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Sustainability Suez's reconciliation aim

With sustainability being central to maintaining and preserving our water resources, the 2021 NAIDOC Week theme — "Heal Country," — calls for a renewed focus on restoration as a key element of reconciliation.

And one leading water industry service provider has set out to do just that.

SUEZ Sustainability Manager Stephanie Lebeau said this year’s NAIDOC Week theme sits at the heart of the company’s primary goal, which is to help restore the environment by providing sustainable water and waste solutions.

“Passion for the environment is one of our core values here at SUEZ and caring for the environment is caring for Country. Part of this is respecting and acknowledging that Aboriginal people have been able to maintain the land for over 40,000 years,” she said.

“They have been able to live sustainably, which is a necessity that is clearly connected to the water industry. Healing Country is about continuing to work towards preservation of our environment and its resources.”

Currently leading SUEZ’s reconciliation working group, as part of the company’s diversity and inclusion framework, Lebeau said ensuring the inclusion of different cultural backgrounds and perspectives has been crucial to the success of all the initiatives the company undertakes.

“Our reconciliation working group is full of passionate people who have been driving the implementation of our reconciliation action plan [RAP]. It’s been challenging, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the past year,” she said.

“We acknowledge that having women, men, and people from different cultures and backgrounds is beneficial to our company. When it comes to making decisions, it's so important to have different perspectives. It brings an array of skills and insights to the table.

“We are also committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and reconciliation and healing Country definitely contribute to these. The actions we take need to be genuinely and meaningfully connected to the goals.”

Taking steps

SUEZ began its first RAP a few years ago for the water, as well as the waste and recovery, sides of its business, and Lebeau said this has been an important step for the company in terms of Aboriginal procurement and employment directives, along with employee and community engagement.

“It's important to address the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. When you have to develop a project or build a new facility, there's a very big requirement to engage with the Aboriginal community and to employ Aboriginal people,” she said.

“We recognised that this is a key concern for many of our customers, the people we do business with, which means it’s a key concern for us, too.”

As a result of this, SUEZ began to work with the Clontarf Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that assists in the education and employment of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men.

“It's a network of academies or schools that provide support to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, who receive training and support from teachers to finish Year 12,” Lebeau said.

“It helps them to build confidence, and to be able to find a job after they graduate. Today, we are very happy to have a few of these young men working with us at SUEZ. It’s great to see how they are progressing in and enjoying the industry.”

Further to working with the Clontarf Foundation, SUEZ also partners with Supply Nation to work towards increasing the number of Aboriginal contractors engaged within the business.

“Supply Nation has been incredibly helpful. We consult with them often when we are looking for a supplier on any type of work, big or small. We are also involved in Supply Nation’s volunteer initiative, JumpStart,” Lebeau said.

“JumpStart is a program where people can volunteer their time and expertise in support of Aboriginal businesses. They might need some legal advice or graphic design assistance or maybe some help writing grants or other documents.

“We have established a volunteering policy for our staff, who are encouraged to dedicate some of their work time towards supporting developing businesses.”

Learning from traditional knowledge

Lebeau said that, while SUEZ has come a long way since launching its first RAP, there is still plenty to do in order to heal Country, and that she’d like to start focusing on aligning SUEZ’s technical acumen with traditional Aboriginal knowledge.

“What I would like to do moving forward is really utilise Aboriginal knowledge in water management and learn from that insight,” she said.

“We want to see if the technology that we use today can be aligned with traditional knowledge, to put solutions in place that will maintain our environment and help us to sustainably manage our water.”