A partnership between Telstra and Australia’s largest Indigenous-owned office provider shows that social and environmental benefits should never be sacrificed for strong business results.
With the arrival of a new online catalog from Muru Office Supplies in February, Telstra employees have the comfort of knowing that their workplace purchases will contribute in small but significant ways to positive social outcomes in workplace communities. First Nations – without “costing the Earth” in terms of their ecological impact.
Gone are the single-use plastics that used to play a big role in our kitchens and office functions. No more polystyrene food and drink containers. Gone are the printing papers that are not 100% recycled and the generic ink cartridges that once polluted local landfills.
Instead, Muru pledges to only sell environmentally responsible products and only fund deliveries worth $75 or more – a way to break our old addiction to dirty deliveries by road.
“A lot of people see supplier diversity as a charity, kicked out of the corporate responsibility arm of the company,” says Adrian Mayer, responsible sourcing manager in Telstra’s supplier governance team. “But while it offers us the opportunity to scale impact, it also generates shared value outcomes for the company, its customers, and the wider community.”
With Telstra’s network of wholly-owned retail stores expected to quadruple over the next two years, a recent review of the company’s procurement program suggests it can achieve significant savings by consolidating its office supplies. And Muru, in a joint venture with Australia’s leading workspace provider, Complete Office Supplies (COS), has the relationships to help Telstra achieve this goal.
Make the difference
Muru is run and majority owned by Mitchell Ross, a cheerful and relentlessly positive Bidjigal from La Pérouse, who says “witnessing the hardships faced by his family and friends” as a young man made him want to make a difference through their work.
“Muru means path, and that’s what we want to create – a path to greater economic empowerment for future generations of Indigenous people,” says Mitchell.
In 2010, Mitchell started an IT services business supporting small businesses, and in 2012 branched out into stationery, establishing Muru Office Supplies with the backing of COS and backing from the indigenous certification network, Supply Nation. After securing Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals as a client, the company has taken off in recent years, adding CommBank, Boral, KPMG and Qantas to its growing list of clients.
In its first decade, Muru has managed to stay in shape – with just five full-time employees – and stay focused on the community partnerships that are the centerpiece of the company’s philosophy.
“We are currently supporting two major programs – a childcare program supporting 35 children in Far North Queensland and a project promoting horticulture and Aboriginal learning in La Pérouse,” Mitchell said. “We seek to support local projects that promote jobs and meaningful development in the communities we know. Our goal is to give back $500,000 to the community every year – and we’re well on our way to achieving that.
As well as committing 20% of Telstra’s profits to its two main programs, Mitchell has also pledged to donate $25,000 to a new project that will align with the values of both parties.
Muru sells more than 20,000 different office products – from paper, pens and folders, to food, furniture and first aid equipment – and aggressively bans all single-use plastics and other products from its catalog .
“As an Indigenous person, it’s extremely important to me that we take care of the land,” says Mitchell. “In addition to focusing on recyclables, we are moving towards banning all single-use plastics and packaging. For example, we’ve banned the plastic straps used on the boxes of our best-selling copy paper, which now have perforations to open them instead.
“These are the kinds of innovations that we support, which I think align our values very closely with Telstra’s values.”