All posts by Barbara Albert

Best practice Climate Action Strategies for local governments [with video]

I was recently invited to present at the Local Government NSW Net-Zero Emissions Insight Series webinar. I gave our thoughts on best practice climate action strategies for local governments, specifically focusing on developing an emissions reduction strategy and plan both for council operations as well as for the community. I also talked about the barriers to action and cited a few case studies. This blog post summarises what I presented and includes a 10-min video of my presentation.

Emissions reduction strategy and plan for local government

100% Renewables specialises in developing climate action strategies for business (also referred to as energy master plans, renewable energy strategies, or net-zero emissions plans).

Here is our method for developing a climate action strategy focused on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. It’s a seven-step method that is based on best practice we have developed over the years.

FIGURE 1: 100% RENEWABLES SEVEN-STEP PROCESS TO DEVELOP A CLIMATE ACTION STRATEGY

The most important aspect of our method is that a climate action strategy needs to be built on stakeholder engagement, which generates buy-in and the development of emission reduction opportunities that are practical, cost-effective and feasible. Feasible options are developed into business cases, which are then put into short, medium and long-term plans, which ideally align with a local government’s Delivery Program, Operational Plan and Strategic Plan.

It’s always a good idea to present a draft strategy to councillors before a plan is put up for adoption, so that councillors are aware of what the benefits are and have an opportunity to shape the strategy before it is finalised.

Actions on climate can address multiple abatement areas, technologies and cross-cutting approaches. The figure below shows the typical carbon reduction areas for a local government’s operations.

FIGURE 2: TYPICAL ABATEMENT AREAS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT’S OPERATIONS

Opportunities range from energy efficiency, onsite solar and battery storage, to energy-efficient transport and opportunities for waste management. Councils can also look at sequestering carbon in wetlands and urban forests (though these are hard to measure!). Abatement can also be achieved through procurement, such as buying renewable energy – through a renewable energy PPA, for instance, by reducing emissions in your supply chain, or by investing money in carbon offset projects. Local governments may also be interested in developing their own local clean energy generation projects, such as a mid-scale solar farm or bioenergy generation.

Carbon reduction is also enabled by having an appropriate financing strategy, and by having good governance and leadership structures in place.

There are also other external opportunities, such as a greening grid, though forecasts of grid decarbonisation support organisations acting now to reduce their emissions, rather than wait for this to occur.

An example of a net-zero pathway we developed for the City of Canada Bay’s operations is shown below. This scenario sees Council continue to increase its level of renewable energy purchased via PPAs to 100% in successive procurement cycles. It also sees 80% of petrol and 50% of diesel vehicles switch to electric by FY2030. Carbon offsets need to be purchased in 2030 to reduce residual greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

Emissions reduction strategy and plan for communities

Moving on to take a look at community emissions reduction plans. With many councils now having a plan in place for their operations, some are turning their attention to their communities. Local governments usually emit around 1-2% of the emissions in their community, so the key to unlocking deep cuts at a local government area level is to engage households and business.

FIGURE 3: TYPICAL ABATEMENT AREAS FOR COMMUNITIES

The abatement opportunities here are similar to council’s operational emissions, with the addition of agriculture, forestry and land use, particularly in regional areas. Key tasks are to identify and get the buy-in from many stakeholders, to understand their ability to influence their emissions, to develop opportunities that will help them to unlock that potential, and most importantly, to identify resources that can coordinate and help to facilitate some of these opportunities, such as community and business groups, Council staff, other levels of government and suppliers.

In our experience, we have identified ten key levers that can help to drive action at a community level, centred around government, business and community members each doing their part.

FIGURE 4: LEVERS TO REDUCE EMISSIONS IN THE COMMUNITY

For instance, Councils lead by example by committing to and achieving affordable emissions cuts in their operations and can demonstrate the feasibility of technologies like solar and electric vehicles.

Councils can also work with the community to educate and inform, incentivise and implement some planning controls, but rely on state and federal governments to do the heavy lifting on building standards.

Infrastructure to enable deep cuts can range from new transmission infrastructure to enable new large scale renewable energy generation, which federal and state governments need to lead, to EV charging that Council can influence in collaboration with others.

Of course, individuals and businesses can and do take action themselves, and this is key to whole communities decarbonising.

In our recent community emissions reduction plan for Clarence Valley Council, we have tried to capture the level of influence that different community stakeholders can have on different abatement areas, and this is summarised in our graphic below.

FIGURE 5: STAKEHOLDERS’ CAPABILITY TO INFLUENCE

Note though that even when the ability to influence emissions is considered to be low, the combined advocacy of many for change can also be impactful, so this does not mean that stakeholders should not act. They should, and do. Community Strategic Plans are a great example of precisely this, and we see many CSPs where individuals in communities have called for sustainability and action on climate to be a key pillar of their 10-year plan.

Top 5 barriers to action

There are, of course, many barriers to reducing emissions. Five key ones stand out[1]:

[1] Sustainable Councils and Communities Program Research by Iris Research, July 2020

FIGURE 6: TOP 5 BARRIERS TO REDUCING EMISSIONS
  • Financial constraints – naturally, there are financial constraints, whether through limited funds, low rate bases, or competing priorities
  • Lack of knowledge and internal resources – lack of information about opportunities is decreasing as initiatives like solar, LED, variable speed drives (VSDs) and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) become ‘the norm’, but even then, many local governments don’t have the resources to identify, plan and engage on energy
  • Old infrastructure – lots of energy-using assets are old, and big savings won’t happen until these systems are upgraded, which often relies on grants
  • Lack of a plan or strategy – simply not having a plan of actions to do over the next 4-5 years is a barrier, usually linked to a shortage of resources
  • Lengthy payback periods – lastly, some measures are currently difficult to justify. Batteries, for example, are still expensive, and small solar farms need other local co-benefits to be considered compared to a PPA from large solar and wind farms

Case study examples

Below are case studies from projects we have been involved with in recent years through the development of climate action strategies.

  • Coffs Harbour City Council’s ‘Powering Ahead’ is the next stage in Coffs Harbour City Council’s REERP implementation and involves the rollout of 2.2 MW of rooftop and ground-mounted solar PV to 16 sites across Council’s operations
  • Tweed Shire Council: multiple solar PV systems have been completed. Council also committed to a 604 kW ground-mounted solar array at its Banora Point WWTP.
  • Narrandera Shire Council’s Climate Action Strategy has recently been adopted. Council has applied for grant co-funding to implement the plan.
  • Nambucca Valley Council’s Renewable Energy Action Plan (REAP) was adopted in 2019. Since then, Council has steadily implemented the identified energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities.
  • Kyogle used a Government grant of just over $400,000 for solar PV and building lighting upgrades and put aside a further $300,000 for streetlighting LED upgrades – to be done in two years, with initial capital coming from savings from actions implemented to date.
  • Clarence Valley Council recently developed a Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Strategy with funding help from the NSW Government. This plan follows the development of Council’s operations strategy in 2017, where ambitious goals for emissions reduction and renewable energy were set.

If you need help with your climate action plan

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their climate action strategies and plans, and supporting the implementation and achievement of ambitious targets. If you need help to create your Climate Action Strategy, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.

Best practice examples and insights for communicating your net zero journey with SEFIANI [with video]

There has been an increasing focus on ‘net-zero’ in the past few months, so from a communications perspective, it is difficult to differentiate your net-zero journey from everyone else’s. As more companies embark on their climate action journey, the challenge many face is whether to talk about it and how and when to meaningfully engage with stakeholders.

I recently had the pleasure to interview Robyn Sefiani, CEO & Reputation Counsel of Sefiani for the second episode of my “Driving Net Profit with Zero Emissions show, see video below. This blog post summarises our major discussion points.

Communicating your climate action efforts is important

In the past, there was no social media to connect and inform people, and importantly to galvanise action. A large proportion of the population was not engaged. Today, people are better informed and are demanding action.

Investors are also putting companies under increased scrutiny to disclose their climate risks and responses, for example through the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the CDP.

The power of consumers and shareholders is pushing organisations to a more responsible position, including towards the need to reach net-zero emissions. Companies cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, which could result in damaged reputation, risk to operations, missed market opportunities, boycotts and a weaker talent pool.

However, many companies are announcing net-zero targets without a plan. They announce a timebound ambition to be net-zero without a roadmap, interim milestones or any clarity on how net-zero will be achieved and communicated to their stakeholders. Some companies are also reticent to communicate proactively, perhaps because they’ve been criticised in the past.

Saying nothing is no longer acceptable.

Changing consumerism and social licence to operate

According to a CapGemini study from 2020, 79% of consumers are willing to change their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness and environmental impact.

Taking this a step further, a study by Insites Consulting showed that 25% of Australians had boycotted a brand for sustainability reasons, compared to 14% just over twelve months ago. This behaviour is skewed towards younger generations, with 41% of Millennials reporting boycotting behaviour compared to just 6% of Baby Boomers.

Nowadays, people are genuinely looking at actions versus promises on sustainability and climate. People are watching to see if companies are doing what they said they would do. There are also plenty of activist groups with far-reaching influence that will call companies out when they fall short of their promises.

At the same time, people are also looking to support companies or brands that are doing the right thing. There is a huge opportunity for companies that are progressing with their net zero plans to meaningfully engage their audiences and galvanise support for their sustainability journey.

No room for greenwashing

Audiences today are too savvy to be fooled by greenwashing. Companies are facing intense scrutiny for taking shortcuts or failing to communicate with honesty, integrity and authenticity.

Brookfield Asset Management’s Mark Carney, a key climate finance leader and vice-chair at Brookfield, ‘walked back’ his remarks after claiming pollution had been neutralised across its portfolio. This is a company with an enormous renewables business, but it remains active in fossil fuels. The position of the company was that the renewables business compensated for the company’s other activities, but the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) does not count avoided emissions in its framework, which means the firm can’t use avoided emissions to meet net-zero claims without addressing its other operations.

In another example reported by Bloomberg, Rio Tinto, announced a 15% target reduction in operational emissions by 2030, which it claimed aligned with a 1.5° C pathway. However, climate activist group, Market Forces, disagreed with their calculations and said that alignment would require a 50% reduction in emissions over the same timeframe. Rio Tinto has now agreed to be more transparent with its targets and performance and will disclose short, medium and long-term targets for greenhouse gas emissions in its own operations.

One final example, was BMO, a Canadian Bank, that came under fire for its net-zero pledge, which was dismissed as “unambitious”. Adam Scott, director of Shift Action for Pension Wealth & Planet Health found that “a bank that is claiming climate leadership while financing fossil fuel pipelines is either greenwashing or doesn’t understand the urgent action the climate crisis necessitates.”

For many companies, aligning to the Paris Agreement requires learnings, risks and operating in new ways, and not everyone is going to get it right. Instead of misleading stakeholders, acknowledging a failure can help a brand to build social capital. This was the case for Charity Water, a non-profit organisation that disclosed that one of its water drilling projects had failed after one year. The head of Charity Water openly communicated the failed project, and came back with an action plan. When the team returned to drill a few months later, many more people had become invested in the story and were willing them on to succeed.

Best practice in communicating your climate action

As companies step up and transition to net zero, the question for many is what, when, where and how to communicate their journey.

With the rapid increase in public focus on transparency in corporate communications over the past five years, it is important to take a considered and strategic approach to communications across all stakeholder groups.

Our top 7 tips for companies to consider when communicating their net zero journey are:

  1. Regularly communicate proof of action: Frequent and consistent communication allows companies to build a voice on climate action and ultimately, that will help to build a bank of social capital.
  2. Differentiate yourself: Consider what your journey means for your company and your stakeholders, and how this is different from your competitors. As with any example of communications, no company will achieve cut-through if they cannot differentiate themselves.
  3. Be true to your brand: Demonstrate that sustainability is in line with your own brand positioning and not an add-on.
  4. Know your audiences: Different audiences have different expectations of engagement. A targeted multi-channel communications plan will allow you to engage with your audiences in a meaningful way and work towards establishing trust. Consider how you can empower your stakeholders – employees, shareholders, customers and partners – to take small actions that align with your commitment and come along with the company on its sustainability journey.
  5. Don’t discount employees: With the rise of ‘glass box’ company culture – a culture of transparency, prizing visibility of the company’s values, decisions and action – companies that have sustainability as part of their internal culture, will see it amplified through their employees.
  6. Be transparent: If you make a mistake or miss a milestone, take your audiences on your journey. Be honest, be human, and reiterate the goals of the journey.
  7. Keep it simple and inspiring: Audiences do not want the jargon or the doom and gloom. They want to know that you are taking action, through simple, clear and inspiring communications. A study by Greenbiz showed that videos positively depicting nature’s beauty and innovative climate change solutions were 50 times more effective at driving views than negative messaging or even a combination of positive and negative.

Communication plays a pivotal role in supporting a company’s net zero journey. There is a huge opportunity out there for companies and brands that can strategically use communications to bring their stakeholders on their journey with them.

About Sefiani Communications Group

Sefiani is a leading Australian strategic communications firm that helps companies enhance and protect brands and reputations Through a media relations, social and digital communications and stakeholder engagement, Sefiani solves complex business challenges and seizes opportunities for clients. The firm also works with clients to help them manage and share their sustainability journey in a way that is meaningful to their stakeholders, mitigates issues and builds brand reputation.

If you want to get in touch with Sefiani, please visit the following:

About 100% Renewables

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their climate action strategies and accompanying financing plans. If you need help with developing your climate action plan, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.