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Business Council for Sustainable Development Forum

Steve Maharey Speech: Leadership Forum of the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development

PricewaterhouseCoopers Building, Auckland.


Thank you for inviting me to speak at this forum.

I’d like to use the four minutes allotted to me to discuss: how sustainable development effects every New Zealander today and our future prospects tomorrow; and and to identify areas of particular opportunity – where New Zealand can show leadership in work towards sustainable development.

Sustainable development – the spirit of our age

Sustainable development truly could become the spirit of our age, the defining movement of the new century.

Global communications, IT and broadcast technology gives us unprecedented reach, accessing events in every corner of the world.

From your couch, or your computer screen, you can witness much of the beauty of the world – and much of the horror. You can see and hear first hand accounts of events half a world away, and through your computer you can interact in real time with people anywhere in the world.

We are aware of our global community, and the impact we are having on our planet, with an immediacy undreamt of just decades ago.

Almost every child knows what an oil spill does to wildlife, what unsustainable development does to an environment, what division, hatred and war do to a society, what exclusion, isolation and poverty does to a person.

If we get it right, global reach can encourage local interest, passion and participation – ‘think global, act local’.

Many years ago Fred Dagg told us “you don’t know how lucky you are” – well maybe now we do.

New Zealand is a special country – and it is the qualities that make our nation special that can help unite us as a people in the 21st century.

We are increasingly conscious not only of the beauty of our environment, but of the threats to that beauty.

We are increasingly committed to the need to conserve and maintain our natural heritage.

We are increasingly passionate about Maori, Pacific and colonial cultural heritage

And we are increasingly aware that in nurturing our environment and our distinct kiwi culture we can build sustainable economic activity and prosperity.

Whale watching has become an icon of sustainable development – from a dying industry, dragging whales out of the water and slaughtering them – to a successful business, admiring them in their natural environment.

Our parks, world heritage sites, marine reserves, cultural sites and events are all sources of national pride and national economic activity.

Sustainable development - coming to a town near you

So is sustainable development only about ‘wild’ New Zealand? Of course not.

Sustainable development must be part of our lives wherever we live and whatever we do.

For example: when it comes to water, Kapiti Coast residents, who are currently experiencing water shortages have no difficulty in appreciating the need for sustainable solutions. At a national level, the effects that recurrent East Coast droughts have on our economy, our energy supplies, our agriculture, our settlements and our recreation choices is bringing home to New Zealanders the need for well balanced solutions to meet the water needs of all parties on a sustainable basis.

on the energy side, discussion about Maui gas reserves and the climate affects of burning fossil fuels are making us aware of the importance of planning for a sustainable and renewable energy future. This process will involve us making careful choices about the kind of industries that are favoured for economic growth. It will affect the design of our homes and our cities.

in relation to sustainable cities, Aucklanders face clogged motorways and are likely to be more responsive to improved urban design and sustainable infrastructures that will meet the needs of Auckland as both a centre for innovation and economic growth and as a liveable city supporting social wellbeing, quality of life and cultural identities.

in my own area of responsibility, “Investing in Child and Youth Development”, is one where sustainable solutions are vital. After this event I am attending the launch of the Youth Employment Guide. Youth skills and employment are critical sustainable development issues. Equipping our young people with skills today helps guarantee decent health, education and social services tomorrow.

Leadership and partnership

Leadership in the area of sustainable development is very important. On 31 January my colleague, Marian Hobbs launched Sustainable Development for New Zealand - A Programme of Action.

But we are very conscious that government is just one player in a vibrant network of individuals, communities, businesses, local authorities and others who must work together to provide a sustainable future for New Zealand

That is why partnership is so important. To be effective we need to work in partnership in the development of smart and sustainable solutions that allow us to grow economically without damaging our environment or undermining our social and cultural capital.

Best Practice Opportunities

We also need to reinforce and celebrate best practice.

New Zealanders are a particularly innovative people and our small scale often allows us to make progress on issues that would be intractable problems in bigger societies.

I am encouraged by the work that various individuals, firms, academic institutions, NGOs and government departments are making in developing sustainable solutions.

I see our fisheries management, the local government role in waste management and business initiatives such as the Redesigning Resources project, as indicative of what we can do to contribute toward a sustainable future.

As a country we need to encourage and support those who are developing innovative sustainability initiatives and take pride in their achievements.

In fact, I believe that the implementation and testing of sustainable solutions is an area where New Zealand can play a key role internationally.


In closing, I want to re-emphasise partnerships and collaboration - because here again our small size, and our fairly intimate society gives us a strategic advantage.

Partnerships are absolutely integral to a sustainable development way of working. We cannot make progress on complex problems affecting people across generations if we do not engage all those generations in the solution. Partnerships provide the basis for the open relationships based on trust and understanding that are essential for sustainable development.

This is why the government looks forward to working closely with groups like the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, and many others, as we work towards a sustainable future for New Zealand.

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