The Power Index: carbon cutters, Andrew Grant at #7
“The environmental sector really should hang its head in shame.”
“I don’t have any philosophical objection to coal-fired power.”
And this from a man who describes himself as a greenie (and a capitalist, mind you). Meet Andrew Grant, the plain-speaking businessman who has planted 37 million trees to tackle climate change. He thinks humanity should drastically reduce its emissions. But he thinks the way we’ve gone about it is all wrong.
Grant cracked our Power Index list because he’s one of the few businesspeople to make money from reducing CO2. He’s the managing director of CO2 Australia, which takes money from companies (including polluters like Woodside and Origin) to plant swathes of eucalypts on marginal farmland. The company has planted 26,000 hectares of forest; sales and the share price grew strongly last year, and profit jumped to $4.9 million in the year to September 2012.
Grant’s trees pay because they soak up and store CO2. Carbon biosequestration — storing atmospheric carbon in organic matter — is a controversial, immature, charlatan-prone market which could just prove critical to controlling CO2. Grant is one of the few making it work. And he’s certainly not handing out bouquets to everyone else.
“It’s been a pretty ham-fisted attempt,” he declared to The Power Index of the push on climate change. With around half Australia’s population unconvinced humans are affecting the climate, and the Coalition poised to kill the carbon price, Grant thinks it might take “a third or a fourth or a fifth go” to establish functional climate policy.
He reckons the environment movement is trapped in the 1980s and has failed to communicate on climate; it has been unwilling to change techniques, doesn’t speak to mainstream Australia and obsesses about remnant vegetation. Grant accuses environmentalists of trying to scare people, who react by losing confidence and feeling anxious. “Genteel” scientists have also failed to communicate.
“Everyone should learn to evolve and adapt,” he said. “If something’s not working, change it.”
He thinks capitalism holds the key to tackling climate change, a problem that, one could argue, it created in the first place. It’s not about environmentalism, he says, but presenting consumers with cleaner options that they don’t have to think about. Grant says his business is “hardcore capitalism with a dose of idealism and science and can-do”.
“We’ve got people on our board that couldn’t even spell environment, and we think that makes us much more powerful and effective as a business entity,” he said.
Grant may be sitting in his modern South Melbourne offices in a crisp business shirt, but there’s something of the bush pioneer about him. He’s sparky, thoughtful and fiercely independent. When he says “I’m nobody’s flunky”, you don’t doubt it.
He’s upfront, almost blunt. Perhaps because he’s his own boss, he’s outspoken in the media. That gets him noticed, but does it close off channels of political influence?
“We’ve got people on our board that couldn’t even spell environment, and we think that makes us much more powerful … as a business entity.”
While not a typical environmentalist — he thinks coal-fired power stations “have their role” — Grant is driven by a desire to do better by nature. He has a botany degree — he insisted the boardroom’s table be Eucalyptus obliqua — and his first job was as a ranger at Victoria’s Wilsons Promontory. He worked on the Cocos Islands and at Kakadu, headed up Arthur Anderson’s then Ernst and Young’s environmental divisions, and implemented the New South Wales GGAS emissions scheme.
In 2003 he joined CO2 Australia’s predecessor, a resources company getting into carbon. Grant became MD in 2005 (he’s also CEO of parent company CO2 Group, which is looking to farm prawns, and runs Vietnamese hydro operations and NZ tree plantings). CO2 Australia also does carbon accounting. Grant netted a cool $508,000 in salary and bonuses last year, plus another $521,000 in share-based performance rights.
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