In her role at health provider Bupa, Elizabeth Still takes a holistic approach to sustainability and employee wellbeing.
Tell us about your role as head of corporate responsibility and sustainability at Bupa.
I cover three areas: corporate responsibility programs, which include overseeing employee benefits such as workplace giving, volunteering and fundraising; external community partnerships; and sustainability and the environment, which has become more of a focus.
How have you shifted the mindset from corporate responsibility to sustainability, and how do the two areas differ?
There’s a real stepping-stone in sustainability – companies are first in denial, then they recognise there could be a legislative risk. The next step is realising there are cost-saving and employee-engagement benefits. The final step is integrating sustainability into the fabric of the business.
It’s now part of the core strategy at Bupa and we understand that it’s deeper than going green … it links into the future of our business, not just this year but five, 10, 20, even 50 years from now.
A priority for us is the prevention of chronic disease through support and education, positive health guides, assessments and apps. Our Well World target is to help four million people make positive changes by 2015, with real, measurable goals. As Australia’s largest aged-care business, healthy ageing is a real focus for us, as we look to support this growing population.
Is there a trend towards greater sustainability?
Sustainability used to be considered an add-on, but it’s now being taken seriously. In the corporate world, it is no longer a buzzword or a fleeting trend. Corporations are taking more responsibility and looking at opportunities for shared value.
It’s okay for a company to make profits, but you can’t do that without supporting the community and the environment – there has to be that give and take.
Bupa acquired MBF in 2008. What were some of the challenges associated with transitioning from a national company to a global organisation?
The biggest challenge was the huge task of restructuring, which is unsettling for people and the organisation.
Our next focus was on the integration of both companies, but it was hard to get airtime on sustainability when it wasn’t considered core. IT and customer service systems were the priority, so I had to work within that space to champion other initiatives. It was a tough sell to get the go-ahead on programs, such as volunteering team days, which were aimed at melding the separate work cultures.
Tell us about Bupa’s volunteer projects and other community initiatives.
A volunteer group from Bupa built an orphanage in Thailand in 2007, and then in 2009 I led a team to build a medical centre in Ecuador. It was an incredible experience, working with employees from all over the world. We haven’t continued the program because in a company of 50,000 it wasn’t able to touch enough people. Now we hold an annual global challenge with a focus not only on the health and wellbeing of our employees, friends and families, but also our customers and all Australians.