Asia House hosted a fantastic session on sustainability yesterday morning, hosted by some of the key people in sustainability running huge companies, from Nestlé, Standard Chartered Bank, Accenture, Temasek and Air Asia Company Limited to name a few. But it was the head of Sustainability from GoTo Group, an Indonesian mega company with 2.7m employees and drivers that rocked the room.
I was very fortunate to have met Tanah Sullivan in Jakarta 6 weeks ago, and to say she put my faith back into turning things around rapidly on the environmental damage we are causing is an understatement. Without offending everyone I know and read about in sustainability, Tanah simply stands out head and shoulders above us all when it comes to our efforts toward changing direction and hitting NetZero goals.
What stands out is her sheer passion and focus, on top of unwavering commitment to hitting sustainability goals, that GoTo are so heavily focused on. Its not box ticking that Tanah focused on, it is looking at the unique and obvious issues that her company have, as we all do, but she is out solving them, not easy wins, but the complex, difficult ones that need radical and left field thinking, then implementing permanent change.
GoTo have three commitments, their three zeros’: Zero Emissions, Zero Waste, Zero Carbon, and they are inspirational to say the least in how they are achieving this. Tanah and her small team of 5 have done more for sustainability than anyone else I have met to date, and it is their thoroughly embedded thinking about how everything matters that has led them here.
What is most unique about Tanah and her team is that they have been around for only three years, yet they have made such noteworthy change in how the company works. And where do they see themselves in two years? Successful and out of a job. Yes, read that again: successful and out of a job. You see, as Tanah stated to me, if you implement complete change, embed change into every aspect of how the company runs, why would you hang around after that? Instead, move on to the next company that needs to change. This may sound absurd, but according to their philosophy, there is no need for anyone in sustainability to do anything except get into the field, implement policy changes, before then allowing the system to sustainably work for itself. This is the attitude that many in sustainability should be focusing on; massive, rapid change with a data set that illustrates impact.
From resolving how to recycle and profit from it, to designing the new electric motorbikes, to ensuring one of their divisions a bit like “Amazon” only sends one package, in a single, fully recycled box, was fundamental. Obsessing across every possible way to deliver the Three Zero’s and not being afraid of some failures along the way is why, for us to have any hope in hitting our targets, this must be the attitude of us all. Her solution to get the vast majority of consumers to offset all of their purchases was again a remarkable coup, not as is the case of airlines getting 1% to offset flights!
Invaluable input also came from Head of Sustainability for Nestlé UK&I (Dr. Emma Keller), a company with around 2,000 brands around the world, as well as the head of ESG Advisory Sustainable Finance at Standard Chartered Bank (Maria Lombardo) – companies with very different solutions and needs, yet the same admirable strive towards sustainable values.
Valentin de Miguel, Senior Managing Director and Strategy & Consulting Lead for Growth Markets at Accenture, revealed some shocking truths about carbon emissions in the wider Asia region. In 2020, 90% of global energy production came from fossil fuels including coal, oil, and natural gas, and out of all energy produced from coal, a whopping 80% came from Asia alone.
Whilst energy usage in the far east has been on the rise, it has been flatlining for quite some time in the developing world, and yet, we will all suffer from the consequences of our lack in efforts if we don’t all focus on resolving this fossil fuel issue. The whole wider sustainability challenge will be either won or lost in emerging and developing economies; our focus must be on the international community working out how we can move energy production from fossil to renewable energy rapidly.
Spectacular input from Toby Siddall, Managing Director & Sustainability Lead at Accenture, who pointed out that sustainability is the greatest investment of our lives. The only way we can hit our targets is by taking on a Moors Law approach to sustainability, by which carbon emissions are halved every decade along simultaneous doubling of green energy every 5 years. Businesses need to lead the way towards change and not just sit around waiting for it – they know what they need to be doing and they need to do it now. The UK’s FTSE 100 across their 19 industries alone is creating 7% of total global carbon emissions; we have a massive responsibility to bring around change.
Certain industries will of course have bigger issues than others. Whilst the airline industry tries to change through alternative routes, using sustainable fuelling options would be the most effective. But they simply cannot justify using biofuels that are 3-5 times more expensive than current aviation fuels, when their fuel costs comprise 40% of overall airline costs. The solution? We NEED to invest in more sustainable practices to bring down the prices of these biofuels, so that airlines can make a significant difference without destroying their bottom lines. For short-haul flights, a move to battery-power would bring about a significant difference and this is something the industry needs to accelerate.
Mun Ching Yap, Chief Sustainability Officer for Air Asia Company Limited, shockingly revealed that only 1% of airline passengers in the Far East are offsetting their carbon emissions, highlighting another issue around how we communicate the importance of this to passengers. The industry needs to offset all of their passenger’s carbon emissions. Maybe this should not be an opt-in process, but a requirement – all fares need to be offset.
Such change for developing and emerging countries is undoubtedly expensive, with Germany’s transition to Net Zero costing more than the 2 trillion euros spent to reunify the East and the West. We all know it can be a problem, but obsessing on lowering of energy use, means less power plants too.
What is truly refreshing is knowing people like Tanah and her team have got the right attitude and focus on how companies can get on with rapidly invest to deliver sustainability, as opposed to simply putting one solar panel on top of a building to tick a box.
It’s clear to me, from the number of people I speak to and read about in sustainability, that many are talkers and box tickers as opposed to doers. There are usually so many obvious issues right in front of us all. Start thinking outside the box – stop obsessing about trying to tick the boxes.
One final remark by Steve Howard really seemed to wake up the room; “there are no returns on a dead planet”. Companies must invest in sustainability, and there will be a huge competitive advantage for those that do so going forward.