Energy Charter responds to growing customer and community concerns: COVID-19

As intervention across the country to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus increases, the role of energy as an essential service is critical in continuing to ensure the health and safety of all Australians.

CEOs across the Energy Charter signatories understand that these are exceptional circumstances that require a range of strategic responses to manage how they continue to support customers and the community. Across-the-supply chain, teams are working hard to make these happen.

Incoming Chair of the Energy Charter CEO Council, Australian Gas Infrastructure Group CEO Ben Wilson, said this was about putting customers front and centre.

“The community response to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus is unprecedented. As further interventions to slow the rate of disease spreading across the country are imminent, the need for supply of essential services to support our community and ensure everyone’s safety is paramount,” said Mr Wilson on behalf of the CEO Council.

In line with their commitment to the Energy Charter’s five principles, 19 CEOs across the gas and electricity supply chains are working collaboratively to ensure the provision of energy for customers at this time of crisis. They are also committed to supporting those customers hit the hardest during this time of pandemic.

Customers impacted are encouraged to contact their energy retailer or distributor directly to find out what assistance is available to them.

The CEO Council also appreciates the comments of Energy Consumers Australia acknowledging the people in the energy sector and across the community working under pressure at a time of great uncertainty to deliver essential energy and support services.

Formed in January last year, the Energy Charter is a CEO-led initiative of 19 Australian energy companies, including newest signatory Horizon Power, from across the energy supply chain. Companies are focused on embedding customer-centric culture across the sector, and delivering a more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy system. Signatories collectively service more than 10 million Australian energy customers.

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The Energy Charter signatories

ActewAGL, AGL, APA Group, Aurora Energy, Ausgrid, Australian Gas Infrastructure Group, CleanCo, CS Energy, Endeavour Energy, Energy Queensland Limited including Ergon Energy Network, Energex, Yurika and Ergon Energy Retail, EnergyAustralia, Essential Energy, Horizon Power, Jemena & Ovida, Meridian Energy Australia & Powershop Australia, Origin Energy, Powerlink Queensland, Stanwell and TransGrid.

The Energy Charter – The first year in the rear-view mirror

Nevenka Codevelle, Chair of the Industry Working Group
Group Executive Governance, Risk & Legal, APA Group

Wow, what a year it has been!

We kicked off 2019 with the launch of the Energy Charter. The launch was a significant milestone. Not only did it recognise all the effort and hard work of the Industry Working Group and the End User Consultative Group in developing and co-designing the Energy Charter principles and accountability framework, but it also marked the ‘end of the start and the start of the beginning’. We knew then, as we know now, that ultimately the success of the Energy Charter would be judged by improved customer outcomes and not words.

The ‘start of the beginning’ meant putting in place for the first time all the operational aspects of the Energy Charter – the governance structures, the working groups and the accountability panel process. This involved a huge amount of work and a lot of ‘test and learn’ to give life to what was a world first initiative in creating collective accountability for better customer outcomes across an entire industry supply chain. 

Most importantly, it took a lot of trust. Trust not only between the energy industry and consumer and end user groups, but also within the energy industry itself. Conversations were had, and relationships forged and strengthened as we worked towards a common goal.  Those conversations, those relationships and the establishment of the Energy Charter operating rhythm were great achievement in 2019, and provides a strong platform to be leveraged for positive change going forward.

Keen to see real improvements happen quickly, the #BetterTogether framework was established. We ended the year with close to 10 #BetterTogether initiatives prioritised with the help of the End User Consultative Group. They include collaborative initiatives requiring coordination across the supply chain such as network tariff reform, 24/7 connections, improved digital metering and better customer communications in times of outage. The #BetterTogether initiatives embody and bring to life the Energy Charter’s vision of ‘Together, deliver energy for a better Australia’ and will be expanded going forward.

Most significantly, 2019 was the first year signatories reported against the Energy Charter principles. If there’s one word to sum up the reporting process, I would say that it was ‘courage’. Courage to have the difficult conversations within businesses and in the boardroom. And courage in adopting a tone of openness and candour in admitting in the Disclosure Reports and in the publicly recorded CEO interviews, that we can and should do better.

It was also the first year of review and assessment by the Independent Accountability Panel. The Panel’s consultation process was robust, its analysis rigorous, and its findings and recommendations constructive. A special thanks to Dr Wendy Craik as Chair of the Panel and the other Panel members for their courage in taking something on completely new and untested, and their preparedness to be part of the change journey for the energy industry.

As an industry, we now have a tremendous reservoir of good ideas and learnings to take back into our individual businesses. Ideas generated by looking at best practice as disclosed in the reports of our peers, the Independent Accountability Panel findings and recommendations as well as the thoughts, ideas and input from the End User Consultative Group. The challenge for us is to translate those learnings into better customer outcomes, which in turn makes our businesses more robust and sustainable.

Any wrap up of 2019 wouldn’t be complete without calling out the people. Being a change agent is a tough gig and requires both conviction and resilience. The bringing together of a wonderful and supportive community of change agents was absolutely a highlight of 2019.

I have often said that in my career, I aim to work with ‘good people to do great things’. With the Energy Charter, I have had the privilege of working with ‘great people to do amazing things’. Those people include everyone involved – the CEO Council, the Industry Working Group, the End User Consultative Group, Energy Consumers Australia (who played a critical role as host of the Accountability Panel) and the Independent Accountability Panel itself. A special call out to John Cleland (Chair of the CEO Council), Sabiene Heindl (Energy Charter Director) and Rosemary Sinclair (CEO of Energy Consumers Australia) whose wise counsel, support and hard work were invaluable.

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.