Manufacturers turning greener

AT a time when the world is firmly focused on all aspects of the environment, it is very satisfying to be able to report that Australian businesses are deeply concerned about greenhouse emissions and are taking steps to reduce their consumption of electricity, gas, water usage and waste production.

AT a time when the world is firmly focused on all aspects of the environment, it is very satisfying to be able to report that Australian businesses are deeply concerned about greenhouse emissions and are taking steps to reduce their consumption of electricity, gas, water usage and waste production.

The concerns of industry were made clear in a joint Ai Group – Sustainability Victoria survey of environment management practices in Australia. In what is the largest study of its kind ever conducted in Australia, we surveyed 810 companies in the manufacturing and commercial construction sectors representing 10.5% of total activity in these sectors.

The report, Environmental Sustainability and Industry, Road to a Sustainable Future, examined management attitudes and practices in relation to environmental sustainability. It was, in part, aimed at documenting and gaining a better understanding of business environmental performance in Australia.

The report told us that industry shared with the wider community an understanding of its obligation to be socially responsible but it also told us they were conscious of the risk to their competitiveness from higher costs.

Companies clearly need more information on how they can improve sustainable practices, they need a better understanding of an emissions trading scheme, and they need better incentives, particularly the small to medium firms.

Ai Group is already heavily involved in providing energy efficiency services to member companies through the Energy and Sustainable Business Help Desk and workshops and the report clearly showed that more investment was needed from both government and business in this area.

We learned from the survey that while Australian companies were concerned about lowering their greenhouse gas emissions, alarmingly only 10% of companies said they were informed enough to manage the risks associated with climate change.

Ai Group’s Victorian President, Don Matthews, is chief executive of paper group SCA Hygiene and one of the large Australian companies that is totally committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Matthews says SCA has made inroads on several fronts, including buying virgin fibre only from certified suppliers, reducing waste sent to landfill, cutting carbon dioxide emissions year to year and reducing water consumption.

I am confident initiatives like this will soon become part of normal business practice.

Key findings in the study include:

• 78% of companies believed they had a responsibility to contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions, even if it increased costs to the business.

• One quarter of firms identified one or more high risks from climate change, while a further 44% identified medium level risks.

• Loss of competitiveness due to cost pressures was considered to be the highest risk deriving from climate change.

• 73% of large firms had a written environment policy.

• Around 40% of companies indicated they had taken one or more actions to lower greenhouse emissions.

• The most critical priority identified was managing electricity usage while close to 45% of firms considered reduction of water usage another major priority.

• Only 14% of companies stated they understood the concept of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) well or very well while 40% said they had no understanding at all.

• Unsurprisingly, therefore, 69% of companies were undecided on their support for an ETS for Australia.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming Federal election, Australia will introduce an emissions trading scheme over the next few years.