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Case study: Westpac Banking Corporation - what do we mean by sustainability?

During the early 1990s in Australia there was a public outcry against banks closing their rural branches and charging what were perceived to be exorbitant fees. Bank staff were targeted by angry customers and as staff morale plummeted, the major Australian bank Westpac realised it needed to fundamentally examine and respond to what seemed to be intractable reputational challenges plaguing the banking industry. This led to a more structured approach in an attempt to: understand shifting community expectations; measure and report more broadly on Westpac’’s impacts in the community; and clarify social, environmental and customer commitments –– what the organisation stands for and what stakeholders can expect.

Westpac built on a legacy of social responsibility with initiatives like a new board committee focused on sustainability, structured stakeholder engagement, and public reporting using frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative. Westpac’’s progress was recognised with awards, and the company topped the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) in the bank category. However, some of the bank’’s stakeholders are sceptical of these developments and hold diverse perceptions of what corporate sustainability is and should be at Westpac. This case explores the challenges in gaining shared understanding of corporate sustainability amongst employees, customers and other stakeholders and how this can impact organisational change towards sustainability.

This teaching material features the case study and teaching resources to accompany the case.

The case has been published in (2011) Cases in Corporate Sustainability and Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach (Editors: Suzanne Benn, Dexter Dunphy & Bruce Perrott) and reproduced with permission of the publishers, Tilde University Press

The case was co-authored by Tim Williams from Westpac

Materials

  • Case study: Westpac Banking Corporation (PDF, 251.5 KB) Download
  • Teaching Resources for the Westpac case study (PDF, 89.2 KB) Download

Intended Audience and Usage

Today humankind faces two major crises. The first is the global financial crisis which began in 2008. The second is ecological and has been slowly building since the industrial revolution. The ecological crisis is now gaining momentum as we witness the meltdown of the world’s glaciers and a range of related issues such as widespread weather volatility, desertification and food shortages. 

The two crises are intimately related. In the words of leading ecologist Tim Flannery: ‘We have become the ‘future eaters’, living beyond the earth’s ability to replace the resources we consume’. 

As a consequence, there is a need for up-to-date, relevant course materials—and particularly case studies—addressing the challenges ahead. Cases in Corporate Sustainability and Change: A Multidisciplinary Approach includes Australian and New Zealand as well as international cases. 

Corporate sustainability is increasingly central to strategy in modern businesses. Learning about sustainability lends itself to the use of case studies because: (1) case studies demonstrate that sustainability is not some fantasy but a business imperative; (2) sustainability issues do not come in neat packages but cut across the traditional academic disciplines; and (3) case studies allow the relevance of theories to be tested. 

As the title of the book in which this case is pubished indicates, the primary emphasis is on corporate sustainability but an emphasis has also been placed on corporate change. Sustainability will not be achieved through technological fixes alone; corporate culture needs to change also. 

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