“Keeping ourselves inspired”: Powershop taps into consumer concern to back Great Barrier Reef restoration project

Powershop interim chief Catherine Anderson. Source: supplied.

Renewable energy startup Powershop has partnered with a Great Barrier Reef restoration project, as it rides the wave of climate change sentiment and strives to make small change add up to big effects.

First launched in 2016, Powershop’s Your Community Energy program is intended to “help people be more engaged in energy”, interim chief Catherine Anderson tells StartupSmart, and to give them a way to bring renewable energy to community projects.

“What we realised is there is a real demand to help different organisations, and also a cohort of customers that were very willing and able to do that,” she says.

Customers opt into the project, adding a premium of $0.66 for each kWh of energy they use. That surplus cash is pooled and distributed to charitable organisations, whether that’s putting solar panels on the roof of a charity’s building, or supporting environmental restoration groups.

To date, the project has raised more than $500,000 for 33 projects, with more than 15,000 customers signing up to the scheme.

Most recently, Your Community Energy issued a $60,000 grant to the Reef Restoration Project, marking its biggest single donation to date.

“We saw the reef as such an iconic part of Australia that everyone feels a part of and cares about,” Anderson says.

The project is striving to protect the Great Barrier Reef by identifying the most climate change-resilient corals, and growing them in a specialised nursery. The coral takes between six and nine months to grow, and is then re-planted in areas that have suffered from bleaching.

It’s about restoring the natural resource of the reef, Anderson explains, but it’s also about protecting Australia’s heritage, and tourism industry.

“The reef provides plenty of jobs in Australia. It’s such an iconic thing for people around the world to see,” she says.

“We just felt like our customers would be really proud to be a part of this type of project. It felt like the perfect fit for us.”

Supply and demand

If we’re being cynical, cashing in on an increasingly eco-friendly public sentiment does present as a sound business proposition.

Anderson doesn’t deny that consumers are starting to expect renewable energy options. Across the ditch, New Zealand now sources 84% of its total electricity usage from renewable sources, and many European countries are also strides ahead of Australia in this department.

Equally, renewable energy is “really coming down the cost curve”, she says.

“The sentiment out there is that Australians want and expect it … we just have to make sure we do it in a really efficient and stable way.”

And giving customers the opportunity to also contribute to charitable projects is more than a gimmick, she says.

“The important thing about this project is that it’s our customers’ money. We’re just acting as the middleman to help make it happen,” she explains.

“It absolutely fits with our ambition, and that is clean energy for a fairer and healthier world.”

If the scheme happens to attract people to become Powershop customers, that’s “brilliant”, she adds.

“And of course we hope they would love to stay with us because we’re having a positive impact.”

But, first and foremost it’s a passion project, both for Anderson and the Powershop team, and one they want to give their customers the opportunity to get involved in.

“It’s keeping ourselves inspired, reminding ourselves that we’re here for the bigger picture,” she says.

“I’d like to leave the planet in better shape for my kids.”

Nobody’s perfect

With that in mind, for other businesses trying to make a positive impact on the climate (and on potential customers), Anderson notes you don’t have to set up a whole initiative. There are ways to make small and incremental changes.

“We turned something pretty boring — paying for your energy — into something that could have a really positive impact,” she explains.

“It’s just about doing what you’re already doing, but thinking about the best way you can have an impact,” she adds.

“I don’t think it’s about adding more stress and burden to your life.”

For example, any startup or small business can choose suppliers who add value both to their business and the environment.

“That is almost alleviating the work from you,” Anderson says.

Finally, she says entrepreneurs needn’t put too much pressure on themselves.

Rather than just a few people doing everything perfectly all of the time, we need millions of people trying their best, most of the time, she says.

“It’s not about trying to be perfect and making the right decision every time.

“As long as we all have the right intent, I think that’s a very good start.”

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