Delivering sustainability

The growing call for businesses to take meaningful action

Australia Post isn’t just about delivering your mail these days. It is also delivering on its commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as are many other Australian businesses, big and small.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are part of Agenda 2030, which was declared on September 25, 2015 by 193 member states.The agenda comprises 17 SDGs that have to be tackled globally by all business sectors in order to alleviate poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people have the opportunity to enjoy peace and prosperity.

“The SDGs are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership to solve global challenges,” says Dr Belinda Gibbons, Faculty of Business and Law at UOW.

“They recognise ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”

Dr Gibbons says in today’s global business climate, the SDGs are becoming increasingly important, not just in regard to corporate responsibility, but also as a way for businesses to distinguish themselves among a very crowded platform.

Dr Belinda Gibbons  
Dr Belinda Gibbons

“Every single decision and action businesses take impacts an area within the goals,” she says.

“Regardless of size or industry, all companies can contribute to the SDGs. The UN Global Compact (UNGC) asks companies to first do business responsibly and then pursue opportunities to solve societal challenges through business innovation and collaboration.”

KPMG report that four in 10 of the world’s largest companies already reference SDGs in their corporate reporting. However, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) account for an overwhelming majority of private sector business and economic activity in both developed and developing countries.

“Given their prominence in economic activity, especially in Australia, the SDGs cannot be achieved without strong SMEs,” Dr Gibbons says.

“For example, SMEs play a leading role in meeting the most ‘economic’ of the SDGs: promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all (goal 8) as well as promoting sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation (goal 9 and goal 11).

“SMEs can reduce income inequalities (goal 10) if they are enabled to provide good-quality jobs. They can help cities become more inclusive, for instance, through urban regeneration projects that emphasise SME development. And, they can help achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment through women’s entrepreneurship (goal 5).”

It’s not just businesses that are thinking about their compliance with SDGs. Consumers too are becoming more discerning about what they’re buying, from whom and how these purchases are impacting on the global environment.

Michael McQueen

Michael McQueen, social researcher and trend forecaster, says one of the biggest challenges for business in this new climate of corporate responsibility is that consumers have more information, are demanding greater transparency and have a louder voice.

“According to the 2018 Local Consumer Review survey, 86 per cent of consumers today regularly read reviews before making purchases, 84 per cent trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, and 89 per cent of consumers will read a business’ response to customer reviews,” McQueen says.

A recent Nielsen Global Corporate Responsibility Report found 73 per cent of Millennials will pay more for a product or service if it is sustainable.

“Research consistently indicates trusted and integrity-driven brands have outperformed share price benchmarks by 120 per cent each year for over 15 years and two-thirds of consumers admit they think twice about buying from any company that doesn’t align with their personal values and ethics,” McQueen says.

It’s not just consumers who are looking more closely at companies and their social and corporate ethics. Employees are now making decisions about their career path based on the ways in which businesses support their own values and ethics.

“In recent years, the things that have consistently ranked higher than salary in terms of attracting and engaging staff are: flexibility, autonomy, learning and development, and purpose and vision,” McQueen says.

“It’s interesting the first of these have to do with enriching the individual while the fourth is about having a clear sense of being part of something worthwhile by working for an organisation. Whereas employers once bemoaned the fact Millennials only stayed, on average, in a role for 2.6 years, they now accept and embrace that.

“Rather than seeing this as merely a cost or inconvenience to the organisation, employers now realise this ‘revolving door’ can be a great source of fresh eye, energy and innovation.

The disrupters

Paul Fenech, Co-Founder V-DAQ

Paul Fenech

Paul Fenech says for him creativity and problem-solving is driven by his motivation to solve real problems that have a positive impact on society.

Fenech is a UOW alumnus and co-founder of V-DAQ, an iAccelerate resident company that has spent the past few years making an intelligent transport tag to replace the e-tag.

The V-SAFE Tag is pioneering precision position and motion technologies for motor vehicles, and provides vehicles with in-lane location sensing capabilities, advanced motion analysis and low latency cellular communication so that businesses can integrate their vehicles’ location and activity in real-time into their current software systems to enhance data-driven efficiency.

“Initially, we identified a problem that was close to home, and we started the company with the focus on solving that problem,” Fenech says.

“Our founders frequently travelled daily from Wollongong to Sydney and back at off-peak times. During this time not only did we experience hazardous driving conditions, we frequently experienced the results of unfortunate driving incidents.

“We knew that we could develop a better solution than what is currently being used, one that was tailored to the Australian environment and landscape.”

Simply put, instead of just recording data and sending it to a central computer for analysis (Telematics), the V-SAFE tag funnels information to surrounding infrastructure, government and private services (Intelligent Transport Systems) for a much improved safety ecosystem that is more responsive and valuable to drivers and fleets which benefits the whole community in regards to future infrastructure planning.

“We are focused on making this technology to be more accessible to the general public. We are doing this by making ITS solutions smaller, more affordable and easier to install (similar to e-Tag),” Fenech says.

“Additionally, we are partnering with other companies and organisations to enable value-added services that reward drivers for sharing some of their anonymised data to improve things like insurance costs, general traffic flow, town and road infrastructure planning, and road surface maintenance. We believe these incentives will improve the adoption of such solutions.”

Fenech says V-DAQ is conscious of the benefit the information its V-SAFE tag can collect on improving the lives of all in the community. For that reason, it has spent a lot of time collaborating internally and externally with national transport leaders to identify exactly how its vision sits with respect to regulators, government road services and the private sector.

Robyn Jones, Founder Mama Maya

Robyn Jones

After she had her first child, Robyn Jones realised how important even the simplest things were for millions of mothers around the world.

Jones had worked in advertising for 15 years after graduating from UOW with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Communications when she decided to ditch the corporate world and start her own business.

Mama Maya is a boutique collection of organic cotton baby swaddles, and each purchase gives back to mothers all around the world. It is also a certified B Corporation, a global network of brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Warby Parker, TOM Organic, Emma & Toms, Republica Organic, Sendle, Koala and Keepcup to be recognised for using the power of business to create a positive impact on the world.

“I first heard about the birthing kit foundation about sevenand- a-half years ago and how a simple birthing kit of $3 enables women who are living in developing countries without clean hospitals to give birth,” Jones says.

“I was looking around my son’s bedroom while on maternity leave and was wondering what I could do and saw a massive pile of muslin wraps. I thought ‘why don’t I manufacture organic cotton muslin wraps, ethically made, Fairtrade, that could help women in developing countries.”

Jones says she would not have taken that leap of faith into starting her own business if it could not have incorporated a philanthropic side.

“If it wasn’t ethical I wouldn’t have done it,” she says. “Whatever it was it had to give back and that is the point of difference.

“It was important for me from the beginning to be B Corp certified. There are only around 300 B Corps in Australia, and it is an intensive certification process that looks into the business’s finances, supply chain and environmental impacts. I wanted to ensure I had a business that was a force for good.”

Jones says feedback from customers and through social media channels, shows her diligence and commitment to social responsibility is paying off. “[Our B Corp credentials] is an important factor for them, as well as the style and quality of the products,” she says.

Alex Badran, Co-Founder Spriggy

Alex Badran

Alex Badran believes if what you think, say and do is in alignment,you’ll live a happier life – and it’s a belief the co-founder of Spriggy, a digital financial app aimed at educating children about money, has put into practice.

“If a company talks at length about being a good corporate citizen, while they’re making money in a manner that would be considered untoward, I would be concerned,” he says.

The UOW alumnus who graduated in 2009 with the University Medal and an Honours from a Bachelor of Mathematics and Computer Science, says Spriggy was set up on the back of a very simple question - how can customers trust financial institutions to teach them about money, when they stand to profit from their ignorance?

“I have always embraced the idea that business model innovation is a great vehicle for change and we spoke to this point at length when starting Spriggy,” he says.

“In order to have an impact in a sustainable manner, we believe the foundations of the business must support the change you are trying to make. At its core, this comes down to how a business makes money. We believe that for us to deliver a service families trust, it is critical we make money in a manner that is aligned with the interests of the customers as we grow.”

It was also important Spriggy employ people with the same vision.

“Many people are excited by the validation that comes with fast growth, in-market scale, and high-calibre investors,” Badran says.

“These potential team members are drawn to the fast-paced environment and love the idea their work has a direct impact on hundreds of thousands of people.

“Outside of the learnings that come from a fast-growing company, all of our team members are excited by the prospect that they’re building a company with purpose and clear impact, which is hard to find in companies big or small.”

Spriggy is also trying to extend its corporate responsibility by offering its employees the chance to personally impact on the community.

“This is something that we’re trying to put a bit more structure around as we grow and we’re fortunate enough to play in a space where there’s a lot of room to make an impact,” he says. “There’s a program called the “Pledge 1%” program that we participate in and we’re currently looking at how we can further maximise the impact that we have on this front.”

“At this stage in Spriggy’s journey, when the greatest impact from our footprint comes from the families we serve, being a good corporate citizen primarily boils down to making money from customers in a manner that is transparent and aligned with their best interests. As we scale and our impact broadens, we’ll have greater factors to consider, but for right now it’s about adding value to the lives of our members.”

Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings CBE signed a university-wide commitment to meet and address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, recognising the vital role universities play in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Dr Belinda Gibbons
Associate Diploma in Computer Applications, 1992
Bachelor of Commerce (Business Info Systems & Management), 1995
Doctor of Philosophy, 2015

Michael McQueen
Bachelor of Commerce (Management), 2002

Paul Fenech
Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronic Engineering), 2017

Robyn Jones
Bachelor of Arts, 2001

Alex Badran
Bachelor of Mathematics (Adv) (Computer Science), 2008
Bachelor of Mathematics (Adv) (Honours), 2009