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First National Roundtable on Eco-efficiency for Australian Business and Industry, 19th March 1999, Hotel InterContinental, Sydney: address.

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Senator the Hon Robert Hill

Minister for the Environment and Heritage


Address to the


First National Roundtable on Eco-Efficiency

For Australian Business and Industry


19 th March 1999


Hotel InterContinental, Sydney



It is my pleasure today to welcome you to this historic event, the first National Roundtable on Eco-Efficiency for Australian Business and Industry.


The Roundtable follows what has been a most productive and exciting OECD Workshop on Eco-efficiency in Sydney this week and the Federal Government was proud to co-host such a significant event. It’s good to see the OECD showing international leadership in identifying best practice for not just economic growth but also sustainable development.


On behalf of the Australian delegates here today I thank the international contributors to the Workshop for the expertise they contributed throughout the week and for their further participation in today’s Roundtable.


Eco-efficiency or using less natural capital for the same level of output has been described as the contribution of industry to sustainable development. And today’s community reasonably expects economic outcomes that take into account environmental and social consequences.


Presentations to the Workshop and the discussions that followed leave me in no doubt that Companies embracing the challenges of Eco-efficiency and incorporating them into their business operations are more likely to stay competitive in the globalised economy.


The focus for today’s Eco-efficiency Roundtable is on partnerships. Government, industry and the wider community can not work in isolation.


Fundamental concepts like Eco-efficiency and sustainable development have to become more than just concepts or strategies or a reality for a few innovative organisations. We have to ensure that they become deeply entrenched in the way we live and do business in Australia and we can only achieve this by working together.


Major businesses and industry organisations, governments from across the country and the non-government and community organisations vital to the successful implementation of Eco-efficiency are represented here today. I appreciate your contribution to what is in fact a great global challenge.


As I said, Eco-efficiency is about doing more with less. It’s about finding cost effective ways to continue improving our living standards and economic competitiveness while at the same time reducing our environmental impact to sustainable levels.


It means reducing our reliance on virgin materials for our goods and services and reducing our reliance on the environment as a receptacle for waste disposal.


For individual companies, embracing Eco-efficiency will mean developing the necessary tools such as credible environmental management systems to ensure continuous improvement in environmental performance.


Embracing eco-efficiency will mean analysing the life cycle of existing products and service lines to determine where savings on energy, material resources and waste disposal can be made. It means ensuring that environmental impacts are accounted for in the development of new product lines and it means going beyond regulatory compliance to demonstrate a commitment to environmental reporting.


Individual companies will need encouragement and assistance and they will need information to enable them to meet these challenges.


Embracing Eco-efficiency will require strong leadership from peak bodies and major players across all sectors of the economy. They will need to commit to awareness raising across their sectors, to the development of appropriate sector tools of Eco-efficiency and to the development of appropriate benchmarks and sector wide targets.


Across the wider Australian community, consumers make choices about purchasing goods and services and about recycling and disposing of different categories of waste.


As consumers we must use these choices to improve our own impact on the environment and to reward companies who successfully improve their impacts.


Governments of course at all levels have a role to play in achieving Ec o-efficiency. We will need to provide assistance and incentives, which encourage businesses to embrace and achieve Eco-efficiency gains.


Governments also have a role in developing coherent and coordinated policy directions across portfolios and jurisdictions, which encourage and facilitate higher resource and energy productivity and the minimisation of and better management of waste.


I am delighted to take the opportunity today to announce a number of initiatives that the Federal Government is introducing to assist industry develop mechanisms to improve Eco-efficiency.


First, the Federal Government has agreed to fund a Life Cycle Assessment Project of building materials under the Natural Heritage Trust. Life Cycle Assessment of materials will become commonplace in the years ahead as we endeavour to understand the full environmental consequences and costs of the use of particular materials. Such assessments will guide responsible decision making in the choice of use of materials.


The Project builds on the Government’s election commitment “assist in the development of methodology for assessing resource use for the full life cycle of industrial activity”.


Secondly, I am also pleased to announce today that the Federal Government will be calling for tenders to develop a national set of Environmental Reporting Guidelines. Environmental accounting and reporting encourages best practice and we want to support companies who are voluntarily moving down that path.


And thirdly, we are prepared to contribute to the cost of placing Environment Reporting Facilitators within three Industry Associations to facilitate the dissemination of information to industry to assist with the implementation of the guidelines.


In our first term of Government we invested heavily in initiatives which encourage more productive use of energy and material resources such as the Greenhouse Challenge and Wastewise Construction.


These initiatives have been developed closely in conjunction with industry as this Government holds the view that it is more effective to work with industry in a constructive capacity to achieve mutually required objectives than it is to demand that industry meet our objectives.


There are many examples that Australian industry can look to from within its own ranks to show how the implementation of Eco-efficient measures has improved competitive advantage. For example:


Ford Australia saved $300,000 annually in reduced chemical, energy and waste disposal costs by switching from hot caustic paint stripping to a high pressure jet water system to clean car skids.


Westpac Banking Corporation saved $4m in 2 years through reduced electricity bills and recouped their investment in under a year by investing in improved eco-efficiency measures.


Wattyl Australia took just one year to recoup their $100,000 investment in a distillation unit which now recycles 90% of solvent and enables the company to recover 60% of paint previously wasted.


Portland Aluminium saved $1m and cut landfill from 1000 cubic tonnes to 21 as a result in investing in eco-efficiency measures.


The management of the InterContinental Hotel here in Sydney invested $275,000 in a range of eco-efficiency measures and will save nearly $300,000 per year in preventing 1.5 tonnes of CO2 and 2.5 cubic kilometres of water being wasted.


The contribution of Australian scientists and researchers like this year’s winners of the Australia Prize, Professors Green and Wenham improved efficiency levels in their solar cells to achieve the world record by a large margin. Their cells produce 30% more energy and yet are 20% cheaper to make than competing technologies.


So the innovation, the drive and the very real examples exist here in Australia.


What should also be apparent is that using less resources and treating waste as an asset and not just a liability can also contribute to a better bottom line. We did call it a win-win situation (for the economy and the environment). Now we refer to the “triple bottom line”, ambitiously seeking to take into account the social consequences of our decisions as well.


The Federal Government is eager to ensure. that business understands that is not alone in embracing these challenges and opportunities.


I’ve mentioned some ways in which we believe we, as a government, can help. We’ve also prepared an Eco-efficiency Information Kit entitled “Profiting from Environmental Improvement in Business”. The Kit explains the concept of Eco-efficiency and the tools which business can use to improve performance.


To ensure that the Kit is relevant and useful for business, we have consulted a wide range of interests throughout its preparation including the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industries Group.


To further assist businesses access information on Eco-efficiency, I am able to advise that Environment Australia has upgraded and improved its Internet site to develop an Eco-efficiency and Cleaner Production Website which covers the range of Eco-efficiency tools available for business.


In addition to covering life cycle assessment, environmental auditing, environmental accounting and design for the environment, the Website will contain clear links to relevant national and international sites as wel l as over 100 case studies in cleaner production.


As a nation we have in recent years produced some excellent financial outcomes. In the future we want also to be able to boast that we have achieved excellent financial and environmental outcomes and that we have met the challenge of sustainable development… that we make progress which meets the needs of the present generation without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


It's a challenge within which we all can and must play our part.




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