This week’s episode features Craig Wilson, who is the Environment Manager for Port of Brisbane. Have a listen:
Corporate Social Responsibility
For this blog, I thought it might be good to discuss a term we used in the episode: Corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Undertaking voluntary environmental monitoring programs- ie, monitoring programs that aren’t legally required in order to comply with local laws and regulations – is a strong indication that the Port feels it’s worth investing money to ensure Moreton Bay remains healthy. Why? Really, isn’t any industrial port’s core business to simply to make sure ships can come in, load up or offload goods, and leave, as quickly as possible?
By acknowledging and contributing to the ecological health of Moreton Bay, and the social health of the Moreton Bay community, the Port is sending a message that they are a useful and valuable member of the social landscape of South East Queensland. They are saying that they have a debt and a duty to this community, and hoping that the community will, in turn, provide them with a “social license to operate” (SLO).
Companies who hold the support of their local community (they have a social license) benefit because they face less opposition to new initiatives or programs, and they may also benefit in other ways (they might attract the best employees, they might have many loyal customers, for example.) But it’s not all one way. In order to gain a social license, they must prove to the community three things: they are legitimate, they are credible, and they are trustworthy. These, as we all know, even in personal relationships, are qualities that, must be continually and consistently demonstrated, and can be lost very quickly.
The attention of large corporations to CSR/SLO is a relatively new – and welcome! – trend. It reflects the growing expectation we consumers have that the businesses we patronise are sustainable, and our awareness that we have options – we can buy elsewhere, or we (in theory) can place pressure on decision-makers to block development or growth for organisation who aren’t sustainable.
If you’re wary of this whole concept, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Corporate “greenwashing” – claiming sustainablity to divert attention from environmentally damaging practices – is a real thing, and can be tremendously sophisticated. It can be hard to tell the truth from the facade.
In Port of Brisbane’s case – well, I’m no expert, and I make no claim or endorsement. However, I find it tremendously encouraging that Craig mentioned transparency (the data from their monitoring programs is freely available to the public).
I’m also heartened that we have an active community of organisations, catchment groups, and individuals who are not beholden to the port but who are deeply committed to the health of Moreton Bay – I have a lot of faith in this community, and there are a number of groups and individuals who have built healthy partnerships with the Port.
I think there are many other for-profit businesses (industrial or otherwise) around Moreton Bay that take their Corporate Responsibilities very seriously. If you know of one and would like to give them a plug, get in touch via email or DM on Twitter. We may be able to give them a share or a shout-out on an upcoming episode!
Craig, as have a number of guests on the podcast, noted that one of the biggest threats we have to the health of Moreton Bay stems from sediment arriving from our catchments. I thought I’d do a wee explainer here.
There are a number of problems that result from sediment. One is simply physical – as sediment settles, it can smother important habitats, like coral and seagrass, that provide energy at the very base of the marine foodwebs.
Another problem is that these most productive habitats require sunlight for photosynthesis – seagrass, for example, and the photosynthetic algae that lives in coral and provides it with oxygen. Increased sediment reduces the sunlight that reaches these habitats, again threatening their survival.
Finally, sediment washed down from catchments carries extra nutrients from the land – especially when it’s been washed down from agricultural areas where these nutrients are used in fertilizer. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous exist in seawater naturally, of course – in fact they’re absolutely necessary for the photosynthesising plankton at the base of the foodweb. The problem is when there’s an influx of nutrients, these photosynthesisers explode in numbers. When this happens, we first get algal blooms (which themselves can be dangerous to both humans and animals in the water), and then as these short-lived organisms die and decay, oxygen in the water is depleted. This is the process of eutrophication, and it can result in “fish kills” where animals can’t cope with the depletion of oxygen. (NB: fish kills aren’t always the result of eutrophication, but they’re a good indication something is probably out of whack in the ecosystem!)
The above reasons show why it’s so important that we create upstream connections with our catchments – because erosion from these heavily modified waterways really can have (and has had) devastating effects on Moreton Bay. This is why initiatives like Port of Brisbane’s offsite stormwater treatment project are so vital. The project has already resulted in some pretty fabulous outcomes.
This is the one curly question I’ve asked of many interviewees – how can you and I, individually, help protect against these threats from the upper catchment? I loved Sheridan’s response (do what we can to reduce additional stress from causes we can affect); and the practical, close-to-home actions Craig offered in this episode (watch what you let run off your own lawn!)
What about you? Are there more actions we can take to increase connections, change practices, and inspire our neighbours up-stream? Let me know in the comments!
Finally, I promised to share a list of some of the community groups that are active in protecting the waterways of South East Queensland. Here are direct links, including to other lists that are more comprehensive. (How great is it that we have so many? WELL DONE, FRIENDS!
Catchment care groups
- Bayside Creeks Catchment Group
- Bulimba Creek Catchment Co-ordinating Committee
- Cubberla-Witton Catchments Network
- Kedron Brook Catchment
- Moggill Creek Catchment Group
- Norman Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee
- Oxley Creek Catchment Association
- Save Our Waterways Now
- Wolston and Centenary Catchment
Other groups in South East Queensland
- Landcare and coastcare groups in SEQ – search by map
- The big list – as above, plus community groups (eg “Friends of….” groups)