Barbara’s story and the future of sustainability

I’ve recently been asked to present on the future of sustainability at a panel discussion of the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability. Here is an extract of my opening remarks, which explains why I changed careers and what I see as the future of sustainability.

12 years ago, in 2009, I gave birth to my second child. Leading up to giving birth, I was reflecting on my life and the future life of my two children. I had a cushy job in cybersecurity and risk management and a great career ahead of me. My job was interesting, but something was nagging at me.

It was the knowledge that rising greenhouse gas emissions are changing our planet and that we are destroying the world as I know and love it. I also knew that we could do something about this and that we could change our course, that it wasn’t too late.

If I really wanted this change, then it wasn’t going to be good enough to continue my life as it was and to keep making the problem worse. If I really was a risk manager, then climate change would be the biggest risk of all, and I would have to do something to mitigate this risk.

Once I came to this realisation, the logical conclusion was to divert my brainpower from a job in cybersecurity to a job where I had a positive impact and where my actions changed the world for the better.

I thought long and hard about where my passion lies and where I could have the biggest impact. I love business. I also love sustainability, and so I decided to work at the intersection of the two. I wanted to help business change.

And that’s what I did. I quit my job and went into business.

Unfortunately, in 2009, Australia wasn’t ready for big changes. Electricity generation from solar and wind was expensive. Only a few households had solar installed. The term ‘net zero’ wasn’t widely used around that time. In fact, the first time ‘net zero’ made it into mainstream media was when the Financial Times reported on it towards the end of 2014.

But in 2015, the world changed. Almost 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement that commits us to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees. It was also the year that the global goals were released that put a framework around what a sustainable planet looks like. These two landmark events gave us targets that could be cascaded down from countries to businesses, to individuals.

2015 was also when renewables were getting cheaper, which made them much more attractive to businesses and households. And it was also in that year that our business developed one of the first organisational plans to achieve 100% renewable energy. It was the first time that we had an opportunity to look holistically at a whole business to see how 100% renewables could be achieved.

When we developed that plan, we saw that it was possible to operate with renewable energy and reach net zero emissions while driving financial performance. We were so excited about this revelation that we named our business ‘100% Renewables’ – it encapsulates our vision that in future, all organisations will be powered with renewables and have zero emissions. Since then, we have helped over 100 organisations develop their net zero plan and have grown the business to a national team of net zero specialists.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an important report. Since industrialisation, we have emitted more than 2,560 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases. We have only 400 billion tonnes of emissions left before we exceed a safe climate. So basically, we have already emitted over 85% of all emissions we can ever emit. What we need to do now is make deep cuts to our emissions immediately.

We need to be focusing our minds, behaviour, our effort, our engineering to achieve this huge goal, globally, while simultaneously achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. We have built our wealth on burning fossil fuels; now we need to focus on being more sustainable while lifting the developing world out of poverty. The developing world needs to have access to the same opportunities that we have, and we need to help them achieve a better way of life.

For this to happen, everyone needs to act, countries, companies and civil society.

From our work with businesses helping them develop net zero plans and implementing them, we know that achieving net zero emissions has multiple benefits for an organisation. It increases efficiency, climate resilience, employee acquisition and retention, improves reputation, and drives investment in low carbon technology & product innovation.

Responses to climate change can be both big and small. On a grid level, with the development of Renewable Energy Zones, our grid is getting greener. At the same time, rooftop solar has now been installed on more than 3 million households and businesses in Australia. Together, this has a big impact.

Let me give you a great statistic: By the end of 2009, which is when my second child was born, 187MW of solar capacity had been installed in total in Australia, which is now roughly the capacity that is being installed in a single month.

Just recently in South Australia, solar from rooftop and large-scale plants met a bit over 100% of the State’s electricity demand during one morning, and later that same day, rooftop solar alone met almost 90% of the State’s power demand! So even though rooftop solar is individually small and is based on the buying decisions of lots of people, together, they have a big impact.

I get very excited by organisations establishing leadership in net zero emissions, and we decided to share their stories in a podcast. Earlier this year, we released the first episode, which showcased a revolving energy fund in the community whereby one dollar that someone contributes can fund multiple emission reduction opportunities. We have also featured organisations such as NextDC, Lion or Global Fashion Group. We also had one episode on how behaviour change can help achieve net zero. Stories need to be shared so that we can all learn from them and work towards net zero emissions, together.

In my opinion, the future of sustainability is every one of us working together to transform our whole society to achieve zero emissions and to leave no one behind.

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

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