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Mallard: Sustainability sells

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

20 May 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:9.30am

Sustainability sells – the climate change business

Speech by Environment Minister Trevor Mallard to 2008 Small Business Expo, Christchurch Convention Centre

Good morning and welcome to the Small Business Expo for 2008.

Thanks to the organisers for inviting me to open this expo and welcome everyone to what I am sure will be a worthwhile and inspiring event. As Environment Minister it's great to see the choice of sustainability as this year’s theme.

Not only have you raised awareness of this important issue by making it the central topic for discussion, but you are also practising what you preach by taking steps such as giving out recycled bags, printing your flyers on recycled paper, encouraging delegates to offset their emissions to travel here, and installing recycling bins throughout the venue. As we keep saying – even small steps that are eco-friendly can make the difference.

Congratulations for also obtaining certification from carboNZero to make this expo carbon neutral. This sort of approach is something I hope many expo and conference organisers are thinking about – so thanks for demonstrating how it can be done.

Many New Zealand businesses, large and small, are taking a similar path towards sustainability and recognising the serious business opportunities it offers.

Far too often the debate around climate change focuses on costs – and ignores the opportunities and the potential for New Zealand from moving onto a sustainable and carbon neutral footing. And believe me, the costs of climate change for New Zealand as a country would be much higher if we just sat back and did nothing.

Instead our government is deliberately tackling the challenge of climate change on several fronts involving a mix of initiatives and programmes addressing government, business and household sustainability, and involving regulation and incentives, including multimillion dollar support for research that will help New Zealand businesses along the way. Yes there is a cost, but it is affordable, it will be managed fairly, and the cost would be far greater if we ignored it.

Government initiatives and regulatory drivers, such as the Emissions Trading Scheme and the New Zealand Energy Strategy, and changing consumer behaviour mean that New Zealand businesses do need to get real and recognise that they need to become sustainable –to remain competitive and perhaps more importantly – to gain the edge. Sustainability sells.

Which is why I like to say to people – look on sustainability and climate change action - with the glass half full approach, rather than the glass half empty – and ignore the business opportunities at your peril.

Sustainable business is a holistic business concept that integrates economic growth, social equity and environmental management. Sustainable business practices will also underpin our economic transformation into an innovative, high wage and export led economy. It will underpin our competitiveness by providing New Zealand businesses with an advantage over others in the global market.

The government wants New Zealand businesses to be recognised internationally for their sustainable practices.

For this reason, the Ministries for the Environment and Economic Development are jointly working on the Business Partnerships for Sustainability programme. The Business Partnerships for Sustainability initiative is one of six government initiatives to help New Zealand become more sustainable.

The Business Partnerships for Sustainability programme is aimed at building the ability of New Zealand businesses to respond to the changing consumer-led and international markets that are demanding sustainable products and services. To achieve this, the project is working to integrate sustainability into existing business capability programmes and to develop new programmes where appropriate.

Essentially this programme aims to help position New Zealand as a world-leading exponent of smart and innovative responses to environmental issues and integrates.

Here in Christchurch, the Target Sustainability initiative provides a one-stop shop for local businesses on resource efficiency and business sustainability.

I’m very pleased to see that they have a stand at this expo. I encourage you to take advantage of the excellent service they offer.

There are many small ways businesses can make a difference: taking environmental considerations into account in all business decisions, engaging staff, talking to the community, understanding customers’ needs and desires to be eco-friendly, using less energy, reducing waste, being more water and energy efficient, and using or producing goods and services that are accredited or environmentally certified.

The challenge of understanding all the environmental certifications on offer will soon be addressed by the government’s eco-labels directory, due to be released soon. It will help business owners make sense of a complicated field of eco-verification and help them recognise credible certifications for their businesses and products.

The benefits of a business becoming sustainable are not just measured through environmental outcomes such as fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less waste going to landfill.

Sustainable practices also mean a business can save money by reducing use of energy and materials or by using resources more efficiently.

The business that integrates sustainability throughout its operations will see improved value for money in its buying practices, savings in operational costs, and an enhanced reputation among existing and new consumers who are attracted by the sustainable products on offer. The potential to expand your market share by the sustainability selling point is also obvious.

The New Zealand Wine Company is a case in point. The company owns Grove Mill in Marlborough which was the world's first winemaker to achieve the CarboNZero certification – and its winning new international business as a result, increasing its sales to the Sainsbury supermarket chain in the United Kingdom by a whopping 120 per cent, and now also selling into the Tesco and Waitrose chains over there.

Widespread sustainable business practices also mean an enhanced international reputation for New Zealand and an affirmation of our ‘clean, green’ and ‘100% pure’ national brands.

As the owners of small businesses, you are well placed to become sustainable.

You have the flexibility to adapt and respond more quickly than large companies to a changing market.

You are starting from the baseline of a smaller carbon footprint, especially if your business is based at home, so you have less work to do to become really sustainable.

You can also respond to and grow within niche markets that are much harder for large companies to exploit. And it is not all about products, it's also about knowledge and expertise, things you increasingly have access to.

Small and medium enterprises make up 95 per cent of New Zealand business: collectively you have a big impact. You have taken a step in the right direction by being here today.

I urge you to visit the Sustainability Zone where you’ll be able to meet exhibitors from the Ministry for the Environment, the Sustainable Business Network and The Natural Step who are committed to providing information and services to help you develop your business into one that is competitive as well as sustainable. Whether you are well on the road to sustainability or just starting out, they’ll have something practical to help you.

Smaller New Zealand businesses, such as Snowy Peak that owns the Untouched World brand of luxury clothing, are already demonstrating the gains that can be made by absorbing sustainability into all aspects of their day-to-day business. I had the great pleasure of visiting Snowy Peak’s premises here in Christchurch recently and was very impressed at how sustainability is engrained in everything they do.

Last year Snowy Peak became the first company in New Zealand, and the first fashion company in the world, to be given permission by UNESCO to carry the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development logo on its labelling. It is one of a small number of organisations internationally accredited to carry this logo. And Wools of New Zealand have credited Snowy Peak with establishing an industry that is estimated to be worth around NZD$100 million, with a potential worth of NZD$200 million in the near future.

So the message to you all has to be "sustainability sells". We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the New Zealand way of life, our standard of living and the state of the environment by putting sustainability at the heart of our business thinking and decision-making.

The government is leading by example by making sustainability a core part of our approach to policy and taking practical steps such as working towards a carbon neutral public service and sustainable procurement policies. We want you as business owners to work with us and join us on the journey to making New Zealand a truly sustainable nation.

Thank you. I’m happy to take any questions you have.


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