Big corporate renewable energy commitments are flying out the door as we head towards the end of 2020, each one more ambitious than the last, according to Lindsay Soutar, campaign director of REenergise, a Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaign that encourages companies to move towards renewable energy.

“A race to renewables between major Australian businesses is underway, with retail brands like Woolworths, ALDI, Bunnings and Officeworks leading the charge, each committing to source 100% of their electricity needs from renewable energy by at least 2025, some sooner,” she told Retailbiz.

These commitments come off the back of the significant momentum of the global initiative RE100, a group of over 260 major corporations committing to power operations with 100% renewable electricity. 

“Retail businesses are leading in the clean energy space and it should come as no surprise. A 2019 report from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, REenergising Australian Business: the corporate race to 100% renewable energy found that retailers have significant potential to deploy renewable energy at scale,” Soutar said.

“And that scale has certainly been realised this year. In November Woolworths, Australia’s largest supermarket chain and the country’s sixth largest electricity user – using 1% of all electricity consumed in the country – announced that it will make the switch to 100% renewable electricity. This will see it source the majority of its power needs through signing deals with new-build wind and solar farms, bringing a staggering 880MW of new clean energy online, and driving new jobs and economic activity across the country. 

“Rival Coles also recently signed two major power purchase agreements in NSW and Queensland. The QLD deal with state government-owned generator and retailer CleanCo will see it source 90% of its electricity for its Queensland operations from locally generated wind solar. ALDI has also signed major deals in Victoria and NSW.”

The abundant roof space of retail giants makes them a natural fit with solar power, according to Soutar. For example, Woolworths alone has 3.2 million square meters of roof space across the country, which could accommodate 320 MW of solar panels. 

“Swedish lifestyle retailer IKEA, an early frontrunner in the renewable energy space and founding member of RE100, has already installed 20,000 solar panels installed across its buildings, generating 22% of the energy required for its operations. It is also installing batteries which will see it feed excess energy into the grid.”

So what’s driving the change? Customer demand, staff, and investor expectations, and managing climate risk, Soutar said.

Recent polling by Greenpeace Australia Pacific found that almost 81% of people agree Australian companies should be using more renewable energy in the manufacturing and delivery of goods and services.

“Renewable energy commitments are an investment in social license, with shoppers increasingly looking to a brand’s ‘green’ credentials when making purchasing decisions.”

Further, the EdelmanTrust Barometer recently found that 67% of employees “expect that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues”.

Major retailers also know that investing in renewable energy is an investment in the climate.

“With climate impacts slated to wipe trillions from our economy, the cost of inaction is quickly eclipsing the initial cost of the transition. Deloitte Access Economics estimates that $3.4 trillion and over 880,000 jobs could be wiped from the economy by 2070 unless serious action is taken to tackle climate change – and with major companies using 70% of Australia’s electricity, business has a crucial role to play. 

As well as logistical advantages, another major driver is electricity prices. Last month, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Outlook Report  found that solar is now the “cheapest electricity in history”, with wind and solar technology now cheaper than coal or gas in most major countries.

“Smart companies are investing in their clean energy future because it just makes business sense. As retailers take the lead on energy, we can expect to see more of Australia’s best-loved products brought to us by the wind and sun. Who will be next?”