100% Walking The Talk - Ecoman Malcolm Rands
By Ecoman Malcolm Rands
This week, the final installation of Peter Jackson’s films The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens in theatres worldwide. It’s no secret that these films have a huge marketing potential for New Zealand tourism, and our ‘100% Pure’ brand has been hard at work overseas, with millions of dollars spent to put ‘destination: New Zealand’ in the eye of global audiences. Central to this image are our unique landscapes: pristine environments that promise the breath-taking raw beauty of untouched New Zealand.
But sadly, when it comes to discussing climate change and the environment, for many of us, the dollar still has the final word. It’s not that we don’t care – 99% of New Zealanders you talk to say they care about our environment, it’s just that when it comes to the perceived cost of changing our habits, people tend to shut off. ‘Nah, too expensive.’ Besides, it can be hard to feel any sense of urgency when our day-to-day lives remain much the same and, thanks to incredibly favourable geography, winds and ocean currents, the country continues to look so good.
We’re building a global perception that not only influences tourism, but our exports too. Close to a third of our GDP comes from exports, and when we sell into overseas markets, we are selling more than just a product; we are selling a dream. When you ask people on the streets of New York what they think of New Zealand, they say things like: ‘One of the cleanest, greenest countries around.’ They use words like ‘nature’, ‘forests’, ‘trees’, ‘ecology’. It’s what we are known for, and continue to reinforce. So long as we can keep that image, we can bank on it.
However, despite having so much at stake economically, we’re doing precious little to safeguard it. Deep sea oil drilling, frack mining, river contamination from farm runoff – these often outdated technologies and ways of thinking go ahead because of the promise of short-term dollar gain, even though they will have a negative impact long term. And it’s not just the environment that will be impacted, but also the incredibly unique opportunity we have to market ourselves to the world as brand New Zealand.
I’m not talking about about obstructing people or progress, but about instilling a culture of longer-term thinking. Already we’re drawing criticism from overseas about our ‘misleading’ 100% pure campaign being so far away from our environmental policies, and this disparity will continue to grow if we do not act. Recent difficulties, such as scare around nitrate levels found in NZ milk powder going into China has shown how fragile this image can be, and how it’s ultimately critical to the health of our economy.
Brand New Zealand is the real issue. If we continue compromising the environment and the New Zealand brand for the bottom line, for short-term cost competitiveness, it will be to the detriment not just of the planet but of our national brand and our global competitiveness too.
I firmly believe commercially-viable sustainable initiatives are integral to the future of all New Zealand business. In partnership with Vector, we recently installed 48 solar panels on the roof of the ecostore retail shop in Freeman’s Bay, which generate enough power to meet the energy needs of the building. The result is a net-zero energy commercial building – New Zealand’s first, and I’m excited about the possibilities for other businesses. We made sure we were the first to trial a system that any other small business could then follow. Now we’ve proven it works and that it’s commercially viable, so the road is open for others to take up the charge.
It’s the cumulative effect of many small changes that can make a great difference. We don’t want our landscapes to become a fiction. Our dollar and our future depends on keeping them beautiful.