Thought Leader

Standing for a Climate Change Solution

It all starts with a stand…

The response to climate change may be the ultimate test of leadership. Z Energy’s Mike Bennetts talks about why standing for an outcome is often more important than knowing how to get there.

At Z we talk a lot about the role of leadership and the power of commitment. One of the most challenging leadership concepts lies in publicly standing for an outcome, even if you have no idea how to achieve it.

The Paris Accord is a great example of such a stand. I’d suggest few signatories, New Zealand included, actually have a sufficiently robust plan for how they will contribute their share of emissions reductions.  

The Net Zero New Zealand report is effectively a blend of a stand and scenario planning. Given the uncertainties around climate change responses, scenario planning is the most effective way to generate actions and contingencies.

Z is in the middle of the problem because our customers’ use of our products makes up approximately eight per cent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions – at the same time as fuelling New Zealand’s economy and our way of life.  Recognising that, we made our own public stand on climate change way back in 2010: https://z.co.nz/about-z/sustainability/.

Like the Net Zero New Zealand report, Z has used scenario planning, albeit scenarios specific to transport fuels and the uncertainties we face.  Our scenarios are evidence and fact based, and include political and cultural drivers.  Scenarios help us generate a range of responses, consider the trade-offs, and explore potential unintended consequences.  We have identified and track the leading indicators, or “signposts”, which imply whether New Zealand is heading more towards one scenario than another. That allows us to adjust our planned actions – accelerate, change, substitute, stop or pivot.    

Knowing there is no silver bullet, our current actions span the range of evolution, revolution and disruption. In other words, from the easy and obvious to the more difficult and unknown.

Evolution is about reducing the environmental footprint of our direct operations – basically taking care of our own backyard, like the recent introduction of compostable coffee cups for the 80,000 units we sell a week. We are not wasteful and we do more with less, and these are the practical steps any business can take. Our decision making includes the full environmental cost of our activities. This means spending more upfront on an item that consumes energy so we use less energy over time, e.g. LED lights at all of our 200 service stations saving the equivalent power of 350 homes each year.  

Revolution is about reducing the carbon intensity of our own supply chain and our customers’ operations.  As a company of significant scale, a number of suppliers place high value on doing business with Z. One of the ways we commit to generating what we call a ‘ripple effect’ lies in encouraging – and increasing requiring – demonstrable environmental commitment from the people and organisations we choose to do business with. Success here does not depend on scale – all organisations making purchasing decisions have the opportunity to drive change through clear and agreed expectations of their suppliers and partners.

For our customers’ operations this means working with them so they use less of our products. For example, taking better advantage of our national network of service stations and truckstops. It also means spending $26 million on a plant to convert inedible animal fats into a high quality biodiesel.  This is sold at a five per cent blend (as per legal limits) with mineral diesel and reduces carbon emissions by four per cent across the entire life cycle of the feedstock and manufacturing process.

Disruption is about working with others to reduce our collective environmental impact.  Through thought leadership, advocacy and partnership, we disrupt current thinking and the prevailing drift towards a mostly passive response to climate change.

In that respect Z doesn’t have all the answers – not even close. In taking the stand we have, we are compelled to partner with others and do “crazy” things like asking our customers and stakeholders to help us find opportunities and actions that make a difference. Our most recent example is our #wecandobetter campaign: z.co.nz/WeCanDoBetter.

We also advocate for those making the big policy decisions to work harder for common agreement on climate change so that businesses like us can rely on policies being both coherent and predictable.  That way we can better assess our future risks and make meaningful investments that address the impacts of climate change.

Z stands for a lower carbon future and to be at the heart of the solution for the transport fuels sector.  Do you want to stand alongside us?

About the author

Mike Bennetts

Mike Bennetts

Mike Bennetts became CEO of Z Energy in April 2010, after 25 years with BP in a variety of downstream roles in New Zealand, China, South Africa, the UK and Singapore.

His last role was as CEO of BP’s Eastern Hemisphere supply and trading business.

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