United to take on climate challenges
The theme of Ozwater’23 is United by Water and the conference kicked off in Sydney today by uniting two approaches to climate action in the event’s opening keynote addresses.
Delegates heard encouraging signs of progress facilitated by technology and efforts to challenge accepted business norms concerning purpose and profits.
Mick Liubinskas, CEO of climate technology company network Climate Salad, and Olivia Tyler, Industry Innovation Lead for Sustainability and Circular Economy at Western Sydney University, delivered the presentations, which complemented one another in theme and outlook.
“A big part of what I want to leave you with today is belief,” Liubinskas said.
“The first thing I want you to believe in is, despite the fact that we put 200 years of growth on the environmental credit card, we can pay that debt down by our innovation, collaboration and ingenuity that we've invested in.”
Liubinskas also urged delegates to believe in Australia’s capacity to help solve the challenges facing the world – and to believe in their own ability to confront them.
“I've seen individuals have huge impacts on taking small steps of creating momentum, change behaviour, creating new mindsets around getting us to a climate-positive future,” he said.
Tyler, too, highlighted the importance of personal outlook.
“You have to want to want to change,” she said.
“It's become clear to me that – for us to truly affect change as an individual, a team, a company or a sector – it is really about adopting that different mindset.”
A “today problem”
Pointing to increasing floods, droughts and heat waves, Liubinskas said that more and more people were realising the importance of taking action to address the crisis.
“A tomorrow problem has become a today problem,” he said.
“We've recognised now we can't continue what we do; we have to make a change. I think this is going to be a watershed year – pun intended.”
And that appetite for change has extended to government and business – both in Australia and internationally.
“Policy support is coming in and we're also actually seeing investment change,” Liubinskas said. “When I was raising money for climate tech companies about five years ago, I'd be redirected to the foundation for philanthropy office.”
But today there is an appreciation for climate tech as a real foundation for businesses capable of solving real problems. Liubinskas’s company Climate Salad works with these companies to help them build teams and customer bases and to connect them with investors.
“There’s not one company, one product, one solution that’s going to solve all of our problems. We need a whole medley of different companies, different products to solve all of these problems,” he said.
“And I'd say this to entrepreneurs: don't feel the weight of anxiety of climate change on your own shoulders; just find one thing you care about – one thing you're passionate about – go deep into that and try to solve it.”
Liubinskas pointed to a range of examples of entrepreneurs with which Climate Salad was working who are doing exactly that – from Loam Bio, a company that develops microbial seed treatments permitting soils to sequester greater amounts of carbon, to FloodMapp, a group whose technology helps communities understand, manage, prevent and recover from floods.
“They've already saved thousands of lives by helping local councils and governments around the world actually understand what floods are,” Liubinskas said.
“They use hydrologists and technology and AI to figure it out, where's this water going to land? Where is it going to go? And what are we doing about in terms of saving lives and saving assets.”
Forces for good
Tyler, too, accentuated the ability for companies to be a significant player in the climate challenge.
“I'm a firm believer that industry and business – in its broadest sense – can and should be a force for good. Through the products and services they provide, the people they employ, train and educate, and the communities and regions that they support, the capacity for doing well by doing good is enormous,” she said.
“My view is, for us to truly galvanise and unite under a banner of climate action in its fullest form and at the individual level, we have to do things differently. We have to follow our nose and the road less travelled to challenge the status quo.”
Tyler urged leaders to challenge accepted norms at personal, professional and organisational level, saying this was “absolutely essential” for climate action.
It is particularly important, she said, to focus on the “how” of policies and strategies to which organisations aspire: considering what needs to be done to ensure the goals are actually met.
“It is these questions that bring the commitments we've made to life,” she said.
“Because without these “how” commitments, the commitments just stay on paper – and that's not the plan.”
For Tyler, the water industry is particularly well placed to follow this mindset.
“You have a deep practicality and a solid dose of purpose, which actually is the perfect complement to intention,” she told the delegates.
“There are not too many industries out there that are a ratatouille of the mechanical or technical, the scientific, the behavioural, the cultural, the community-minded, the political, the geographical with the scale and reach that the water industry has.”
Tyler wrapped up by challenging delegates to do two things over the coming days of Ozwater’23.
“While you're here, go to a session you know nothing about. The diversity of what's on offer is wondrous and huge and you never know where that moment will take you,” she said.