Supporting firms to do the Wright thing

By Richard Gordon

More and more businesses of all shapes and sizes are looking to improve and communicate their sustainability performance.

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t appear to have stifled many organisations’ desire to improve their social and environmental sustainability performance – and be recognised for their efforts.

We’ve had a steady stream of clients seeking our guidance over the last few months on how best to communicate the great work they’re doing, and it’s been right across the spectrum, from sustainability finance and investment to environmental impact and social concerns affecting New Zealand – even support for the COVID-19 vaccination Healthline provider Whakarongorau Aotearoa.

The issue for many companies, particularly medium and private-owned enterprises, is that while they have some community sponsorship programmes or they are tracking emissions, they also realise they have gaps in their programme or they do not have an overarching sustainability strategy to guide them forward.

As the concept of sustainability and ESG becomes more widely understood, these smaller firms, some of whom are famous New Zealand brands, are looking for support to identify how they can structure their sustainability efforts, how they can build out their programmes to include the broader elements of sustainability, and how to articulate their actions and intentions.

For example, the idea that sustainability includes protecting and enhancing our natural environment is well understood. Many firms, small and large, contribute to environmental initiatives. Some are measuring and tracking their carbon footprint – Toitū Envirocare now has more than 400 client firms using its carbon reduction programmes or tracking tools such as Carbon Assess.

But the wider social and governance aspects of sustainability may be overlooked. Large firms have human resources departments and sustainability managers who consult and collaborate with senior management to establish diversity and inclusion or gender equality programmes. However, for smaller, private firms with less than 20 employees, the social impact aspects of sustainability are harder to address.

We work with our clients to help them assess their material topics and identify the gaps in their sustainability programmes. Tackling social issues is an area of increasing interest to business – both corporate and private.

Whether it is addressing domestic violence and its impact on vulnerable customers or supporting employees with mental health initiatives, we are seeing more and more employers willing to invest into social programmes that have no direct bearing on their business.

Recent clients enlisting sustainability communications guidance and support from the agency include Toitū Tahua – the Centre for Sustainable Finance; the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA), Glad - for its ocean plastics campaign; Signature Homes and The Aotearoa Circle. We have also produced a raft of sustainability reports and reviews for a wide range of listed and unlisted companies.

While we see sustainability reports in off-shore markets get incredibly detailed and complex, we see a reverse trend in New Zealand. Many of the firms that come to us want to tell their sustainability story in a short form review that has multiple uses – from online information for customers and investors to supporting tender documents and Requests for Proposals.

Sustainability has been a core driver since Nikki Wright set up the agency 15 years ago and it is a huge motivation for us as a team to assist our clients – excuse the terrible pun – in doing the Wright thing.  We ‘walk the talk’ too: along with Toitū carbon certification we are now actively seeking B-Corp certification.

The agency has also made a significant contribution in its work for charities over the recent lockdowns. Part of our credo is to give back – purpose beyond profit – and we provide much pro bono and after-hours support for our not-for-profit clients like Presbyterian Support Northern and Surf Life Saving Northern Region.

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