The Energy Charter – A Collective of Changemakers

By Sabiene Heindl, Director of the Energy Charter

Two years ago, I was asked by my then CEO, Rosemary Sinclair of Energy Consumers Australia to collaborate with the energy industry on a project about customer orientation. The Energy Charter, as it was dubbed, was undefined. Nobody knew the “what”, but we all knew intensely that the “why” was due to plummeting public trust levels, and that the “how” demanded consumer and industry co-design.

Fast forward to today. As Director of the Energy Charter, I work with 18 companies across the energy industry on achieving a vision of “together, deliver energy for a better Australia”. This necessarily involves putting customers at the centre of everything we do. Through voluntary disclosures on commitments to five core principles which are assessed by an Independent Accountability Panel, the signatories to the Energy Charter are bringing a strong dose of sunlight to their culture and conduct.

Yet, the Energy Charter is much more than simply disclosures. Rather, it’s a vehicle for conversations and collaboration aimed at better customer outcomes with a collective of changemakers that is growing stronger every day. The term changemaker was coined by the social entrepreneurship organisation, Ashoka. It means one who desires change in the world and, by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen. That collective is expanding to involve industry, consumer representatives, regulators and government.

At our last face-to-face gathering in EnergyAustralia’s offices in Melbourne, the Industry Working Group reflected on the change that energy businesses, both individually and collectively have contributed to through the vehicle of the Energy Charter. It’s early days in the journey, however we shared candidly on the high and low lights of pulling together 30-page disclosures on how customer orientated our businesses were, through a lens of authenticity. We looked at the signatory disclosures and derived inspiration on the cultural change that was underway in the energy sector and how we could leverage that rich information and insights to propel us towards better customer outcomes. And last, but not least, we heard from external guests Ciara Sterling, CEO of Thriving Communities Partnership and Cris Parker, Director of The Ethics Alliance about the enablers that will help us as changemakers.

Throughout this work, we importantly sought to embody the values of the Energy Charter:

  • Be invested, make a difference.
  • Listen, learn, improve.
  • Think big, be bold.

This is the spirit and intent that we bring to the work of the Energy Charter.

As Ciara Sterling highlighted, there are many enablers of change, but perhaps the most important is the individual decision that we as humans make to be responsible for creating and enacting positive change in world. The Energy Charter is a vehicle for inspiring individuals to choose to contribute to better customer outcomes. And through the values of the Energy Charter, we can connect with others that are doing the same thing. Everyday our collective of changemakers is growing and expanding. As 2020 approaches, we are building momentum for this movement and welcoming positive change in the energy system for the benefit of all Australians.

A Platform for Change

By Ciara Sterling, Chief Executive Officer of Thriving Communities Partnership

Impact at scale can be difficult, but there are enablers and tried and tested approaches that can be leveraged for success. I was thrilled recently to be part of the Energy Charter Industry Working Group (IWG) Workshop where I shared some of the enablers that we have used in our collaborations and initiatives that we deliver through Thriving Communities Partnership (TCP).

One of the first enablers is having a platform for change, a driving force that motivates action to do something differently, something better. The organisations participating in the Energy Charter have that platform through the commitment to the principles and utilising them as a framework. To enhance this the individuals who represent these organisations in the IWG are living into the spirit of true collaboration. I was impressed to observe, and be part of a supportive open environment at the meeting, where people were able to candidly reflect on the challenges and successes of pioneering the Energy Charter within their own organisations. In collaborations such as the Energy Charter, this environment provides the opportunity to accelerate in impact of progress against the principles. Participants are not only reflecting on their own experiences, in sharing them, others are learning and adapting as well.

The Energy Charter principles apply across many organisations, and many teams that all play their part in the delivery of energy to customers and businesses across the country. At the workshop I shared some experiences about how reframing the way we think about a ‘problem’ can often give us more progressive and impactful solutions. Given the breadth of customers, employees, teams, and organisations impacted by the Energy Charter, it’s important to interrogate ‘problems’ through multiple angles. Often we are not getting our solution right because we are “stuck” on how we see a situation. Try asking yourselves:

  • How did this problem come about in the first place?
  • How do we unpack our existing assumptions?
  • What are the actual outcomes we want to achieve?
  • Have we applied a lens that represents the issue from each unique stakeholder’s point of view?

Looking at your problem differently is a critical part of solving complex issues and can be relevant to organisational initiatives and to cross organisational partnerships. It’s a way of ensuring better, more sustainable solutions.

Another enabler I shared that we are guided by at TCP, includes behaving in accordance with the Partnership Brokering Principles. Established by the Partnership Brokering Association these principles help to ensure that successful delivery can be achieved:

  • Valuing diverse perspectives – bringing together people that think differently, and see the world in different ways to solve complex problems
  • Building equity- not allowing traditional power dynamics or imbalances, to get in the way of ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and humans are always at the centre
  • Openness – creating a safe space for people to share (good and bad) what is going on in their organisation without judgement, rather a willingness to learn from each other
  • Mutual Benefit – understand and recognise both the individual and collective. Collaborate on what matters and when it comes to safer and equitable human outcomes – park competition at the door
  • Courage – Often innovation and big important change takes lots of courage, as does owning where you get it wrong. When doing things that have not been done before and we need to try, test and learn and sometimes fail together to understand what will work.

By approaching a conversation, an initiative, a partnership and more, with these behaviours as the foundation, a trusted and productive environment can be created. These Principles and behaviours can lead to improved commitment and achievement of results. I was so pleased and enthused to see these principles being reflected in the discussion I heard on the day.

There are many enablers of change that exist, including the humans that are choosing to be responsible for creating and enacting positive change. The really positive perspective for the Energy Charter IWG is that through their collective networks and resources, there is an opportunity to learn from and leverage many more. Thanks again to the Energy Charter for having us along to be part of your day.

Disclosure milestone is a world first for energy sector

By John Cleland, Chair of the Energy Charter CEO Council

Today marks a huge milestone for the Energy Charter, as disclosures from eighteen energy companies describe in detail how we are individually and collectively striving to deliver a more affordable, sustainable and reliable energy system for all Australians. Our vision is together, deliver energy for a better Australia.

As Chair of the Energy Charter CEO Council, it is a privilege to liaise with all the diverse energy companies whose CEOs have signed onto this journey of continuous improvement with the potential to benefit millions of Australian homes and businesses.

Signatories have submitted their first-ever disclosures which provide unique insights into their actions, plans and ambitions to improve services and performance for customers.

My CEO colleagues have shared that the work to compile the disclosure documents has spurred internal conversations right up to Board level on topics such as:

  • How can we put customers at the centre of our business and the energy system?
  • What can we do to improve affordability and customer experience for all Australians?
  • How can we better support customers facing vulnerability?
  • What can we do to ensure that we provide energy safety, sustainability and reliably in line with customer expectations?

These are all crucial questions that will now be analysed by the Independent Accountability Panel through a series of CEO meetings taking place in October. Parallel stakeholder forums are also being held in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and an online public consultation process is taking place that is open to the entire community. These CEO and Stakeholder forums will provide unique opportunity for us to listen, learn and improve.

What’s next?

The report from the Independent Accountability Panel at the end of November will enable energy companies to reflect on their current performance and explore how they can improve customer outcomes.

While we are only at the beginning and we have a lot of work yet to do, we celebrate the commitment and good faith of these initial steps. There is already greater transparency and authentic conversations happening that will drive innovative improvements for our customers. Today was a step towards that collective objective, so thank you to everyone for their efforts to move the focus of our sector in 2019 and deliver better customer outcomes for the future.