'We've only got one planet, we need to look after it,' says CPO in outlining company's initiatives
In a world increasingly attuned to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns, Volpara Health, a modest-sized Kiwi healthcare organisation, stands out as an exemplar of purpose-driven business.
“We’ve only got one planet, we need to look after it,” said Kathryn Greene, chief people officer at Volpara Health.
“Business itself has such a significant impact on what it’s like to live today, but also, it’s going to have an impact on the generations that come after us. For me, it’s really important to leave the planet in as good a place as we found it.”
Beyond moral obligations, Greene emphasised the commercial significance of ESG in differentiating a company to investors, employees and customers – telling HRD, “From a commercial perspective, being truly ethical, not just saying you’re ethical, is going to be particularly important.”
ESG principles have been part of Volpara Health’s identity since its inception 15 years ago.
The move to embrace ESG more formally and strategically was about expanding their focus to creating a better world.
“It’s important to be able to show your investors, your employees, prospective employees, and your customers that you are looking to make a difference in the world,” said Greene.
The ESG Framework and B Corp Certification
Volpara Health approached their ESG journey by seeking external guidance and leveraging existing frameworks. To structure their efforts, the organisation turned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and a framework that stock exchanges are starting to build their ESG requirements off, The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
“We’re listed on the ASX so it’s not a requirement. But we know at some point it will come, so we took that into consideration as we were building our framework,” said Greene.
One major milestone for Volpara Health was achieving B Corp certification as part of their commitment to ESG. The rigorous 18-month journey included a thorough assessment of their operations, and compliance with five key areas: governance, workers, community, environment, and customers.
“That was an interesting journey and it’s certainly something we’re incredibly proud of as one of the first in our space to do so,” said Greene. “For us, it was really important that we had that external, transparent assessment of our ESG practices so we can always show that we’re doing what we say we are doing.”
Tracking progress around ESG
The journey led to many new initiatives, including measuring their scope one and two emissions – the emissions that come from running an organisation, such as running an office or company vehicles, or purchasing electricity.
“For the first time, we measured our emissions and then we offset those emissions by supporting ‘Trees that Count’ to go and plant native trees throughout New Zealand,” said Greene.
While they don’t have comprehensive KPIs, Volpara Health sets targets and monitors indicators to track the progress of their ESG initiatives, with an eye to continuous improvement on their ESG journey.
“One of the things that we set out when was started was ‘Let’s just get started,’” said Greene. “One of the things we haven’t done is develop fully fleshed out KPIs, for us that’s down the track.”
“What we have done is set some targets, and we’ve got some indicators of how we are progressing. I want to make sure that we’re not going backwards, I want to see those indicators going in the right direction,” she said.
Positive feedback from stakeholders
Thus far, Volpara Health has experienced positive feedback from stakeholders across the board.
“Our employees are super proud of our B Corp certification; you see people’s faces light up when they hear that we’re offsetting our carbon emissions. Our investors are very interested in what we’re doing in this space, and we’ve actually got a couple of sustainable investment funds specifically invested in us, which is pretty cool,” said Greene.
For HR leaders looking to build a case for ESG strategies within their organisations, she emphasised the importance of aligning with the values and expectations of employees, investors, and customers.
“Employees increasingly care about who they’re working for, investors are becoming very aware of what they’re putting their money into, and on the consumer front, they’re becoming particularly inquisitive about the goods and services they buy,” said Greene.
“I think combining purpose and profit is going to be part of staying relevant, and certainly with the younger generations coming through, corporate citizenship is an even stronger theme so it’s really critical that you start thinking about this now.”