Top Ten Corporate Sustainability Highlights of 2015
13 January 2016 at 8:54 am
From grassroots divestment campaigns to multi-million dollar impact bonds, 2015 was a year of significant national and international milestones for CSR. Corporate sustainability strategist Jill Riseley lists the year’s top 10 achievements in the sector.
Last year can be described as a year of generosity, activism, and international commitments. While there were significant ethical failures of some Australian and international brands, 2015 saw impressive advances in business contributions to social and environmental issues.
1. Global agreement to act on climate change
After the hottest year on record, climate change campaigners may have felt Christmas had come early with the historic Paris agreement in early December. The new international treaty, that will commence in 2020, aims to transform the world's fossil fuel-driven economy within decades, and limit global warming. With climate change in Australia impacting almost every industry, from infrastructure to tourism, 2016 will focus on corporate commitments, risk mitigation and management, adaptation strategies, and governance. Ironically, lumps of coal may continue to be a suitable symbol for those on the naughty list at Christmas.
2. Big goals for a little planet
In September, we witnessed significant global commitment with the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN Summit in New York. The 17 goals (with 169 targets) cover a broad range of sustainable development issues including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. The new SDGs build on the previous eight Millennium Development Goals, and aim to focus global development priorities to 2030.
3. Australians generosity
Australians were celebrated for their philanthropic efforts, ranking fifth most generous in the CAF World Giving Index, including 145 countries. Seventy-two per cent of Australians donated money to charity, and 40 per cent of Australians surveyed had volunteered in the previous month.
4. Increased shared value
Further advances in impact investing and shared value continued the alignment of commercial company objectives and social investment. Some leading examples in 2015 included Suncorp Group’s partnership with Good Shepherd Microfinance, which provides low-income earners with home and car insurance. As well as the launch of Australia’s first “simple corporate bond” by Australian Unity, which is seeking to raise $200 million in five-year bonds to help address social welfare issues.
5. Sustainable = profitable
Research in 2015 highlighted that CSR was good for profits. Notable reports included the 2015 Havas Media Survey which found companies whose brand was seen to improve society’s wellbeing received a 46 per cent increase in share of wallet, outperformed the stock market by 133 per cent and performed 100 per cent better against key marketing KPIs. In addition, the 2015 Global Nielsen Survey found consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for products and services from socially and environmentally conscious companies (up 11 per cent).
6. Tireless activists
Ethical activists also had a busy 2015, with a number of campaigns dominating social media feeds. This included the #HestaDivest campaign that successfully lobbied the industry superannuation fund to divest $23 million of Transfield stock. Additionally, Get Up! Campaigns continue to highlight the activities of large corporations including the gambling interests of major supermarket chains and numerous environmental issues, such as coal mining near the Great Barrier Reef. Collective Shout and Oxfam ended the year issuing “naughty and nice” lists of Australian businesses.
7. Millennials (continue) to engage with corporate sustainability
In 2015, research found Millennials continued to lead the charge (both as consumers and employees) for corporate sustainability. The 2015 Cone Communications Study (US) found Millennials were prepared to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company. The 2015 Deloitte Millennial study continued to challenge the balance of corporate priorities with 75 per cent of Millennials believing businesses are not focussed enough on helping to improve society.
8. Responsible investment
Responsible investing also continued to grow. The 2015 Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) 2015 report found the broad responsible investment industry in Australia represented $597.9 billion worth of funds, and demand for specific ethical funds had doubled in the past two years (from $15.2 billion to $31.6 billion).
9. Super super-funds
With Australians now invested in the share market both directly and indirectly (and 70 per cent of Australians agreeing that superannuation funds should make responsible investments), Superannuation Funds continued to encourage increased transparency and accountability from ASX companies. 2015 reports from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) highlighted ASX performance on key issues such as sustainability reporting, executive and board remuneration, diversity, and workplace health and wellbeing.
10. More give
In November, the London Benchmarking Group found Australian and New Zealand corporations had increased community contributions to 0.61 per cent of pre-tax profit – albeit with room to grow to the global average of 1.1 per cent. The increasingly strategic focus of community investment was highlighted with 60 per cent of company boards surveyed having oversight of community investment.
In the next Corporate Community edition, Jill Risley will look at what’s in store for the year ahead, and key trends to watch in the corporate social responsibility space.
About the author: Jill Riseley has more than 15 years experience in sustainability and public affairs across corporate, government and cultural sectors. She is currently Founder and Managing Director of Meliora Group, a strategic advisory firm specialising in corporate sustainability.