Business can lead on the challenges in energy

Mar 10, 2020

Elizabeth Gaines, Chief Executive Officer

Published in the Australian Financial Review, 10 March 2020

The expectations on corporate Australia to exhibit strong values, to act with integrity, and to deliver positive outcomes are higher than they have ever been. And rightfully so.

The reputation of big business has taken some hits through issues including the financial sector inquiry, underpayment of wages and supplier payments, and the community is looking to all of us as business leaders to demonstrate how we’re going to rebuild the trust that has been eroded.

This is a significant opportunity, with many elements.

As big business, we need to continue to invest to deliver jobs for the future.

We need to ensure our employees are safe, motivated and highly skilled. We need to provide support to our suppliers and to work collaboratively with our business partners. We also need to reward our owners and shareholders with strong dividends and capital growth.

We need to ensure that our communities, including our Indigenous Australians, also share in our success through the provision of training for real, guaranteed jobs and the delivery of tangible results against our targets for business development and local procurement.

Beyond these practical measures, we need to have strong values and ensure our voice is heard in the debates on important policy issues that affect us all.

And we’re also taking on the biggest challenge of our generation, which is one that we all share – reducing our emissions and contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.

The mining and resources sector, particularly in Western Australia, is the power engine for Australia’s economy. Our export success is driving strong returns and reinvestment in new projects as we continue to strengthen our globally leading position in mining innovation.

Our long term investments – with a pipeline of over $100 billion across the sector in WA alone – are supporting the industry's critical export contribution to the economy.

We are one of the most innovative industries in the world with globally recognised strengths from exploration and minerals processing to autonomy, artificial intelligence and data analytics. Looking forward, we’re harnessing this technology and capability to tackle the challenge of achieving carbon neutrality with a sense of urgency.

As an example, the Pilbara has more sunshine hours in a day compared to anywhere else in Australia.  This brings considerable opportunities for renewables, especially solar. Practical initiatives like the development of wind and solar energy, as well as gas, battery storage and the next phase of hydrogen and electric mobility will help us meet some real stretch targets in carbon reduction.

Fortescue, together with our partners, has announced investments of well over US$800 million in a number of energy infrastructure projects which, when completed, will see 25 – 30 per cent of our stationary energy requirements powered by solar while also allowing the flexibility to increase our use of renewable energy in the future.

Reducing our use of diesel fuel also provides a huge opportunity. We’ve started the conversation with our suppliers about how we can be diesel-free by 2030 and they are bringing their ideas to the table.

Like all big challenges, they are often overcome faster by working together.

The business sector is getting on with it. We’re contributing to the conversation and working rapidly on some big ideas that will have the potential to make a huge difference.

We recognise that leaving the problem for future generations is not the solution.

Big business is in the very best position to take the lead as we tackle global issues like climate change head on. We have access to financial resources, leading edge technology, the smartest people, big data and global relationships, all of which can help us make a difference.

This is the opportunity that we have in front of us, right now, and as we seek to rebuild trust it’s the one we can’t miss.