Recently, Austral boss, David Carter sat down with Joanne Friedrick from Seafood Source to chat about sustainability and Austral’s Carbon Neutral initiative. The interview can be found below courtesy of SeafoodSource.com
Austral Fisheries CEO David Carter doesn’t remain neutral in fight against climate change
David Carter, CEO of Austral Fisheries in Australia, started his career in the seafood industry as a deckhand on a prawn trawler in 1978, after completing his science degree at Melbourne University. Austral has been in business for more than 40 years, beginning with its shrimp operation and then adding Patagonian toothfish and mackerel icefish to its offerings, all of which are now certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. The company also operates an importing business that specializes in premium sustainable seafood. Building on its sustainability mission, in 2016 Austral became the world’s first carbon-neutral seafood supplier.
SeafoodSource: When and why did you make the move to become a carbon-neutral company?
Carter: The overall push came as we started to look at what opportunity existed for us, as a progressive fishing company, when the rest of the fishing world catches up with certifications such as MSC. The process was not an overnight thing; we spent time looking to better understand the drivers that earn social license and what were likely to be the next big issues.
For us, the energy intensity of the business (it burns about nine million liters of diesel per annum) and the growing impact of climate change on our fisheries lead us to see that robust action in this space could help to start a conversation with our customers, suppliers, and potentially the broader industry about the real threat that we all face from a world that is about to undergo rapid and radical change. In essence, our high-end products and premium brands gave us a unique opportunity to get more people thinking and talking about the issue of climate change and, in the process, just maybe deliver a price premium.
The final commitment was declared publicly by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at a function in March 2016 and applies to our emissions from 1 January, 2016.
SeafoodSource: How does Austral Fisheries go about meeting its carbon-neutral goals on an annual basis?
Carter: Until such time as Tesla creates a trawler or we have a viable biodiesel solution, it is pretty clear that marine and aviation industries will be reliant on non-renewables. As a consequence, we have pledged to do what we are able to reduce our use of fossil fuels and then purchase offsets to zero the ledger. The offsets that we are buying are from a terrific project in Western Australia that is returning marginal or broken farmland to close to original condition through biodiverse reforestation. To offset our base carbon dioxide emissions for a year, we’ve planted around 190,000 trees of various species.
Being certified as carbon neutral under the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Program is based on an annual cycle of measuring, reducing, offsetting and reporting. To adhere to the program’s National Carbon Offset Standard, we must measure the amount of carbon dioxide that we produce each year; monitor and reduce emissions where ever possible; purchase and cancel eligible offset units to offset the remaining emissions; have all steps subjected to independent periodic audit; and transparently report the steps taken so the public can objectively assess our carbon neutral claim.
SeafoodSource: What has been the reaction within the seafood industry to your decision to become a carbon-neutral supplier?
Carter: I have to say that I have been quietly really pleased with the support and encouragement that we have received, but frankly, our ultimate hope is that we start a movement. For without followers, there are no leaders.
SeafoodSource: How do you encourage other companies to follow your lead?
Carter: The greatest motivation will be profit. I firmly believe that our customers and the broader community want leadership from business and that connecting our customers with our values in a totally authentic way will ultimately deliver premiums. Perhaps the greatest drive from this is coming from millennials and as they become a larger part of our economy, the demand for products and services that have high ethical credentials will grow.
SeafoodSource: Do you see this as an initiative that has the potential for industrywide adoption?
Carter: I would like to think so. The reality for the fishing industry is that climate is now a serious risk, whether through stranding assets as fish move toward the poles or the risk that governments regulate or price carbon. Either way, directors and officers can be held legally responsible for negligence if they are not stress-testing their businesses against the various climate change scenarios, such as 1.5 degree temperature rise by 2100 or two degrees, or the more extreme 4 degrees rise if we do nothing to control emissions.
The gloom aside, I think there is a clear opportunity for seafood to lead. Austral uses just under nine kilos of carbon dioxide for every kilo of catch. That compares with beef at around 30 kilos of CO2 per kilo of meat produced. We have a great story to tell and together we have the chance to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
SeafoodSource: What has been the most challenging part of this transition?
Carter: We have had to learn a lot very quickly. The space is still evolving. If would be really easy if we had an MSC operating in the CO2 space, where the nature of the claim could be clear, including a globally acceptable consumer facing logo, clarity around assessment methodologies, what offsets to buy, how the audit works, etcetera.
We have pretty much gone for the top-shelf options all the way as credibility around these claims are critical. We are using the Australian government National Carbon Offset Standard as outlined by their Carbon Neutral Program. Our scope includes absolutely everything, including fuel used to catch the squid that we use for bait to catch the toothfish. We have Ernst and Young audit our annual emissions account and, finally, we buy only Gold Standard offsets from Carbon Neutral Pty Ltd.
SeafoodSource: What has been the most rewarding part about putting so much effort into this cause.
Carter: It has been really rewarding talking to staff and crews and suppliers and customers to see their reaction and pride in the commitment that the business is showing to the environment in this way. We have also had incredible support and encouragement from the government and non-governmental stakeholders and, at the end of the day, this all builds brand and reputation and resilience.
SeafoodSource: Beyond sustainability and carbon neutrality, are there other issues you would like to address either via your own business efforts or within the industry as a whole?
Carter: There is still so much to do. Most inspiring of late has been the keystone commitments for Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship that have come out of work from the Stockholm Resilience Centre. I have been delighted that our major shareholder, Maruha Nichiro Corp., is a signatory to the agreement. It will be a very considerable stretch, but as my mother once said, “Dream and beautiful things happen.”