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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Keynote address 10th national business leaders forum on sustainable development

Speech
Parliament House, Canberra
29 May 2009

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The new sustainable business era

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people on whose land we meet and, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Introduction

It's a great pleasure to represent the Prime Minister here today, and congratulate the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development on your tenth anniversary.

I always look forward to this forum because it is here that sustainable development - both the idea and practice - continues to grow.

The CEOs in this Forum are the pioneers with a decade long commitment to sustainability as a core business issue, and significant steps in this regard have been taken when you have met in the past.

In 2007 for example, nearly 100 business leaders at this Forum responded to the then Government's inaction on climate change by releasing a consensus document, "A Climate Action Framework for Australia"

It was also this Forum which brought Al Gore to Australia for his first trip here in 2003. Your program goes to the heart of the big issues that confront us.

How we can best tackle climate change while sustaining both our economy and our environment - and in so doing, emerge a stronger, fairer nation better equipped for the future. As this years theme puts it: how we can turn risks into sustainable business opportunities?

Every week, it seems, we are reminded of how vulnerable our Australian environment is to climate change.

As communities in northern NSW and South-East Queensland mop up after yet another major deluge, heartbreaking evidence continues to be presented to the royal commission into the Victorian bushfires.

With the exception of a few newspaper columnists, and staggeringly, more than a handful of Coalition politicians, most of us are now acutely aware that the physical world we live in is changing as a result of human behaviour. And we want to do something about it.

The question we are all grappling with is how to provide jobs, how to prosper and how to increase the wellbeing of the community, while adapting to climate change, dealing with international market pressures, and in my area managing natural landscapes in serious decline.

It has been clear to most of us here for many years that the 'business as usual' approach is not working. In fact many here have successfully built careers on challenging old orthodoxies and promoting the opportunities of change.

The Rudd Government understands this, and is leading governments, industry and communities into a new era of sustainable development.

We are forging new directions on every front.

New directions in managing our natural environment and the ecosystem services it delivers.

New directions in pursuing a low carbon future with $4.5 billion Clean Energy initiative including significant new measures in energy efficiency, New directions in water management and in an area I want to share and explore in more detail today - waste management.

National waste policy

In November last year I announced that the Australian Government would lead the development of a new national waste policy.

The amount of waste we produce in this country grew by 28 per cent in the last five years of the previous government. If current trends continue, that figure will rise to 70 million tonnes by 2020, with more than half of that going to landfill.

Like so many of our big policy challenges, waste requires a new way of thinking and a new way of governing. Which is why it is a welcome task to report that last week the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, the State, Territory and Commonwealth ministers, reiterated their support for the development of an ambitious national waste policy by the end of the year.

This will deliver a new national vision and direction for waste for the first time since 1992 - and will do so in the context of broader government policies on climate change and the economy.

It is clear from the public forums we have held that there is strong interest and support - not only across governments but in business, industry and the community for a national waste policy that:

The national waste policy will also address those areas where national markets operate, so as to deliver efficient and effective outcomes for business and industry.

A case in point is the strong support for a national approach to product stewardship from all sectors of society.

Under product stewardship, the cost of disposing of end-of-life products is the responsibility of those who produce and consume the products and not the general community.

By sheeting home responsibility for waste products, we create the right environment for innovation in product design, reducing waste and reducing the use of hazardous materials.

This is one of those opportunities for change that I alluded to earlier.

Improving resource recovery and creating value is another such opportunity - from an environmental as well as economic and social point of view.

The national waste policy will address the important issue of organic waste, which still forms just over half of the waste stream.

We will consider what is the best use of this waste - for example should we use it to improve our depleted soils, to provide fuel for waste-to-energy technologies or to drive methane capture in landfills?

The answers aren't straightforward and different solutions will emerge for cities, towns and remote communities.

Waste minimisation

Just as there are opportunities for reducing carbon emissions through energy efficiency, there are significant business opportunities in the area of waste minimisation Changes in design and technological advances can create new products and processes that in turn reduce the waste generated through production - and the resources needed to produce a product.

Investment in new alternative waste treatment technology in Australia is not only diverting more waste away from landfill and into new value-added products, it is also generating extra environmental benefits.

We are seeing investments from companies such as Global Renewables, WSN Environmental and SITA in a range of different alternative waste treatment systems.

What they have in common is that they enable the extraction of recyclables such as paper, metals and plastics from general waste, they are able to rapidly process organics materials such as food into compost and they include gas capture and energy generation.

These technologies are not only diverting more waste away from landfill but they save energy, water and greenhouse emissions.

Another key challenge is to determine how the full environmental costs of managing waste might be factored into the supply chain for goods and services.

If this happened at the beginning of the production chain, it would be likely to influence product design, and the hazardous content of materials and components, manufacturing processes, packaging, transport and end-of-life disposal.

Choice modelling

The government recognises the importance of developing our policies and programs on the basis of evidence.

In the area of energy efficiency, there is abundant evidence that this is the fastest and leastcost pathway to reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

I have often cited the McKinsey 'Australian 2020 carbon abatement cost curve' which identifies a range of energy efficiency measures that have a negative cost - that is, investment in them actually pays.

I am pleased to report that similar evidence is emerging in the field of waste. We have just looked at a choice modelling study for recycling of televisions and computers.

It tells us that consumers are prepared to pay to have these goods disposed of in an environmentally sustainable manner - preferably to have them recycled.

Choice modelling has only very recently been used to gauge people's receptiveness to environmental policies. It has never before been used in the context of waste or recycling, so this is a significant step. It's a formal way of recognising and incorporating the community's environmental values into this important area of public policy.

The results of this study will be released as part of our consultation package for a national approach to recycling televisions and computers.

When we come to this e-waste, of course today's landfill is dramatically different from the mainly organic, biodegradable waste our 20th Century health regulations were drafted to deal with.

In 2005 approximately 312,930 tonnes of electronic equipment - nearly half of the estimated 697,000 tonnes we purchased that year - went to landfill.

Extraordinarily, one in four Australians buys a new television each year yet currently, only the Australian Capital Territory regulates for the domestic management of e-waste, by putting a levy on the disposal of televisions and computers at landfill sites.

Jobs

The guiding principle for this government, as we build a low-pollution, sustainable economy, is not to trade-off the environment for the economy, or the natural environment for the urban environment, but to secure both.

For us, a new era of sustainable development, in a new global economy, involves creating new green-collar jobs in the industries of the future.

Australia's waste management sector was worth $1.2 billion in 2002 - or 0.2 per cent of our GDP, and it provided around 14,000 jobs in more than one thousand public and private businesses. Most of those businesses - around 74 per cent, were small enterprises employing up to four people.

The Australian recycling industry, on the other hand, was worth $11.5 billion by 2006, or 1.2 per cent of our GDP. It provided 38,600 jobs - directly employing 10,900 people and indirectly employing another 27,700.

While I don't see the neighbourhood garbo becoming a threatened species just yet, I envisage waste management jobs of the future increasingly in recycling and in waste minimisation, in smart design and planning, in innovation and research.

National approach to green jobs

The Government will grow green jobs, green collar jobs, by building a low pollution economy, by greatly increasing the deployment of energy efficiency to Australian businesses and households.

And I noted with great interest the Obama administration announcement this week that it is looking at expanding retrofitting of commercial buildings, making American homes more energy efficient, and developing better tools to help people find green jobs.

In Australia, by increasing our renewable energy target to 20 per cent by 2020, the government expects to see investments of some $20 billion - an enormous area of growth.

Boosting renewable energy will require new jobs and skills, from the tradesman and technical experts who will provide maintenance on the wind turbines and solar panels through to the energy traders and auditors who will set performance indicators for our solar parks and wind farms.

The Climate Institute this week puts the number of new jobs in renewable energy projects under a carbon pollution reduction scheme at around 26,000, many of them in rural and regional Australia.

All jurisdictions agree that we need to focus urgently now on increasing access to and training in new 'green collar' jobs and incorporating new 'green skills' in existing jobs.

Government sustainability

You will be pleased to hear that a new era of sustainability is happening with my own department, as we aim to lead by example, to be the first in the Australian Government to specify a green focus as part of its information technology services contract. The department was looking not just for sustainability in the IT services provided by a contractor, but also in its own operations.

The successful tenderer, Datacom Systems, has an excellent track record in providing IT managed services in Australia and overseas and its proposed products for us meet at least the Silver requirements of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) standard - in many cases the Gold standard.

Datacom's Sydney data centre is also looking at a reciprocal arrangement with a neighbouring swimming pool on how its waste energy can heat the pool, and how the pool water might in turn help cool the building. It's a classic example of waste recovery.

And of course smart design and lateral thinking like this is that setting new directions for urban planning and product development.

Conclusion

I said at the beginning of this address that we are forging new directions in managing our natural environment, in energy efficiency, in water management and in waste management. I've talked about some of these reforms today, but there are others:

Of course the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme remains critical, as does the rapid deployment of complementary measures such as energy efficiency.

I've mentioned some of the Australian Government's own programs, but we're also working through the Council of Australian Governments to progress the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency, which will coordinate action across the Australian economy, harmonise regulations across jurisdictions and create a platform for continuous improvement in Australia's energy efficiency performance. In short it will remove some of the barriers that discourage households and businesses from reducing their own energy costs.

Action in these areas is long overdue, but let me say clearly that effective action will require consultation and partnership with business and industry, including those of you in this room.

There is much to report on and much yet to do. But it is the case that in the last 18 months we've rolled up our sleeves and advanced our agenda significantly.

We take sustainable development seriously, in the age of climate change that is a given. But we recognise that together we can provide continuing leadership, create opportunities and deliver solutions in a redesigned global economy that serves both citizens and the planet well into the future.

I look forward to continuing on that path with you.

Thank you.

Ends

Commonwealth of Australia