Purposeful Conversations with Ryan Swenson and Kerri Mills
10 April 2019 at 8:25 am
Ellie Nikakis from Vollie sits down with Ryan Swenson of Officeworks and Kerri Mills of REA to talk about executing an effective and aligned CSR plan, as part of our series of Purposeful Conversations with CSR professionals.
Company attitudes and strategies towards corporate social responsibility vary enormously, however a solid brand image and consistent values throughout a business can do wonders for both a company’s reputation and its ability to create real change.
Enter aligned CSR – a conscious effort to streamline and manage CSR programs and initiatives in such a way that remains holistic and coherent with a company’s ethos.
Corporations like property-marketing firm REA Group and leading retailer Officeworks demonstrate this approach, ensuring they are getting the most out of their CSR plans by catering to their employees concerns and interests along the way.
REA takes special care to maintain this by keeping an ear to the ground when it comes to what their employees care about, using this knowledge to help determine which not for profits the company seeks out partnerships with.
“We believe from the top down – everybody deserves a safe space to sleep, every single night,” Kerri Mills, financial reporting manager of REA Group, says.
This mindset led to partnerships with causes delivering aid to those experiencing homelessness, including Launch Housing, Home Ground Real Estate, The Big Issue and Orange Sky Laundry.
“Through the partnership with Launch Housing we helped develop the National Rapid Rehousing Front, which really assists women and children escaping domestic violence situations. Through that partnership over the last four years we’ve been able to support and help over 1,500 women and children,” she says.
The company’s story with Orange Sky is particularly intriguing. When REA invited the not for profit to speak to employees two years ago, little did they know the impact it would have. After resonating with so many staffers and quickly becoming the number one charity their employees were donating to, it seemed only natural to partner with Orange Sky Laundry. Fortunately, this worked out extremely favourably – REA now proudly boasts an 85 per cent overall employee engagement rating across Australia.
This excludes their various other programs tailored for employees, including their annual paid volunteer day for each employee at their chosen organisation, and the ability for other employees to “cash in” on volunteer days relinquished by their colleagues.
REA also offers to match their employees’ charity donations of up to $500 per annum, and extends a community grants program available for organisations employees are directly involved with. You can see the strong alignment as a purpose-led organisation through its commercial work and also through its community focus – REA proudly has an 85 per cent overall employee engagement rating across Australia.
But working with related causes isn’t the sole technique for aligning your company’s CSR; it can be equally effective to examine the potential environmental impacts your company may have and minimise them.
“As a retailer, we see our environmental responsibility extending beyond our direct control, by also considering how we can help our customers make a positive difference by reducing their environmental impact through the products they choose to buy, and how they dispose of them at the end of their lifecycle,” Officeworks’ corporate responsibility manager, Ryan Swenson says.
This is demonstrated by the well-established recycling programs offered by Officeworks, which include the collection of ink and toner cartridges, mobile phones and IT equipment. Officeworks has collected over 9 million ink and toner cartridges since the program began. Internally, the company has targets around zero operational waste to landfill and reducing packaging impacts, which are outlined in their Positive Difference Plan.
The Officeworks Positive Difference Plan was developed in 2015 after comprehensive stakeholder consultation to understand and prioritise the issues of most importance.
“Following the research, we developed long-term targets and objectives that focused on three pillars of the environment, responsible sourcing, and people. Responsible sourcing, for example, includes a 2020 target that all of our paper products sold are either FSC certified or 100 per cent recycled,” Swenson says.
The approach to sustainable sourcing of wood and paper products has enabled Officeworks to further demonstrate industry leadership and innovation through their recently launched Restoring Australia initiative.
The program ensures that two trees for each one used, based on the weight of paper-based products customers buy at Officeworks, are planted across Australia, restoring native landscapes and protecting endangered species. As of the end of 2018, Officeworks has planted 326,000 trees.
“This initiative is one that has really resonated both internally and externally,” Swenson says.
“I think we’ve definitely seen that connection to working for a company that genuinely cares about the environment, and how our team members can also help make a positive difference.”
About the author: Ellie Nikakis is the PR and marketing coordinator for Vollie, an online marketplace that connects skilled people to not for profits, charities, and social enterprises for skills-based online volunteering.
This article is part of a monthly series of Purposeful Conversations by Vollie, in which we sit down with a range of CSR managers in the Australian business landscape about their interpretations of the CSR space.