Hunter Valley sawmill expanding on pandemic materials squeeze

With global timber supplies under pressure, leading to rising prices, Sweetman Renewables announced plans to expand its sawmilling operations in the Hunter Valley, as the only other sawmill in the area shuts its doors. 

“With the imminent closure of the other hardwood sawmill in the region, because of urban ‘creep’ and related development pressures, the Sweetman Renewables sawmill will soon be the only hardwood sawmill between Sydney and Newcastle,” company chairman John Halkett said.

Pending development approval the company says they will take advantage of the current construction shortages to expand production of its timber, all of which comes from third-party certified forest operations or from areas with approved harvesting authorities issued by New South Wales Local Land Services.

“With frantic building and construction activity in Australia, and with building products in short supply, the…sawmill is well-placed to expand production to supply some of the increasing demand for hardwood timber products across NSW and in other states,” Mr Halkett said. 

Under Sweetman’s company plans to expand into “large-growth opportunities” in the sustainable economy, the sawmill operations will support other activities, including the acquisition, processing, logistics and transport of biomass for both export to bioenergy plants in Japan, local renewable energy consumption and for the production of syngas, green hydrogen and biochar.

“These are commercially attractive and exciting aspects of the Sweetman Renewables’ business model. Already testing is underway to verify the technical credentials of (our) ‘green’ biomass sourced from industrial and residential waste streams,” Mr Halkett said. 

Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE) launches research initiative 

A collaboration of 28 Victorian councils, known as the Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE) are continuing efforts to establish more sustainable building practices in their state. 

CASBE members recently signed a memorandum of undertaking relating to a new research project they hope will lay the groundwork towards elevating sustainability targets for new developments. 

Stage one targets include requirements for new developments to produce zero net emissions, better manage water and waste, increase greening and biodiversity, and factor changing climate into their design. 

Other stage one targets include creating buildings that provide a healthier, more comfortable environment for the community and improve health outcomes.

“The reason that CASBE exists is that councils often have very high aspirational goals for sustainable and resilient communities that are not necessarily reflected in planning legislation,” executive officer Natasha Palich told Government News

“By working together and developing consistent approaches and consistent policy platforms we can present a consistent view and it makes it easier for the development industry to understand what local government sustainability expectations are for the built environment.

Demand growing for supply chain emissions focus 

While public ESG commitments from major companies have increased in recent years, a stronger focus is also emerging on supply chains to ensure they don’t slip through the cracks on the road to net zero. 

As our contributors and we have pointed out, while “consumer facing” companies are more likely to publicly commit to carbon neutrality, they frequently do so without declaring the supply chain emissions associated with their products. 

Last week, head of ESG at European credit rating agency Scope Group, Diane Menville described placing supply chains at the centre of sustainability analysis as “essential” to transitioning to a circular economy. 

“More than half of all adverse environmental impacts of producing goods and services are created in global supply chains. To ignore them is to create a misleading impression of corporate sustainability,” Ms Menville said. 

According to Scope’s impact analysis of 1600 companies in the MSCI World Index, around 60 per cent of an individual company’s adverse environmental impact came from farms, mines, transport and other businesses that made up its supply chain. 

However according to Menville, corporate reporting on emissions usually only extended to the impact of the company’s own sites and possibly first tier suppliers.

With a greater push in Europe for meaningful emissions reductions, governments there are increasingly focused on uncovering these hidden emissions, with legislation already in place in France and the Netherlands and being considered by Germany, requiring companies to disclose information on their supply chains.

The mission to decarbonise Australia’s heavy industry supply chains  

Closer to home, the Australian Industry Energy Transition Initiative, established by not-for-profit bodies, ClimateWorks and Climate-KIC, is working to include supply chains in the net zero transition. 

The Australian Industry ETI focuses on emissions intensive industries including steel, aluminium, liquified natural gas, selected metals such as copper, nickel and lithium and certain chemicals, particularly fertilisers and explosives. 

Collectively these supply chains contribute more than a quarter of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and contribute over $160 billion to the country’s economy. 

A report released last month outlined the initiative’s first year progress and the factors influencing the decarbonisation of heavy industry. 

It showed that existing and emerging decarbonisation solutions would be able to address almost all emissions in Australia’s heavy industry supply chains by 2050 through energy and material efficiency, zero emissions energy and feedstock supply, electrification and other fuel switching, non-energy emissions abatement, and capture or offset of residual emissions. 

It also identified the formation of clustered, industrial precincts as a key opportunity to take advantage of decarbonised energy systems alongside a concentration of demand, investment, ports, industry knowledge and skills.

At the head of the initiative is Simon McKeon, who is also chancellor of Monash University and a non-executive director at Rio Tinto and National Australia Bank.

Companies taking part include industry giants, Fortescue, BHP, Woodside, BlueScope Steel, BP Australia, Orica, APA Group, the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy and Fertilisers, as well as financial services and other institutions, Cbus, Aurecon, National Australia Bank, Schneider Electric and AustralianSuper. 

Many of these companies have declared targets to achieve carbon neutrality over the coming decades, however the Australian Industry ETI provides the opportunity not just to cut carbon emissions, but to develop greener products that will be increasingly valuable in the economy of the future.