How human resources are changing business culture
Working in the area of Corporate Responsibility at Coca-Cola is my job, but I have found many times over the years that it is really so much more than a job. Picture an early morning footy training session with a group of high school students from Clontarf Foundation’s Alice Springs Academy. I was along for the ride as we had recently provided some funding to help Clontarf with their work with young Aboriginal men to improve their education, life skills, self-esteem and employment prospects. As we piled out of the school bus in the frosty early morning cold of an Alice Springs winter, one of the students asked if I’d like to train with them. That frosty field made for a slippery ball and some butter fingers on my part. Despite my obvious lack of AFL skills, the students went out of their way to help me learn to play. Yes, they were helping me and not the other way around.
We rounded out an energetic morning by sharing breakfast together after training and it struck me how all of us have the ability whether as companies or individuals to make a real difference. I learned an important lesson that day.
In a nice closure to that loop, some of the students I visited in Alice Springs came to our North Sydney HQ several years later, immediately after they’d received their High School Certificates. It was wonderful to see them graduating, hear about their exciting plans for the future and to know that our Coca-Cola Foundation had played a small part along with many, many others, in helping them stay in school and achieve their goals.
For businesses today, successful corporate responsibility (CR) is no longer as simple as donating funds to the first worthy cause that comes along. At Coca-Cola, we measure successful CR initiatives not only by their ability to make a difference but also by their capacity to establish a lasting legacy of positive change.
Globally, we’ve chosen to focus on three areas of fundamental importance to our business - the ‘ Three Ws’ - women, water and wellbeing.
The first step in bringing to life a successful CR initiative is selecting the right partners. At Coca-Cola we have developed a sustainability framework called ‘Me, We, World’, which is our shared vision for how we can work together to make a positive difference for the consumers and communities we serve.
‘Me’ focuses on enhancing personal wellbeing, ‘We’ is about building stronger communities and ‘World’ speaks to our commitment to protecting the environment. By selecting partners and CR projects that fit within this framework we can ensure that our efforts are more impactful, as they are all focused in the same key areas.
Another critical factor contributing to the success of a CR project is the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. From staff at Coca-Cola, to customers, consumers, non-governmental organisations, governments and not-for-profit partners, a CR initiative must have support and the sustained engagement of everyone involved to be truly successful in delivering lasting positive change.
By unlocking this collaborative power we call the ‘Golden Triangle’ of business, government and civil society, we can make a much greater, and longer lasting impact than any one organisation, or even sector could hope to achieve on its own.
One example of a highly successful wellbeing CR initiative delivered by the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation is our Happiness Cycle project, in partnership with the Bicycle Network. The program is designed to encourage teens to be more active while learning basic riding skills and road safety rules. As a result of the community-based cycling program over 4,500 bikes have been gifted to young Australians living in 27 different communities across the country throughout 2014.
Another noteworthy example is Project Catalyst, which aims to reduce the environmental impacts of sugarcane production on the Great Barrier Reef.
The initiative is collaboration between North Queensland sugar cane growers, Coca-Cola, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), natural resource management groups Reef Catchments, Terrain, NQ Dry Tropics and the Australian
government. It involves a group of 70 sugar cane growers developing and testing innovative practices to reduce the environmental footprint of sugar cane farming and improve the quality of the water runoff in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments.
If there is a Project I will look back on and say I was proud to be a part of that – Project Catalyst will be it. It is inspiring to collaborate with such a diverse range of stakeholders, to share a common goal of helping preserve one of Australia and the world’s greatest treasures and to see the positive results that come from concrete actions undertaken together. The sugar cane growers involved don’t have to take part, they don’t get paid any more for their sugar cane. They volunteer because they know any improvements in water quality they are achieving will make a difference to the precious marine environment that is downstream from their farms.
At Coke the water quality improvements resulting from our support of Project Catalyst contribute to fulfilling a key commitment within our ‘world’ pillar. We aim to balance the water we use by 2020 by returning to communities and nature an amount of water equal to that used in our beverages and their production. Thanks to Project Catalyst we are currently on track to achieve this water related goal in Australia.
The bottom line is that for Coca-Cola, sustainability is at the heart of our business and we are committed to creating value for the communities where we operate and the planet we all share.
The greatest learning from my experience is that we don’t have all the answers. On the contrary, we believe that, in a world of great challenges and even greater opportunities, the best way forward is to work side by side with a wide range of partners to achieve common goals.
As you hear about our various CR programs or you read our latest sustainability report, you should also know that there’s a lot of meaning behind the numbers—there are special bonds created and life changing experiences shared when many partners combine together to try and make a difference.