In 2006, following the release of Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, public interest around the issue of climate change grew significantly in the Western world. As the debate grew more heated, the executive team at National Australia Bank realised that they needed to know more about the environment and the kind of impact the company and its 27,000-strong workforce was having on it.
“We formed a view that environmental issues are serious and wherever you sit on the continuum, it is having an impact and that was something we needed to understand. The best way to understand it was to get our house in order and look at what we could do around the impact we were having on the environment,” says Gavin Slater, NAB’s group executive, business services.
When NAB announced in 2007 that the business aimed to be carbon-neutral by 2010, the senior executive team was taken aback by the number of congratulatory emails it received from staff. Little did they know that the journey towards becoming a carbon-neutral bank that followed would inspire pride and goodwill in staff across the country.
“I’ve heard marketers say a brand is not what it says, it’s what it does,” says Slater. “I think we underestimated, or probably didn’t have a sense of, how positive [this policy] could be. As history has shown, it’s been hugely positive for us as an organisation and it brings to life an element of our corporate social responsibility that employees can actually play a real part in.”
Introducing a sustainability program
When logistics firm Markitforce introduced its sustainability program across the business in 2010, it was clear that staff were eager to get involved. The business, which operates out of warehouses and offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Auckland, was keen to align its sustainability policies with those of its client base.
The company’s senior management team also knew that the business could improve its practices around packaging and recycling, but needed to get staff on board for any initiative to be successful.
This point is emphasised by Tara Allsop, non-executive director of consulting company Green for Retail, who helped Markitforce implement its sustainability strategy. “For staff to really get on board it’s important to make sure that the company balances its environmental initiatives with what the core business is. [And] you have to ensure you’ve aligned your sustainability strategy with the direction the business is going in,” she says.
One of Allsop’s first suggestions was that Markitforce sign up to the Australian Packaging Covenant, an industry-wide framework that all of the company’s FMCG clients adhere to. “As a member of the covenant, businesses have to keep all of the packaging as sustainable as possible,” says Sarah Fletcher, chief of staff, finance and operations, and leader of the Markitforce Sustainability Program.
“You have to be part of it if you’re a manufacturer but we voluntarily signed up because a lot of clients are in the covenant, so it streamlines us with them and what they need to do.”
Like Markitforce, NAB had customers in mind when it made the decision to become a carbon-neutral bank.
“In the beginning it was more about what can we learn from it, which we could then translate into future interactions with our customers as they faced their own environmental issues. I think that’s now starting to play out as we see legislation pass in that space and we’re certainly a lot more informed as a consequence of the journey we’ve been on,” says Slater.
To achieve this target of a 20 per cent reduction, NAB needed staff to get behind its policy. To do this, the bank employed a series of top-down and bottom-up approaches. “We had a small dedicated team who were looking to drive this initiative and make sure that we were compliant with the commitment we made, but the best source of ideas actually came from our staff,” says Slater.