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Published 15 January 2013 09:53, Updated 28 January 2013 08:20
Both ANZ’s Australian and New Zealand Facebook pages are filled with criticism from members. Photo: Glenn Hunt
ANZ is facing a storm of protest on social media over its environmental record a week after the hoax that drew public attention to the bank’s investment in coal mining.
A fake press release purporting to announce ANZ Bank’s withdrawal from the Maules Creek Coal Project near Narrabri in NSW last Monday fooled the market and temporarily wiped nearly 9 per cent off the value of Whitehaven Coal, which is 20 per cent owned by embattled entrepreneur Nathan Tinkler.
The hoax has prompted an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the person responsible for the hoax, anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan, could face jail time.
But despite the official anger directed at Moylan, social media suggests public sentiment is firmly holding ANZ’s feet to the fire for its decision to invest in the mine.
Both ANZ’s Australian and New Zealand Facebook pages are filled with criticism from members of the public angry about the mine, which environmentalists say would destroy up to 2000 hectares of koala habitat, disrupt fertile agricultural land and generate huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the activity is on Facebook but there is also negative commentary on Twitter.
The comments include:
“Tell @ANZ_AU to keep its promise to protect the environment and overturn the coal mine loan.”
“ANZ Bank of the Year? Not if you’re a koala.”
“I’m beginning to think that #ANZ don’t actually live in my world. In my world coal investment is driving catastrophic climate change.”
“ANZ needs to bank on the environment.”
“ANZ is funding a huge expansion of Whitehaven coal mine in the Hunter Valley. More coal being dug up, burned and the carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere is destroying our childrens’ future sustainability. This actually means that Nick’s and Shelley’s children (when they get around to having them) may not be able to survive in our world as the increasing heat will make food production increasingly less possible ... Please check this out and ask yourself what you want for your children!”
“ANZ says it will still finance Whitehaven’s proposed Maules Creek coal mine in north west NSW. If allowed to go ahead, this massive open-cut mine will raze 2800 football fields of precious forest and destroy koala homes in the process. These koalas have nowhere else to go. It’s an outrage – not to mention the 30 million tonnes of carbon pollution every year for 30 years! Tell ANZ you won’t stand for their dirty investment in Whitehaven.”
Thousands of the social comments are via a petition site called Sum Of Us, which has the tag line “fighting for people over profits”.
ANZ staff are directing people who leave messages on social media to check out information on the ANZ website and also passing on the feedback to the corporate social responsibility team. An ANZ Bank spokeswoman declined to comment further.
The managing director of Ogilvy Earth, a public relations consultancy specialising in environment and community issues, Andrew Ure, says ANZ’s strategy of silence is not helping its cause.
He says the bank should use social media to communicate its ethical investment position and how it interprets the Equator Principles, a set of voluntary standards to help banks identify and manage the social and environmental risks associated with the direct financing of large infrastructure projects such as dams, mines or pipelines.
“ANZ needs to be engaged with this and needs to be prepared with content to show what they are doing and what the Equator Principles mean to them and their ethical behaviour,” Ure says. “Activists are increasingly clever about who they target – rather than the attack the people involved in operations, they’ve gone after the consumer-facing organisation because it’s more vulnerable to public pressure.”
Ure says the public, particularly Generation Y, now expects businesses to consider their impact on the environment and community and any consumer-facing business is vulnerable to this sort of activist pressure at any time.
While he says businesses can’t change their strategy “on a sixpence” every time there’s a campaign, it’s a disruption to the business-as-usual modus operandi because they need to think about sustainability in advance and be prepared to talk about it.
“Doing business in the 21st century means thinking about the way their processes impact on the environment and it’s about processes not just public relations,” he says. “If you’re doing it but not telling anyone, you’re vulnerable, but if you’re telling people and there’s nothing behind it and it’s green wash, then you’re also vulnerable.”
In another sign of the heightened public discord about coal mining, an alliance of green groups took out a full page advertisement on page 9 of The Australian Financial Review today titled “Let’s talk about coal”. The advertisement, signed by 15 academics and the CEO of Greenpeace, calls for Australia to “cease the expansion of coal exports from this country and join efforts to prevent global warming running out of control and destroying lives and livelihoods here and abroad”.
“Coal exports are Australia’s biggest contribution to climate change and Australians are suffering its impacts now,” the advertisement says. “We understand that it is not easy for Australians to talk about the role our coal plays in driving climate change, but we can no longer maintain our silence. Our coal is a contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, which have worsened extreme weather ... Our choice is clear: cease expansion of coal exports or wilfully threaten the future of our children.”