Jon Dee on how businesses can switch to renewable energy and help their bottom line.
Jon Dee cuts a well-known figure in the Australian business and sustainability space.
He hosted the ‘Smart Money’ green business TV show on Sky News, and he’s written two business sustainability guidebooks. He also co-founded the Planet Ark and DoSomething charities and he led the campaigns to phase out incandescent globes, plastic bags, laundry phosphates and microbeads. On top of this, millions of trees have been planted as a result of the ‘National Tree Day’ and ‘One Tree Per Child’ initiatives that he co-founded with Olivia Newton-John. In his work, he’s always found a way to combine his passion for business, the environment and the entertainment industry.
Nowadays, a large portion of Dee’s time is dedicated to delivering the RE100 program in Australia, a global initiative that recruits companies in the commercial and industrial sectors to make the switch to 100% renewable electricity across their operations.
Dee’s commitment to the environment dates back to the late sixties when he was three years old growing up in England. Helping his Dad to collect used bottles for container deposits, he received a sixpence tip. He describes it as his “first professional environment gig”.
“I remember two old ladies gave me their bottles, and I was determined to carry them back to the car all by myself and I did it, feeling very proud. The ladies called me back and gave me sixpence, which in those days was a lot of money. My Dad asked me to give it back to them, but I thought 'Dad, be quiet I’m going to keep my sixpence, I worked hard for it!’ That was my first payment in relation to environmental activity,” Dee laughs.
After leaving school, Dee began running his own business in London, which combined his interests in social and environmental issues with music. He organised charity concerts and recorded a version of ‘Smoke on the Water’ with artistes from Queen, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. It was a top 40 UK hit for Jon’s Rock Aid Armenia charity.
In 1986 after being impressed by a rainforest supplement in The Observer newspaper, Dee set his sights on working for the pro-business environment organisation that had produced it. Within four days of the supplement being published, he was employed by them.
Once there, the two people that would become his mentors, Nigel Tuersley and John Elkington, instilled in him their motto that ‘Conservation Means Business’, a narrative that’s shaped his career ever since.
“Their ‘Conservation Means Business’ motto was about getting results that help the environment and benefit the bottom line. A good example is efficiency. If you reduce your use of energy and raw materials, your efficiency saves money and you save resources. And when you marry that with a 100% switch to renewable energy, not just in your own operations but throughout your whole supply chain, you’re creating a company that’s leaner and greener and more resilient for a future where we have climate change,” explains Dee.
RE100 currently has 17 Australian companies signed up, including the five major banks, Woolworths, Sun Metals, Atlassian and more. They also have 92 international members with Australian operations like Apple, Facebook, Unilever, McCain and Mars. According to Dee, the Australian RE100 members use enough electricity to power 800,000 homes and all of that is going 100% renewable by a set date (many by 2025). Treasury Wine Estates, who own Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Wynns, is the latest Australian company to join and start the switch.
"I would say to people reading this, if you think change is not possible within your company, remember that more than 320 of the world’s biggest companies are all going 100% renewable and they use way more electricity than Australia."
“Globally, if you add up the electricity used by RE100 member companies, they use more electricity than Italy or the UK and far more than Australia. So, I would say to people reading this, if you think change is not possible within your company, remember that more than 320 of the world’s biggest companies are all going 100% renewable and they use way more electricity than Australia. So, if all of those companies can go 100% renewable, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t too!”
Dee outlines the two main opportunities for Australian businesses aiming to reduce their emissions. The first is to switch all their electricity to 100% renewable options and the second is to ask suppliers to go 100% renewable as well.
“Companies like Apple have done this really well. They’ve joined RE100 and gone 100% renewable already, but they’ve also reached out to all of their suppliers, and more than 100 of Apple’s suppliers have all made commitments to go 100% renewable with their own electricity use,” says Dee.
“Apple also has other amazing initiatives that are good for the environment and their business. For example, they’re now funding the clean up of salmon spawning grounds in Canada, but at the same time they’re harvesting gold from the river as it’s being cleaned up. Apple use that gold in their products and it’s also sold to other companies to fund the river restoration. They’re being very clever about how they use their purchasing power to create real change.
“Another great example is Marks & Spencer in the UK. They have an initiative called ‘Plan A’ where they actively involve the workforce in creating real, sustainable change within the business. I always advise employees at other companies to go and read their sustainability policy and compare it to ‘Plan A’ for ideas, because some of their sustainability initiatives have saved Marks & Spencer hundreds of millions of pounds.
“One of the best things to do if you’re an employee in a company is talk to the managers and give them ideas. Especially if you work in a part of the business that you understand better than anyone else. Put your ideas forward because if you save the business money, you’ll get noticed for that and if anyone’s going to get laid off one day, it’s not going to be you!”
Dee’s outcomes-focused energy and belief that businesses can genuinely make a positive impact in the world - while simultaneously improving their bottom line - is infectious. So, when he’s asked what makes him feel optimistic about the future, his answer is simple.
“Almost every single solution that we need to combat the effects of climate change has already been invented. We just need to crank them up and get them out there!"
“Almost every single solution that we need to combat the effects of climate change has already been invented. We just need to crank them up and get them out there! And if it doesn’t exist, we know what needs to be done to create that solution, so we need to push the button on those.
“We have the ability to create the change and we all have a duty to our kids and grandkids to get out there, learn about what we can do, and implement the solutions both at home and at work.”
Image supplied by Jon Dee.
Register your details to receive our monthly newsletter containing advice and strategies help your company take climate action.