Australian Financial Review, Mar 14 2018
HSBC is rolling out the welcome mat for Australian companies moving to renewable energy after turning away from the coal industry. The bank's research shows the move will pay off with companies unwilling to adopt lower-carbon technologies and sustainable business practices face a customer backlash.
HSBC executive Steve Hughes said it was a high priority to work with companies adapting their business models to a more "climate friendly economy".
Mr Hughes encouraged companies to invest in sustainable products because it was "not only the right thing to do but will drive profitability".
"We have a history of this in Australia in terms of corporates taking the lead quickly where they see value," he said.
HSBC announced late last year that it would tackle climate change by providing $US100 billion in sustainable financing and investment by 2025.
It is reducing exposure to thermal coal and has discontinued financing of new coal-fired power plants in developed markets and of thermal coal mines.
Mr Hughes, head of commercial banking in Australia, said renewable energy projects would be assessed on their merits, but the board had made clear its support for lower-carbon technologies.
A major HSBC survey found almost two-thirds of Australia's mid-sized companies regard sustainable practices as important to growth and profitability.
Just over 50 per cent of Australian firms reported increased customer demand for environmentally sustainable products and services.
Mining and processing company GMA said the choice was made easier by the uncertainty regulators and governments had created around prices for non-renewable energy.
GMA, the world's leading supplier of garnet used in sand blasting and water jet cutting, has locked in prices for the next 13 years with supply from a three-megawatt wind and solar farm near its operations in Western Australia.
Its chief executive, Stephen Gobby, said energy price rises had emerged as a major business risk in Australia.
"I think regulators and the government need to get on top of it," he said.
"There is so much uncertainty in Australia around where traditional energy supply and regulation is going."
GMA, a private company which has heavyweight European industrial families Jebsen and Jessen as its biggest shareholders, has also invested in recycling plants costing up to $25 million in the Middle East, the United States and Europe.The recycling process allows GMA to on-sell garnet that has been recovered from its customers, who benefit from lower waste disposal costs and a smaller landfill footprint. GMA has located its plants in jurisdictions with some of the highest waste disposal costs, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Oregon. It is building a fifth plant near Philadelphia.
"One of the benefits for GMA is that it is a key point of differentiation to suppliers of other abrasives or even other garnet suppliers," Mr Gobby said.
"Most importantly it extends the life cycle of the resource."
Last year, it collected about 90,000 tonnes of used garnet for recycling that in the past would have gone straight into landfill. Almost a third of its customers involved in recycling have a corporate social responsibility goal or are trying to attain an environmental certification.
Mr Gobby said GMA's overall sales volumes had jumped from 370,000 tonnes in 2014 to about 540,000 tonnes last year.
This increase in sales reflects underlying growth in sand blasting and water jet cutting globally along with a shift away from cheaper silica-based options banned in some countries for health reasons.