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Geoff Ross: Coming clean on our green credentials

Coming clean on our green credentials

Geoff Ross hopes New Zealand’s public shaming for its lack of green credentials last week will help inspire the country’s leaders to embrace the green boom.

By Geoff Ross

Public humiliation is probably one of the worst feelings in the world, particularly when, what’s being said about you is largely true and you have nowhere to duck for cover.

Last week New Zealand was publicly embarrassed on the world stage when one of Britain's leading newspapers, the Guardian, ran a major article headlined: ‘New Zealand was a friend to Middle Earth, but it’s no friend of the earth.’

The author, Fred Pearce, stated New Zealand, which trades on its clean green image, is simply a “green mirage” and ought to receive a prize for the “most shameless two fingers to the global community”.

This hurts.

To have what is the core of our country’s brand pulled apart publicly, on the world stage made my gut churn and it should certainly make all of us feel sick.

Much worse than any feelings of discomfort however, is the damage these sort of comments can do to our economy. When the bulk of our country’s income is directly linked to our green credentials, and these credentials take a knock, we have to expect our economy will take a hit in some way.

New Zealand’s largest export earners – tourism, dairy, meat, wool, wine, fish, kiwifruit, honey, forestry –.in fact, pretty much all of what we export –are closely linked to our country’s green credentials. If I was the CEO of a company that had just had its core brand proposition attacked on the world stage, I would be fuming and make sure I had an affirmative plan to counter it quick smart. We need to go on the attack with some positives.

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Of course we’re not helped by the echo of previous public statements made by our country’s representatives such as Tim Groser who stated: “We said that we would not try to be ‘leaders’ in climate change but that New Zealanders would expect us to play a fair share in global efforts.” It’s pretty hard to fix up your green credentials when people inside your own company are backing away from them.

I have written a few times on the coming green boom. But this time, on the back of our shaming in the Guardian article, I want to be very direct:

Whether we like it or not, whether voluntary or forced, the world is entering a green boom. New Zealand can lead it and profit, or do as we have too often done in the past and be a day late and a dollar short.

A ‘clean economy’ will drive up the creation and usage of clean products and drive down usage of dirtier ones. It’s the simple equation of supply and demand and we need to get our head out of the sand to seize this opportunity, or we will miss the boat.

Saying a green boom isn't going to impact on New Zealand, or the world’s economy is like saying: “Let’s wait -and-see what this internet thing does and stick with post for the time being.” That’s largely what New Zealand did in the late nineties and it wasn’t until five years after the global e-commerce horse bolted that we held a ‘Knowledge Wave’ conference. Too little, too late. We can’t let that happen again.

Right now the national conversation about climate change centres around cost. This is a trait of a culture that can only see threat and not opportunity and would be like sticking with a horse and cart, “because one of those motor cars is just too expensive”. We need to move on from our fixation with cost and start looking at how we can profit from this opportunity.

Thankfully, some New Zealand organisations are. These include:
• Air New Zealand. Probably no one has more potential cost from an emissions trading scheme than a gas guzzling company at the bottom of the world. But instead of getting on a whinge fest, Air New Zealand is on the front foot, and received the Preservation Award in the Condé Nast 2009 World Saver Awards for leading the way in exploring alternate fuel sources. That will see it make money from the green boom, not the other way round.
• Our organic dairy farmers are producing a kilogram of milk solid for less than their more intensive counterparts, and selling it for more.
• Grove Mill: A sustainable vineyard, that has a point of difference in a very cluttered market place.
Generally, these examples are few and far between. If you treated New Zealand as a company – which we should – we would get our largest divisions leading the charge to take advantage of any major change in global behaviour. For us that means tourism, dairy and meat.

Tourism needs to quickly put some more credibility behind its 100% pure claim. (A study shows tourism here would drop by 68 per cent if we were to loose our clean green image).

Fonterra needs to do more than simply have the colour green in its logo. And meat needs to do something – anything.

I can almost hear the response from rural New Zealand: “Why should we care about a few polar bears? This year’s payout is what I care about”.

Well, I care about this year’s payout too. And the next year; and the year after that. If New Zealand’s milk is genuinely more green than anybody else's we will be able to sell it for more and earn this country more money.

Peter Jackson probably did more for New Zealand’s green credentials and our economy than most of us realise. Although the Guardian article dealt us a blow, we are probably still in pole position in the coming green race. I’d like to think we have been gifted a golden (green) opportunity. Let’s get our head out of the sand and start running. Being a ‘follower’ unfortunately doesn't even get you entered in the race.

Geoff Ross is director of the Business Bakery and founder of 42 Below Vodka.


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