A partnership between Telstra and Australia’s largest Indigenous-owned office supplier shows that social and ecological benefits need never be sacrificed to sound commercial outcomes.

With the arrival of a new online catalogue from Muru Office Supplies in February, Telstra employees have the comfort of knowing that their workplace purchases will contribute in a small but meaningful way to positive social outcomes in First Nations communities – while not ‘costing the Earth’ in terms of their ecological impact.

Gone are the single-use plastics that used to play a big part in our office kitchens and functions. Gone are the polystyrene food and drink containers. Gone are printing paper that is anything less than 100% recycled, and generic ink cartridges that once polluted local landfills.

Instead, Muru is committing to selling only ecologically-responsible products, and to only funding deliveries worth $75 or more – a way of breaking our old addiction to polluting deliveries by road.

“A lot of people see supplier diversity as charity, driven out of the business’s corporate responsibility arm,” says Adrian Mayer, responsible procurement lead in Telstra’s Supplier Governance team. “But while it provides us with an opportunity to scale impact, it also drives shared value outcomes for the company, its customers, and the broader community.”

With Telstra’s network of fully-owned retail stores set 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 the leading Australian workplace supplier, Complete Office Supplies (COS) – has the connections to help Telstra realise this goal.

Making a difference

Muru is run and majority-owned by Mitchell Ross, a cheerful and relentlessly positive Bidjigal man from La Perouse, who says that “witnessing the hardships faced by family and friends” as a young man made him want to make a difference through his work.

“Muru means pathway, and that’s what we want to create – a pathway to greater economic empowerment for future generations of Aboriginal people,” says Mitchell.

In 2010, Mitchell launched an IT services business supporting small businesses, and in 2012 pivoted to stationery by establishing Muru Office Supplies with the backing of COS and support from the Indigenous certification network, Supply Nation. After securing Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals as a customer, the company has taken off in recent years, adding CommBank, Boral, KPMG and Qantas to its growing list of customers.

Through its first decade, Muru has managed to stay trim – with just five full-time staff – and to stay focused on the community partnerships that form the centrepiece of the company’s ethos.

“We support two major programs at present – a childcare program supporting 35 children in Far North Queensland, and a project promoting Indigenous horticulture and apprenticeships in La Perouse,” says Mitchell. “We look to support grassroots projects that promote jobs and meaningful development in the communities we know. Our goal is to give $500,000 back to the community each year – and we’re well on the way to achieving this.”

In addition to committing 20% of profits from Telstra to its two core programs, Mitchell has also pledged to give a $25,000 donation to a new project that will align with both parties’ values.

Muru sells more than 20,000 different office products – from paper, pens and folders, to food, furniture, and first aid equipment – and is aggressively outlawing all single-use plastics and other products from its catalogue.

“As an Aboriginal man, it’s extremely important to me that we look after the land,” says Mitchell. “As well as our focus on recyclable products, we’re moving to ban all single-use plastics and packaging. For example, we’ve banned the plastic straps used on the boxes of our top-selling copy paper, which now have perforations to open them instead.

“These are the kinds of innovations we’re supporting, which I think align our values very closely with the values of Telstra.”