Nearly three-quarters of Australian workers believe the businesses that employ them have the power – and the responsibility – to significantly improve the impacts of climate change, new research has found.
The research, commissioned by Atlassian Corporation – the Sydney-based software company co-founded by renewables advocate and investor Mike Cannon-Brookes – surveyed more than 1,200 Australian employees on their expectations of the moral and societal obligations of business.
The study, conducted by PwC, found 69% thought businesses should be equally concerned with their societal impact as with their financial performance, while a further 78% agreed businesses should take full responsibility for their environmental impact
Across all demographics, environmental issues emerged as a key area of concern, according to the survey’s results, with the majority of employees looking to business to help drive meaningful change in waste and pollution.
On climate change, 70% of the employees surveyed agree that businesses had the ability to significantly improve the impacts of climate change – if they acted now.
“As business leaders, we have an awesome responsibility,” said Cannon-Brookes, who is co-CEO at Atlassian. “Employees want us to ensure we are making the planet better, not worse.
“Faced with government inaction on some of our biggest problems, it’s the business community that can step up and drive meaningful change.”
Cannon-Brookes has walked the talk on this front, using both his corporate profile and enormous wealth to drive some of Australia’s most significant renewable energy generation and storage projects, and to de-bunk anti-renewables myths.
Most famously, when Elon Musk idly boasted that he could fix South Australia’s energy problems with a grid-scale battery storage system in 100 days, Cannon-Brooks used his Twitter account and his clout to challenge him to deliver.
And Musk did. His company built what has been casually called the Tesla big battery at Hornsdale in less than 100 days, and the battery has changed the thinking about the grid, repeatedly demonstrating its ability to keep the lights on, even when transmission lines are falling down around it.
But other business leaders are taking action too. Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, for example, last week emerged as a key backer of a takeover offer for troubled wind farm developer Windlab.
Through Squadron Energy, he has also reportedly stepped in to finance the completion of the 128MW Cunderdin solar farm in Western Australia, and provided early investments in the ambitious Northern Territory Sun Cable project, also being pursued by Cannon-Brookes, that proposes to supply Australian renewable energy to Singapore via an undersea cable.
And in many other companies in all sectors around Australia, the push to the smarter use of energy – both through efficiency and the use of renewables – is being embraced for both environmental and economic reasons.
But clearly more can, and must, be done. “Many companies focus only on the Return on Investment and delivering profit for shareholders. But times have changed,” said Scott Farquhar, Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO.
“As business leaders we should listen to the views of the workforce; focusing on our impact on society delivers a return of its own. It’s now on us to respond,” he said.
Luke Sayers, the CEO of PwC Australia, said it was unrealistic to rely on governments alone for the solutions to complex problems like climate change.
“Businesses must have a voice, contribute insights, take a position and innovate,” he said. “It’s what most employees expect of their employers and it’s also the only way we are going to find the right solutions and build a secure and sustainable path for future generations.”