Australia should revisit its “failed experiment” of the mining tax and lift the rate as part of a wider overhaul of its economy, according to a former investment banker turned green economist.

Pavan Sukhdev, formerly with Deutsche Bank and now a consultant, said Australia should follow the lead of Norway, which slapped a 79 per cent tax on oil and gas, and continues to attract investment to the industry.

Mr Sukhdev said Norway’s former environment minister Erik Solheim had told him energy companies “have been complaining for the last 20 years but still they haven’t gone.”

“Resource taxation is the future and there’s no point obstructing the future,” said Mr Sukhdev, who is in Australia to give a series of talks and promote his latest book, Corporation 2020:Transforming Business for Tomorrow’s World.

Julia Gillard’s Labor government diluted the mining tax proposed by her predecessor Kevin Rudd under intense pressure from the resources sector. The new tax was supposed to generate about $2 billion this financial year but slumping commodity prices meant it generated no revenue for the government during its first three months.

Nations looking to transform their economies to a more sustainable platform had no choice but to zero-in on companies, particularly those with the largest “externalities” on society and nature, such as miners, he said.

“How are you going to achieve economic transition without changing the agent that’s delivering today’s economy?,” he said, adding that companies account for some 60 per cent of global output and 70 per cent of jobs.

Mr Sukhdev singled out firms such as Puma, the German maker of sporting goods, which produces annual environmental profit and loss accounts. The so-called “360-degree reporting” takes in Puma’s greenhouse gas emissions, water extraction and other impacts on nature.

Externalities don’t have to be negative. Indian software giant Infosys graduates 30,000 students from its Mysore Global Education Centre, with as many as 15 per cent leaving to join other companies.

Mr Sukhdev, whose GIST Advisory firm provides consultancy services to Infosys among others, said the company delivers annual benefits to society from the training to the tune of $1.2 billion - $1.4 billion – a contribution the Indian government should look to encourage more broadly.

Similarly, Brazilian cosmetics producer Natura, operating along lines honed by Tupperware, had managed to employ some 1.4 million mostly poor housewives. The agents collect about $1000 a year on average, selling the eco-friendly products at a margin of 33 per cent, he said.

Held to account

Major accounting firms, including Ernst & Young, Deloitte and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, are backing wider disclosure, he said. Investors had demanded and received other information, such as executives’ compensation and firms’ debt risks.

“We should ask for the reporting of externalities because directors’ bonuses are in the millions of dollars, contingent liabilities are in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and we can have externalities in the tens of billions of dollars and we don’t report them,” he said. “That’s absurd.”

While individual firms might gain a marketing edge by disclosing more, governments would probably have to step in at some points as firms operate beyond sustainable ecological boundaries.

“Today we have leadership but no followership,” Mr Sukhdev said. “Rules and regulations are here to bridge the gap so that what the leaders are doing becomes what everyone has to do.”

Mr Sukhdev will hold free public lectures next week in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, hosted by the Centre for Policy Development.