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PM Address to Sustainable Business Network Awards

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister Address to Sustainable Business Network Awards 2008 at The Events Centre, Auckland Museum AUCKLAND 6.50 pm Thursday 9 October 2008

Many thanks for inviting me once again to the Sustainable Business Awards.

I admire the work of the Sustainable Business Network to promote sustainability as a core business value and as central to best practice in business.

All our finalists here tonight have benefited from the advice and support of the Network. Congratulations to you all.

At these awards last year, I announced a significant grant to the Network over a three year period.

That grant has enabled the Network to connect with even more businesses, and help them take steps towards greater sustainability.

I believe that achieving greater sustainability is going to be critical to our businesses and our country prospering in the 21st century.

The good news is that in achieving that, we also help our planet, which is under such serious threat from human-made pressures.

So sustainability is a win : win, And that is why more and more businesses are so readily accepting that it must drive what they do.

Achieving sustainability drives innovation – we look at new ways of doing things and we develop whole new products and services.

Innovation too is critical to our future prosperity.

We need to be a smart economy, not a dumb economy.

Our government introduced the Research and Development tax write off because we want our companies to move up the value chain through innovation.

It seems this is now an election issue – I say bring it on.

Without innovation and without a commitment to sustainability, New Zealand would be stuck with an increasingly old-fashioned economy – and a polluting one at that.

We are better than that.

Our brand image is clean and green.

We have to give that meaning and substance.

It has to be more than a slogan.

We have to live our country's brand.

Sustainability is reaching a tipping point in the global consumer mindset, and where policy is made in New Zealand's significant export markets. It is not a matter of 'if' this becomes a crucial issue for New Zealand businesses; it's a matter of how much, and how soon. We are already feeling the pressure with the food miles and travel miles debates.

In this very place a few weeks ago I heard an American commentator talking about his staycation – staying at home rather than travelling away on holiday. Imagine how that could impact on our tourism industry – our second biggest earner of export dollars !

Customers – both in New Zealand and overseas – are also beginning to expect our pride in our country to be demonstrated in how we do business. Customers are becoming more demanding, - desiring products and services from companies which can demonstrate that they care.

Consumers hold the power; it is not just what we make and do; but how we go about making it and doing it. It is not just about a product or service meeting an unmet need; it is about whether it goes about meeting that need in an environmentally responsible and ethically way.

Given New Zealand's distance from major global markets, more than ever our companies need to differentiate on quality and values, rather than on price. In practice, that means attention to production processes as well as the end result; and to information transparency so that any claim can be verified.

It also means incorporating sustainability into the design of any products we produce. Sustainable design means long-term systems thinking. Environmental, business, ethical, and social objectives must all be fed and sustained.

Sustainable design recognises responsibility for by-products such as air pollution, global warming, fridge mountains, and landfill.

Sustainable business thinking and innovative sustainable design provide companies with an opportunity to create business solutions to differentiate products in an increasingly competitive market.

Indications from global markets suggest that the best and long-term profits will be made through a sustainable design approach.

The opportunities and benefits of New Zealand taking leadership to become a sustainable nation are great.

There's no point in just being a fast follower when we have a capacity to lead.

Before Parliament rose in September the emissions trading scheme was passed, to enable us to put a price on green house gas emissions. Ours is a world first in embracing all gases and all sectors – but this is a road which others will need to travel to deal with their emissions.

Few businesses will be actively involved in emissions trading, but all will see the benefit in changing patterns of production and consumption to those which are more sustainable.

Price-based approaches, like the emissions trading scheme, are considered to be effective in helping us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions overall.

Reducing the waste our nation consigns to landfill is also a high priority for our government. We need to substantially change the way we deal with waste in New Zealand.

That is the purpose of the new Waste Minimisation Act. It encourages a reduction in the amount of waste we generate and dispose of in New Zealand, and seeks to lessen the environmental harm of that waste.

We need to be bold in our commitment to sustainability to protect New Zealand's reputation as a country with a clean environment, smart and innovative people, and an inclusive community.

We are a small nation, but that is no reason not to stand up and be counted on the most pressing environmental issues the world faces today.

If New Zealand is to become a truly sustainable nation we need to build on the examples of business excellence seen among our finalists this evening. We need to bring more businesses along with us on the sustainability journey.

I endorse the Sustainable Business Network's purpose 'to advance and embed sustainable business practice so that we can meet our vision to make New Zealand a model sustainable nation for the world'. It is a purpose closely related to my own vision for New Zealand.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve our way of life, our standard of living and the state of the environment by putting sustainability at the heart of our thinking and decision-making. I thank all our finalists tonight and the Sustainable Business Network for helping to make that possible.

ends

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