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Becoming an agent of systems change


25 March 2021 at 8:32 am
David Ritter
Shifting major institutions to using only clean electricity is a highly effective way of delivering systems change, writes David Ritter, who thanks all the technicians and decision-makers at the line up of massive Australian firms that are now making the switch.


David Ritter | 25 March 2021 at 8:32 am


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Becoming an agent of systems change
25 March 2021 at 8:32 am

Shifting major institutions to using only clean electricity is a highly effective way of delivering systems change, writes David Ritter, who thanks all the technicians and decision-makers at the line up of massive Australian firms that are now making the switch.

A clean energy zephyr is sweeping through the boardrooms of some of Australia’s best known major businesses.

Last week it was Coles who announced a suite of major new initiatives, including the headline commitment of sourcing 100 per cent clean electricity by 2025.

I was invited to participate in the launch ceremony at the Coles store in Moonee Ponds. Greenpeace never accepts any funding from any government or business ever, anywhere in the world – it is crucial to our independence – but it is really important to give credit where credit is due. Thousands of Greenpeace supporters had made their sentiments known to Coles this year – making the call for the company to switch to clean power by 2025 – and now that insistence was becoming a reality.

What struck me, though, were the sentiments of the Coles staff with whom I spent some time on the day. Not everyone can work for Greenpeace – or for any of the other terrific organisations in the Australia Beyond Coal Alliance or the Climate Action Network Australia – but all of us can play a part in the jobs that we have and the institutions of which we are part.

As eminent climate scientist Michael Mann writes in his fantastic new book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet, “changing the system requires systemic change” so “there is no path of escape from climate change catastrophe that doesn’t involve policies aimed at societal decarbonisation”. Shifting major institutions to using only clean electricity – as a key milestone to net zero emissions across all of their activities – is a highly effective way of delivering systems change. 

So, everyone who has worked hard at Coles – or any of the other major businesses that have now committed to only using electricity from renewable sources by 2025 or earlier – in delivering the pathway to clean power, has become an agent of systems change. And that is absolutely awesome – because we need all of our institutions pulling together to deliver rapid decarbonisation across every sector.

To all the technicians and decision-makers at the line up of massive Australian firms like Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, Bunnings, Officeworks, Telstra, Coca-Cola Amatil and Lion – great stuff and thank you for being agents of the urgent systems change that is necessary to drive Australia’s clean energy transformation. (Of course, there’s other critically important stuff that needs doing too – like plastic waste reduction, which we will continue working on).

The significance of the announcements is in the raw figures. These are measurable and real carbon abatements to be delivered by systemically significant economic actors.

Coles and Woolworths between them account for roughly 2 per cent of the National Electricity Market – that will now shift away from coal to wind and solar. The difference in scale between individual action and systems change as a lever is well-illustrated by the Coles announcement; their shift is the equivalent of every home in the whole of Tasmania going solar in one go.

And then there’s the story-telling that goes with it. Aldi has set the standard for speed by declaring that they will be buying only clean energy by the end of 2021. But what is also super important is that they have told this story through some cheeky advertising. Other companies have also put advertising spend around the story of their clean energy conversion – and the cumulative impact is that the national story is changing. 

As Chanticleer opined in the AFR earlier this week, “corporates go where Morrison fears to tread” making “ambitious climate change commitments that are in stark contrast to the Morrison government’s lack of leadership on the issue”. Renewable energy is cheaper, more reliable, less polluting and what employees, customers and stakeholders expect of a decent company.

The beauty of these corporate announcements too, is that they are driving tangible clean energy investments and bringing new jobs to regional Australia. The Lal Lal Wind Farms in Ballarat, for example, is a major beneficiary of the Coles announcement. 

Of course, there are still other companies out there that need to play their part. In the telco sector, while it is now more than a year since Telstra committed to powering their operations with clean energy by 2025, we are yet to see a matching commitment from Optus.

And on the supply side, the UN has said that wealthy nations must phase out coal-burning power stations by 2030. This means every one of Australia’s coal-burning operators needs a plan to meet this deadline. AGL for example, which is the nation’s single largest polluter, responsible for approximately 8 per cent of Australia’s total carbon emissions, urgently needs an exit strategy. 

Any one of Australia’s fossil fuel companies that closes their coal, oil or gas operations rapidly, in line with the science, and truly pivots their business to adopt clean energy can also become part of the solution.


David Ritter  |  @ProBonoNews

David Ritter is the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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