Ethical Energy: Sustainable Company of the Year

A power company is not the obvious choice for Sustainable Company of the Year, but Origin Energy's comprehensive program to explore alternatives to fossil fuels has earned it the gong.

ETHICAL Investor magazine's Sustainable Company of the Year, Origin Energy, tackles sustainability from two sides: supply and demand.

Executive general manager Tony Wood said Origin had well over 30% of the government-accredited GreenPower market in Australia.

"That's been an outstanding success for us, and it's mainly though our very high-profile and focused marketing effort around GreenPower," Mr Wood said.

It may well have been that high-profile presence that drew the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which took Origin to task over its GreenPower ads last year, alleging the company did not make a clear enough distinction between its 20% GreenPower product and its 100% GreenPower product.

Origin agreed to change its advertising and clarify the differences with customers, but Tony Wood believes the competition watchdog was being pedantic about what the average person would have understood from the ads.

He believes Origin's work in growing its GreenPower and renewable energy customer base, its carbon offset program and its interests in renewable energy and gas-fired power all contributed to the Sustainable Company of the Year award.

"We've invested fairly heavily in some of the renewable technologies," Mr Wood said.

"We committed fairly substantial dollars to geothermal energy, which has the advantage of being a renewable energy source, which is theoretically not just peak, not just there when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, but it's there all the time so it's potentially what they call base-load energy."

Mr Wood said Origin had a longer-term outlook with investments in the research and development of solar photovoltaic energy, and a recently announced partnership with wind farm developers.

Origin also expects to open the largest gas-fired power station in Australia in 2010 or 2011.

Mr Wood said that although gas was a fossil fuel and still contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, natural gas was far less carbon intensive than coal.

Origin had also been working to educate its customers, school students and the wider community about what they could do to reduce their energy consumption.

Mr Wood said the recognition the company had received from environmental organisations such as Green Electricity Watch, along with the Ethical Investor award, indicated that the company seemed to be doing "most things right, most of the time".

This article first appeared in Business Community Intelligence, February 2008