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Business creatively meeting the sustainability challenge

06 September, 2011

The question of sustainability is often seen to be at odds with industry and sound economic management – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

The sustainability agenda and the economic growth agenda should not be in competition, according to Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott.

"Without growth we cannot invest in the innovation, technology and education that is vital to drive a more sustainable future," Westacott told a sustainability forum in Sydney last week.

"Stifling growth is not a path to a sustainable future."

She said the timing was right to reclaim the sustainability agenda by demonstrating the reality that business was the natural home for such an agenda.

Global developments, the business case for sustainability and business creativity in practice were detailed at the forum, which was held by the Business Council of Australia with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

"The sustainability agenda is a vital agenda for all Australian businesses. I do not know of an Australian business that does not take this very seriously and see it as both a critical issue of leadership, risk management and cost effectiveness," Westacott said.

Westacott said businesses were already leading the sustainability agenda because: it believes in a leadership role; it makes good business sense; it is economic reality to want to reduce input costs; it’s a magnet for investors and high-quality staff; it’s fundamental to the social licence to operate; and business has the capacity, resources and capital to drive innovation.

She said what business needs is a positive and constructive environment that supports innovation and sustainability. That environment is about lowering costs, reducing regulatory burdens and enabling innovation.

"One of the Business Council of Australia’s concerns with the federal government’s Clean Energy Future carbon pricing package is that it does not yet have the safeguards to ensure lowest cost investment or innovation and this presents considerable risks to our competitiveness," she said.

Forum attendees also heard about specific programs undertaken by Australian companies. Among the examples of business creativity in practice detailed at the forum were Adelaide Brighton’s commitment to sustainable development through a balanced program of business-based initiatives.

The company believes actioning sustainability objectives throughout the organisation positions it for long-term competitive performance. The Alternative Resources program operates in all divisions of Adelaide Brighton to conserve natural resources, lower greenhouse gas and energy footprints, and utilise waste and by-product materials.

In 2010 Adelaide Brighton used over 800,000t of waste materials, and substituted the equivalent of 40,000t of coal for energy.

Bunnings, which is part of the Wesfarmers Group has had a zero tolerance approach to the use of illegal timber in its supply chain since 2001 because of a belief it is not only the right thing to do but is expected by customers and team members.

Bunnings has partnered with the WWF and Greenpeace on programs to ensure legal timber use, and in 2007 launched its Forest Stewardship Council certified outdoor furniture range. More than 99 per cent of timber purchased is now sourced from low-risk plantations and other verified or certified sustainable forest operations.

The forum called on business to reclaim a common ground, common sense approach to sustainability to achieve outcomes that are good for the community, for the economy and for business.

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