temptation for companies to “greenwash”, investing their energies into making their operations look good rather than actually doing good. How do you know if a company is living up to its marketing promise?

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B Corp Certification

Fast-growth Melbourne-based company KeepCup recently experienced this exact challenge. Wanting to expand in the US, it had a pivotal meeting with retail giant Whole Foods. The discussion went well, but the famously values driven Whole Foods wanted to know if KeepCup was genuinely committed to the same ideals. This question was easy to answer because KeepCup is a B Corporation, having passed the rigorous assessment process to be certified by non-profit B Lab, providing a credible third-party validation that their ethical credentials are real.

In a recent interview, executive director of Global Partners at B Lab, Alicia Darvall, explains that Certified B Corps are companies with ambition beyond profit, steered by entrepreneurial vision to use business for good. The certification separates “good companies” from good marketing. This worldwide certification is now available in Australia, with hundreds of companies choosing to certify, not only as a signal to stakeholders of a genuine commitment to a purpose, but also as a business improvement tool. The certification process requires companies to open their internal business practices to external scrutiny and improvement recommendations.

Each business listed in the B Corp directory has a B Impact Report, giving the public a snapshot of how the business rates in areas including environment, community, customers, governance and workers. The B Corp certification is global, so whether you’re taking a philosophy class at The School of Life, buying a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or a Patagonia backpack, you are assured that they all meet the same consistent standards. B Lab also provide a certified B Corp Shopping List to make it easy for consumers to prioritise spending with those companies which share their values.

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Inspire your workplace

Employees want to know their workplace is about more than just profits. When Deloitte surveyed millennials in the workplace in 2016, they found almost nine in 10 (87 per cent) believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance”.

Using purpose-driven suppliers, such as Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, and service providers like Streat Catering, can boost employee morale, especially in businesses with a high proportion of millennial staff.

Streat chief executive Rebecca Scott recognises that corporates often reach out to support her organisation, and the vulnerable young people they employ, as an effective way to engage their own staff.

Opportunity for impact investors

For purpose-driven investors, the Australian B Corp directory lists a number of impact investment advisors with a focus on opportunities that generate positive social and environmental benefits alongside commercial returns.

B Corps themselves can be an attractive investment opportunity. With mission-focused management at the helm, they’re proving social conscience doesn’t need to come at the cost of profit.

Stakeholders and investors in B Corps view the certification as a sign the business is serious about its mission and has a healthy future to scale.

There are a number of B Corps listed in Australia and overseas, including multinationals Unilever and Danone, technology companies such as Etsy which is listed on NASDAQ, and Silver Chef which is listed on the ASX.


Source: Sydney Morning Herald

Solar Grows Faster Than All Other Forms of Power For The First Time

Solar power grew faster than any other source of fuel for the first time in 2016, the International Energy Agency said in a report suggesting the technology will dominate renewables in the years ahead.

The institution established after the first major oil crisis in 1973 said 165 gigawatts of renewables were completed last year, which was two-thirds of the net expansion in electricity supply. Solar powered by photovoltaics, or PVs, grew by 50 per cent, with almost half of new plants built in China.

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“What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar PV,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in a statement accompanying the report published on Wednesday in Paris. “We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology through 2022.”

This marks the sixth consecutive year that clean energy has set records for installations. Mass manufacturing and a switch by governments away from fixed payments for renewables forced down the cost of wind and solar technology. The IEA expects about 1,000 gigawatts of renewables will be installed in the next five years, a milestone that coal only accomplished after 80 years. That quantity of electricity surpasses what’s consumed in China, India and Germany combined.

The surge of photovoltaics in China is largely due to government support for renewables, which are being demanded by a population concerned about air pollution and environmental degradation that has led to deadly smogs. The country is seeking to reduce its reliance on coal and has become the world’s largest market for renewables, particularly solar.

“The solar PV story is a Chinese story,” said Paolo Frankl, head of the IEA’s renewable energy division. “China has been for a long time the leader in manufacturing. What’s new is the share in the market. This year, it was equivalent to the total installed capacity of PV in Germany.”

The US and India are among other nations pushing renewables. They along with China are projected to make up two-thirds of the clean-energy expansion worldwide. Despite President Donald Trump’s vow to bolster coal’s position in the power market, the US is expected to be the second-largest market for renewables.

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The IEA also expects biofuels to take a larger role in the transportation industry, surpassing gains by electric vehicles.

“A lot of attention has been given in recent months to electric vehicles, and rightly so. They are increasingly globally, exponentially,” Frankl said. “But I have to say, we should not forget the biofuels, which at the end of 2016 represented 96 per cent of total renewable transport.”

Electric vehicles numbers will double by 2022, but biofuels will still make up 93 per cent of renewables consumed in the transport industry, the IEA estimates. The fuels are needed especially for heavier vehicles including planes and ships.

The organisation recommends that governments put incentives in place to spur the development of biofuels made from non-edible plants, which would avoid diverting food crops into fuel tanks. The cost of biofuels currently is about double the global price of gasoline, Frankl said.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

More Flowers Don’t Mean Healthier Bees

In a counter-intuitive finding, researchers have discovered that longer flowering seasons due to climate change is harming rather than helping bee populations.

A team of scientists from Florida State University in the US looked at three bumblebee species native to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All three are native to the area’s lower altitude sub-alpine regions, where gradually warming climatic conditions have over several years induced earlier snow melts and thus longer flowering seasons.

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“Knowing whether climate variation most affects bumble bees directly or indirectly will allow us to better predict how bumble bee populations will cope with continued climate change,” said Jane Ogilvie, the lead investigator.

“We found that the abundances of all three bumble bee species were mostly affected by indirect effects of climate on flower distribution through a season.”

On the face of it, a longer flowering season would seem to offer a more abundant food supply for the insects, thereby bolstering their survival and breeding chances. The reality, however, turned out to be quite different.

The extended season, the researchers found, led to a gradual disruption of finely balanced flowering cycles for some species of plant, and, over all, led to a lowering in flower density. Total food availability at any given period, therefore, was reduced, leading to poorer food intake for the bees and reduced fitness.

“When researchers think about flower effects on bees, they typically consider floral abundance to be the most important factor, but we found that the distribution of flowers throughout a season was most important for bumble bees,” says Ogilvie.

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“The more days with good flower availability, the more bees can forage and colonies can grow, and the bigger their populations become. We now have longer flowering seasons because of earlier snow melt, but floral abundance has not changed over all. This means we have more days in a season with poor flower availability.”

Bumblebee populations are in decline across the globe due to the effects of global warming, exacerbated in many regions by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in agriculture.

As bee colonies come under stress and their numbers decline, their critical role as pollinators for both commercial crops and wild ecosystems is also impacted.

“Declining bumble bee populations should be a warning about the expansive detrimental effects of climate change,” adds Ogilvie.

“Bumble bees have annual life cycles, so their populations show responses to change quickly, and many species live in higher altitude and latitude areas where the change in climate is most dramatic. The effects of climate change on bumble bees should give us pause.”


Source: Cosmos