In the midst of one of the driest summers in the Canadian Prairies in 68 years of record keeping, water conservation has become a serious issue both here in Canada and around the world. California is four years into the worst drought it’s experienced in centuries, a “megadrought” that could last 30 years, according to scientists.
Wildfires have torn through western North America, destroying homes and even threatening motorists stuck in highway traffic. Water bans have followed campfire bans, as reservoir levels dip to record lows on both sides of the border.
While the awareness of water issues has risen in recent months, it was eight years ago that RBC recognized that increased awareness of water conservation was needed — and organizations involved in protecting precious water resources were looking for more funding. That’s why the company introduced the RBC Blue Water Project, a $50 million commitment over 10 years to help build capacity for initiatives that protect Canadian water resources. It also began promoting responsible water use internally, all while reducing its own water footprint.
Why did RBC choose water as a focus point for its corporate giving?
“As Canadians, we look around, see our many lakes and rivers and end up taking clean water for granted,” said Jasmina Zurovac, director, corporate donations, at RBC. “But we realized that so many corporate funders were giving in other areas but not in this area,” Zurovac added. “We have a rich environmental team of engineers and risk managers, so we had the right expertise on staff to evaluate projects applying for funding.”
How RBC’s Blue Water Project Works
RBC provides grants to organizations working in two areas: watershed protection and access to clean drinking water. Its commitments include reducing the use of landscape irrigation, incorporating water-efficient technologies into new properties and renovations, and using environmentally responsible cleaning products.
So far, programs funded by RBC have successfully conserved nearly 2.5 million kilolitres of water and more than 80,000 people have spent over 400,000 hours volunteering with community-based watershed protection programs funded by RBC.
Beyond Water at RBC
But RBC also goes beyond water with its corporate giving initiatives. “We’ve supported after-school programs for almost 20 years, and children’s mental health for seven years now, along with many other community-related causes,” said Zurovac.
For all of its community giving commitments, RBC has been named one of Canada’s Top 50 Most Socially Responsible Corporations by Maclean’s magazine every year since 2009 (the list’s inception), and one of the Best 50 Corporate Citizens in Canada by Corporate Knights magazine this year.
RBC’s Director of Corporate Giving, Jasmina Zurovac, on Giving Back
Why is giving back part of your company’s values?
RBC is almost 150 years old, and giving back to the community is part of our DNA. Our leaders set the tone in the early days and it’s grown into how we want to operate as a company. We feel that this is an extension of what we do as a leader in our industry and in the community.
How do you choose the causes you get involved with?
Seven years ago we decided that we needed to be more strategic, but also wanted to leave options open for discretionary giving, like to food banks, etc., that aren’t necessarily aligned with our pillar projects, to allow flexibility for more urgent support requirements.
We are always going to support health, the environment, social services, education and arts, because these causes are important to our identity as Canadians. But to have a real impact we need to be strategic and allocate more funding to one focus area.
How involved are your employees in giving back?
Our employees are involved in year-round activity from volunteering for, or giving to, the charitable organizations of their choice. It is simply part of our culture here at RBC.
Our annual employee giving campaign takes place in late fall in advance of the holidays. And while we support the United Way, employees can also designate to their own charity of choice.
What impact have your CSR initiatives had on your company’s brand?
Impact management is built into our applications for funding, and at the end of the year, we run some analysis and report back. Impact reporting is not an easy thing to ask of charities, so we also provide funding to help charities build that capacity. We want to know that the support we provide is being felt in a very real, very tangible way.
But we’re pretty humble about the giving we do. We might promote some of the larger donations, but not all because there are simply too many. We will support the organization if they want to promote the relationship to help get their message out. And word does get out. For example, awareness of our contributions to arts programs is significant, particularly within arts communities across the country.
What impact has your giving had on employee engagement?
Employees naturally want to get involved with organizations that are important to them. As an employer, we have a number of programs that allow them to get involved both individually as well as helping to organize within their business groups. It has really helped with campus recruitment and we offer quarterly corporate responsibility sessions for students who want to work at RBC.
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