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MTR Corporation

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A winning formula built on trust and integrity

More by MTR Corporation - Back to the January 2013 issue
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case study

We live in a carbon-constrained world. While international and domestic legislation may move slowly, cities can act more quickly, implementing tangible changes towards the goal of sustainable urban development. By providing the backbone of low-carbon transport in Hong Kong and continuously seeking improvement, MTR Corporation plays a key role in sustainable development in this city and around the world.

Carrying 8.9 million passengers every weekday, the MTR rail network and bus services are essential to Hong Kong’s long-term sustainability due to its efficient use of resources and space, low cost, safety and accessibility. The high usage of public transport in Hong Kong means the city has one of the world’s lowest levels of per capita carbon emissions from passenger services. As the city becomes further integrated with the Pearl River Delta Region, MTR’s programme of rail extensions and ongoing improvement works will play a central role in Hong Kong’s success as a sustainable urban centre.

Stakeholder engagement
Sustainability is at the core of MTR’s philosophy, within which stakeholder engagement plays a key role. Because rail infrastructure has a lifespan of more than 100 years, it is essential to think and plan in generations, responding to community needs as they grow and evolve. MTR chief sustainable development manager Dr Glenn Frommer said: “What we aim to achieve is only possible if you have a basic level of trust, which we have built up over decades of working closely with our stakeholders.”

Community engagement
Building trust with communities and customers is a top priority, particularly as MTR moves ahead with construction on five new rail lines in Hong Kong, adding 56km of new routes to the system. Indeed, the company sees trust as so important that it has invested HK$1bn (£80m, e99m, $129m) in a programme called Listening – Responding, in which customer suggestions for improved facilities – such as external lifts, additional seating, toilets and concessions – are implemented across the network.

In addition to asset improvements, community engagement plays a key role, particularly in the case of new rail lines. One such development is a 3km extension of the West Island Line (WIL), located on the northern coast of Hong Kong Island. The five-year project is scheduled for completion in 2014.

From the beginning, the WIL team was involved in numerous consultations with residents, including presentations and site visits with local council members, environmental groups and other community organisations. Residents had their say throughout, offering feedback on issues such as station locations and entrances, kiosks on platforms and external landscaping. In one case, a station entrance was originally designated to take over an area that is home to a valuable and historic tree wall. The team took green groups’ and the community’s concerns to heart and relocated the station.

Of course, responding effectively to feedback after construction is underway is often not cost-effective, but Dr Frommer says: “Yes, it costs money to move a line, even at the design stage, but it is an investment. We engage with the community to find a solution. It’s a win-win.

“All of the building, operations and facilities were dependent on the community’s needs. Community aspirations change very quickly. When we’re asked to make changes, we deliver because we are innovative and resilient. Revising plans to better fit community needs is not the end of the world. Negotiations for the West Island Line were unique. Success was possible because we had a basic level of trust, earned over decades of staying true to our word. A high degree of integrity is needed.”

Stakeholder engagement training
MTR has made stakeholder engagement training a requirement for staff in the MTR Projects Division, not just those with roles on the front line, to create a culture that values innovation, engagement, teamwork and knowledge sharing. Said Dr Frommer: “One of our greatest assets is our people. By training everyone, our employees know how to respond when issues come up. If we are breaking pavements outside a school and the principal says ‘I have exams’, then the foreman can make a decision to amend the timetable immediately. Blocking a store front, dealing with dust, managing water run-off – the issues are all dealt with in a similar way.”

Applying expertise abroad
MTR’s expertise in Hong Kong has been exported to contracts in mainland China, Australia, Sweden and the UK. When it won the franchise to run the London Overground system in 2007, the company took its experience from Hong Kong to London. By 2011, it was named the top rail franchising company in London, an accolade it retained in 2012.

Creating the same level of success in mainland China is the next challenge. “We are bringing something new to many communities on the mainland, but the same core Listening – Responding ethos still applies,” says Dr Frommer. “All of our customers are treated with the same degree of respect and we spend time finding the right staff to do this.”

Staff in mainland China receive the same level of training as their Hong Kong peers, often via video or Skype. In addition to community engagement training, another important message is environmental sustainability. On a local scale, each project undergoes an environmental impact assessment study and a team is formed to follow up all pledges and undertakings. Barges are used where possible to transport construction waste, thereby reducing road traffic, care is taken to protect the land from toxic run-offs, and measures are taken to protect trees and the biodiversity around the metro lines.

“This is what we aspire to,” says Dr Frommer. “We try to push limits and achieve more than we have before. In ten years, we have become a much cleaner, safer and engaged company. We will be here for more than 100 years, so we design for 100 years’ use. When you set a sustainability agenda, it becomes embedded. It is an investment, not a cost.”

more about MTR Corporation

MTR operates a predominantly rail-based transportation system in Hong Kong, comprising domestic and cross-boundary services, a dedicated high-speed Airport Express railway and a light rail system. It opened its first railway 30 years ago and the entire system now stretches 218.2km and has 84 stations. MTR also runs a network of bus services with 68 stops. Every weekday, around 8.9 million passengers use MTR services, among the most intensively used in the world.

MTR, majority owned by the Hong Kong government, has also expanded into mainland China and operates a range of railway-related projects internationally, including the Beijing Metro Line 4, Shenzhen Metro Longhua Line and the London Overground system in the UK.

Today, MTR is involved in a wide range of business activities, including residential and commercial projects, property leasing and management, advertising, telecommunications and international consultancy.

IBE comment

MTR has clearly demonstrated its commitment to delivering sustainable solutions to urban transport development in Hong Kong and recognises the importance of building and sustaining trust with stakeholders. It demonstrates this through actively engaging with affected communities and interest groups throughout the planning, development and construction process.

By training all staff on stakeholder engagement, MTR ensures employees on the ground can respond to community needs in a way that is consistent with its values. As MTR expands into new markets, the company will face the challenge of communicating and upholding its values, commitments and standards wherever it operates.

Points to note:


  • MTR sees the need to think long-term given the life span of rail infrastructure.
  • Responding to evolving needs and social aspirations is a challenge that MTR is doing well in addressing through constant communication with stakeholders.  
  • The Listening – Responding initiative helps MTR build customers’ trust by taking on board their suggestions and finding ‘win-win’ solutions.

Judith Irwin, Institute of Business Ethics

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