"Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa
Nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa
Chancellor, Deputy-Vice Chancellor (Research), Members of Council, Members of the University, Graduands, Whanau and friends... Congratulations to all of you - this is a very special day! It’s a rare time when you get to share in your success with each other and to relish in your achievements. A great day indeed!
It’s an absolute honour for me to be here. Like you I graduated with a science degree from Auckland University - but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would be standing here addressing you all.
So I will use this moment to encourage you to step up, to be brave, and use your new qualifications to play an essential role in shaping the next big movement of our times.
For context, I was at university in the 1980s. That was a time of big hair and loud fashion. And like every generation, times were changing. At that time New Zealand was making profound political and social change as we took on free-market economics.
This was when New Zealand moved away from a system of ‘jobs for life’, when government ran businesses, when we subsidised farmers… It was a time when we protested and debated aggressively to progress social issues like gay rights and stood up against the United States when we went nuclear free.
We were also debating the reality of climate change, issues of biodiversity loss, water and air pollution versus the benefit of economic growth.
The pendulum was swinging and our Kiwi culture was changing.
So with this going on and my degree under my belt, I did what many of my peers did and went on my OE to see what was going on in the rest of the world.
I spent three years doing that.
I saw first-hand the degree of poverty you just didn’t see here in NZ. I saw families living in makeshift houses in the middle of some of the busiest and congested intersections in the dirtiest cities in the world. I saw people drinking and washing in polluted waterways and Third World diseases that have long since found cures. In contrast I also saw extreme wealth and opulence at a scale I found hard to get to grips with – much of it was locked away and hidden behind walls topped with glass or barbed wire.
After three years I came home committed to playing a role in having our nation show the rest of the world that we could do this growth thing differently. I spent another year studying environmental technology and then understanding the powerful role that business can play in sustainability. Of course my learning, our learning, never stops. Particularly as the issues and challenges we face change, and the solutions get more interesting and diverse.
Over my working life we have seen incredible economic progress. It is true our GPD per capita has risen dramatically. BUT this has been at the expense of our people and the environment. I have watched business and government leaders put their needs above the rest, believing in trickle down theories and unthinkingly eroding our social and natural capital. Over the past thirty years we have well and truly tested this version of free market economics and it isn’t delivering.
In 2002 I established the Sustainable Business Network, whose purpose is to empower business so that people and nature prosper. On the scale of things we are a small network, comprising around 500 businesses, but we, and others like us, are growing and fast. Pressure is on and more of the business community are stepping up to the challenge and collaborating in new ways.
So the good news is the pendulum is swinging again. This time we are putting social and environmental issues at the heart of this shift.
NOW is a time for new thinking and for dreaming. It’s a time for optimism and for action. It’s a time for scientists to step up and inform our future. After all, the challenges we face are huge BUT they are doable!
#1 We can reverse global warming.
Scientists have proven that there are hundreds of solutions from afforestation, capturing carbon, to Living Buildings that produce more energy than they consume.
#2 We are moving to a circular – restorative – economy.
Rampant over-consumption all over the world is costing billions of dollars to clean up. We are now banning single use plastics bags, investing in new compostable fibres, sharing assets in new ways and designing products that are beautiful, repairable and long-lasting.
#3 Renewable energy has won over fossil fuels.
Fortune 500 companies are investing billions in renewables and the price has dropped so much that finally renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels!
#4 Indigenous wisdom is being recognised and valued.
Ancient wisdom, with its mana and knowledge is now leading and informing the protection of our water sources, our forests and our future generations. We are finally giving a voice to nature so that our rivers, mountains and forests have the same legal rights as people.
#5 There is massive and growing global movement for change.
We now have over 2 million organisations working for social and environmental justice. Their voices are powerful with our largest, most recent protests led by women and by teenagers.
As scientists you are powerful and you are needed.
In fact you have an opportunity to use your scientific skills to inform the next big movement of our times… or you can follow the pack. I wonder what will you do?
Early in my career I recognised that business was the most powerful force for change, but that someone had to lead that movement for a new kind of business here in NZ. So I took that on. I could have found every excuse not to – I was young, a woman and I wasn’t a business person. But I believed in a better way. I had determination, perseverance and passion in spades.
Now as you leave this building tonight, I urge you to think about the contribution you can make and the legacy will you will leave future generations.
And I ask you ‘How brave are you going to be?’
… I will leave it there…
Congratulations once more.
Tēnā koutou Tēnā koutou Tēnā koutou katoa."