10 October 2013 – You knew you were in the right place by the number of bicycles lined up outside the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre.

The Australian Sustainability Conference and Exhibition was underway on Wednesday with a who’s who of sustainability attending two streams of seminars.

Newly appointed federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt gave his first official speech since last month’s election telling his audience that the federal government was doing the same as the conference’s theme – “Turning Vision to Action”.

This included a Clean Air policy that focused on scrapping the carbon tax and implementing a direct action plan.

He said climate change was real, humans were contributing to it, and the government was committed to reducing Australia’s emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

However the carbon tax had to go because it was “ever increasing financial pain for no real environmental gain”.

“Scrapping the carbon tax is the only responsible course of action,” he said.

Later in the morning Good Environmental Choice Australia chief executive officer Rupert Posner chaired a forum focusing on sustainable and ethical supply chains.

Mr Posner said his organisation’s was the first scheme used for products recognised by the Green Building Council of Australia with $650 million certified products sold in Australia last year.

“My belief is that more companies are doing more than ever before,” he said.

“The amount of [customer] sophistication is higher than ever.”

Meanwhile, Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific and Australia international business group head of sustainability Amanda Keogh said companies needed to be prepared to draw a line in the sand with their suppliers.

Ms Keogh said in the past the company had identified a “high risk supplier” in Indonesia and had worked for up to three years with them using the FSC system.

However, in 2011 Fuji Xerox realised there was no progression and they could be at the risk of losing their customer base in Australia. So they moved on.

Ms Keogh said the company now supplied almost 100 per cent FSC and recycled paper into the Australia market.

UTZ emerging markets director Juliette Caulkins said her organisation, a worldwide sustainability program working on good agricultural practices, had already reached 400,000 farmers around the globe.

“We dream of 500 million farmers but, eventually, it will be the norm that the products we buy will be sustainably sourced.

“You won’t need a label.

“Sustainability is not about philanthropy, not about being green, it’s about a long-term business.

“It’s not boutique, not a company saying there will another 10 children in school.”

But IKEA’s sustainability manager Richard Wilson said while sustainability was in his company’s DNA, there were difficulties moving across countries’ borders.

Mr Wilson said sometimes IKEA’s standards were higher than those of the country of the suppliers they dealt with such as transport and the age of their fleet, their emissions and the amount of fuel used.

And those working for suppliers were only allowed to work a maximum of 60 hours over six day weeks, he said.

“But some of them have been working 120 hour weeks and they just go next door so they can get more hours.

“The suppliers tell us they are paying the minimum wage but the workers want to earn more.

“Maybe we need to pay a ‘living’ wage so 60 hours and six days a week with one day off is enough.”

In another session, on tangible water and energy solutions, Teys Australia corporate affairs and innovation general manager Tom Maguire also spoke about cultural barriers.

He said the company, a joint venture between two families in Australia and America, produced about 20 per cent of Australia’s beef supply.

It also employed about 4500 people around the country with half of those not born in Australia, and half of that figure also refugees.

“We’ve got a bit of a challenge right there in bridging cultural barriers,” he said.

And while, as a family business, the owners realised how important sustainability was to the company and to keep it viable for the next generation, the workers did not.

“The workers know it’s important to the company, it’s just not important to them,” he said.

Incitec Pivot global sustainability vice president Clare Luehman said it was important for companies to treat sustainability issues as important to the bottom line.

“I come to this role with no formal training but I felt it was important to act like a sustainability manager,” she said.

“So I got the team together and made them draw circles, with people and the planet.

“And I had one of those moments where I decided I am an accountant, so I’ll tell them about the return they are going to get on their assets.

“And that’s pretty well how I’ve done it since.

“I only use sustainability speak when I am talking to other sustainability people.

“And when I go onsite I see people thinking, ‘Oh no, it’s a tree hugger,’ but I talk about people and profit and they relax and listen to the messages.”

The conference continues today, October 10.

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