A port of conscience

by 29 May 2007

Gaining internal traction with corporate citizenship initiatives is a common problem for companies. Craig Donaldson speaks with SydneyPorts Pat Catanach about its award winning approach to corporate citizenship and how to embed a philosophy of corporate citizenship within an organisation

Sydney Ports Corporation is responsible for the development and management of the ports of Sydney and Botany. With around 250 employees working across 18 different professional disciplines, Sydney Ports has taken a more strategic approach to corporate citizenship, with measurable benefits for both Sydney Ports itself and beneficiaries. In recognition of this, it won the Michael Page Award for Best Corporate Citizenship in the 2006 Australian HR Awards.

A philosophy of corporate citizenship

SydneyPort’s corporate citizenship efforts have largely been driven by its CEO, Greg Martin. Rather than being a one-off program or initiative with limited effect, the organisation has made a sustained effort to embed a philosophy of corporate citizenship into its day-to-day business operations.

SydneyPorts’ corporate citizenship work is also closely aligned with the nature of its business. While legislation mandates a minimum level of ethical, social and environmental requirements, Pat Catanach, general manager of human resources, says SydneyPorts’ corporate citizenship efforts aim to address these requirements in a way that will add the most value and have the most impact.

“Everything to do with corporate citizenship is built into the philosophy of how we manage the organisation and our role in the broader community as a port authority,” she says. “We certainly value our relationships with not only employees, but also stakeholders and the community in which we work. We continually foster and nurture community initiatives and relationships, from those we have in the SydneyBasin through to those in country areas, where we have farmers and winegrowers who are exporters and who use our facilities.”

On a day-to-day basis, more than 50 per cent of Sydney Ports’ workforce is engaged in outdoor activities, from ensuring safe passage and navigation of ships on the harbour, through to fire fighting, investigations of pollution, oil spills and cleanups as well as audits of dangerous goods. “We’ve got some very strict standards that we work to, and we take safe and sensible environmental management very seriously. That’s what I mean about a philosophy – so it’s not a single initiative or program,” Catanach says.

Specific elements

SydneyPorts has more than 40 partnerships in place with community and industry groups. It participates in a range of forums and programs designed to raise awareness of port activities and provide an open opportunity for dialogue with SydneyPorts’stakeholders, Catanach says.

The corporation partners with a couple of universities in researching improvements in the environment. The Botany project, for example, is dedicated to restoring a very dilapidated habitat, in order to improve environmental conditions for fish and other animals living in the Botany area.

SydneyPorts also assists local school students and children in a number of ways, with the JJ Cahill Memorial High School in Botany receiving a sizeable donation to build a gym for students. “We knew we wanted to add something to the local community. If we didn’t contribute, then the school wouldn’t have its gym. That’s the difference. There isn’t any money from the government, and they can’t get it through the education system,” Catanach says.

The corporation also conducts fundraising for two specific United Way programs: the Glebe Childcare Centre and the JosephVargaSchool, which assists children with behavioural and learning difficulties in the eastern suburbs.

SydneyPorts also holds regular community group meetings in the areas of GlebeIsland and WhiteBay. “Because we obviously have activity in the inner part of the SydneyPort, we meet with members of the local community on an as-and-when-required basis to get their feedback, resolve matters and sort through any issues to do with their local ports and potential developments or changes,” Catanach says.

SydneyPorts endeavours to go the extra mile for the community as part of Botany development and expansion. “Boaties might get a new boat ramp, for example. So the community gets a new parking area and other facilities as part of the development. We don’t have to deliver on these things, but we’re aiming for the best outcome. There are always going to be issues and you can’t always make everybody happy, so it’s important to talk with the community and get their feedback.”

For example, SydneyPorts is currently looking to set up an intermodal logistic centre on 60 hectares of land at Enfield. As part of this, SydneyPorts takes into account a number of environmental considerations, such as frog habitats, heritage buildings and other community considerations about residential areas. “It’s not about the revenue, it’s just how we go about our business. This is embedded into the philosophy of the organisation – it’s not just a one-off.”

Gaining traction

Corporate citizenship initiatives are often the domain of HR, but many companies struggle when it comes to gaining traction across the entire organisation. Catanach says it’s important for as many employees as possible to get involved when it comes to community initiatives.

“I think we’ve still got a bit of work to do on that. There’s a little way to go when it comes to greater involvement of staff in some initiatives,” she says. This has been made easier with a more focused approach to corporate citizenship. SydneyPorts has gifted money to various charities for a number of years. However, Catanach says staff have not always been involved with this approach. In working with United Way, staff can also make pre-tax contributions as well as provide hands-on assistance.

“We’ve got a number of people in the organisation who actually participate either in the program itself or as part of a workgroup for the organisation. There are a number of managers who participate in a variety of ways as well. So our operational people are engaged in this process. I don’t feel that we need to drive managers to do this, because it’s about the organisation and its values and engaging all employees,” Catanach says.

“We don’t go to managers and say, ‘Oh look, only ten out of twenty of your people are making pre-tax deductions or contributions to United Way, and we want more.’ We encourage people to get involved in the process as part of a philosophy in the organisation.”

Benefits and challenges

SydneyPorts conducts a survey of stakeholders once every two years to gauge the value and effectiveness of its corporate citizenship efforts. The survey, which is conducted by an external provider, takes in stakeholders such as shipping lines, stevedores, tug providers, exporters and freight forwarders. The most recent survey found SydneyPortsrated very well on both environmental management and port security.

While it is difficult to put an exact figure on the bottom line benefits of SydneyPorts’ corporate citizenship work, Catanach says it has a significant impact on how the corporation goes about managing its projects and work.

With its extensive involvement in the community, however, Catanach says it can sometimes be challenging in dealing with a very engaged community when it comes to development. “They’re concerned. They want to know. They turn up to meetings. So we’ve learned over the last few years to be prepared, be open, do your research and communicate well to your stakeholders in the community. That is vital to good community relations,” she says.

“You can’t always satisfy everybody, but it’s about ensuring you’ve got a consistent approach to communication and accepting that you need to take on board the community’s views and concerns and endeavour to deliver the best solution.”