Westpac’s forward thinking ‘makes good business sense’

Australian Financial ReviewSPECIAL REPORT − GREEN TRADING

The bank is putting lots of resources into sustainability, writes Miriam Hechtman.

Recognised globally as a “green” leader and as winner of the 2007 Origin Banksia Gold Award, Westpac Corp has introduced a host of sustainability initiatives for its employees, customers and stakeholders. “It is an investment in the future and I suppose an investment in the ongoing sustainability of our business,” says Westpac’s head of corporate responsibility and sustainability, Graham Paterson, on the company’s commitment and continued efforts to being “green”.“One, it’s the right thing to do, but it just makes good business sense to do the things we’re doing.” The challenge for the future, he says, will be responding to the changing agenda of climate change and the issues around sustainability.Educating employees and engaging them in the process towards achieving sustainable outcomes has been part of the bank’s strategy. The bank’s efforts also won a gold award from the Banksia Environmental Foundation in July. Paterson says the bank has tried to provide employees with understanding and information about what they can do. For example, an education program around waste helps employees understand the difference between what goes to recycling and what goes to landfill and “we provide the opportunity for employees to dispose of their waste in a manner that we can maximise the impact of recycling”, he says.

Employees are also able to engage in and support local community projects through Westpac Operation Backyard, an environmental funding program administered by Landcare Australia, which enables employees to apply for funding for projects in which they are involved as volunteers.

Westpac’s Concord call centre and office headquarters have also taken part in the GreenHome corporate program run in conjunction with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). Employees can voluntarily participate in the program’s workshops during business hours. Switching to green power, reducing meat consumption, choosing local food over imported food and switching to a water-saving shower head are some of the tips employees learn in the workshops.

ACF’s GreenHome NSW co-ordinator, Sophie Scott, says it is a “good staff engagement tool for companies that have got their sustainability plans and their strategies in place and now the next step is engaging staff and making sure that they are aware of what the company is doing but also aware of the changes they can make in their own lives”.

Scott says the savings achieved through Westpac staff’s involvement in the program have been “really phenomenal”.

Primarily, the intention is to help employees with the way they deal with resources at home, says Paterson, but this behaviour also affects the workplace. “We’ve seen the impact of people concentrating on recycling in the home, [and] it surely comes back into the office in terms of their behaviour, attitude and ways in the office.”

Westpac’s position on sustainability has also affected recruitment. In 2006, the bank offered their graduates a chance to participate in a voluntary graduate sustainability group to tackle some of the issues of sustainability and present some of their outcomes to senior management. “Over 70 per cent of the graduates that I’ve spoken to indicated that Westpac’s position on sustainability was a clear component of their choice of an employer,” says Paterson.

For customers, a selection of sustainable banking options is offered. The EcoNomic Living Program, for example, provides home loan customers with an opportunity to access a range of products and services that are environmentally efficient for their homes, such as rainwater tanks and solar panels. Credit card customers are also able to use their Altitude reward points for carbon offsets and other environmentally placed products.

For internet-savvy individuals, the successful “e-statements” initiative, launched in June 2005, is for customers that have opted to receive their bank statements electronically rather than through the post. There are 370,000 customers using this option which has led to the saving of four million paper statements, 105 tonnes of paper and 264 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

“So it’s a significant saving,” says Paterson, “but the other advantage of that is it provides a superior service to those customers in that they can access those bank statements online for up to seven years.”

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