Establishing sustainable cities and communities is a key sustainable development goal that utilities can strive towards.

The largest ongoing study of corporate social responsibility (CSR) capabilities in Australia and New Zealand has named the ten highest performing organisations for 2017, with one Australian utility making the list. It has also highlighted some key areas that Australian utilities can focus their own sustainable development goals on for optimum customer and organisational benefits.

In its 9th annual review of the state of corporate social responsibility in Australia and New Zealand, the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ACCSR) analysed key trends in CSR across several industries and determined the organisations that had the highest rate of these capabilities embedded in their culture.

The 2017 report Re-imagining sustainable value: the Sustainable Development Goals gather pace focused on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and non-financial reporting.

Melbourne water utility Yarra Valley Water made the top ten, alongside international charity WaterAid and infrastructure company Abergeldie Complex Infrastructure. They were joined by Arup, Deloitte, ebm-papst, LexisNexis, PwC, Tata Consultancy Services and Transurban.

The top three corporate social responsibility organisations in New Zealand in 2017 are Toyota, Westpac NZ, and Air New Zealand.

Measuring Australia’s corporate responsibility

The top ten Australian and top three New Zealand organisations were chosen based on the results of an online survey that was completed by 1,215 professionals from 30 organisations. Employees from the 30 participating organisations assessed the extent that CSR processes and values are present in their company.

Dr Leeora Black, Managing Director of the ACCSR, congratulated the organisations that made the CSR top ten and top three lists.

“The assessment reflects the perceptions of employees in these organisations of their capabilities in stakeholder engagement, stakeholder values attunement, dialogue, and social accountability,” Dr Black said.

The survey was conducted early in 2017, with ten per cent of respondents from the utility sector, including electricity, gas and water companies.

The survey defined corporate social responsibility as “the organisational practices that address the impacts of an organisation on business, society and the environment or seek to create positive societal value through core business”.

Robin Craig, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Abergeldie Complex Infrastructure, one of the Australian companies to make the top ten, said its CSR philosophy, known as “the Abergeldie Way”, has given the company a framework for decision-making, making it more efficient and allowing the creation of a like-minded workforce.

“We have always had a belief at Abergeldie that the reason for business is to build better communities. We applied for the award to benchmark our CSR philosophy and actions against other businesses and to encourage others to strive to improve in this area,” Ms Craig said.

“We monitor our activities against all of the goals, but our key focus in the next year will be gender equality – looking at ways of getting more female representation in the construction industry; as well as affordable clean energy – researching ways we can use our world-leading shaft drilling equipment for renewable energy storage.”

Sustainable development goals: do you measure up?

Key findings from the survey highlighted the extent that organisations in Australia and New Zealand use SDGs in their business strategies.

SDGs can include no poverty; good health and wellbeing; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; and sustainable cities and communities, among others.

More than half of the survey respondents said that SDGs have been mapped against business strategy as much as they have been against CSR strategies or reporting. They also reported that their organisations have been “assessing their impacts through the lens of the SDGs, setting targets, developing partnerships, and reporting performance”.

The report found that the top corporate social responsibility priority for Australian organisations is a focus on building stronger relationships with stakeholders. Across the board, the top three SDGs that are being addressed by the respondents’ organisations are gender equality, good health and wellbeing, and industry, innovation and infrastructure.

For utilities such as electricity, gas and water companies, the five sustainability goals that should be top-of-mind are:

  1. Sustainable cities and communities

2. Clean water and sanitation

3. Good health and wellbeing

4. Gender equality

5. Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Given that 43 per cent of respondents reported a behaviour change in their organisation as a result of mapping the SDGs to reporting or strategy, and more than half believe that sustainability reporting should be mandatory, the ACCSR report highlights the growing importance that corporate social responsibility has in Australian and New Zealand organisations.

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