Championing Change through Corporate Social Responsibility

Companies throughout the world have prioritised Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in recent years, aiming to make a good impact on society and the environment. B Corp accreditation, a globally recognised benchmark for organisations that prioritise both purpose and...

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Nouha Elmasri 26 March 2024
Championing Change through Corporate Social Responsibility


Companies throughout the world have prioritised Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in recent years, aiming to make a good impact on society and the environment. B Corp accreditation, a globally recognised benchmark for organisations that prioritise both purpose and profit, is one effective approach to demonstrate a commitment to these principles.   

Recently Public Sector Network, or PSN, was again recertified as a B Corp so we sat down with the business' Global Head of People and Purpose, Gemma Mills to chat all things social responsibility, living and practicing the B Corp ethos and how PSN is working to reduce waste in the events industry - the second biggest waste production industry outside of construction.   



Championing Change with Corporate Social Responsibility

In Conversation With 

  • Gemma Mills, Head of People & Purpose, Public Sector Network 

Nouha Elmasri    
Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the Public Sector Podcast. My name is Nouha, and I'll be your host today. This week, we'll be chatting about corporate social responsibility and how this is reshaping experiences and priorities for public sector professionals. 

Companies throughout the world have prioritised corporate social responsibility in recent years, aiming to make a good impact on society and the environment. B Corp accreditation a globally recognised benchmark for organisations that prioritise both purpose and profit is 1 effective approach to demonstrate a commitment to these principles.

Recently, Public Sector Network or PSN, was recertified as A B Corp. B Corp status is not a one time achievement. B Corp certified companies must continually maintain and improve their performance to retain their certification, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to social and environmental causes, transparency and accountability by supporting B corporations, public sector professionals, agencies and solution partners become part of the change for good movement. Today.
 I'm joined by Gemma Mills, Public sector networks global head of people and purpose, 

Gemma, welcome to the show.

Gemma Mills  

Thank you. Great intro.

Nouha Elmasri 

Thank you! So we're going to have a little chat, I guess about some of the parallels between being A B Corp and maybe being a public sector entity where, you know, making positive contributions to society is a bit of a North star. And then as well, maybe a little discussion around what exactly, corporate social responsibility is. 

So I guess to to kick us off, I'm going to start off with a pretty big picture question before we kind of dive into the nitty gritty. But what does Public Sector Network stand for?

Gemma Mills 

Yeah, sure. So look, I guess it's a pretty broad question, but I can dive into that. So, I suppose we stand for fairness and equality of all kinds, the health of our people and our planet. And when I talk about the health of our people, I mean not just your physical and mental health, but also your workplace health and your overall financial well-being.

What we don't stand for, I guess, is waste. Waste of any kind. The original premise behind PSN’s conception was that the two founders were previously working in other events companies where they would charge government departments or workers thousands of dollars to attend events where their peers were speaking. They found this a little bit ludicrous and so turned it on its head. A lot of things that we do, especially in the events, are free for government to attend. So, we kind of saw that or the founders saw that as a bit of a waste. Taxpayer dollars should be invested back into the community rather than spent on peer learning, which they believe should be democratised and freely available among their peers.

Nouha Elmasri 

Wonderful. Wonderful. And I mean, I guess with that in mind, being accredited as a B Corp, it's a lengthy process and PSN, relatively speaking, is quite a young business. So, you know, between the chaos of establishing the business, building out the processes, and scaling to various regions, why was that accreditation prioritised so heavily?

Gemma Mills 

Yep. Really good question. So, as you say, we're pretty young. We're coming up to our 10th anniversary later this year, around September 2024. We obtained our first B Corp accreditation four years ago, precisely in 2019, before all of the hectic mix later in the year. But yeah, it was a really lengthy process for us the first time around because we were such a small team. It took us a really long time. Obviously, we had other jobs to do, and it was a new foray into this environment. So, it took us about nine months from end to end to get certified and do all of the bits and bobs that you need to get certified. I guess, was your question how? Sorry, what? What? Why was it a priority?


Nouha Elmasri

I just, why? Yeah. Why was it so important to a business that's still just really starting up to go through it? It's nine months. That's huge. Like, that's a whole other job. Almost.


Gemma Mills

Yeah. Yeah, it was like a whole other job. I guess it was really important that, like the founders, the way that they saw the business unfolding from the start was that they wanted it to be a purpose-led profit company, if that makes sense. So, they had this in mind of what they wanted it to be. They wanted to do good, but also, they obviously still wanted to make a profit and live a life and employ people, but they really altruistically wanted to have this company that also gave back to the community. 

So, that kind of the inception of that, we were always remote working, always flexible working, you know, employing young new mums and people who need and really thrive in a flexible work environment. So, we were always doing things like that from the beginning. 

Then one of our Co-founders, Ross Ashman, read a book which sparked the B Corp mission in his mind. And that book is called "Looptail" by a gentleman called Bruce Poon Tip. Really inspirational guy, and it talks about the B Corp journey in there and why this other guy was so inspired to do it and what it means for his business and all the good things that his business was doing. It was a travel company, and that just really inspired Ross, and so he pushed for us to go down this route. It really spoke to him, and the community really resonated with him. And Charlie, our Co-founder, and yeah, it's been an amazing. I'm glad they did. It's been an amazing community to be part of. And yeah.


Nouha Elmasri 

Wonderful. I mean, I hadn't heard of "Looptail." Definitely have to check it out. And I think, you know, it's sometimes where inspiration comes from, you'll never know. But I think it's a fantastic initiative. So, I guess it's just stemming from that B Corps have these five guiding pillars or principles, those being governance workers, community environment, customers.

For PSN, what does it mean to be a B Corp? You touched on a few things there before. You know, in regards to the flexible working, employing maybe new mums that need that additional flexibility, you mentioned the well-being, financial well-being, mental well-being, all of that. But you know, how do you actively work towards meeting and even scaling on these principles?


Gemma Mills 

I mean, the five pillars that they're within every company, whether you know it or not, they encompass everything. So, they're always jostling for kind of first place or first priority. And I guess having that B Corp certification or having that B Corp idea in mind or, you know, having that accreditation and that standpoint that you have to hold yourself to, if that makes sense, it enables you to not let one be the only priority and the others to fall away. It kind of allows them to be in this melting pot where they're all close to the top, but obviously one's going to take precedence over the other over different times. But you can't let any of them really fall down the track.

 I guess it really helps with making business decisions. Like, we'll often say, especially in a global team, but also it's filtered down to, you know, I know we've had conversations in work where we'll go like, "Is that B Corp?!" of us. Is that, you know, if we kind of use it as a bit of like a benchmark, is that B Corp of us? It really helps us in our decisions from really strategic big decisions to smaller ones like just day-to-day things. So, we actually say that to one another. Is this B Corp of us? What would this? What does this mean in terms of our B Corp status and how we use it as a benchmark? So, it's there to hold us to account. It's there so we hold each other to account, and it opens up the conversation for doing things differently as well, which I think is great. And we've got a lot of amazing employees who are very interested in different topics and like some are more, think poverty is really crucial, and others are animal cruelty and environment and that kind of thing. So it's really good that they're all involved and can pull us in those directions and I just feel like it brings the whole company up and along together.


Nouha Elmasri

No, it absolutely does. And I think I think it's really just, it's an awareness thing as well because, you know, once you're in that mindset like I know that there have even been conversations where it's like, is this how a B Corp would phrase a particular thing like, you know, in discussions about Women's Day or what have you. It's like, is this the correct way to phrase it? And people just kind of it encourages people to take that extra step to maybe further educate themselves, which I think is really, really positive, because if you don't know, you can take that step to learn.


Gemma Mills

Yeah. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's good. Like you say, it's kind of given us space to take a step back, ask the question, give someone else the permission to ask the question and have the conversation. And then, yeah, and not be afraid to kind of to not be afraid to ask those questions and get things wrong because we're all on this learning journey together.


Nouha Elmasri 

Exactly, exactly. I think it's that willingness to learn as opposed to just, you know, continuing on being ignorant, which is the really important thing.

Now, can you, I guess without going into the full employee handbook or anything like that. Are there some of the key initiatives that maybe you've worked especially hard or that were even foundational initiatives that PSN has integrated to, you know, really kind of live those pillars and how they align with those B Corp principles?


Gemma Mills

Yeah, for sure. So as I said before, we were always a flexible business. So the company was founded in Sydney, the majority of our employees lived in Sydney. We were a very small, a very small team and before we had an office, it was, you know, the four, the four kind of first employees just working from their home and that's what we encouraged. Again getting an office, it's quite a big expense, brand new company. We did hot desking. We'd come in a certain amount of days in the week and that was just the norm from the beginning. And as we grew, we didn't want to change that. So even pre-COVID we were very flexible. You know, people moved out down the coast, had families and you need do school pick-ups, that kind of thing. 

We're very much and we were and still are very much an outcomes-focused company so you don't have to clock in and clock out. We don't need to know where you are all the time. You need to pop to the doctors. The post office, like, live your life, get your work done. Grand.

We’ve found that that is that really, what, you know, drives a culture of trust and drives that a high performing culture, which is great, but obviously since COVID everyone is doing that, although some people are heading back to the office, we've kept that hybrid model. 

But other things that we worked on, we did a lot of whilst we were doing a lot of like, you know, flexible work policies and different things like that. We didn't have any documentation around it because we were so small and new. There was no documentation. So when I came in and we started this process, it was and why it took us so long is because it was a lot of policy creation and then me learning how to create policies and then going ahead and creating new policies. So for me it was a huge learning curve which was daunting/exciting/great. Now I'm really grateful for it because I can, you know, do it not with your eyes closed. But I've been through that hard process but yeah, so it was a lot of for us document creation and noting down all the things that we do so.

We offer five days paid volunteering leave every year for every employee - that wasn't really documented, it was just kind of willy-nilly. So again, creating a policy. And yeah, it was just. It was mainly documenting everything.

From that, our Operations team and the Head of Operations are very conscious of the fact that, you know, events can be extremely wasteful. Single-use everything you know from the set up to the set down to the coffee that everyone's drinking all day, every day. So from our events perspective from the beginning, there was always a focus on the environment and how to make them more green, sustainable, and less wasteful. Yeah, there are loads of other things, but I think definitely waste and policy creation were the biggest ones.


Nouha Elmasri

Perfect. And I think you've actually touched on my next question a little bit, which was about the events. Now I know Public Sector Network is more than just events. It's a global kind of online community trying to link together and connect public sector professionals across the globe. But I guess at its core, it is a trade show business, and as you mentioned, trade shows are notoriously wasteful, I guess. Could you just talk a little bit about some of those sustainability initiatives that public sector network is working on?

Gemma Mills  

Yeah, look, and I can't take credit for any of these, but I will. I can speak to them, but the Operations team are really spearheading it. Actually the whole company, people always have great ideas and share businesses that are doing innovative things that maybe we could try to bring in. But really it’s the Operations department, those who physically organise the events and run the events, it's actually written into their job descriptions and written into their job scorecards that they have to continuously improve on making our events less wasteful, more green. 

We're going to, hopefully, this is in the pipeline… and it's not happening yet, but we’re going to start to work with a third-party company whom we already employ to track and trace our carbon footprint as a whole global company. But we're going to work with this team to hopefully look at the carbon footprint of our big trade shows and our events and see how we can make that either negative or neutral or be really transparent. 

Essentially we want to say ‘hey, we're not there, but this is what it is right now, but this is where we want to get to.’ So that's something that we're working towards, which would be great, you know, to actually know what each event's footprint is, what the impact is, that would be great. That's kind of where we're heading.

But in terms of what we're already doing, you know, look, it just comes down to common sense, right? For sure, like we a number of years ago, we tried to do it from the very start, but you know, people weren't ready for that much change. We are completely digital, so we don't have any paper agendas. That was done a good number of years ago, and it took a little bit. People don't like change. People don't always want to have their phone out all the time. But now we're now completely paper-free, which is such an achievement considering how much printing goes on for events anyway.

All of our lanyards that we use are recycled. We take them back in house and recycle them all. All of our coffee cups, I believe, are all recycled as well. We have water stations on-site, no bottled water, so everyone can refill their water. And more often than not, we will encourage our sponsors to, you know, give away those free water bottles or give merch away at events. They love it.


Nouha Elmasri 

I've got dozens, dozens of water bottles…


Gemma Mills   

Yeah! So like those reusable ones instead of it just going straight into landfill. Hopefully, people are using it again. We're going back to the whole waste thing that we spoke about at the beginning. We've realised how much food waste was going to waste, especially from catering and events, particularly larger events where you have this idea in mind of how many people are going to come, but maybe it's not the case on the day due to factors out of your control. We always contact Oz Harvest in each of the major cities. We say, "Hey, we've got this event on this day. If we've got leftovers that can be used, do you want them?" They'll send someone. We'll book that in advance. They'll send the van, and then we'll send that off, which is great knowing that it's not just going into landfill.

Also, the Ops team have organised transport to and from different train stations for a large trade show event. Our largest one every year is at the Royal Randwick Racecourse, easy for some to say, not me. So the Ops team put on electric buses from some of the major train stations and public transport areas so that people weren't all driving their cars into the area or getting taxis from the train station because it's a bit of a walk, even though it's in Randwick. So putting these buses on, they were on every 20 minutes, ferrying people in and then also ferrying people out, which was a great initiative. They've done really well. What else do we do?


Nouha Elmasri

So all sorts going on behind the scenes.


Gemma Mills

Yeah. And they're always looking for ways to make it less wasteful. I guess the main one is obviously your supply chain and your suppliers. I know the Operations team has very close relationships with suppliers, and they're always out there looking for who can do it better, who can do it with less. 

 Again, for one of the Royal Randwick Racecourse events, we did it with a really minimal build - instead of inserting a whole floor and inserting big booths for each individual person. They were fully scaled back, and I think they were actually made out of recycled material as well, which was amazing. We had, I think, like a green area, with live green plants, and cycling bikes where people can charge their phones. 

But sometimes it's the most simple things, and we can get caught up in thinking big and being creative is amazing, but sometimes it's the really small things, like your food, your drink. What are you using on the day? How are you going to get there?

Which really add up and, you know, make a big difference. So yeah, incredibly proud of the team. They're so innovative and creative and everyone, everyone has their own beliefs, but they're all, you know, very staunch on the less impact from a carbon footprint perspective.

Nouha Elmasri  

Wonderful. And I mean, I was thrilled to hear about the Oz Harvest thing. I didn't I didn't know about that partnership there because I know for a fact I've been to so many events where you just see the food at the end of the lunch break and you're like; “oh, I wonder what's happening to these trays and trays of food.” Then you think about people that don't have access to it. So I think that's a that's a wonderful initiative.

And I guess my final question, and obviously just recently been recertified, but the work doesn't stop, so there's always more to do. You mentioned the tracking of the carbon footprint, but I guess final question is, what's next? What's on the horizon?

Gemma Mills   

Yes, great question. So look, the research process was…


Nouha Elmasri    

It was hectic? 

Gemma Mills   

It was pretty in depth. It was, yeah hectic. And again, I'd completely forgotten after the last four years what it was like.

Yeah. So that was quite intense, but every time you go through the recertification process, it becomes more challenging, which is great. I really appreciate that it's not meant to be easy. You shouldn't be able to hide anywhere or greenwash anything. It's an in-depth process, and for that, we're really grateful. 

But what's next for us is that we've employed the services of a third-party company called Trace, and they are fully woman-owned. I think they're based in Melbourne, but forgive me if I'm wrong. They basically track and trace your carbon footprint as a company, and also if your employees want to, individually as well, and that's the option there for them to engage in that service. It's kind of like the B Corp process, in that it's in-depth but takes a little less time. You have to open up your entire supply chain, where you spend money, all of your accounts – I mean, not everything, not like, you know, every single expense, but a lot of what you spend money on. They measure your carbon footprint and then help you either buy carbon credits and offset, which you don't want to fully do; you want to implement change.


Nouha Elmasri

It makes you more aware…


Gemma Mills

Yeah. Completely! Aware. Where are we spending money? How many trips are we taking? Do we need to take that many trips? Do we need to fly this many people in from wherever? So yeah, it's great. That's where we're at in the start of that process. So that's the step that we've taken since being recertified.

 And the recertification process, again, really opens up, yeah, look, you're doing all this great stuff, but the good juicy conversations are, okay, where are we failing? Okay, where can we do more? I'll be really honest. We lost points on this certification. So currently, the B Corp process requires you to get a total of 80 points to pass and be credited as a B Corp company. I think that's changing over the next few years, but that's what it is or was right when we recertified late last year. When we originally certified, we were somewhere around 83-84, and now we're transparently around 81. So, look, it's more difficult. And as I said, we went through COVID, we stagnated, and didn't implement new things.

 I'll give you some examples. Like we partnered with or became A1 Tree planted partner and a 1% pledge partner, and we pledged to give 1% of our profits to one tree planted. They plant trees in areas that need it to help with carbon offset and reforest the world, which is amazing. But we made no profit, so either way, we could back out there and be like, oh, look, we made no profit. Let's. It's just what happens. But we didn't make any profit. We didn't donate any money to charity. We didn't fulfil what we said we were going to do. So taking a step back and looking at that. OK maybe it's not 1% of profit; is it 1% of revenue? What does that look like from a business perspective, but also maybe that's the way forward that would probably be better for us.

And then also coming back, you know, again COVID, we used to do a lot of volunteering days in person. So yeah, we offer people five days paid volunteer relief to give back to their own community. But we also like to do, you know, group team engagement, volunteering days within the community ourselves. And that really fell by the wayside during lockdowns. 

 Then coming out the other side, it was still very challenging. So that's something that we're looking at. It's something that our teams absolutely adore, you know, getting out of the office, being together but not doing some kind of forced, you know, team engagement thing. We're going in a couple of weeks to volunteer at the Animal Welfare League in NSW, which is going to be amazing. Everyone loves animals. They always want to get involved with the dogs and the cats. So giving back to the community in that regard.

And then also the CEO, the COO and the CFO… or maybe I've just dropped the CFO in it… Hopefully he'll do it


Nouha Elmasri

He'll be there. Don't you worry.


Gemma Mills

They’ll be involved in the CEO Sleep Out. The guys did that for a number of years, so getting them back involved in that. 

 What’s next from a more serious standpoint is looking into how we can really measure our long-term impact. Which was again where we kind of fell down in the recertification process. So yes, we might be doing good things in the moment or we feel like we're doing good things in the moment that help the community or help our customers or help our clients. But we need to go a couple of steps further, and we need to start to measure that. Look at – is it actually making a difference? Otherwise what's the point in us doing it? And we can't just assume something is happening, let's look, let's look a little bit further down the line learn from that. 

 So we're still working out what that looks like, but we've opened the conversations up internally and had some really interesting chats with some of the team about how we can do that. So that's the next step is measuring long-term impact and getting back involved more with the community.


Nouha Elmasri

Wonderful. It sounds like there's a lot in the pipeline. It sounds like the whole process has also made you quite self-aware, not personally self-aware, but it's kind of put a microscope up on the business and you know what's great fabulous short term, we're doing really amazing stuff. But long term, what other impact can we do or how can we reassess this? And I think that's probably the most important thing from the recertification because you can't rest on your laurels. It's like cool, I've become B Corp certified, but it's always the ‘what's next.’ So I think there are some fantastic initiatives in place and I can't wait to see where they go.

Now I just realised we've gone not only hit time, we've gone way over time. So thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with us, Gemma, really appreciate it.

 Gemma Mills   

 That's OK my pleasure - anytime Nouha! 

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Nouha Elmasri Global Content Strategist, Public Sector Network