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The Future is NOW. Seriously

Pew Research Centre’s 2015 global survey found that 67% respondents believe that people will have to make major lifestyle changes to combat climate change. However, in an article for Harvard Business Review, Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, writes that people aren’t motivated to address climate change. How do we bridge the gap?

“Bring the future mentally closer to yourself, confront the uncertainty head-on, and initiate a serious discussion about values among your peers,” Markman suggests. It is along these ideas that Moral Fairground has been organizing its annual Ethical Enterprise Conference for the last ten years.

The theme for 2021 is aptly named “The Future is NOW.” It was the first time that the 2-day conference was offered in a hybrid version (in-person and online). I joined via Zoom meeting on the first day and Microsoft Team on the second day. Even through a digital distance, the energy, passion, and commitment from the speakers were palpable. Below is a snapshot of the sessions and what I learned.

Day 1 (Melbourne University)

The event kicked off with a welcome message from the creator of the Ethical Enterprise Conference and founder / director of Moral Fairground, Susanna Bevilacqua. Afterward, Ben Neville, Associate Professor in the Department of Management & Marketing from Melbourne University, reminded us that although technology is important, a business model that creates products that make people want to buy is equally vital.

Next was a keynote speech from the CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, David Ritter. As someone who has worked with the organization for the past fourteen years, David delivered a passionate plea to encourage us to act.

“What do I do now? The role of business, universities, and individuals in the climate crisis,” is the title of his session. Greenpeace Australia’s successful negotiations with three major supermarkets (Aldi, Woolworths, Coles) to reduce their electricity footprints by moving to 100% renewables by 2025 is a powerful example that shows the possibility, for all of us, to act NOW.

Panel Discussion: “The Business Pathway to Net Zero Emissions” (Ben Neville, Corinne Schoch, Katie Mee, and Gavin Smith)

After morning tea, we listened to Gavin Smith, the President of Bosch Oceania. Bosch is the first globally operating industrial enterprise that managed to reach carbon neutrality a year ago. The leading home appliances company’s focus on climate action is driven by its leader’s audacious goal. Gavin said that doing the right thing is not difficult, and the cost impact is negligible in the long term.

If you are a business owner and you want to know the next step your business can take to promote sustainability, there are plenty of insights from Corrine Schoch, the Head of Programmes at Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA). This organization is part of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.

One important concept I learned from Corrine is the three scopes of carbon emissions, as classified by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol:

Scope 1 is direct emissions. For example: product transportation using fossil fuels.

Scope 2 is indirect emissions from purchased electricity for manufacturing the products. This can be zero if using renewable energy.

Scope 3 is indirect emissions from sources indirectly connected with the business, which is harder to measure but imperatively important.

Related to the three scopes are the terms “carbon neutral” and “net zero”. They are not the same. The former is achievable, as exemplified by Bosch. The latter is a more challenging long-term goal. Carbon neutral covers scope 1 and scope 2 by NOT contributing to emissions through carbon offset. Net zero is linked to the 2015 Paris agreement and covers all three scopes. It aims to REDUCE carbon emissions according to the latest science (1.5⁰C).

Calling All Budding Ethical Entrepreneurs!

The two midday sessions were pertinent for those with entrepreneurial spirit. First, we listened to Grace O’Hara, winner of 2020 Early Ethical Entrepreneur Pitch Competition. One year on, Grace is a co-founder of Small Fires with Paty Galán, whom she met at last year’s Ethical Enterprise Conference. Their meticulously crafted games and toys reflect diversity, sustainability, and accountability. “We’re an Open Book,” it says on their website:

For the second session, we heard five inspiring and exciting pitches from this year’s finalists for the Early Ethical Entrepreneur Competition:

Sabrina Leung from EnAccess Maps aims to provide easy access to people on wheelchairs to enjoy dining out experiences. EnAccess Maps is a platform that aggregates reviews to inform the wheelchair accessibility of a dining place.

Rescuing waste from landfill. That is what Fungi Solutions does.

explained how mycelium (the root network of fungi), combine with waste, can produce lightweight and insulating composite materials, which can be used as product boxes, wine coolers, and acoustic panels.

Watching his father’s struggle with suicidal depression inspired David Titeu to start Linkmate, an app for connecting people to chat about their emotional challenges and guide them to the available community services.

Dr. Siobhan Dongés presented Purple Card Project as a platform to bring the “givers” and “doers” together to make positive environmental changes a reality in the local community through gift cards.

“Because education is a staple, Ellie Hewitt from Staples of Change works with schools by supplying workbooks that support education in underprivileged countries.

At the end of each pitch, the finalists answered questions from the judges and heard their thoughtful comments.

Workshop Time! After lunch, it was time for the one-hour workshops. There were four available in-person, but only one through Zoom meeting. Danielle Duell, founder of People with Purpose, talked about “What it means to be a purpose-led business and how to design and implement a purpose-led strategy.” Danielle is a B Consultant, which means that she helps companies improve their social and environmental impact to qualify as Certified B Corporations. One thing that struck me during Danielle’s presentation was the evolving definition of value. The old definition of value involves quality and price (how much should we pay for this T-shirt’s quality?). This is a functional view. Over time, we add two emotional parameters to how we define value: convenience and experience (is the website easy to navigate?). Now, social aspects are involved when we think of value (does the purchase of this T-shirt a socially benefiting experience? what about the social damage from contributing to landfill when the T-shirt’s wear expectancy expires?)

“The Power Hour” I missed out on experiencing “The Power Hour” because I was not on-site. But I heard that the setting was like musical chairs with expert consultants (some of them presented at the previous workshop sessions). These speakers sat separately in different tables and conference participants took turns sitting on each table. By the end of the hour, every participant would have had equal opportunities to spend time with each consultant.

Final Keynote: “Creating climate, social and ecological hope through localism and social enterprise” (Cinnamon Evans and Nick Verginis).

“A place to fall in love with the Earth again,” that’s the vision of CERES, an astounding community place that is visited by people all over the world. CERES is an environmental education centre, community garden, urban farm, and social enterprise hub spread across four locations, linked by the Merri and Darebin Creeks on Wurundjeri Country, Melbourne.

Cinnamon Evans, its CEO, spoke about the four arcs that form a circle to illustrate CERES: a home for nature and people, a school for discovery and learning, a farm with our hands in the earth, and a market for purposeful trade. This circle of endeavour is then strengthened through stories of change and hope.

In closing, Nick Verginis, the CEO of SENVIC, talked about the emergence of social enterprise network in Victoria and Australia. SENVIC aims to build a connected community of social enterprises, facilitate access to learning and development opportunities, and give practitioners an independent and collective voice.

Day 2 (RMIT University)

The second day keynote is titled “Delivering a more sustainable future.” Susan Mizrahi, Chief Sustainability Officer of Australia Post, talked about how the organization is driving a sustainable future by investing in social enterprises, connecting communities and collaborating with suppliers.

Panel Discussion: “Beyond ‘box-ticking’: Institutional challenges and opportunities for Australian social procurement” (Sue Boyce, Sebastian Conley, Dr. Kevin Argus, Paul Ashby, and Warren Staples)

Ability Works, a social enterprise that supports people with significant barriers to employment, defines social procurement as “when organizations use their buying power to generate social value above and beyond the value of the goods, services or construction being procured.”

Sue Boyce, Chief Executive Officer of Ability Works, explained the process in detail through the organization’s collaboration with Transurban (one of the world’s largest toll-road builder and operator) and Aurecon (an award-winning design, engineering and advisory company).

After lunch, we listened to half hour presentations from Natasha Ritz, Chief Operating Officer of Good Empire and Petah Marian, founder of Future Narrative.

Good Empire is a social app that challenges individuals and organizations to take actions for people and planet through fulfilling the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It may sound hefty, but Natasha assured us that the actions can be practical and simple. Once you install the app, you choose a challenge (for example: Zero Ocean Plastics Challenge), then take action (remember to capture yourself picking up the rubbish), and share it with your friends on socials (to inspire them to follow suit). Natasha said it’s like “Tiktok for good.”

The title of Petah’s presentation is “Do people really care about sustainability? Navigating the gap between values and intention.” Petah founded Future Narrative as a strategic futures agency which uses data to tell the stories of likely futures and providing the tools to help businesses innovate and adapt. She gave examples of future-oriented businesses: a peer-to-peer platform for product exchanges to reduce waste, an app for luxury clothing rental for the fashionably and sustainably conscious, and a company that makes custom jeans for each consumer, on demand, using algorithms to digitally design and perfectly fit jeans automatically around the customer’s 3D avatar.

Similar to the previous day, there were four workshops available in-person, but only one through Microsoft Team. Shani Rajenra, Senior Consultant of Clear Horizon, talked about “How can social enterprises tell the story of their impact: building a toolkit for the future.”

This workshop was a hands-on session guided by Shani, a volunteer for Moral Fairground since 2015. She prompted us to explore the now before looking to the future by building toolkits. Shani also mentioned the importance of situating an individual’s social enterprise impact in the broader sector.

Another “Power Hour”

Same format, but different speakers for the second day’s “The Power Hour.”

Final Keynote: “Warrior Heart: what is it and why do we need it” (Shantelle Thompson)

Shantelle delivered a powerful speech to close the two-day conference. Listening to this Barkindji / Ngyampaa / European woman who survived childhood sexual abuse to become a Jujitsu world champion was awe-inspiring. Shantelle is also a social entrepreneur and social justice advocate who empowers people to “find their Warrior Within” and to “lead and live from the heart, living courageously and dare greatly.”

Before the conference ended, Russell Pearson, the MC for two days, challenged us: What do we learn from the conference that can move us to act? What is a tiny, powerful action that we can take? The answer didn’t come to me straightaway. But two weeks later, during my research for this blog, I discovered that my current electricity provider has a free opt-in for carbon neutral program. It turns out that sometimes, a tiny, powerful action only requires a click on the button: “I’m in.”

H. Efendy is a creative nonfiction writer currently based in Hornsby, a leafy upper northern suburb in Sydney, NSW.


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