Ken Hickson, carbon and environment consultant
- 14th August 2008
Man Australia continues to report on the environmental
Started out my working life as a journalist some
40+ years ago. That included reporting, writing
and editing for newspapers, magazines, radio and
television. Also worked in PR - with a lot of
work for international airlines and other major
companies. Was based in Singapore for 17 years
where I set up and ran a communications consultancy.
In recent years I have been lecturing in communications
- I'm associate professor adjunct at the University
of the Sunshine Coast - but keeping my hand in
with consulting and writing.
I came up with the title for the book "The
ABC of Carbon" as I wanted it to be an easy
to understand primer on the whole climate change/carbon
situation globally. It follows each letter of
the alphabet to explain terms and provides case
studies from around the country and around the
world. So it's sub-title is "Issues and opportunities
in the global climate change environment."
I registered abccarbon.com
as I thought it was catchy. And I have my consultancy
as abc carbon and produce a weekly e-newsletter
called abc carbon express. Of course it's nothing
to do with the other ABCs - Australian Broadcasting
Corporation or ABC Learning or - for that matter
- the Audit Bureau of Circulation!
What's your mission or mission
My mission throughout my life has been as a "crusader
for communication", to communicate effectively
- whether through my reporting or writing or on
behalf of the companies and organisations I have
worked for. Communication is so essential. CEOs
of companies large and small need to communicate
more effectively. Clearly, concisely and compassionately.
And when it comes to the whole climate change
situation, I strongly feel that it has not been
communicated effectively - by the scientific community,
by Governments, by global bodies responsible.
I am doing my best to get key messages across.
We cannot - whether we're scientists or business
people or Government officials - deal with this
dispassionately. We need to lead, to advocate,
to create greater awareness and encourage action.
is carbon a good business to be in?
Carbon as a word has spawned a whole industry.
Not only the consultancies and agencies that are
helping companies become carbon neutral, deal
with their carbon footprint, adapt to climate
change's impact, become more energy efficient
and switch to renewable energy. The the trade
in carbon - or emissions if you like - is already
big business overseas. We have carbon trading,
carbon markets, cap and trade, carbon credits
and carbon offsets. It is an opportunity for business
globally. There are exchanges - like stock exchanges
- dealing with carbon and other greenhouse gases.
But more that capitalising on emissions, it is
also directing vast amounts of money into planting
trees - vast and safe stores of carbon - retaining
forests, renewable energy from solar, wind,waves,tidal,
hydrogen, geothermal, hydro and bio-fuels.
Are you an environmentalist,
and if so, how do you demonstrate this in practical
You could describe me as an environmentalist I
suppose, but I'm not a "protestor" who
chains himself to trees or chimney stacks. I try
to influence people and organisations through
my writing or speaking. I like to work with and
through organisations like WWF - World Wide Fund
for Nature - which I've been associated with for
many years. I was asked, way back in 1996 when
I was in Singapore, to be an honorary representative
- a bit like a diplomat - for WWF International.
I helped them in Asia to organise workshops (in
Malaysia and Vietnam), talked to media and business
people - and provide space in our office for WWF
people to work. When I came to Australia end 2000
I was asked to help the organisation. The first
task was to help organise a business dinner in
Brisbane when the Duke of Edinburgh came to speak.
By working with the QUT Business Leaders group,
we managed to get about 600 people to attend and
raised about $80,000.
When is your book, the ABC
Of Carbon coming out, and how is the internet
assisting you with the project?
My book is taking longer than I hoped to get finished
- mainly because the subject matter doesn't stop
coming! I've been working on it for exactly a
year. Now it is in its final,final stages - the
last wrap up chapter - so I expect it to go to
the printers very soon - and I expect it to be
completed next month (September). The internet
has been a great help. I have accessed web-sites
and courses all over the globe. One source leads
to another. So I have used the internet - the
web - as a massive resource library to access
people, news, projects and products. I will also
have an e-book version out as well as a printed
ABC Carbon Express is a handy snapshot of what's
going on in the industry. What's the reaction
to the newsletter, and how do we pick up a copy?
I decided to do the e-newsletter abc carbon express
as an ongoing update on what's going on with climate
change - it was meant to follow on from the book,
but I started it in March well before the book
was ready. It's to give people a taste for what's
happening and a sample of what the book's about.
I've had a good reception to the newsletter. There
is so much out there - too much in fact - so I
act as an editor and distiller of information
- select and refine it in one weekly easy to digest
newsletter. People can pay to subscribe to the
newsletter - but I do have a free list as well,
if I feel someone would benefit from it. I've
had a lot of support from companies backing me
with the book project and they get a mention in
the newsletter, but I would consider taking in
some advertising from the right sort of "green"
motivates you in your professional endeavours?
It is certainly not the money! I seem to do things
mostly for love. I love keeping busy. I have had
some success in business but I also put a lot
of my time (and money) into projects that I believe
in. I will never stop writing and talking abut
things that I think are important. It comes back
to communication - I think it is in my blood.
As a boy I used to deliver newspapers around my
home town, then delivered telegrams for the post
office - remember those? This was before I started
out to be a journalist. My grand-father as a great
preacher and some of my distant relatives have
been in the printing business and in transportation.
I have a love of aviation as well - I love flying
and traveling. But I have never been tempted to
become a pilot. I'm happy to let others be the
pilot. I'm a good passenger and I like writing
about aircraft and travel.
do you do in practical terms in your role at governor
at the World Wildlife Fund?
As a Governor of WWF Australia, I do what I can
to support the organisation. Work with other Governors
to raise awareness and raise funds. I also help
out when I can to work with the Brisbane office
on business development and communication. As
Governors we can also set examples as leaders
in the community.
Why is it important to stay
well clear of anything that even hints of greenwash?
There are a lot of companies doing some very good
things - they are becoming green in their business.
They are committing to becoming carbon neutral.
They should not be afraid to communicate this
to all their stakeholders - staff, shareholders
etc. It is when a company tries to sell their
particular brand or product by suggesting it is
greener than someone else's. That's the problem.
But the Government - with the help of industry
- needs to establish some standards. We have the
basis for this now with the Greenhouse Friendly
program. Companies need to be accredited. The
consumer needs to know who products and services
qualify. The good thing is that the consumer is
becoming aware and wants to be green and climate
friendly. We need to encourage that but also have
some industry regulation to make sure the claims
do you think the Australian government is doing
right, and wrong, in relation to the carbon trading
business, and National Emissions System in general?
I think the Government got it right to call it
the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, but it's
focus is almost entirely on an Emissions Trading
Scheme, which is good in itself, but not the complete
answer. We need to see clear Government guidelines,
for example, on how Australia will reach its 2020
target for 20% of our energy coming from renewable
sources. That will attract more investment in
the right places. We need to have a massive campaign
nationwide to encourage greater energy efficiency.
As businesses and as householders we can save
money and save energy. But there needs to be awareness
building and there needs to be incentives. To
limit the solar energy incentive scheme to those
earning less than $100,000 per household was plain
stupid. It has hit the solar industry and it has
stopped hundreds of homeowners from switching
to solar energy. The principle must be to encourage
all forms of renewable energy and all forms of
are some of your most important clients, and why?
In the past I've had Multinational corporations,
It businesses like Intel, leading car companies
like BMW and international airlines like Singapore
and Lufthansa. Now I do a lot of work for many
organisations and agencies - most of its professional,
some is paid for, but much of it voluntary. I
have a leading property developer as a client,
for example, as they are committed to become carbon
neutral in their business and to develop five
star green properties. I am ready to show businesses
how they can become greener - not just in name,
but in practice. That means helping them get the
best advice and support to audit their energy
and emissions, to make significant changes in
the way they do business, to become sustainable
in their business, to think of the environment
and the community. And so much of it comes back
to communication - to communicate what they are
committed to. To tell all stakeholders and all
customers what they are doing. I also work in
conjunction with other experts and agencies, who
find they can call on me to utilise my specialty
your view on green events, conferences, rock concerts
I'm all for green events that raise awareness
- and hopefully raise funds - for suitable green
projects, like saving a rainforest. Or supporting
efforts by organisations like WWF and Australian
Conservation Foundation. Events are very attractive
to the young. And the young can be motivated and
very supportive of green projects. But organisers
need to be aware of their own carbon footprint.
All events need to manage their energy use. Be
audited and offset what emissions they produce.
They need to encourage public transport - as well
as walking and cycling - and not be wasteful in
how they are run and what they produce.
we see you at Greenfest in Brisbane this October?
I'm a great supporter of Greenfest. In fact I'm
the director of communications. I'm helping where
I can to raise awareness for the event in the
media and with the business community. This is
Australia's first real Green Festival. It is free,
what's more. So no excuse not to attend. There's
something for everyone. Green cars and a speakers
festival. Great bands and acts. Art. Products.
Green building products. Organic food. Everything
that's green. Colman Ridge has done a great job
to initiate this event. He has invested his own
money to make it a private enterprise effort,
but bringing in all community groups and business
to be part of it. Make plans to be there. October
10-12 this year.
an impressive public speaker I witnessed at the
recent Climate Summit at Darling Harbour, Sydney.
How did you develop your public speaking skills
to such a level?
I see a lot of other speakers who impress me more,
so I wouldn't rate myself very highly. But I think
I do come across as being sincere. I can get quite
passionate. I think many people - in business
and the community - need to be themselves when
they speak in public. Think first what they want
to say. Prepare themselves with good facts, as
well as images and examples, if they can. I have
over the years done quite a lot of talking and
lecturing. I also think my time in the media -
particularly radio and television - helped me
to speak clearly and well. I encourage people
to go to Toastmasters where they can get a chance
to practice. But preparation is important. And
don't bore people. Keep to the time you're given.
Short and sweet is better than long and boring!
Some people are very good at telling jokes - I'm
not. So throw in a few quotes or jokes if you
can. But keep them tasteful and to the point.
positive initiatives have your seen come out of
dirty business industries such as aviation and
I probably wouldn't call the aviation and shipping
industries dirty in one sense. They have been
essential means to get people and goods around
the world. And we all need to travel and experience
how other people live and work. But both aviation
and shipping are contributing a considerable amount
of emissions. Collectively probably somewhere
between 2% and 10% of the global emissions of
greenhouse gases. It depends whose measuring what.
Airlines are doing something about it. You can
offset your travel. They are trying clean bio
jet fuels. They are operating so they are more
energy efficient. The International Air Transport
Association - which all airlines belong to - is
committed to zero emissions for airlines by 2050.
And when you measure the technological progress
of aviation in the past 40/50 years, anything
is possible. Shipping needs to do much more. Maybe
we need to seriously look to a return of the sailing
Al Gore and Richard Branson...
eco entrepreneurs, environmentalists, or both,
Al Gore is a visionary and a great communicator.
I think he single-handedly turned around public
opinion and brought the climate change/global
warming message to people in the street - or in
the cinema. He has achieved a lot and deserves
his Nobel Peace Prize. He has also influenced
a lot of people - political and business leaders
- to change their ways. If he is an eco entrepreneur
that's great we need more like him. Leadership.
Branson the same. He is committing his own organisation
in airlines, trains, credit cards, music etc to
do the right thing. He has committed millions
for a Virgin Global Challenge - a prize for the
most inventive idea to deal with CO2 emissions.
He is investing in bio fuels for his airline and
others. He is truly a business leader with the
right green focus. More could follow his example.
you think Dr Tim Flannery is correct in his view
of Australia's oceans being ok to conduct commercial
I'm a great admirer of Tim Flannery. He is Australia's
best communicator on climate change and a great
advocate for the environment and conservation.
I personally don't go along with commercial whaling.
There was enough of that in the past and I oppose
what the Japanese are doing. Let's protect whales.
Let's enjoy looking at them. Let's ensure they
have enough oceans to enjoy. So many species are
threatened by climate change. So let's make sure
we don't lose any species through commercial exploitation
or claim change.
can Australian state and federal political leaders
learn from eco visionaries such as California
Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Arnie is a good example of a political leader
who has influence beyond his territory or state.
California has been a leader in the US for awareness
and action on climate change and has some great
examples for us to follow. In fact just this week
one of Arnie's advisor's was here telling Australia
there are some things we can learn from California.
Professor Michael Hanemann is the Director of
the Climate Change Centre at Berkely University
and has been advising the Governor on how to reach
that state's ambitions emissions reduction targets.
The point the professor makes - and California
is doing this - don't put all your eggs in one
basket. We need more than an emissions trading
scheme. California is one of the leading US states
in renewable energy. Let's follow California in
more than film making!
Australian financial institutions do you think
are smartest and most receptive to matters in
relation to the environment, and why?
I think most of the banks - notably ANZ and Westpac
- are doing the right thing. They are showing
by example. ANZ is building probably Australia's
most advanced energy efficient green commercial
structure in Melbourne. They can do more by funding
green enterprises - small, medium and large businesses
who practice what they preach. If they want to
go green provide the funds to help them invest
in clean energy, energy efficient buildings and
processes. The insurance industry knows what this
is all about. Besides putting up premiums to cope
with greater risks - more extreme weather events
for example - they also accept the reality of
climate change. It is here to stay. We must invest
wisely. And there are increasingly opportunities
to invest not only in carbon trading but renewable
energy. It is a great opportunity for business.
Australian government listen to indigenous Australian
leaders and peoples enough as far as environmental
policy is concerned, and why or why not?
I'm not sure Government does enough listening
or acting on what it hears. If we see the examples
of policies like Fuel watch and Grocery watch.
These will not achieve what they set out to do.
Government is doing some things that are merely
symbolic. In environment policy - whether at home
or aboard - it must make a difference. It must
set out to preserve what we have of our native
forests, our rainforests, our Great Barrier Reef.
We must look at ways to better manage our resources
- water, land and culture. The indigenous leaders
obviously have some environmental concerns. They
have a lot they can tell us and show us. We must
not only listen but act in co-operation with our
communities to protect our environment and our
cultural heritage. What is happening in Cape York
- with the new rainforest national park - is a
wonderful example of what can be achieved by working
together with the indigenous communities.
you think Al Gore is right in that Adelaide Airport
is likely to be underwater in approx 30 years
due to climate change?
If the predictions of the scientists we can trust
- those who have studied the climate and acknowledge
the impact of CO2 emissions - we must expect that
rising seas levels will affect many parts of the
world. In the Pacific and including Australia
within the next 30 to 60 years. We are already
seeing glaciers - in the Antarctic, in the Himalayas,
in Europe and in New Zealand - melting faster
than we thought possible. We are seeing Arctic
and Antarctic ice melting faster than we thought
possible. Coastal communities and infrastructure
in Australia are under threat. If this is enough
to convince us we must do something about it,
let's start to take action. It is not just the
sea level rise we must be aware off, but it is
the danger from extreme weather - and we're already
see more of that - it is tidal surges that come
with cyclones, for examples. Look at Myanmar and
Bangladesh. London is already looking at increasing
the strength and height of its Thames Barrier
as it severely tested last November by tidal surges.
The Thames Barrier and associated defenses currently
provide London and most of the Thames Estuary
with a flood defence standard of about 1:2000
years (0.05% risk of flooding in any given year),
which is a world-class level of protection. With
sea level rise predicted in climate change models,
that level of protection is no longer enough and
the risk of flooding will increase by 2030.
Australian political party do you think is most
switched on to matters to do with the carbon business,
I avoid engaging in political points scoring.
But we need to recognise that the previous Government
made a start - in fact set up the Greenhouse office,
the Greenhouse friendly programme and made a commitment
to the emissions trading scheme. There were also
energy efficiency schemes underway - like the
switch to energy saving fluoro light bulbs - and
investment in some renewable energy. The new Government
has taken this further and faster. But we need
to make sure the political leaders - of all persuasion
- keep on track. We must substantially reduce
our emissions of greenhouse gases. There is not
one solution. It is a basket - or cocktail - of
measures we must adopt. Emissions trading, vast
investment in renewable energy, carbon capture
and storage that works economically. But perhaps
as important is being incentivised to change the
way we live our lifestyles, the cars we drive,
the energy we use (and abuse), the food we eat.
We must cut our energy use - particularly when
it comes from fossil fuels like coal and oil -
until new technology gives us all the clean energy
celebrities get included in environmental matters,
There is room for all to be involved. I admire
Cate Blanchett greatly and particularly how she
has identified with the issues and opportunities
of climate change. She is supporting the Australian
Conservation Foundation with its Who On Earth
Cares campaign as well as WWF's Earth Hour. She
is not only encouraging others but setting a good
example herself at home and when she travels.
Cate is my hero as an actress and as an example
of good clean and green living. I would encourage
other "celebrities" to follow her example.
your favorite green themed film?
Al Gore's Academy Award winning Inconvenient Truth
will go down in history as the most influential
film of all time. I encourage all film makers
to look creatively and passionately at this subject.
Art and artists have a lot of responsibility.
I heard about - but I haven't seen - a film called
The Burning Season focusing on land clearing and
burning in Indonesia. It is apparently very good.
It is locally made. Look out for it.
you believe in planning for the worst in the decades
ahead, as far as initiatives like eco home bunkers,
underground homes, seed banks and such?
We need to think ahead. We need to plan our cities
and communities to cope. We need to work towards
sustainability in everything we do. I don't believe
in the bunker mentality. That is bit like putting
your head in the sand. We need to think positively
and act responsibly. We can fix the problem if
we act now. It is not impossible We need to recognise
that we - mankind and our industrialisation -
got us into this mess. We can get a man on the
moon. We can do wonders with technology. We can
- if we get the best brains and business together
- change things for the better. No bunker. But
a business like approach to fix the problem now
I read a terrifying but influential book in my
youth called "Knock on Any Door" and
the motto of the main character was "Live
fast, die young and have a good looking corpse".
I think for a time I liked that and wanted to
adopt it. But I'm afraid I wasn't living fast
enough - no drugs, smoking, fast cars/women -
so I didn't live or die to make that reality for
me. I think I try to live a good life. Treat people
with respect. Be kind. Be happy. Be positive.
I was once told that I was not tough enough to
be a success in business, but if that meant trampling
over people and treating staff badly, I didn't
want it. I think I have been a good father, husband,
and boss. I'm a people person. And I'm a very
positive, optimistic person. It probably comes
back to communication as well.
do you do to relax?
Reading books. That is my favourite form of relaxation,
even though most of what I read is for business
and not pleasure. I am a fan of newspapers and
magazines too. I enjoy watching a little television
- mostly news and documentaries. I have a few
favourite TV programmes - some quiz shows and
English dramas. I enjoy the arts - going to musicals,
ballet, art exhibitions - more than sport. I have
been known to play and enjoy tennis, table tennis,
golf and hockey, but I don't make the time for
much physical activity these days, except walking.
I try to walk a lot and use public transport.
I do love to travel - for leisure and business
- but don't do enough of that. My favourite holiday
ever was cruising on the canals in France a few
years back. Just the right blend of recreation
note: Ken Hickson is a wealth of information on
environmental and carbon matters, and his weekly
newsletter is a great read and presents a concise
and informed snapshot of the industry on a weekly
basis. We look forward to Ken's book, and catching
up with him at Greenfest.
and the environment