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New Zealand Takes Low-Key Approach to CSR

New Zealand Takes Low-Key Approach to CSR
16-Nov-2014

'C-Suite' reader Kevin Locke of Fulton Hogan recently drew my attention to an article in the latest issue of New Zealand Management magazine:  'Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting in New Zealand'.


Leading into a commentary on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting, the article noted that New Zealand is "ranked fourth to bottom among the 34 countries surveyed in a Grant Thornton survey, with only 16 percent of businesses reporting on their CSR activities. Only Estonia, Poland and Sweden had a lower ranking."

Although the article went on to present counter-balancing arguments in defence of the Kiwi corporate sector, another C-Suite reader, AECOM Australia & New Zealand's Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Nicola Young, was quick to voice her own observations.

Firstly, Kiwi  businesses tend to err on the side of modesty and don't necessarily report all their actions and contributions in the CSR space, she claims.

'Kiwis Don't Do Hype'

"New Zealanders are not fond of hype. They'll avoid tooting their horn, rather than be seen, for example, as being guilty of 'greenwashing'. We'll err on the side of conservatism in our claims, in order that our reporting is balanced, rigorous and comprehensive."

Young believes, in fact, that the survey results support the current global drive to look beyond "crude, quantitative measures" when assessing CSR performance and impacts.

Secondly, taking Australia as a comparison, Young pointed to the scale and types of corporations that comprise the Aussie landscape, versus the size and nature of those that comprise New Zealand's corporate sector.

"What you have to take into account, when you look beyond the raw figures in a survey like this, is that - if, for example, we compare the Australian picture against the New Zealand picture - New Zealand doesn't have many extractive-based industries," she says. "And that's where a very substantial proportion of CSR activity - and a lot of leadership - has been going on.

Extractive Industries Have Led Aussie CSR Initiatives

"In fact, in Australia, CSR has been lead by some truly great initiatives on the part of the mining companies, particularly those companies operating in very remote communities - where they've not only minimised their impact on, but also created significant fields of opportunity for, indigenous communities.

"In New Zealand, we haven't had opportunities on that sort of scale.

"That said, certainly, the whole CSR concept has been generally a lot slower to permeate the national Kiwi consciousness, and we would struggle to immediately think of many nationwide corporate-supported initiatives . . . outside of sponsorships, which are not the same thing.

"All the same, the significant aspect of our culture that this sort of survey misses, is that New Zealand commerce and industry is more integrally and authentically connected at a local community level than is commerce and industry in probably any other western country. This survey, in particular, doesn't show the degree to which many Kiwi businesses support their local communities.

'More Active At the Community Level'

"New Zealand has a very tight-knit local community scene, and that's where you'll find a lot happening that probably isn't held up specifically as 'CSR' activity, but it is underpinned by all the same principles.

"This culture and the comparatively very small scale of our business sector is reflected in this, more low-key, version of CSR.

"Let me give you an example," Young offers. "I was back in my local community of Wanganui recently. I discovered a little cafe there that donates every Wednesday night's entire takings to a different charity.

"That is an offering of great substance, in the context of that business's weekly turnover - of which that offering probably represents something like five percent. That's the sort of initiative that doesn't make it into any formal reporting mechanism."


Main photo: 

In partnership with Auckland Transport, AECOM New Zealand provided 28 bikes to the socioeconomically low-decile Rongomai Primary School. The consultancy trained its own personnel as cycling instructors, so they could have a hands-on involvement in teaching the children to cycle.