More than 1200 attendees and 46 speakers gathered at Sydney’s International Convention Centre on 12 March for Momentum: Accelerating Australia’s Transition – CommBank’s third sustainability conference.

The goal of the event was to share ideas and solutions that can help power the nation’s transition to a more sustainable and vibrant future. Here are some of the key takeaways from the event:

Embed sustainability at the highest levels of a business

Three CEOs — CBA’s Matt Comyn, Team Global Express’s Christine Holgate, and Stockland’s Tarun Gupta — agreed sustainability should be embedded in executive teams, not just sustainability teams. “Sustainability is the core strategy of [Stockland],” 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. Ms Holgate added that Team Global Express “really wants to embed [sustainability] into how we work”.  “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,” she said.

Read more about the CEO panel at Momentum.

The five things Australian households should electrify

Australia is truly the lucky country with abundant renewable energy sources, and “we are on the cusp of a windfall for households where solar and battery is cheaper than the grid,” says engineer and entrepreneur Saul Griffith. While the journey to net zero can seem like a daunting challenge, Mr Griffith encourages all Australians to take action as the decisions we make to power our own homes and personal transport will make a real difference in the journey to net zero.

Electrifying everything with renewable energy will save Australians $1.7 trillion each year — or $5000 per household — however, initial costs remain a barrier and “market intervention at scale is needed to accelerate adoption”. In addition to the environmental benefits and household savings, communities will win in the transition as renewable energy creates additional local jobs while keeping more spending in the community that would currently be spent on fossil fuels. Mr Griffith calls for all Australians to electrify five things in their households over the next decade: car, kitchen, space heater, water heater, solar/battery – which will get us well on our way to electrifying everything.

Collaboration and innovation are essential to create tomorrow’s net zero cities

Transitioning to a net zero city is not a nice to have, it’s one of the critical challenges we face in protecting communities from the impacts of climate change and improving liveability. No one industry or sector can solve this challenge — it requires collaboration and innovation. Intersections between industries, the supply chain and customers will spark the innovation required to transition to net zero cities. Felicity Lloyd, Chief Sustainability Officer at Adbri, cited a recent partnership with Canada Steam Ship Lines to build and operate the world’s first fully electric battery-capable self-unloading vessel. She’s hopeful that the knowledge built through this collaboration “will flow onto the movement of other materials around the country as well”.

You can’t improve what you can’t measure

To successfully unlock the triple bottom line of productivity, profitability and sustainability, it’s vital for the agriculture sector to enable farmers to measure and report their environmental and economic impact. Raising awareness and measurement, and supporting farmers to collect information and data, will create greater clarity around their actions and how they can be accountable for their own emissions. Working with the sector also builds confidence in farmers to try and help solve the problem, giving them a better understanding of the “so what?” and “who cares?”, and the data can be given a meaningful purpose. “The people who are interested in that data… can come up with incentive structures or potentially penalty structures or allocate capital to reduce emissions at the farm level to help them achieve their target,” said Bobby Miller, founder of emission platform Ruminati.

Read more about CBA’s pilot with Ruminati.

Australia to lead in the carbon market

There’s a growing opportunity for Australia to be a leader and demonstrate the potential in the supply of high-integrity carbon credits. Rob Waterworth, founder and chief science and innovation officer of Flintpro, believes Australia is a step ahead of the rest of the world in measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of carbon credits. “Australia has led the world in the land sector for nearly 25 years. No one else has built systems specifically to support carbon markets from the ground up. It's effectively underpinned the entire carbon market to date. It's a remarkable achievement,” he said.

Saul Griffith Saul Griffith at Momentum

Optimism about Australia’s energy future

A panel dedicated to discussing Australia’s energy future explored how to meet the ambitious goal of supporting approximately 5.5 gigawatts of new electricity generation every year to meet the federal government's 2030 energy target. The session discussed the best path forward to deliver the energy transition and how industry can seize key opportunities and overcome major obstacles as we approach this critical milestone on the path to net zero. The speakers shared their optimism for the future, and commended the commitment, intelligence and passion of their purpose-driven teams that are driving the energy transition forward.

Tim Nelson, Iberdrola Australia’s Executive General Manager, Energy Markets, celebrated the advances already being made: “There have been a lot of people saying, ‘Oh we'll never get it done on time. It'll be too expensive,’ and they've been wrong every time. Markets have found a way to get that investment into the market and get that new supply in,” he said.

Businesses face challenges deploying AI solutions sustainably

Artificial intelligence brings new benefits such as accelerating innovation and maximising value and productivity, but it also increases the demands on digital infrastructure — which results in higher electricity usage, posing a conflict with environmental regulations. Intel has a three-pronged approach to sustainability: reducing environmental footprint, building sustainable products and solutions and collaborating with stakeholders. Their holistic approach combines hardware and software innovations with open-source solutions to help lower the footprint of digital infrastructure. Intel sees AI as a powerful tool to improve sustainability across various sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and energy management. By leveraging AI techniques like smart agriculture and optimisation tools, businesses can increase productivity, reduce waste and enhance the customer experience while lowering their carbon footprint.

Retrofitting is critical on our path to net zero

With 60 per cent of carbon emissions within cities being attributable to buildings, retrofitting existing buildings will be critical on our path to net zero. Although more environmentally friendly buildings are increasingly attractive to investors and tenants, Annabel MacFarlane, head of strategic research at JLL, warned “regulatory frameworks globally are moving from carrots to sticks.” “Market-leading characteristics will have to apply to everyone and emissions reporting will be requirements for all businesses,” she said, noting that New York is already pioneering new emissions laws for buildings which would likely take off elsewhere.

Bram Adema, founder and managing director at CFP Green Buildings, commended the Australian NABERS model which measures building sustainability through carbon emissions, rather than credits, while acknowledging that knowing where to start can be challenging for commercial property owners and developers. Last year, CBA launched the Green Buildings Tool in partnership with CFP – to help commercial property owners identify and implement investments that uplift the sustainability of their building operations.

Funding first-of-its-kind plants is a key challenge for scaling emerging climate tech

Traditional venture capital firms aren’t well setup to help scale climate technology, says Wollemi Capital Managing Director and co-founder, Paul Hunyor. The traditional VC mindset, summed up as "move fast and break things", can work well to prove efficacy of a particular technology. However, it then takes a different set of skills to commercialise that technology all the way to an infrastructure-scale investable asset. "These teams do not really understand permitting construction risk, manufacturing risk and all of these elements of project-level de-risking,” he said. This skills gap presents a challenge for funding first-of-its-kind plants required to commercialise and scale climate technology – a challenge that Wollemi is focused on tackling, Hunyor said.

Read about CBA’s investment in Wollemi Capital.

‘Face into the storm’ to tackle climate change

There aren’t many people who know more about how one person can change the lives of millions than famed environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, who was famously played by Julia Roberts in the Academy Award-winning film about how a single mother and legal assistant exposed a massive corporate cover-up of groundwater contamination.

In her keynote address, Ms Brockovich encouraged her audience to tackle the challenge of climate change by returning to the analogy of buffalo: strong, wild animals that face into storms.

“Because [a buffalo] knows if it faces the storm, it gets through it faster, and if it turns its back to the storm, the worst side catches them — the winds,” Ms Brockovich said. “And that is a little of what we’ve done – we've turned away from the storm, and I’m going to ask everyone now, it’s time for us to turn into the storm.”

Read more about Erin Brockovitch’s Momentum keynote.

Written by:

  • Annabelle Bamford
  • Georgia Burns
  • Gigi Sardelic
  • Kate Patterson
  • Primrose Clarke
  • Samantha Danckert
  • Samantha O’Brien
  • Sam Downing
  • Tatyana Shumsky

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