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RMIT University Student Forum

RMIT University’s forum on Corporate Social Responsibility: transforming the way business operates highlighted the importance of setting benchmarks for the transition of the private sector to a more responsible way of doing business.

The University’s Green Brain Room hosted the event on Wednesday 2 August, presented by RMIT University in partnership with ACCSR, and facilitated by ACCSR’s Managing Director Leeora Black.

To an audience of undergraduate students, postgraduate students and staff, the four guest speakers explained how the integration of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is transforming the notion of business-as-usual.  The questions raised during the panel discussion suggested that a level of disconnect persists between community expectations around issues such as fossil fuel divestment, and the economic realities associated with dramatic behavioural shifts. The transformation process will necessarily be a gradual one, and as B Lab’s Charlie Symes observed, just because a project is imperfect does not mean that it will be ineffective.

Sasha Courville, Head of Social Innovation at NAB, reflected that in a world of increasing vulnerability and uncertainty, organisations are seeking to respond global risks and the trends that drive them by pursuing social as well as business value. For NAB, different methods offer different ways of creating value. Traditional philanthropy can help to build community capacities and create the ecosystem for opportunities such as impact investing. Responsible business practice accounts for social and environmental impacts, and can send a signal to the market about the viability of innovations such as renewables. Shared value seeks to meet a social challenge with an innovative business solution, allowing the pursuit of profit to be aligned with the pursuit of the greater good.

Matt Balfe, Head of Strategic Communications and Sustainability at Yarra Valley Water, explored how the utility has developed a corporate strategy that reads like a sustainability strategy. Yarra Valley Water has recognised that its ability to provide a service to its customers will be impacted by interrelated social and environmental conditions, such as increased demands on water resources caused by population growth. As result, it must consider how it can protect natural, social, human and financial capital to meet the needs of both present and future generations.

Charlie Syme, Acting Director of B Lab Australia, described how his organisation services a global movement of people using business as a force for good.  Charlie has found that companies are seeking B Corp certification because it aligns with their values, it serves to differentiate them from competitors, and their employees are encouraging it. This reflects social trends around the values that employees, particularly millennials, bring to their workplaces, the level of trust sought by consumers, and the opportunities pursued by increasingly ethical investors.

Adam Lloyd, Group Sustainability Manager at Cotton On, explained that the values of Cotton On’s founder, Nigel Austin, have driven the organisation’s approach to CSR. Cotton On was one of the first retailers in Australia to launch a supplier code of conduct, its Rules to Trade, in 2009. This commitment to ethical sourcing is leading Cotton On to pursue full traceability of its supply chains by 2018.

As RMIT University’s College of Business continues to integrate CSR into its curriculum, we look forward to the contributions that the forum’s attendees will make to future CSR strategies and innovations.


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