Australia’s largest companies must accept responsibility for cutting their emissions, rather than placing the burden on customers to purchase offsets, according to Telstra’s Ben Burge, who added that the company’s potential expansion into electricity retailing wouldn’t be credible without offering carbon neutral electricity.
Burge, who has been responsible for leading many of the telecom’s sustainability initiatives, says that large businesses need to take responsibility for reducing the emissions of their products, and suggested it was a ‘cop out’ to expect customers would voluntarily opt-in to paying for carbon offsets.
He told the Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit on Thursday that progress towards zero net emissions, and in particular, corporate commitments to achieving carbon neutrality, had to happen despite a lack of meaningful policies set at a national level, and without the government committing to a zero emissions target.
Burge, who had previously served as the head of electricity retailer Powershop before taking on his role with Telstra, said it was important that companies started to accept direct responsibility for the emissions associated with their products, and avoid placing the burden on customers.
“We know that as humans we cannot help but freeride when we’ve got the choice. So when companies come to markets saying ‘let’s give our customers the choice to buy a more climate positive product’, I think that’s a complete cop-out, because we know exactly what happens,” Burge told the summit.
“We think the best thing we can do is take the choice out of the hands of the customer, because that is not a burden they should carry. We are the ones who are running the value chain, so we need to take take that choice away from them and take care of that part of the value chain.”
“If we continue to debate and ask – what’s the best government policy to stimulate action? Or what’s the best way to get customers to make a choice – we will be having that debate underwater because of coastal inundation, and if not coastal inundation, we will have been swept up in the pyrocumulus cloud visited upon us by the mega blaze, right?”
“So we take the burden away from the customer and we take the debate away from the government. Because both of those things are relatively futile in the scheme of things,” Burge added.
Since taking on a leadership role at Telstra, Burge has overseen the growth of Telstra’s budget mobile and broadband internet offering, Belong, which has been pitched as a low-cost, but certified carbon neutral, communications provider.
More recently, Telstra itself announced in July that it had also become carbon neutral, following an announcement that it would transition to using 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2025.
Burge further alluded to the prospects of Telstra moving in to the electricity retailer space, saying that any such move would require the company to also offer carbon neutral electricity, to have any credibility in the space.
“I don’t think we could credibly go into the market and not do [carbon neutrality]. So, without positively saying what our products are going to be, because we haven’t talked about that yet, I think it’d be a real would struggle to launch a product that didn’t achieve [carbon neutrality],” Burge said.
Raphael Wood, who heads carbon markets consultancy Market Advisory Group, told the summit that despite the disruptions caused by Covid-19 throughout 2020, that a growing number of corporates, like Telstra, had started exploring the market for carbon offsets and making commitments to purchase offsets for their emissions.
However, Wood added that some were being dissuaded from participating due to a need for the Australian carbon market to further mature, including a need to increase the levels of transparency and integrity within Australian and international carbon markets.
“We seen fundamental shifts in this market in the last 12 months. I don’t know if it’s Covid, but there’s been a lot happening around corporates moving to take action. It’s been inspiring to watch Telstra grab a hold of this with both hands and just run forward with it. It’s been really interesting and there’s another couple of dozen corporates who are working to understand this market,” Wood said.
“There are some issues that everyone comes up against, integrity and transparency, they are issues when we see people step up to have a go and have a look that do scare a few people back.”