03 Mar 2020

Connecting corporates and consumers with climate

Spider Web
Communities around the world experience profound positive ecological, cultural, and economic impacts that wouldn’t exist without carbon offsetting projects.

Tasman Environmental Markets (TEM) is Australia’s largest carbon offset provider. TEM connects businesses with carbon offset solutions from over 50 projects worldwide to address climate change by reducing or eliminating their carbon footprint. Today we talk with Andrew Grant about the vital role carbon offsetting plays in mitigating climate change.

When I asked Andrew if he ever thought his degree in science as a trained botanist would lead him to an executive position in the carbon offset business, he said, “never in my wildest dreams.”

Working as a botanist at national parks in Victoria straight out of university was Andrew’s dream job. This subsequently led to a long career immersed deeply in nature in diverse regions such as the desert, the coast, and remote tropical islands, from Australia to overseas.

But when Andrew went into executive management and undertook an executive MBA, he realised where the real challenge lies – “it hit me that I was really in a castle and the battlefield was around corporate Australia.”

However, when working in corporate as the founding global practice head of sustainability and climate change, Andrew longed to get his fingers back in the soil on the day-to-day basis. “You are like a trusted counsel, but really not responsible for anything, and my natural disposition is around solution – implementing things that make a difference”, he explained.

That’s what led Andrew to the carbon offset business. “At that time, carbon policy was very young, but it had a particular feature about it which I still like today; that the language is universal and the action has an equivalence, which is quite unique. In the natural environment, a carbon offset – irrespective of the country and irrespective of the method – has an equivalence. So it has a bit of a cool feature to it, that enables you to be able to put forward solutions that work with people from across boundaries, across countries, and across seas.”

Communities around the world experience profound positive ecological, cultural, and economic impacts that wouldn’t exist without carbon offsetting projects. Andrew reflected on the carbon offset project that impacted, and continues to impact him, deeply – the April Salumei project in Papua New Guinea on the Sepik river. The most remote and beautiful natural landscape he’s ever seen, the April Salumei forest management area covers over half a million hectares of pristine tropical rainforest.

The rainforest is home to 170 villages that live the traditional sustainable lifestyle. “The only external funds they’ve ever received has come from carbon offsetting. They use that money to invest in sustainable development plans, led by the villages and owned by the villages”, Andrew explained. “The money has gone to solar lights, clean water, shelter for schools, basic medical supplies… You’re there in that community thinking, ‘that’s coming about because someone flew from Melbourne to Sydney and voluntarily offset their flight.’ How would that community ever access those funds? So that’s when it really hit home to me – what an enabler TEM is and the role TEM can play in connecting people who care about their footprint and want to make a positive contribution.”

So how has TEM grown from a small start-up to now hosting a portfolio of blue-chip clients? Andrew and his team combine a deep knowledge of domestic and international carbon markets. He recognised what the need is, was, and will be in the market. Due to Andrew’s high-level experience working with project developers at global organisations, carbon offsetting was a very real and feasible concept to him. “I had a strong sense of what was possible, and my personal view was that there’s a substantial gap in the market, and that gap was that we were trying to pass carbon project development through the eye of the government before it got to the community at large.”  Andrew stated that the essence of TEM is to bypass government by connecting corporations and individuals to positive climate outcomes, and to accelerate that connection. “It started off as an idea. That idea became real and has just systematically grown year in year out since the beginning.”

“Globally significant”, Andrew said, when I asked him where TEM will be in the next 5 years. “Our immediate goal is to enable exponential growth in offsetting. Our starting premise as a business is that to be meaningful we’ve got to be big, because we need to accelerate solutions.” He added that the urgency of climate change is making the climb steeper and more immediate. “Carbon offsetting isn’t the complete solution, but it’s a significant contribution to the solution… It’s incredibly valuable and can play an important role, and it can be a part of the transition to low emissions technology and sustainable economies”, Andrew affirmed while explaining why TEM’s future trajectory is so big.

“We do it differently than other people. The carbon market is largely dominated by project developers looking to find customers, where we started with the premise of ‘how do we support customers by connecting them to projects?’ And in doing so we start first and foremost with ‘what are the needs of our clients?’ and ‘what are the barriers that prevent them from undertaking more significant action?’”

Technology is the second key piece of what TEM does. For example, organisations often outsource travel to a third party, making it impossible for them to be carbon neutral if their third-party service provider doesn’t have the technology to enable that to occur. More often than not they don’t, Andrew said. “Not only do we concentrate on the corporation as a whole, but also the way technology works and how technology can be adapted and enhanced to enable the opportunity to offset. And we lead the market in that as well…. Our whole focus is around the customer, rather than the carbon market. And we bring our expertise in the carbon market to their benefit.”

When I asked Andrew why it’s important for companies to invest in climate action, he replied, “It has a number of dimensions. Companies, by definition, to be successful have to be excellent in everything they do.” Part of that success includes environmental planning and responsibility. “It’s a core competence for every organisation.”

“People don’t want to work for companies that have a negative impact on the environment. If you want to attract the best talent and the people that want to stay connected to your organisation, you’ve got to respect and acknowledge that investors don’t take the risk anymore. They have a much more attuned understanding of the risk – and that it’s their risk – because it’s their money. And they’re not tolerating it anymore.”

And it’s not just what’s happening inside your company that can determine your success, but also how your consumers view your brand. Andrew explained that over just the last two years consumers’ brand loyalty and rapid response to environmentally responsible brands has been inspiring, and its growing. Consumers’ fidelity to a product can be either positive or negative for your company. If consumers see positive environmental qualities about the way in which your company operates, you’ll have a more loyal customer base, making it advantageous to your business model.

So, what does a future without climate action look like? Very bleak. Andrew has been studying the science of climate change and working around the industry since his university years. He says, “everything that is happening now is exactly what was forecast to happen, and we’re at the beginning. It’s going to get uglier.”

But Andrew believes that society at large is up for the challenge of tackling these issues. We already see society taking action and bypassing government with solar power. “If you can empower community with really good technology and tools, community will embrace it… I am optimistic and confident that the community is totally motivated by an alternative future and alternative ways of living and being.”

Andrew says that there is a very narrow band of conditions which humans prosper in, and we cannot wait for governmental policy perfection to start protecting that. “You don’t have the luxury of not acting because you’re waiting for better information, you have to make a judgement based upon the best information before you as to how you deploy your resources where you’re going to have the best impact.”

“You’ve got finite resources and an ever-increasing challenge, and you have to act, and you have to act swiftly, and you have to make judgement calls. “

Andrew Grant is the Executive Chairman of Tasman Environmental Markets, with a long and diverse career pioneering all aspects of carbon markets in Australia.