Ethical Business Strategies for a Sustainable City

(Lord Mayor's Reception Room)

Hello, everyone, welcome to our forum. I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

I also have great pleasure in welcoming our speakers this evening:

  • His Excellency Jeffrey Bleich, Ambassador of the United States
  • Michael Hiscox, Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University, and
  • Armineh Mardirossian, [ah-me-nah mar-di-rossi-un] Group Manager for Corporate Responsibility, Community and Sustainability of Woolworths

Today, we are all in the business of sustainability - government, the corporate sector, and private citizens alike. Without a considered approach to sustainability, we recognise we have no future.

And increasingly, sustainability - genuine environmental, economic and social sustainability - requires us to consider the ethical dimensions of our policies and actions.

Back in 2002, a KPMG report on Ethical Business and Sustainable Communities, described a major shift in the role of business in society. Globalisation, the environmental movement, social activism, individual rights and the interdependence of all life forms had interacted to shape "a new set of social expectations of business", it said.

Increasingly, business needed to negotiate a social as well as legal licence to operate. Businesses which failed to grasp that we live in a society, not an economy, could suffer a catastrophic loss of reputation and consequent economic damage.
All of this applies equally to government. Building a sustainable society demands a co-operative effort, and hence this evening's forum.

City government is well placed to bring government, the private sector and the non-government sector together to progress our vision for an ethical and sustainable future.

We outlined this in our Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy which explicitly recognises the interdependence of environmental sustainability, economic vitality and social cohesion.

As it says in its overview: "Sustainable development is not just about the physical environment, but about the economy, society and cultures as well." It's also about addressing each with bold ideas and good governance to achieve better outcomes for present and future communities.

Clearly, we had to begin with our own operations. Intergenerational equity demands that we urgently address environmental sustainability, and we are now a carbon-neutral council - the first local government area in Australia to achieve this.

In co-operation with the private sector, we are progressing towards locally generated, gas fired electricity, heating and cooling and working to reduce the existing regulatory barriers that at present work against localised energy.

In partnership with leading companies, we can provide them with access to clean energy which will help achieve their environmental goals, while reducing the carbon footprint of the city as a whole.

As we work on reducing the City's own impacts - whether through water harvesting or waste reduction or a range of other initiatives - we are able to share knowledge and experience which can help you meet your corporate social and environmental targets. In turn, through conversations such as this evening's, we can learn from you.

Ethics and sustainability cannot be compartmentalised into one segment of business or government operations: they must work hand-in-hand, right across the organisation.

I'm sure many of you will remember the City's supposed "war on Tim Tams". It was in reality a matter of adhering to our principles of leading by example in choosing ethically produced, sustainable, cruelty-free foods to our employees, residents and visitors.

We opt wherever possible for locally produced, GM-free, seasonal foods and for suppliers who consider sustainability and ethics, as well as low food-miles.

Our annual City of Sydney Business Awards for small-to-medium range businesses include awards designed to promote and encourage sustainability and - since 2009 - fair trade considerations.

We encourage volunteering, among both our own staff and City residents, as a way of building social cohesion. Volunteers run our City information booths, and form an active and supportive Friends of Town Hall.

Staff volunteers include our Green Champions, who promote sustainability across the staff and have run programs to encourage recycling.

During the recent Queensland flood crisis the City donated money and sent volunteer staff up north to work alongside their Brisbane colleagues - practical assistance for a city in need which also gave our volunteers a sense of real achievement.

If nothing else, the challenges posed by global warming underline starkly the fact that the notion of one, interdependent world is no bleeding-heart fairy-tale but an inescapable reality.

Acting ethically and sustainably is therefore no more than enlightened self-interest. And there is a growing body of evidence which shows that ethical businesses enjoy higher rates of staff retention and loyalty, stronger customer loyalty and enhanced social reputations.

To quote once more from KMPG's report:

"Promoting an ethical culture is like rearing a child. It demands on-going attention and reinforcement to minimise bad habits and ensure healthy growth and development."

As any parent knows, that means determination and commitment. But the results are always rewarding.

And now it's my pleasure to introduce our next speaker, His Excellency Jeffrey Bleich, Ambassador of the United States. I would like to thank Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre who helped us plan this evening and Professor Geoffrey Garrett, CEO of the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney who are partners in this forum - you will be hearing from Geoffrey a little later tonight. But dinner will now be served and the rest of the forum will be facilitated by Sam Mostyn, Company Director and Sustainability Advisor.

I thank you for being here this evening and look forward to the results of your discussions.

Thank you.