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Building Sustainability from the Ground Up

18 November 2015 at 10:42 am
Ellie Cooper
Proper planning and strategy are vital in the construction industry, and one of Australia’s largest property developers is extending this approach to its sustainability goals, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Executive Insight.

Ellie Cooper | 18 November 2015 at 10:42 am


Building Sustainability from the Ground Up
18 November 2015 at 10:42 am

Proper planning and strategy are vital in the construction industry, and one of Australia’s largest property developers is extending this approach to its sustainability goals, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Executive Insight.  

Mirvac, according to Sustainability Group General Manager, Paul Edwards, has been socially and environmentally active throughout the company’s 40 year history. However, recently implementing a sustainability strategy that has increased its impact.

“Mirvac has a long history of working in our communities, our project teams sees it as a fundamental part of the work we do,” Edwards said.

“In the last few years we’ve taken a more structured approach where we’ve actually created a strategy internally and then we’ve set aside money to fund various programs.

“By having a structure in which we’re able to give direction and make sure is coordinated, and consistent in our approach really gives benefits to the communities in which we work.”

Mirvac’s corporate responsibility program, called This Changes Everything, is broken into four areas – enriching communities, smarter thinking, future of place and reimagining resources. Under each area there are mission statements and, in turn, under each of those are commitments.

“The first [area] is reimagining resources and that’s broken into four areas – energy, water, waste and materials and under each of those we have targets,” Edwards said.

“Our mission statement is to be net positive by 2030 which means generating more energy than we consume and capturing more water than we consume.

“So to do that we’ve started with a short-term focus, so we intend to reduce our carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2018 and increase our energy we generate by one mega-bolt by 2018 as well.”

Edwards said Mirvac’s staff were integral in developing the focus of the “enriching communities” area of This Changes Everything.

“We were doing a lot of great work but we wanted to make sure it aligned with what the company strategy is, but also what staff wanted,” he said.

“So we ran a survey of our staff and asked them what the areas of importance are for our staff and it came back as ‘medical’ and ‘young people’, and so we’ve tried to focus on initiatives that worked for those.”  

Along with fostering positive internal relationships, Edwards said that Mirvac had created a charity strategy, forming partnerships with local and national organisations.

Earlier in November 2015 Mirvac held their National Community Day where more than 790 staff took part in 43 projects across the country which worked with 35 charitable organisations.

“The key here as well is we’re working with some charities that we’ve now created longer-term partnerships with – [YWCA’s] Y Hotel, we have a MOU with the National Arts School, we also have a partnership with the local church that runs a homeless kitchen.. and the last one is our relationship with the Smith Family,” Edwards said.  

“We have a charity partner program, where the first partner is the Smith Family and that’s a two year commitment, and we’re currently looking to create another ongoing relationship.

“As part of that relationship we held three or four events with the Smith Family as part of our Community Day.”

However, he said that community engagement initiatives aren’t limited to the Community Day and are integrated into everyday practice.

“It’s not just a blanket ‘let’s go and do something in the community’, all of our activities are linked to our projects, or linked to partners that we already have in place,” he said.

“The initiative with Y-Hotel is not just about working on community day, we’re talking to YWCA about staffing and running our new café in our new headquarters.

“And we had a situation where we were making deliveries in the city to one of our new developments and we realised there was a health and safety risk to local homeless people.

“So rather than taking a negative approach, our team took a proactive approach which was actually find out where they could engage with the homeless and how they could help them.

“And that ended up with us starting off as people volunteering and attending a homeless breakfast program run by the local Presbyterian Church to Mirvac actually holding its own morning breakfast, which is now every Friday. Staff across the company give time to run that breakfast.”

Mirvac also changed their approach to corporate donations, creating greater structure.

“That’s worked out well, because recently we donated money to things like the disaster in Nepal, when there’s a natural disaster or some other disaster we feel really aligned to what we believe in and [a structured strategy] allows us to react very quickly to these things as well,” Edwards said.  

“We have a match funding program where if our own staff wish to take part in a charity event we will match funds to a $200 limit.

“We have a workplace giving program where for every dollar a staff member donates the company donates the same amount.”

However, he said one of the challenges of creating a sustainability strategy is capturing and measuring impact.

“We’re a big organisation across pretty much all states and we’ve got lots of projects and a lot of people just do great things,” he said.

“So one of the immediate things we implemented was a new online tool so all staff can upload information about any work they do with charities or anything in their communities, which means they’re better resourced to understand what they actually do.

“And that’s really powerful because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So for us, now we can say our community investment last year went from $1.2 million to $1.8 million, predominantly because we were able to capture all of the good work that’s happening.

“And we can use that to encourage our staff to do more, because they can see the benefits we’re creating so it’s a powerful instrument.”

Edwards said encouraging community participation is “fantastic” for staff engagement, which benefits the company.

“Our Community Day has really been very good at staff bonding, and also upskilling our staff. For each community project we have project management roles… so they’re learning new skills,” he said.

“It also gives us new skills with working with organisations like the National Arts School, understanding how they work and we can work with them.

“We’re about to roll out a mentoring program with the Smith Family, which again will provide new skills to people.”  

But then there’s also an opportunity for our staff to use their skills in a different way and offer those skills to the charities we work with, which again has big benefits.

“There’s a lot to do with training and a lot to do with building employee engagement and creating morale,” he said.

“And finally, obviously there’s the great feeling you get when you help a charity or someone in need.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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