Want to go 100% renewable? Learn how and why Gilbert + Tobin buy decoupled 100% GreenPower

Gilbert + Tobin (G+T) is a leading Australian corporate law firm. It advises clients on significant corporate transactions, regulatory matters and disputes.

The firm is also committed to outstanding citizenship. G+T has been on the pathway to net zero for more than 10 years.

Since joining CitySwitch in 2007, G+T has focused on reducing its scope 2 emissions – for example, electricity use – through yearly NABERS assessments.

The firm became carbon neutral in 2017 and received Climate Active carbon neutral certification in 2018.

Eloise Schnierer, head of corporate social responsibility and Amy Byrne, sustainability analyst, lead the charge to reduce emissions at G+T .

They shared how G+T switched to renewable electricity, how they’re buying GreenPower now, and how they wish they’d locked in a long-term GreenPower deal.

What’s the story behind G+T switching to 100% renewables?

G+T switched to 100% renewables in FY2020. At this point in time, we had been carbon neutral for several years and had achieved incremental decreases in our GHG emissions over that time. Having observed the School Strike for Climate Movement that kicked off in late 2018 with young people around the world urging more rapid and radical reductions in GHG emissions, the 2019 Australian bushfires and the then latest report on the world’s carbon budget (which revealed how far the world was from meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement), we decided to take stronger action to reduce our GHG emissions.

In our business case, we put forward that purchasing 100% GreenPower for all scope 2 electricity was a relatively straightforward way to have a big impact on our GHG emissions. We also noted that being carbon neutral was no longer sufficient to address the climate emergency and that net zero (or reducing GHG emissions) should be the firm’s new goal. This path would also align the firm with the expectations of its stakeholders, particularly staff and clients.  

This was not the first time G+T had purchased GreenPower. We actually began purchasing decoupled GreenPower to cover some of our electricity use after joining the CitySwitch program in 2007.

We initially committed to maintain a 4-star NABERS Energy (Tenancy) rating and were only able to do so through purchasing a percentage of GreenPower that varied year-on-year. Our public commitment evolved to maintaining a 5-star NABERS rating and we continued to purchase GreenPower to meet this commitment.

When the firm moved into the Barangaroo South precinct, we achieved a 5-star NABERS Energy (Tenancy) rating without GreenPower for the first time.

The budget that had been used to buy GreenPower for our NABERS rating was transferred to buy carbon offsets and led to the firm becoming carbon neutral in FY2017.

More recently, finding a service provider willing to sell decoupled GreenPower in relatively small quantities has proven challenging.

We buy decoupled GreenPower rather than integrating it in our retail electricity bills for two reasons:

  • Historically it was cheaper to purchase GreenPower this way.

  • We want to market ourselves at 100% renewable, but we lease a few suites near the NSW Supreme Court where the electricity is provided by the landlord. To cover this usage, we have to buy decoupled GreenPower certificates.

We previously purchased GreenPower from another provider. In the 2021 financial year, their strategy shifted to supplying GreenPower in large volumes. G+T’s yearly purchase quantity was only 1% of the new minimum volume they required.

After searching the GreenPower supplier database we found just one supplier, ACXargyle, still selling decoupled GreenPower in small quantities.

We now purchase our GreenPower from ACXargyle.

Decoupled GreenPower explained

Decoupled means GreenPower certificates are purchased separately to your electricity bill rather than being bundled or coupled with the contract. This option is suited to tenants who pay for electricity as part of their lease or are in an embedded network.

Buying decoupled GreenPower means you don’t need to negotiate with landlords who provide electricity as part of the lease.

Details of the deal

  • Eloise and Amy obtain electricity consumption data from their electricity providers (tenancy consumption) and building managers (base building consumption) and use this data to calculate G+T’s total annual electricity use.

  • G+T used 780 MWh in FY2022 across all offices, excluding base building consumption.

  • Eloise and Amy contact providers and make one GreenPower purchase each year.

  • The whole process is usually completed 4 to 6 weeks after the end of financial year - 30 June.

How they positioned the extra cost internally

Initially we purchased GreenPower to increase our NABERS Rating to 4-stars, and later 5-stars, because we had made an external commitment to CitySwitch to maintain these ratings.

We bought  23% GreenPower in 2010 and continued to buy a percentage of GreenPower each year until we moved to International Tower Two at Barangaroo South. Our first year in this location we achieved the 5-star NABERS Energy (Tenancy) Rating without GreenPower. At this point we paused buying GreenPower and, as mentioned previously, began to buy carbon offsets.  In the 2020 financial year, we  committed to being a 100% renewable firm and began purchasing 100% GreenPower, in addition to remaining a carbon neutral organization and service. In 2022, we started purchasing 100% GreenPower for base building electricity as well.

When we were preparing for our first carbon neutral certification in FY2017, we compared the cost of buying renewable energy versus buying carbon credits to offset our energy consumption. At the time we found it was more expensive to buy renewable energy than to offset.

However, the world has changed significantly since that time. The Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force on 4 November 2016 with the overarching goal to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and to pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.

In response, our focus has shifted from carbon neutrality to net zero. Being carbon neutral is still an important mitigation strategy for us, but our approach has firmly shifted to emissions reduction.

Tips for others wanting to pitch to switch to GreenPower 

This depends on the company. We think a good starting point is to review the current science on climate change and the Paris Agreement so you understand the need for urgent action. It is also important to assess the expectations of your stakeholders (staff, customers/clients, shareholders, suppliers, community etc). Some companies may benefit from using a cost benefit analysis pitch, others may need to focus on the marketing benefits of switching to GreenPower, and then there will be other companies where simply outlining the environmental benefits and the relative ease of switching to GreenPower will be sufficient.

Start having conversations about GreenPower internally as soon as possible. Once you commence discussions, it will become clearer what the company’s main concerns are and you can build your argument from there.

Amy Byrne, sustainability analyst, Gilbert + Tobin

Any final comments?

With the benefit of hindsight, we would have locked in GreenPower rates with a provider for a longer term, rather than purchasing yearly.