This is my final week in a three-year journey as the head of Business SA, your chamber of commerce and industry in South Australia. Together, we have navigated drought, bushfires, and a global pandemic that has seen growth for some businesses, closed the doors for others, and somewhere else along that spectrum for so many more.
As I have written each monthly sustainable business piece over those years, I have remained acutely aware of the potentially dichotomous role that I hold as an employer advocate and also as the Chair of the Premier’s Climate Change Council in South Australia. In my mind, these two have aligned far more seamlessly than I could have ever hoped.
In this final piece, I want to talk about the elephant in the room. Us. The complex, wonderous and individual creatures that we are. We each approach our own unique experience of human life differently. With our personal upbringings, we are influenced by those formative years as we become adults within the world. This means that there are sometimes polarising positions that we can take on almost any issue of importance. And when no one wants to be proven wrong, how do we get consensus on an issue like the sustainable use of our planet’s resources? In my view, we can only achieve this with a greater emphasis on the most valuable and effective enabler of change, communication.
Ultimately, it is fraught with all the inherent bias we each carry, underpinned by (sometimes!) nefarious intentions. So, what can we do? Thankfully, I have seen the pendulum shift over the past few years regarding the vital topic of sustainability. There has been a significant deepening in the understanding that sustainability is not only a “nice to have” but also a wise investment. As important as it is, this is not purely an environmental issue that only a segment of the population should concern themselves with, but a resource efficiency opportunity for everyone. And isn’t business all about resource efficiency?
If we can learn to use what we have more efficiently, business margins can improve by doing more with less. We have seen how the renewable energy sector flourished here in South Australia because of successive governments’ bi-partisan decisions and large-scale private investment. The South Australian community is proud of this internationally recognised achievement and looks forward to what we can do next to reduce waste further, develop a circular economy, and build a hydrogen plant.
Talking about resource efficiency rather than the more abstract term ‘taking climate action’ gives it more significant meaning for the business community. When we look at the resources that go into business operations and consider the options for using them smarter, it takes on a different perspective. In doing so, we can cultivate internal leadership in our operations from those who have new and valuable ideas to improve processes. Leadership can come from all levels within an organisation and fostering a collaborative spirit around sustainability will bring many of these to the surface.
David Speirs did a very good as the former minister for environment and water. I do not doubt that Deputy Premier Dr Susan Close will do an excellent job with the portfolio of climate, environment and water. The world envies South Australia’s bi-partisan approach toward climate change and sustainability. The Government of South Australia committed to net-zero by 2050 and these commitments are made because our parliamentarians know there is a mandate from the South Australian constituency to make them. Business owners are constituents themselves; therefore, there is significant social capital amongst many South Australians. We have defined ourselves as a population wanting to avoid waste, as one that wants energy security based on the best use of our natural resources, and as a global leader in sustainability.
We didn’t get here by chance. We got here because we spoke about what was important to us, and our leaders listened. It was never one side ‘winning’ over the other, but instead taking a journey together, and South Australians can feel incredibly proud of our sustainability journey so far. I look forward to continuing to take this journey as I head back into private enterprise and as the Chair of the Premier’s Climate Change Council this year.