Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Keen to be Green

Herald Sun
Saturday 18/11/2006 Page: 96

Some CEOs are leading from the home front on reducing carbon emissions

THE warming of the planet has prompted a radical lifestyle change for IAG chief executive Michael Hawker. The former rugby union international, who played 24 tests for the Wallabies, has been at the vanguard of the push within corporate Australia for the introduction of a carbon emissions trading scheme.

But like a growing number of business leaders, the environmental challenge facing the planet has touched Hawker personally, causing him to rethink his world view and change his way of living.

Hawker is passionate about making his domestic life as greenhouse friendly as he can. He is relaxed and comfortable about waxing discussion of maximising shareholder returns with lowering greenhouse emissions. He says the two are not mutually exclusive, he says.

"My wife has been a very strong influence in doing what we can do in our family to reduce pollution and minimise our impact on the resources of the planet," Hawker says.

"She comes from a rural background and she understands the value of what the land can give you and grew up in droughts, so we've always been recycling." The Hawker family's commitment to the environment means they have organic vegetable garden along with a peep of chickens. Their house is designed to capture and use rainwater and has solar panels and wind turbines on the roof for household energy.

So does Hawker consider himself a devout down-to-earth greenie? "I'm a pragmatist," he says. "It's been an economically sensible thing for us to do - I don't pay as much as I used to in water rates." Hawker says most people would be able to save money on utility bills by reducing their reliance on coal-fired electricity. "We've got all these brick houses with air conditioners, which I think is a nonsense," he says.

Hawker has also reduced his family's carbon emissions by buying a car with a hybrid engine that can run on petrol and electricity. He was one of the first Australians to buy a Toyota Prius, the world's first commercially produced hybrid automobile.

The Prius has been marketed around the world since 2001 and IAG was one of the first companies to adopt the vehicle as the mainstay of its corporate fleet soon after.

Hawker is adamant the company's move to increase its use of renewable energy has generated savings for the group. He says the company has reduced the annual bill of domestic air travel by executives by increasing its use of video conferencing. All of the initiatives are part of a program to make the group carbon neutral by 2012.

"Our commitment to action on climate change is about ensuring the long-term sustainability of our company and the communities in which we operate," Hawker says.

"We have been working on ways to reduce our own carbon dioxide footprint, alerting the community about the risks of climate can"" and researching opportunities for our customers to benefit from carbon dioxide-reducing activities." While Hawker has been an overt proponent for lowering greenhouse emissions for many years, other CEOs are now also highlighting their personal commitment to lowering emissions.

BlueScope Steel chief executive Kirby Adams recently added a rainwater harvesting system to his house to reduce water consumption. The country's largest steel maker offers discounts to employees and shareholders who buy rainwater water tanks for household use.

Steel making contributes to around 2 per cent of all greenhouse emissions, with every tonne of steel produced generating around 2.2 tonnes of damaging gases. For the past five years, BlueScope Steel and other leading steel producers around the world have been sponsoring research aimed at developing new ways to produce steel with less coal.

On Thursday the NSW Government and BlueScope Steel signed a deal that paves the way for Bluescope to develop a $700 million co-generation electricity plant at its Port Kembla steelworks.

The plant will capture gas emissions from steel furnaces to generate up to 120 megawatts of baseload electricity. It is estimated that the plant will save about 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions from entering the atmosphere each year. Apart from these initiatives, Mr Adams has accepted an offer to join a five-member business taskforce to advise Prime Minister Howard on an emissions trading scheme.

Another key member of the taskforce is Michael Chaney, the president of the Business Council of Australia. In a watershed address to BCA members in Sydney this week, Mr Chaney likened his view on global warming to his outlook on insurance.

"I doubt if my house will burn down, but I'm prepared to pay a premium just in case," he said.

Despite the BCA's concerns on the potential impact of global warming, Mr Chaney said Australia should not be too concerned about signing the Kyoto Protocol.

"Calls for Australia to sign up to Kyoto run the risk of distracting us from developing more meaningful solutions," he said. "The basis for a valid long-term solution to reducing carbon emissions is a market-driven global compact."