TEM Stories: Smoke clouds and silver linings
Growing up on the doorstep of the Royal National Park in Sydney, I’ve always felt a close connection with nature. Bushwalks, bike rides and swims were treasured pastimes for my whole family and instilled within me an innate value for the natural environment. I was lucky enough that travel was also a big part of my life, and I clearly remember the feeling of wonder and excitement that was a constant companion throughout my childhood.
One trip in particular sticks out in my mind. While still in primary school, my family and I visited Sabah, on the island of Borneo. I remember visiting an Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, being struck by how dense and alien the surrounding rainforest seemed, how it teemed with sounds and movement. Walking under the canopy and seeing orangutans on branches watching us pass by remains one of my most vivid memories. The rainforest felt impossibly ancient and permanent.
But this impression was quickly dashed upon learning about the mass deforestation and habitat clearing taking place across the island, the force that had driven those orangutans from their natural home and into the sanctuary. Until then my personal experience with nature had always been seeing it thriving in national parks, documentaries, and books. But as I listened to the guides recount the inexorable onslaught of logging, clearing, and burning I began to realise just how fragile nature could be.
Since that day I have always felt a profound sense of responsibility towards the environment, and a drive to one day be in a position where I could bring about positive change, be it through activism, volunteering, or my career. When it came time to pick my major at university, this need to make change was my primary focus decision maker and led me down the path of environmental economics, and later to sustainability.
As I learnt more about the interaction between the economy and the environment, it became clearer to me that the most effective way for me to make change would be in advocating and enabling sustainability within companies. So, when the opportunity came for me to work for a company that not only helps others minimise their environmental impact, but does so in a way that has tangible and visible effects, I saw a chance to do exactly that.
Seeing the demand for sustainability increasingly feature in the boardroom of companies around the world, and now having the opportunity to enable these conversations, is a remarkable silver lining that has emerged from the turmoil of the last 2 years. I distinctly remember days in the beginning of 2020 where I would wake up, go to work, come home, and go to bed without seeing the sun emerge from behind the thick haze of bushfire smoke. The images of people evacuating, pushed all the way to the beach and into the water by the looming wall of flame at Mallacoota were ingrained in our national consciousness and transmitted around the globe.
Conversations inevitably followed, about what was driving these unprecedented fires, who was to blame, and how they would undoubtedly be the defining feature of 2020… But while these conversations quickly took a back seat to the ever-growing crisis of the pandemic, the visibility and discourse surrounding the climate crisis was elevated to the front of mind for millions of people and organisations. This new focus is playing out not just here in Australia, but across the globe as customers, employees, investors, and politicians increasingly advocate for strong action on climate change, eschewing the platitudes and greenwashing that once sufficed.
In their place now there is a need for holistic strategies, with tangible impacts and results. Consumers and investors alike are becoming more aware by the day of the urgency that is required of us in acting on climate change. In lieu of a unified approach between the governments of the world, the void of leadership is increasingly being filled by organisations, taking their lead from the demands of their stakeholders, and driving climate action themselves, acting in advance of legal requirements and regulations.
Working at Tasman Environmental Markets, I’m privileged enough to see this momentum, day in day out, working with clients that are setting their own ambitious targets, and taking the action demanded of them by consumers and investors alike. The mechanism of offsetting, the marriage of economic incentive and environmental necessity, is a perfect example of the change that can be made by reframing the relationship between the economy and the environment from the adversarial nature it has historically possessed, to one where success in one sphere elevates the other.
Indeed, when I was joining TEM, one of the questions I asked was “What is the most rewarding part of the job?”. The reply – “Seeing the positive change that our work brings about”. The alignment of offsetting with the 3 pillars of sustainability: economy, society, and environment, is what makes them so much more than just emissions reductions.
Whether it’s enabling Indigenous communities to return to, remain on and manage country as part of traditional burning practices or reducing the health burden on women and children by providing new, efficient cookstoves, the co-benefits of offsets exemplify the holistic approach to climate change that is increasingly being demanded.
Having the opportunity to be a part of an organisation like TEM that shares my values and enables me to not only make a positive impact on the environment, but also in people’s lives is something that I’ve wanted for years. Now that I’ve been presented with this opportunity to make meaningful change, I can’t wait to do my part.