Sustainable Company of 2014

January 22nd, 2014

January is a time of reflection on the year past, often via a barrage of “best of” and “worst of” lists across the world’s media outlets. While simply reading the lists may not lend much insight, taking the time to study those who make it to the top can provide some guidance in establishing our own resolutions for the New Year.

This year, Forbes placed Australian bank Westpac at the top of “The World’s Most Sustainable Companies of 2014.” Their top ranking is a testament to their commitment to improving the lives of and building a better future for the people who bank with them, work with them, invest with them, and make up the wider community that they effect.

Westpac is the first Australian bank to launch a workplace giving program and have seen over 600 employees donate to the Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships which brings together corporations and government to improve the lives of Indigenous people. Considering the plight of the Aboriginal in modern-day Australia, not dissimilar to social issues experienced in the US with African and Native Americans, it is comforting to know that one of the biggest financial institutions in the country is taking their side. Equality efforts are also being made in Westpac’s hiring practices with more that 42% of their leadership roles held by women, putting them in a strong position to achieve their aspirational target of 50% by 2017. In another pioneering move, Westpac founded the first ever Australian disaster relief program to quickly aid those displaced by unforeseeable forces of nature.

More than 4.1 million in grants were distributed in 2013 as small part of their long-term 2017 sustainability plan that vows to make $2 billion available for lending and investment in the social and affordable housing sector and $6 billion for CleanTech and environmental services.   Progress so far has been primarily in renewable energy, including two major wind farms and a solar farm. Internally, Westpac improved its energy efficiency by 10% over the past five years and reached carbon neutrality in 2013!

Westpac is also investing time and effort in its customers’ experience. Aside from developing talking ATM’s to assist the visually impaired, the bank has invested heavily in the financial education of their customers with products and advisory services that ensure people have a better relationship with money and are able to meet their goals for retirement. According to their website, this tallies out at 228,500 hours of financial education over the past three years.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this company is that on top of all of these efforts to improve the world around them, shareholder dividends for the bank have increased every year since 2009. Westpac is a model for how large corporations both internationally and here in the US can operate for a sustainable future without seeing profits suffer. In fact, if the groundwork is done for a better future, it will likely pay off big time! So as we set our own goals for the New Year, let’s see what tips we can take from those who do it best.

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