Westpac's sustainable change

DAVID SLACK
Last updated 05:00 18/01/2013
s60westpac
Afiafi Leala has run several of Westpac's Managing Your Money workshops.

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“The most interesting questions always come from our younger participants," says Afiafi Leala, the manager of  Westpac's branch in the Auckland suburb of Te Atatu. "It’s fun explaining how ATMs aren’t manned by tiny people.” 

She's describing the Managing Your Money financial education workshops the bank offers to community groups. The workshops cater for all ages and interests — from young children in school holiday programmes to high schools, Work and Income clients and community groups.

All told, Managing Your Money has been offered to more than 60,000 people as part of Westpac's sustainability plan, the 'Our Tomorrow Project'. The project has been underpinned by the energy and goodwill of enthusiastic Westpac staff like Leala.

This year she has run no fewer than 10 workshops with groups from young children in school holiday programmes to high school students; groups from the charity Dress For Success; aspiring rugby players and Samoan church groups. Many of the workshops take place on evenings and weekends.

She is currently working with a local community group to help young local entrepreneurs aged between seven and 12 build business skills and get a taste of running their own business.

Managing Your Money is just one of ten significant sustainability initiatives the bank has been pursuing.

Conceived in 2008, the Our Tomorrow Project was a four year sustainability plan. Its guiding principle was: you manage what you measure.

Westpac's 10 targets were carefully chosen. They identified the most pressing issues facing New Zealand over the next 30 years, then identified how their organisation could most usefully help, in three key areas: providing economic solutions to environmental challenges; creating sustainable financial futures; and responding to demographic and cultural change.

From that, the bank conceived 10 specific and measurable targets and, says chief executive Peter Clare, the outcome has been very gratifying.

"Our employees really rallied round and many of our targets were exceeded. We smashed our fundraising target of $4 million for the rescue helicopters, raising almost $6 million over the past four years.”

Some of the other numbers were equally impressive: 1.02 million pieces of rubbish were picked up from New Zealand’s beaches and waterways in support of the Sir Peter Blake Trust's Care for Our Coast programme. 

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63,349 New Zealanders took part in the ‘Managing Your Money’ programme - substantially ahead of the the target of 45,000. 

The bank achieved a 21% reduction of its carbon footprint against a target of 20%.

Five sustainable products and services were launched for customers, including paperless lending, ecostore 'Hotpoint' rewards, recycled plastic cards and carbon trading.

Some of the targets were pretty challenging, Clare says, "and four years is quite a long time, but our people experienced huge satisfaction from contributing to Our Tomorrow plan. When one group picked up the millionth piece of rubbish from one of New Zealand’s beautiful beaches, we couldn’t wait to announce it to the whole company so we could all celebrate.” 

Manage what you measure saw progress being reported monthly to the chief executive and senior managers. Exceptions and variances were readily identified and acted on. When higher than expected emissions from air travel became apparent, the company moved to make more use of videoconferencing among corporate offices.

“For us, sustainability is the outcome of a well managed business, says Clare. "It is not a programme that runs alongside our business, nor is it discretionary in difficult times – it underlines what we represent and what we do as a business.”

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