The importance of being here
Speech by Abbie Reynolds at the launch of Waste Management’s sustainability strategy: For Future Generations.
Te whare e tū nei, tēnā koe
Te pāpā i waho, tēnā koe
Ki te whānau huihui nei
Tēnā tātou katoa
Thank you Marsha and to Waste Management for this opportunity to speak.
Today we’re here to bear witness to the launch of Waste Management’s sustainability strategy. This is a really important moment. It’s the culmination of a great deal of work to arrive at this point.
And it also signals the beginning of a company-wide effort to embed sustainability and be a company that is for future generations.
I want to talk a little about why you’re here and why that’s important.
You’re here because you matter to Waste Management. You’re a customer, a supplier, a stakeholder and employee. You’re a necessary part of how they are and will be successful into the future.
You may also be one of the people that Waste Management talked to or consulted as they were developing their strategy. Because that’s how setting sustainability strategy typically starts. By speaking to stakeholders – to the customers, suppliers, employees and NGOs that have a stake in the business.
Many people find it counter-intuitive that a sustainability process starts with talking to people, rather than just jumping straight to the issues which are screaming from the headlines – such as plastics in the oceans, climate change or fair pay.
I think that’s because a lot of people think sustainability is environmentalism – that is just about green issues. Or they think of it as corporate social responsibility – doing some nice stuff for the community or environment – while conveniently forgetting the day to day impacts from their own operations.
Sustainability is really about the idea that we do what we do today in a way that means future generations will be able to meet their needs. That applies to our impacts on environment, but also people and communities.
So I especially want to congratulate Waste Management for keeping that idea front and centre by putting it in the name.
But that doesn’t explain why Waste Management would start by engaging with stakeholders.
By talking to diverse stakeholders about the sustainability issues that matter to Waste Management, the company is able to understand where it should focus its effort. There are a hundred different issues they could be working on – and if they tried they would swamp themselves. Using stakeholder insights, they can understand where they need to focus their effort and where they should start.
And the good news is that this process will create other value for them. By bringing the outside in, they’ll have a much better idea of where future risk might lie and where opportunities might emerge from. This insight will also help Waste Management navigate this Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous world that digital disruption, climate change disruption and workforce disruption is driving.
This process also supports them to build and maintain great stakeholder relationships. What stakeholder doesn’t relish the opportunity to tell an organisation what really matters to us?
By being here today, you are part of that process. I described us as being here to bear witness, and that’s true. Today Waste Management is making a public declaration of the things that matter to you and to them. And they will tell us about their plans.
They are inviting you on a journey with them. They will need your help, your ideas, your solutions, your collaboration and your willingness to treat today’s words as serious commitments.
And sometimes they may need you tell them when they are missing something important. Or when they’ve got something wrong, or when you think they’ve betrayed their own best intentions.
Your role in providing feedback isn’t over – in some respects it has just begun.
And for your part, you can rightly expect them to treat your engagement with respect. That’s what today is about – demonstrating that they have listened, and that they are taking action on what you told them.
For your part, you can rightly expect them to keep you informed and be in conversation with you about how they are doing. Much of that will happen through a sustainability report – which I’ll talk about a bit more in a moment.
I hope as I’m speaking you’re thinking – blimey – it takes a fair bit of courage to so openly invite others to tell you what you should be working on and where your issues are. That sounds like an invitation for a good whinge.
In fact, Waste Management went further than that. They invited Sir Rob Fenwick, one of New Zealand’s most famous business environmentalists, and I to act as critical friends during the process. They invited us to push them further and really challenge them on the areas where they could be working harder.
Nothing was off the table. At the ELT meeting I attended we discussed what is meant to be called Waste Management and running landfills in a world where people are starting to aspire to be Zero Waste. We talked about what it would mean to be more than sustainable, and moving towards being restorative or regenerative. We talked about their role in helping people to understand waste, and their role in the circular economy.
I think our influence has turned up in multiple places in the strategy.
I think this is brave and I think Waste Management’s performance will be a better as a result. People want to work for businesses that care about doing the right thing for community, people and environment. Nearly ¾ of New Zealanders want to work for a company that does the right thing. And over 80% of New Zealanders will boycott a business that behaves unethically. And importantly, embedding sustainability can result in a lower cost of capital – Sanford credit a 1% lower cost of capital to their effort to embed sustainability.
I also think this is a sign of the times. Last week was Air NZ’s now annual sustainability breakfast. A couple of weeks prior Fonterra announced their external advisory board on sustainability. And this month the Climate Leaders Coalition reached 70 signatories – with Waste Management an early signatory.
We are seeing continued acceleration on all aspects of sustainability in New Zealand. We particularly see it in the area of reporting, which I said I’d come back to. Reporting – that’s one way I can confidently get you to go back to sleep.
But reporting really matters. As I’ve already said, Waste Management is asking you to take what they say today seriously. And they’ll be talking about their plan – but how will you be able to judge how they are doing against it. Through their reporting.
At SBC we have 103 members. And it’s a requirement of membership that they do some form of reporting. Nearly half of our members do a local version of some type of sustainability report. We’re seeing the number increase and the quality is also improving. And what we’re also noticing is those businesses that report in lots of different ways to create value.
In fact, today, Proxima, a boutique sustainability consultancy, release their Towards Transparency report. This looks right across the whole reporting landscape in NZ. What they find is that:
- 54 Sustainability reports released in NZ – 34 from listed companies and 20 non listed
We expect to see this number grow as businesses pay more attention to the report or explain obligation on issuers.
- The 34 NZX listed companies that report on sustainability performance account for 20% of all companies listed on the NZX BUT 75% of total market capitalisation
- 38 reporters (70%) used a recognised reporting framework – 26 GRI and 12 <IR>
- The most commonly reported topics were Health and Safety, Carbon, Energy, Waste, Diversity and Water
- 27 reporters (50%) have reported alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals
What does all of this tell us?
It tells us that sustainability is becoming increasingly mainstream in New Zealand and increasingly professional.
It tells us that our large businesses are interested in connecting their efforts to the global challenges presented by the UN Sustainable Development Goals – suggesting that some businesses are increasingly moving towards being more purpose-led.
The fact that many of these are successful large businesses also implies that any suggestion that there is a trade-off between financial performance and integrating sustainability has been proven false.
What it also tells us is Waste Management is in good company. That the work of setting a sustainability strategy and embedding is best practice.
And finally, it tells all of us, who are here today to bear witness to the launch of their strategy, that our role matters. That as partners, customers, employees, suppliers and friends to Waste Management, our insights and feedback will shape their approach. And that they will be a better company as a result.
Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
Noho ora mai