Sustainability is on the forefront of everyone's minds. It's a hot topic, and with that comes greenwashing. It's of value to be presenting yourself as a business doing your part, but it's all about putting your money where your mouth is and with Mercury's latest campaign - they're pushing for us to do exactly that.
We sat down with Julia Jack, the Chief Marketing Officer of Mercury to talk about misconceptions, core values, and individual action when it comes to sustainability.
You’ve just launched a new campaign Kiss Oil Goodbye calling on people living in New Zealand to make the switch to electric transport – what’s the importance of this campaign for you as an electricity generation company?
We have a massive and relatively unique advantage in NZ in that over 80% of our electricity comes from homegrown renewable sources (100% of Mercury’s generation is renewable) – water, wind, steam and sun. And we have a relatively large number of cars based on our population. So one of the biggest things we can do to cut our carbon emissions in NZ is to take advantage of that clean (and much cheaper) electric fuel source to fuel transport - yet we still have way less than 1% of our light vehicles running on electricity.
At Mercury we’re on a mission to deliver energy freedom – freedom for the country and us as individuals from the environmental and financial impacts of our dependence on foreign fossil fuels. We want to inspire New Zealanders to enjoy energy in more wonderful ways (like getting into electric transport!). Electric transport is better for the country, better for individuals and yes, it is the product we make so of course, it’s better for our business too.
Have you been surprised by the response?
We’ve had pretty strong responses to our campaigns in the past, especially Evie so we were ready for it! One of our objectives is to get the discussion going and we know that means heaps of positive feedback but also accepting that not everyone is ready to say goodbye to their gas guzzlers – yet. All we’re asking is that people at least make the commitment that this will be their “last petrol car”. What did surprise me was some of the misconceptions that are still out there e.g. someone commented that to convert all the cars on the road to electric we would have to fire up the coal fuelled power stations again. That’s just not true. We have enough consented renewable generation in New Zealand to convert every form of vehicle (car, truck, ferry etc.) to electric. The wind farm we are currently building at Turitea alone could fuel another 375,000 EVs (vs less than 20,000 on the roads currently.
Tell us about your journey as a company making these kinds of progressions?
We’ve been advocating for electric transport for over five years now. We started with a commitment to converting 70% of our own fleet to EVs; a goal we achieved ahead of target (so now we’re targeting 100%). We also worked on encouraging other companies to do the same. In 2016 when we re-branded to Mercury (from Mighty River Power and Mercury Energy), we formalised our mission of energy freedom and started inspiring wider New Zealand to enjoy energy in more wonderful ways through all kinds of electric transport from e-bikes to our 1957 converted ford Fairlane (Evie). Now we feel like we’ve reached the point where we can really help kiwis to “kiss oil goodbye and join the electric revolution” with initiatives like Drive; our EV subscription service, a new partnership with JUMP giving customers free e-bike and e-scooter rides so they can experience electric transport for themselves, and our move into wind as a fourth source of renewable generation (water, steam, solar and wind). When our wind farm comes online at the end of this year, we will be the only generator in New Zealand with the “awesome foursome” of generation and one of only four in the world. In addition to our focus on electric transport, as a business we ensure we offset more carbon than our operations emit so we are a carbon negative organisation.
As focus on climate change increases, have you seen a shift in customer expectation?
Yes, even in the last 3-4 years we’ve seen our renewable energy credentials become much more important for customers and less of a ‘hygiene’ factor. Our most recent research also shows that more than 80% of people understand the importance of electric transport from a sustainability benefit perspective and see it as the way of the future. However, people (including me) still struggle with what individual action they can actually take to make a difference - which is why we want to encourage people to think about all kinds of electric transport options (not just having to buy a new car) and to make the commitment that if/when they are in a position to buy another car, it will be an electric one
What misconceptions do you think there are surrounding being a business that puts sustainability as a top value?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions is still that sustainability is some kind of “add on” rather than something that is now fundamental to the long term success of a business i.e. the idea that “we are successful AND we are sustainable because we do X, Y, Z” needs to be replaced with “we are successful BECAUSE we are sustainable.” If sustainability isn’t at the core of a business’ real purpose and strategy then they’re probably not going to get much beyond very superficial action.
In relation to that, I think there is still a bit of confusion as to what sustainability means. As a result we see a bit of “greenwashing” going on but to be fair I don’t think that’s necessarily businesses trying to fool people into thinking they are more sustainable - I think it’s the businesses not being clear what their sustainability priorities should be e.g. getting rid of plastic while still running a petrol and diesel car fleet is not going to make a real difference
What are the benefits to being a business that highlights sustainability?
As above, I think it’s fundamental to long term success – attracting the right talent, the right partners, increasingly important for attracting and retaining customers and if you are a business that relies on investors then it will be absolutely crucial to securing future investment. But again, it has to be “real” – your people, your customers, your partners and investors are now cynical about anything that’s seen as “greenwashing.”
What businesses do you think are paving the way?
Apart from Mercury (😊)? It’s great to see businesses who have put sustainability right at the heart of their business and recognised that electrification of transport is one of the most important things we can do here in New Zealand. So I think Waste Management have really led the way in terms of changing their trucks to electric, Ports of Auckland have introduced an electric tug boat and companies like Westpac who are really committed to flipping their fleet to electric which not only reduces their own impact but also encourages the growth of the second hand EV market to accelerate wider EV adoption.
For businesses looking to make a change and decrease their impact on the environment what are some actionable tips they can take?
Talk to other businesses and share. If you have a fleet, take steps to convert it to electric. Encourage your staff to use electric transport and provide information and advice on how they can do this – think about introducing electric bikes for them to use and chargers so they can charge them when they come to work. Ask your people what changes they would like to see and what challenges they are facing in becoming more sustainable and see if there are ways you can help. Ask your customers the same.