The sustainability advantage

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Wednesday, 23 January, 2008

The Department of Environment & Climate Change in NSW runs a program for businesses called Sustainability Advantage, which it believes makes sense of all of the noise about sustainability.

In a recent interview with Sustainability Matters, Frouke de Reuver, senior project officer, Sustainability Programs Division, discussed how the program operates and how companies can benefit from this government-run initiative.

SM: What is Sustainability Advantage?

SA: Sustainability Advantage is a partnership program, developed by the Department of Environment and Climate Change NSW (DECC) to assist business in managing risk and realising economic and environmental benefits. Partnerships are the pathway to sustainability and Sustainability Advantage helps businesses leverage new and extended partnerships and collaboration at all levels of government, industry and community.

SM: How does good environmental performance reduce risk, lower costs and improve productivity and enhance reputation?

SA: Good environmental performance:

  • reduces regulatory risks by ensuring businesses comply with environmental legislative requirements
  • lowers costs through optimising resource efficiencies eg, raw material, water and energy use, and minimising waste generated
  • improves productivity through better business planning and staff engagement
  • enhances reputation through better supplier-customer relationships, through becoming an employer of choice (as employees engage in positive environmental actions at work) and a corporate leader in emerging 'green' practices and markets.

SM: What examples can you substantiate this claim with?

SA: Norm Crothers, deputy CEO of Choice, says that participating in the Sustainability Advantage program has helped them to refine their environmental vision and goals, and to develop a clearer idea of the techniques available to help them achieve their aims, such as waste audits, user surveys and paper usage audits.

"The Sustainability Advantage program has supported and helped establish the integration of the environmental aspects of McWilliams Wines' business planning processes." Paul Tyson, quality assurance manager, McWilliams Wines.

"The outcomes of the project to date have delivered a number of pathways to input savings, in financial, environmental and even social terms, thereby improving our triple bottom line!" Will Cowley, chief operations officer, Rockdale Beef, 2007.

"Facilitation, networking and feedback from fellow cluster members has been a very positive experience for Orlando Wines. Efficiency gains can translate across many different industries." Stephen Cook, winery manager, Orlando Wines.

"By working with the DECC we have been able to prioritise actions and systemically address opportunities for energy efficiency improvements within our business," Garry Polkinghorne, director PHL Surveyors.

SM: What sort of companies get involved and from what sector?

SA: The program is aimed at medium to large companies in all industry sectors. To date there are 180 organisations participating from a diverse range of industries including manufacturing, food, beverages and grocery, building products, health care and aged services, property, printing, poultry, tertiary education and not-for-profit/community services.

SM: How successful has the program been so far?

SA: The program now includes participants from across NSW; from the Queensland border, out west and south to Wagga Wagga. Six local councils are facilitating clusters in their local government area and industry associations have been proactive in recruiting their members to the program.

SM: Why do businesses need to commit for 18 months?

SA: From previous DECC and industry experience we realise that to implement and achieve both technological and behavioural change requires realistic time frames. Companies commit to specific modules in the program which address their priority needs eg, resource efficiency or supply chain. This may require them to rethink their practices and engage key staff in operational changes. These changes may require financial expenditure, education and training and new work structures, all of which require time and resources to achieve.

At the end of a year many businesses are realising outcomes, but much more needs to be done beyond 18months. The DECC hopes to keep working with participants to deliver long-term business sustainability.

SM: What are the financial costs?

SA: Companies are asked to make a modest, one-off payment as a commitment to participating in the program, which is otherwise free. The commitment fees are:

  • $2500 for large companies (100+ employees)
  • $2000 for medium-sized companies (50-100 employees)

SM: Are companies becoming more aware of their environmental footprint?

SA: Yes, we have seen a great increase in awareness in Australia, from business, government and the community. This has lead to many companies approaching the DECC for help in reducing their environmental footprint.

SM: Is this a national-based program or NSW only?

SA: This is a NSW-based program only, as the Department of Environment and Climate Change is a NSW government department. Many of the larger companies we are working with, such as Coca-Cola Amatil, Goodman Fielder, Boral, Ramsay Health are national or multinational companies and can apply the learnings from this program across their operations.

SM: Do you have plans to link up with other similar state programs?

SA: We work together with our state partners on similar programs, especially in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. We learn from each other and contribute new resources: the web or tailored to specific sectors such as small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This ensures better outcomes across Australia for business.

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