Nine event sees industry execs speak on the commercial importance of sustainability

New research from Nine and market research company Crowd.DNA release this week has shown a diminishing confidence in government policy to act on climate change is seeing Australians wanting big businesses and brands to provide bold plans for a sustainable future.

During a discussion at Nine’s State of the Nation conference on Wednesday, panelists, Telstra CMO, Jeremy Nicholas, TBWA Melbourne & Adelaide CEO, Kimberlee Wells, MD & CEO, Luke Todd, and Climate Council research director, Simon Bradshaw, sat down with moderator executive editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times and WA Today, Tory Maguire to provide further insight into what this new research means for brands.

Climate Council’s Bradwshaw said: “The unfortunate reality is that we are now living with climate change. The crucial message to take, is that what we do right now is so consequential in what will happen, well within the lifetime of many people alive today. The positive thing is that every action we take now, will impact our future. Which means we all have the power to make some positive changes if we act now.” 

Australians are united in wanting action on climate change and sustainability, with almost all saying they would think more positively of a company if they have a clear sustainability plan or business model, including 91% of Boomers, 90% of Gen X and Gen Z, and 93% of millennials.

TBWA’s Wells said the reason climate change resonates so strongly is because it is seen, and it is felt by the public, and consumers.

“If you take a broader definition of sustainability, that’s where we see social sustainability come into play, which is more conversations about equality and the like,” she said. “From a climate change perspective, with natural disasters, there is such a direct correlation to what consumers see and feel, and how it’s impacting them, which then results in a different set of choices that they’re making individually within their household.”

She added: “The challenge for a lot of consumers is while the research is saying that consumers are ready to spend money on sustainable brands, it’s actually the brands’ fear of getting it wrong, which is holding them back from stepping out and doing something.

Wells said that while companies big and small are shifting its focus on their sustainability strategies, it’s still not yet landing with consumers, and it’s because brands are “scared”.

“Sustainability is a commercial strategy, it’s not a benevolent strategy. Perfection paralysis is again, what I think is the issue here. Unless everything is right, there are brands that are very reluctant to speak publicly because the backlash is real, and this can have a more significant impact on reputation. Brand is what brand does. 

“We have to park advertising to the side, it is one vehicle in which brands can tell their story. But the way that a brand shows up, day-in-day-out, is critically important. Kudos for the brands that these days now, are writing separate sustainability reports, but those reports are not translating. They’re not translating outside of the shareholders, they’re not translating with customers,” said Wells.’s Todd added: “I think it’s about taking smaller individual steps to get to the longer-term outcome. If we switch out mindset to think everything has to be perfect before we commit or change, I think that could be a very big outcome for consumers, for corporates, for governments.”

Telstra’s Nicholas added that there is an economic imperative when it comes to a business building a sustainable future.

“Telstra is the 11th biggest user of power in the country,” he said. “So, for us to reduce a power bill is good business. We have taken out all plastic from our packaging and hardware, which has resulted in a 59% cost reduction on making our products,” said Nicholas. “We have a 10 year sustainability plan, we went carbon neutral in 2020, we set an emission target to reduce our energy consumption down to 50% by 2030. These things are all built into the core of the company strategy. This isn’t just with marketing, but the entire business strategy.”’s Todd added: “As a company we’ve approached electric vehicles in making sure that we can bring high quality, affordable electric vehicles, and do our part to the much broader challenge of climate change to what we can deliver with technology. We come at this angle a little bit differently, and much more acute.”

The research, released at Nine’s virtual event, showed that despite everyday Australians making changes to live more sustainably, the majority feel that as a country, we are not doing enough, and brands need to lead the way.

Such is the desire for wanting to collectively start progress that an overwhelming 74% of Australians say the benefits of taking further action on climate change will outweigh the costs. But the findings also uncovered that 38% of Australians can’t name a brand or company that is actively pursuing sustainable practice.

“This research clearly shows Australians are desperate for leadership in sustainability and climate change,” said Toby Boon, Nine’s director of strategy and insights. “People feel there is a leadership void in this space, and there is an opportunity for brands to embrace this sentiment, providing they adhere to some golden rules – they need to express honesty, transparency, accountability & integrity.

“Australians want brands to collaborate, not compete. This is much bigger than words and slogans. Consumers want long term solutions to enact positive change to make the world a better place for them and their family. And whilst they don’t expect wholesale change overnight, they do want businesses to communicate where they are on the journey. They want progress, not perfection.”


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