How are Australia’s largest businesses tackling sustainability, and navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by the transition to a net zero economy?

That was the question that opened Momentum: Accelerating Australia’s Transition, Commonwealth Bank’s third sustainability conference. Held at Sydney’s International Convention Centre, the event supports CBA’s mission to lead the transition conversation, and brought together leading minds to share ideas and insights to help accelerate the nation to a more sustainable and vibrant future.

The opening panel was hosted by Deborah Leerhsen, CBA’s Executive General Manager Global Institutional Banking Coverage, who was joined on stage by three CEOs: CBA’s Matt Comyn, Team Global Express’s Christine Holgate, and Stockland’s Tarun Gupta.

Each leader spoke about the importance of embedding sustainability at the highest levels of their business, not just within a sustainability team.

“Sustainability is the core strategy of the company,” said Mr Gupta. “It’s not a strategy on the side. In the next five to 10 years, either you are on board solving this collectively… or you’re going to be left behind.”

Mr Comyn agreed that the bank’s sustainability strategy is “tightly woven into our broader strategy and [CommBank’s] purpose” to build a brighter future for all.

“We put a lot of effort into thinking about, what's the right strategy? How do we support the country, how do we make sure that we're playing a leadership role in Australia's transition? Where should we allocate capital?” he said.

Mr Comyn added that the bank also considers how to support consumer demand by developing products that create financial incentives for the bank’s retail customers to manage and reduce their emissions. “Then hopefully we'll see the behavioural shift and we’ll start to get more and more momentum,” he quipped.

Ms Holgate explained that Team Global Express “really wants to embed [sustainability] into how we work” – a goal inspired by working with Swedish vehicle manufacturer Volvo on Australia’s largest logistics electric vehicle fleet.

“The Swedes, [sustainability] is what they wake up and do every day… it’s in their culture,” she said. “So we need to put it in our culture, and that's why we're putting [a sustainability officer] in with our people and culture teams.”

Mr Gupta acknowledged that Stockland has set ambitious sustainability targets – including bringing its goal of net zero scope 1 and scope 2 emissions forward five years to the end of 2025, which will be achieved in part by putting 35 football fields’ worth of solar arrays on the roofs of its shopping centres and other assets.

“Net zero in 2050 – that’s a long time, far away,” he explained. “We wanted to really work hard on committing to something more near term… because we need to get moving now.”

Ms Leershen closed the panel by bringing up the S in ESG: social, and what companies are doing to create a fairer and more equitable Australia.

Mr Gupta touched on Stockland’s moves to improve housing affordability, such as by supplying diverse types of homes to help buyers get into the market, while Ms Holgate discussed Team Global Express’s work to build a strong Australia-wide network to ensure fast, equitable deliveries whether you live “out of Mt Isa or in Double Bay [in inner Sydney]”.

Ms Leershen asked Mr Comyn how CBA, as Australia’s largest bank, is uniquely positioned to create positive societal impacts. He said the bank is committed to making “a substantial difference” in combating financial abuse, citing measures such as developing technology that prevents abusive transaction descriptions.

“It’s probably one of, if not the program that our people would have the greatest amount of resonance and pride in, and we think it's a really important,” he said.

Ms Leerhsen wrapped up with a succinct summary of the panel: “Embedding ESG in everything you do, deeply in your business strategy – it’s how you get momentum,” she concluded.

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