We are tremendously grateful to the many organisations that have been long-term SBN supporters. They are, simply too many to name. But there are 23 members that have been with us right from the beginning.
We caught up with some of them, to find out what’s changed in the past 15 years. They also had a bit to say about the work of Rachel Brown, SBN’s founder and CEO.
Malcolm Rands – Founder, ecostore
15 years ago there were very few truly sustainable consumer businesses. There was just us at ecostore and Phoenix Organics, then some conventional businesses trying to ‘green up’ a bit. The mainstream didn’t take us that seriously and we were part of the ‘hippy fringe’ in many minds. Today we are the mainstream in many areas. The rest are dinosaurs who haven’t realised their day is done. Right from the start of SBN, Rachel was a star. Her vision was strong and compelling. Even with a tiny team you could see change was on its way.
John Ringer - Owner, Paradigm Associates
As a member of the AEBN (Auckland Environmental Business Network), I do recall wondering why we had two, possibly three tiny start-ups in the sustainability sector, and surely if we all got together sustainability would, overnight, become mainstream. Not long afterwards this did partially happen and SBN was born. It was a momentous occasion, without any doubt due to the extraordinary energy and commitment of Rachel Brown, backed by her board and we few members. Over 15 years it is all too easy to be caught up in the day-to-day workload and forget success comes from the hard slog of the many: former boards, mentors, staff, membership, and most importantly sponsors and funders – and Laurence Boomhert. We shared offices in Scotland Street for some time with SBN, and so got to know a bit more of Rachel's day-to-day struggle to keep the kaupapa alive and the organisation going. There were some very tough times - and some excellent events. Now, sustainability is THE agenda. Let’s celebrate!
Chris Morrison – Co-Founder, Phoenix Organics; CEO, Karma Cola; and Co-owner, All Good Organics
Reflecting on the past 15 years, I realise that we have come such a long way from meeting at Rod [Oram]’s house with a couple of bottles of wine, some dips and crackers and chewing the fat (metaphorically speaking!). There was passion and commitment aplenty. But there was very little funding to help us implement our ideas. Rachel has always been upbeat, courageous and persuasive. She refuses to take no for an answer and manages to twist arms without the recipient realising what has just been done! She has been steadfast in wanting to change the world and bringing us all along on the journey. She has a huge heart, ethics and vision. She has persevered, despite the overwhelming political apathy for environmental issues from political parties only interested in the lowest common denominator and the three-year election cycle. She has always backed and supported those businesses doing good. She knew that businesses had solutions and needed the support and recognition.
Dick Hubbard – Chairman and Owner, Hubbard Foods Ltd
15 years ago the question mostly being asked in the business world about sustainable business practice was that of ‘Why?’ Now, 15 years later, the question is now increasingly changing in the mainstream business world to that of ‘How?’ The SBN can take very considerable credit for this sea change in approach to sustainable business practice in New Zealand and the fact it is now becoming mainstream. But even more importantly the SBN, in my opinion, is ideally positioned for the future to supply details of the ‘How’ to the increasing number of enlightened New Zealand companies and to help companies on their journey to more in-depth sustainable business practice. We at Hubbard Foods are proud to be part of the SBN journey over the last 15 years and the SBN contribution to a better New Zealand. Congratulations on the 15th anniversary of SBN.
Marion Wood – Executive Director, Commonsense Organics
We have shown in the last 15 years that you don’t have to be a tree hugger to run a sustainable business – just a forward-thinking entrepreneur! At my first meeting [of the Sustainable Business Network] I was told bluntly by a businessman who was clearly ahead of his time that organics was a passing phase – the future for food was in genetic modification….I thought I must have come to the wrong meeting!
Rachael Le Mesurier – Executive Director, Oxfam NZ
Oxfam New Zealand is delighted to join the many voices celebrating and honouring the exceptional leadership the Sustainable Business Network and Rachel Brown have shown in growing the sustainable, ethical and fair trade movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The main change we have seen is that there IS a sustainable business sector. It is growing in power, impact and influence in New Zealand. This is as a direct result of the work of Rachel and SBN. SBN worked hard and long in what was seen as the fringe of the economy for at least 10 of these 15 years. In our view, the fact that sustainable, ethical, values-based and social good business are now considered as a credible and viable part of our economy is directly attributable to SBN. What an achievement!
Alan Bougen – Deputy Chairman, Comvita
The Sustainable Business Network has its genesis in the Bay of Plenty. In mid-2001 a pivotal meeting was held in the Te Puke Golf Club which saw the merging of two organisations, The Environmental Business Network and Business for Social Responsibility, an organisation founded in the US and brought to New Zealand by Dick Hubbard.
I was asked to Chair the inaugural Board of the Bay of Plenty Sustainable Business Network which I did for the following six or so years, including time on the National Board.
Because this merged structure was such a success it was adopted a year or so later by Auckland which led to the setting up of the national organisation headquartered in Auckland. Over time, four SBN regional offices were created with each one running relatively autonomously. Rachel Brown was appointed as the first CEO of the National organisation, a position she still holds today.
I am proud to say that SBN has contributed hugely over the years to the national conversation around the creation of model sustainable businesses throughout New Zealand. Many wonderful businesses have been recognised through the regional and national awards programmes. Our own business, Comvita, is one of those award recipients and I well remember us receiving our National award presented to us by the then Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Our relationship with SBN over the years has been a very important part of our development. We have embedded sustainable principles into our processes and created a campus that reflects our story. We operate here in the Bay of Plenty on a three hectare site on which we have planted over 40,000 native trees and have established a biological wastewater plant that helps nurture our growing ecosystem. Each year Comvita continues to plant up hundreds of hectares in Manuka throughout New Zealand in support of our rapidly growing medical honey business.
From Comvita, a big thank you and congratulations to you Rachel, on the pivotal role you continue to play in the success of SBN. Your dedication to the cause has been outstanding.
Ray Skinner – Sustainability Matters
The main change I have seen in sustainable business over the past 15 years is a growing realisation of ‘sustainability’ issues being real and of significance. Also the need for all of us to ‘get on with it and do stuff’. Although awareness, engagement and action are increasing, frustratingly, overall progress within New Zealand and globally remains modest. That, though, is changing in spite of the impediments, or perhaps more recently because of them. The ‘tipping point’ for achieving real progress is closer – and it needs to be. A key issue is whether the change the Earth needs will be engendered on the scale and at the pace necessary for there to be a tomorrow for today’s and tomorrow’s children.
Francesca Lipscombe – General Manager, Environmental Choice New Zealand
Congratulations Rachel and the team at the Sustainable Business Network on your 15th anniversary. We’re proud to have been with you from the start. We have witnessed sustainability evolve from the obscure to its rightful place in mainstream business. We’re fortunate to have SBN’s energy, passion and courage in the march towards a healthier environment and more sustainable business practices. We look forward to continuing to work with you towards the common goal of a more sustainable New Zealand. Keep up the good fight!
Kath Dewar – Managing Director, GoodSense
Over the past 15 years I have seen a big increase in the public’s concern about ethics and wanting to buy from the good, local and kind. I remember my first SBN event in 2003 was a workshop for about eight of us on triple bottom line reporting. It was run by Rachel in the offices above the shops on the main street in New Lynn. It began a whole journey for me of discovering how to align my values with my profession. Tino pai!
Dr Rodger Spiller – Managing Director, Money Matters
In 2002 sustainable business and the closely related practice of sustainable investment were only beginning to emerge in the NZ mainstream. For example, sustainability reporting and engaging with ethical and responsible investors was a relatively novel idea. Now the NZX expects reporting on Environmental, Social and Governance matters. NZ-listed businesses are generally keen to engage with the many institutional investors wanting ESG data. Meanwhile, specialist ethical investment firms are continuing to raise the bar and highlight that business and investors can make money and make a difference. The idea of profit and principles has come of age.
Alan Happy (retired) – Fletcher Building
I was an environmental manager for a moderate-sized business unit. It was a period of rapidly growing awareness of the need for environmental and social sustainability in business. I found membership of SBN very useful. It provided an active forum for exchange of ideas and experience and networking. It helped me apply changes to our business to bring about real progress. The seminars and workshops were particularly informative for me and for the young and new members of my team.
Helen Lane – Lead Advisor, NZ Transport Agency
The NZ Transport Agency has seen a number of changes in the area of sustainability over the past 15 years, with an emphasis on continuing to embed environmental and social considerations in everything we do. We are looking forward to more progress in improving sustainability outcomes in the future.
Kerry Gosling – Community Engagement Team Leader, Bay of Plenty Regional Council
The main change in our organisation over the last 15 years, I believe, would be the depth of knowledge in councillors and staff alike. Our Council vision (Thriving together - mō te Taiao, mō ngā tangata) and Outcomes (a Healthy Environment, Freshwater for Life, Safe and Resilient Community and a Vibrant Region) together set a firm base for all aspects of Council’s work along with recognising and working with our key challenges including climate change, sustainability and the limitations of our natural resources. Council has made not only operational changes but a shift in attitude as well.
Rachel Brown expressed mixed feelings about reaching the 15 year mark.
“I sit in conferences now that are essentially still talking about the same problems, although we’re seeing some really cool innovations now,” she explains. “We’re at a time of massive disruption, though we still need investment and scale.”
“I feel proud that we managed to get through some tough times with the Global Financial Crisis and the drop in interest in sustainability with the change of government in 2008. We’ve risen out of that and are working on projects that are really needed and will have a big impact."
“I feel as though the Sustainable Business Network has the potential to really grow in our scale and impact, because the urgency is huge."
“My biggest hope is that we have a change of conversation again back to, “we do these things because they’re the right thing to do”. If we have to justify change based on a ‘maybe’ economic forecast, we’re in trouble.”
Thank you to all our members for your support over the years. We value your support enormously and together you are helping us make New Zealand a more sustainable nation.
The full list of SBN members who have been with us since our first year:
- Hubbards Foods
- Money Matters
- Commonsense Organics
- Peter Crothall
- Environmental Choice NZ
- The Better Drinks Company (Phoenix Organics)
- Inzide Commercial
- Fletcher Building
- Paradigm Associates
- NZ Transport Agency
- Transformations International Consulting & Training
- Solar City New Zealand
- Oxfam New Zealand
- Bay of Plenty Regional Council
- Jennifer Pearson
- Unitec New Zealand
- Reid Technology
- Opus International Consultants
- Sustainability Matters
- GoodSense Ltd
We salute you!