With coronavirus having wrought havoc on the Australian economy and way of life, many forward-thinking individuals and organisations are now asking the same thing: how can we rebuild better?
Heidi Lee is one of those individuals, and Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) – where she works as Chief Operations Officer – is one of those organisations. With a background in sustainable architecture, Heidi’s day-to-day at BZE currently involves thinking up ways to help Australian thrive through a “clean economic recovery.”
An internationally-recognised energy think tank, BZE designs pathways to a low emissions economy for Australia. Their work is “ambitious and grounded,” says Heidi – and involves looking at what’s happening in Australia today, and how to make it better.
For example, Heidi views the government’s recently-announced HomeBuilder scheme as an opportunity for Australians to make their homes more energy-efficient and more sustainable (see item #4 below).
As you’d expect, Heidi and BZE have plenty of ideas about a green recovery – including the incredible Million Jobs Plan – and she was kind enough to share some of those ideas with us.
1. Government has to step up
“Every state and territory in Australia has a zero emissions target and many large businesses have plans to decarbonise. We all agree on the direction we are headed, but real progress needs to be made at speed.
“BZE solutions are based on a 10-year transition to zero emissions based on climate science and the Paris Agreement. Government policies need to recognise the transition to a low-emissions economy is already underway, and create a policy environment that helps this happen quicker. We can get ahead of this trend and preposition Australian businesses, and Australian exports, to capitalise on Australia's greatest natural resource: our sun and wind.”
2. Start with our hardest-hit communities
“This pandemic has hit our most vulnerable people the hardest, and this is one of the best places to focus our efforts on rebuilding our economy. When we invest in housing efficiency retrofits for low-income families and new energy efficient social housing, we will directly provide new construction and manufacturing jobs for Australian workers while also reducing the cost of living for vulnerable households.
“New finance models can provide energy upgrades at no upfront cost to householders, and guarantee fixed low-cost payments for the life of the building. This is a new area for Australian energy retailers and financiers to work in, but it has successfully been done overseas.”
3. The time for cross-industry collaboration is now
“Australians are lucky to have all of the ingredients of success at our fingertips: a clear direction, abundant natural resources, a skilled workforce, finance ready for opportunities to invest in low-emissions products and services. We are absolutely ready for this! Collaborations between finance, business, communities, unions, government and our First Nations people are critical at this point, to make sure that we create strong, bankable solutions that deliver benefits to all Australians.
“We need to build out massive amounts of new renewable energy to power our manufacturing sectors so that we can export high-quality Australian products instead of just raw materials.
We need to invest in project development, to make sure that we commercialise our world-leading research on shore instead of exporting ideas.
“Australia can lead the world in a renewable energy future, but we have to back ourselves and seize this opportunity now.”
4. Going green(er) at home
“Whether it’s utilising HomeBuilder or not, when it comes to making your home most sustainable, efficiency is the best investment you can make. Any new building or retrofit project is easier to make efficient when you have a builder who has built a high performing home before – shop around to get someone who has built to 7 or 8 stars before and you will be in good hands. Reconsider how much space you really need to have – spare rooms, or rarely used rooms waste millions in heating and cooling bills. If you really need those spaces, make sure you can select not to heat and cool those spaces when you don't need to.
“Do not connect gas to a new home and plan to upgrade to all electric heating, water heating and cooking in your existing home. BZE has published a number of reports on this topic, and some of our lead researchers now administer a lively conversation on Facebook about how to get off gas in all types of homes. I highly recommend joining this Facebook group and reading through the thousands of stories from home builders and renovators around the country.”
5. Individual action needs to happen at scale
“Taking individual action is important, but it will not solve the climate crisis. We need to bring our values to our work, our community and our purchasing choices. It's a hard ask to make sure that all people have environmental concerns at the heart of purchasing choices: I would rather see all products and services designed and delivered from a 'benefit mindset' – a term coined by Ash Buchanan – where we seek to deliver broad benefits in all decisions rather than just try to minimise damage.”
6. The Million Jobs Plan
“BZE’s Million Jobs Plan is a framework for rebuilding our economy that brings forward investment in projects that deliver high-quality employment opportunities as well as low-emissions outcomes. BZE have collaborated with dozens of organisations across finance, business, industry and community groups to identify scalable examples of the types of investment we need to make right now to come out of this pandemic with strong employment, modern infrastructure and a healthy, low-emissions future.”
Looking to go greener at home?
Check out Bank Australia’s Clean Energy Home Loan, which offers discounts to customers building 7 Star or higher homes, or planning sustainable upgrades.
Image: Heidi Lee with two colleagues at Molycop, Newcastle NSW. Image provided by Heidi Lee.
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