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Defining and Activating Sustainable Business

Defining and Activating Sustainable Business

Walking the Talk took on a whole new meaning for delegates behind October's New Zealand Sustainable Business Conference in Auckland (Waipuna Lodge, 24-25 October). The conference was hosted by the Auckland Environmental Business Network, NZ Businesses for Social Responsibility, NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development and NZ Centre for Business Ethics and Sustainable Development

Rachel Brown is the Chief Executive of the newly formed Sustainable Business Network, which was created at the conference through the merger of the Auckland Environmental Business Network and NZ Businesses for Social Responsibility. Rachel said that many of the 280 delegates were motivated into making more changes in their own organisations as a result of hearing of others' sustainability action.

Rachel says: "The theme was Walking the Talk: Growing Sustainable Business. Sustainable business practice is good for business. It's about taking a responsible approach to business, not just a short-term view focused on profit. Sustainability is about organisations taking actions that ensure a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. It makes commercial sense to show your staff, customers and community that you're a good corporate citizen."

"Some delegates picked up ideas that they will turn into action. Our Trade Expo participants were delighted with the positive interest delegates showed in their products or services."

Rachel said the delegates listened, shared and learned from others during the course of the conference, all keen to inspire others or to pass on what they'd learnt on their sustainability journey.

"Speakers shared what triple and quadruple bottom line thinking meant for their organisation, in terms of socially, ethically or environmentally responsible action. Companies are looking for ways they can put something back, rather than just focusing on profit."

Rachel said social responsibility and business ethics have been themes of the sustainable development movement for some time, as part of the sustainable approach to business. This conference was no exception.

Stephen Tindall, who heads the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development, believes the conference, and the formation of the Sustainable Business Network, signals a positive new direction for sustainability.

Stephen Tindall says: "The conference demonstrated that the move towards sustainable development has gone beyond the talking phase. Every presentation and workshop featured real stories of businesses that are taking on the ground action to deliver wins for their businesses, the environment and our communities.

We still have a long way to go. However the numbers attending the conference, combined with the great stories and the high level of interest, showed that more and more NZ businesses are joining the sustainability journey," Stephen says.

Examples of triple bottom line thinking, which were presented at the conference, were many and varied. They included: " Sanford Fisheries, which explained how its Kiwi Can programme was inspiring positive behaviour in the schools it was sponsoring; " Workbase talked about the difference adult literacy training can make to staff if provided during work time by employers (the Workbase CEO reported how beneficial training had been for staff of South Auckland rotation moulding firm Rotaform); " Untouched World, which said that by refocusing on broader issues, they were able to create beautiful new fabrics from one of our most serious pests; the possum; " Urgent Couriers, which encouraged its contractors to reduce their vehicle's gas emissions and to become self-employed rather than remain as employees.

Rachel Brown adds: "SMEs are asking for concrete NZ business examples that can demonstrate the benefits of the approach and inspire them toward a sustainable approach for their own organisations. They are no longer satisfied with hearing of the global achievements of larger corporates and multinationals, but rather they're looking for ways they can produce their own sustainable business approach locally."

One of the best known local advocates of the social responsibility cause is Dick Hubbard, Chief Executive of the South Auckland based cereal manufacturer Hubbard Foods. Dick Hubbard first made his name through media coverage of his company's socially responsible approach to looking after his employees' wellbeing. Some of these initiatives included ongoing training opportunities and company sponsored overseas holidays. He is also well known to business organisations as founder and Chairman of NZ Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Dick Hubbard says: "Over the past few years, questions after my presentations have switched from why have sustainable business practice to 'how to'. This conference succinctly answered the 'how to' question, by giving practical examples of how to 'Walk the Talk'. Sustainable business practice is an investment in a business and I have no doubt that some of the concepts and techniques presented will definitely strengthen and benefit the business activities of those that take them on board."

Social responsibility is a very important theme for many businesses and one of the Sustainable Business Conference speakers presented a great opportunity for companies asking the 'how to' question.

United Way NZ, a social enterprise which helps direct businesses and individuals into meaningful community partnerships, told conference delegates that in one of United Ways many services, 100% of the pay roll or $2 Club donations, is passed onto the Community. United Way NZ, Director of Corporate Services Development, Christine Milicich, told the conference that her current contract with United Way NZ, which is aimed at promoting the spirit of generosity in NZ, is funded in part by The Tindall Foundation. She said this kind of funding structure meant that the United Way Team could remain independent in their partnering of community agencies, individuals and corporates.

Several other speakers endorsed the need to make such community partnerships meaningful and ongoing, rather than just making a one-off gesture through a sponsorship cheque.

One of them was keynote speaker Jude Mannion, who spoke of her intention to link larger organisations with struggling community organisations, again through ongoing partnerships rather than straight monetary support.

Such partnerships are often motivated by business ethics, a theme taken by another keynote speaker - Dr Simon Longstaff. Dr Longstaff, who is from the Sydney-based St James Centre for Business Ethics, talked about the importance of trust and leadership from business leaders. He also gave delegates a clear warning saying that the great paradox associated with sustainability is that if you do it for the financial dividend only - you won't necessarily get that dividend.

In identifying sustainable behaviour Dr Longstaff put two key questions to the conference - with whom or with what do you have relationships of significance (including future generations and the natural environment); and what should the quality or character of these relationships be?

Rachel Brown concludes: "The key message of the conference was that sustainable business practice is good for business, as it enhances corporate reputation and builds a better future for all."

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