STRATEGY – 14 predictions for sustainable business in 2017

17 January 2017

Find out what’s in store for sustainable business in New Zealand this year with insights from business leaders across our network.

Collaborative competition (co-opetition). The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Climate change. An international – and individual –  focus. Optimism – and pessimism. These are just some of their top picks. Read on for more!

  1. Sean Kelly – CEO, Hubbards

“There’s a tough year ahead.”

I picked 2016 to be a tipping point in global change. Unfortunately things have not tipped in favour of those who wish for global sustainability. I’m sad to say that my pick for 2017 is for a tough road ahead in the pursuit of environmental and social sustainability.   

The extreme and sudden rise of Populism throughout the world, commonly founded on Protectionism, is of great concern. All over the world people are rebelling against sustained austerity measures needed as we still navigate the GFC (global financial crisis).

This populist approach seeks to blame others, and protectionism serves to separate us from those we ‘blame’ or who may put us at risk. The greatest example being that the most powerful person in the world is a climate change denier who purports it to be a conspiracy put forward by another country solely for commercial gain. This does not bode well, as meaningful progress in addressing global warming and its effects will need to come from the concerted efforts of many. Protectionism will not deliver this, as is founded on mistrust and competition, not collaboration. If this trend carries on then 2017 could be a very significant year, but for all the wrong reasons. I hope I’m wrong. 

  1. Peter Thomas – Chief Operating Officer, Fuji Xerox

“The key issues for 2017 will be a holistic approach to sustainability; a shift to ‘cradle to cradle’ business models; and strategic partnerships that see businesses engaging in ‘co-opetition’ (collaborating with competitors).”

Holistic approach to sustainability

New Zealand has shown leadership by ratifying the UN Paris Agreement, but of course climate change is just one of a number of systemic sustainability challenges facing the world. We are fortunate that the UN has developed the Sustainable Development Goals: a great framework to respond to these challenges. Businesses will start aligning their strategies to the SDGs and use these global goals to engage their stakeholders.

Cradle to Cradle

New Zealand is at a scale where the concept of a circular economy can become a reality. In 2017 the shift from linear ‘cradle to grave’ systems to circular ‘cradle to cradle’ models will gain momentum. At Fuji Xerox we have a ‘take back’ system for our end-of-life machines and print consumables to prevent valuable assets going to landfill and increase business efficiency. As businesses start sharing the bottom-line benefits of such product stewardship schemes, others will be encouraged to create their own circular solutions.

Strategic partnerships

In the face of increasing global uncertainty, businesses will develop new strategies to manage macro, operational and supply chain risks. Strategic partnerships will see businesses engaging in ‘co-opetition’ (collaborating with competitors) and partnering with organisations from completely different sectors to rapidly progress towards a low carbon economy. Collaborations will include transitioning to an electric vehicle fleet, creating a common approach to sustainable procurement and innovating to develop sustainable technologies.

  1. Noel Josephson – Managing Director, Ceres Organics

“Sustainability will both widen and deepen as more people wake up.”  

Currently most of the focus of sustainability is related to the environmental crisis and our use of resources. However the economic, social and political realms are also in various stages of crises which in effect means what we are doing in those realms is also unsustainable.

  1. Marty Forsman – Manager, Environment, Air New Zealand

“The key issues for 2017 will be global energy transformation and the ag disrupt.”

Global energy transformation

Optimism post the Paris Agreement lost its lustre in the wake of Brexit, the US election and continued fossil fuel subsidies. Whilst energy transformation seems less certain, our biggest threats – climate change and nuclear weapons – remain unchecked. Elon Musk will save us!!  His vision of an integrated, decentralised, renewable energy system could be a silver bullet for us all and I hope 2017 is his year.

The Ag disrupt

An amalgam of science, innovation and capital is poised to make New Zealand’s agricultural base the video store of yesterday. It’s protein but not as we know it. The same is true for our aquaculture and viticulture sectors. Laboratories will generate what our farms, vineyards and oceans used to. This is a national identity crisis and will require New Zealand to redefine and reposition itself or we risk languishing in the doldrums.

  1. Sean Weaver – Executive Director, Ekos

“By helping each other, whilst competing with each other we can overcome the zero-sum game of winners and losers.”

The death of Leonard Cohen in November 2016 marked a turning point in world history for me, as world events conspired to rupture so many norms. As the reality of a post-Cohen world kicks in during 2017, the consequential impact will be felt around the globe. Those of us for whom facts remain important will need to find ways to combine science with communication strategies to convey a coherent and meaningful message across the political spectrum. In this way we can step out of the echo-chamber of progressive voices talking only to each other, and instead communicate with ordinary people who have little time for due diligence but who wield real power at the ballot box and the checkout.

We have a great opportunity to provide leadership from within the private sector and continue putting rubber on the road of a sustainable, low carbon existence where we cultivate innovative synergies between nature, the economy and the human heart. Here the principles of ‘co-opetition’ can become a strategic resource as we pioneer our way forward. By helping each other, whilst competing with each other we can overcome the zero-sum game of winners and losers. Instead we can model a collaborative economy that fully mimics nature, where in fact, competition and cooperation operate in an interdependent synergy. In so doing we can demonstrate that prosperity is not dependent on externalising costs. We will continue to show that social responsibility is compatible with mutual abundance and that an investment in the future is not merely a cost. After all, every moment we not only benefit from the investments of those before us – we embody the return on that investment. 

  1. Robb Donzé – Director, Inzide

“The darkest hour is just before dawn”

These words in that famous ‘Mommas & Poppas’ song are probably very apt this year. While there is still no real product stewardship being demanded by New Zealand consumers; while there is little improvement in our country’s carbon footprint; and while our streams and rivers are struggling with high nitrate levels, everywhere you look you can see a marked increase in awareness across all segments of society that change needs to happen.

Hybrid and electric cars are becoming more and more acceptable (along with the infrastructure needed to support them). Patronage of public transport is at all-time highs and growing.

Farmers and local councils are beginning to work together to improve the water quality of our lakes and streams. Thanks to pressure from projects such as Million Metres Streams all New Zealanders now understand the importance of our fresh water systems.

My own hope is that Kiwis will start to look at the products they buy and the packaging these products come in in a more ‘circular’ way and demand that ALL products have ‘end of life solutions’ that prevent them being discarded in landfills. Nature has an absolute law that ‘waste equals food’. This law of nature is becoming better understood and I predict Kiwi consumers will begin to demand products from suppliers that practise this ‘law of nature’.

Will 2017 be the year that New Zealand reclaims its leadership position in conserving nature’s gifts?

  1. John Mauro – Chief Sustainability Officer, Auckland Council

“2017 is the year we translate Paris into action and harness the connections between climate, social justice and democracy to help heal civil society.”

Just as consensus around climate science is generally irrefutable, so it is, finally, with climate policy. With the Paris Agreement now in force, it’s clear to me that 2017 is the year businesses, organisations and cities translate aspiration into action and get real, lasting wins on the ground.

After all, cities like Auckland have the power to lead – and all of us are on the hook. C40’s Deadline 2020 shows that cities can lift us 40% of the way toward our Paris Agreement ambitions with the next four years absolutely critical in getting us on the safe climate path. As a ‘steep decline’ city, Auckland is expected to be more ambitious than other C40 cities at bringing average per capita emissions down from about seven tonnes to under three. 

This is also a year people will remember for the heart-breaking and hostile xenophobic, anti-other, anti-reason flavour in people’s mouths. What we need is a good compassionate and pragmatic rinse. The pragmatism of cities approaching climate change from the fiercely local, human perspective may just help put the civil back in civil society. Doing so requires strong and necessary partnership with citizens and communities – and helps avoid those perils of a populace too disconnected, discontent and distant from its governance. 

I don’t believe 2017 will be the year we get it all right. But it’ll be a year that the irresistible benefits of fighting climate change at a local level – cleaner air and water, healthier communities, better and more stable jobs, more affordable transport and housing choices – start to heal both our climate and the fascist rift in democracy. 

  1. Jacqueline Farman – Director, The Purpose Business

“People are putting business on notice.” 

They won’t put up with disingenuous, dispiriting or dispassionate experiences from the brands they buy and the organisations they work for. Therefore, the imperative for a clear and inspiring Purpose in business will continue to grow. This will go beyond ‘words on the wall’ to something that engages, inspires and motivates people. In 2017, we’ll see more organisations communicating the positive difference they make in the lives of the people they touch, and being held to account for behaving in a way that is consistent with their purpose. This will drive the need for marketing, HR, corporate affairs and sustainability teams to collaborate internally, while externally having much more open and transparent conversations with customers. Ultimately, how well an organisation lives its Purpose will be measured by the strength of its reputation.  

  1. Phil Squire – Chief Executive, Sustainability Trust

“It is us that are the problem and solution.”

We predict (hope) that more and more homes and businesses will take measurable and personal steps to lower their total carbon and environmental footprint. This will include reductions in energy use through smart buying decisions around vehicle and household items, lower air miles, more cycling and walking, and us all getting the message that it is us that are the problem and solution.

These personal actions will be supported by local and national polices and legislation that encourage us to be good and do the right thing. Also, we will be working alongside our partners in the healthy housing arena to support low-income households so we can all have a warm, dry and energy-efficient place to call home.

  1. Rod Oram – business journalist

“We Kiwis will be in there boots and all.”

The Trump Administration’s determination to wipe out decades of essential environmental legislation in the US, and critical global agreements too, will cause citizens, companies, NGOs and governments around the world who care deeply about sustainability to fight harder than ever for it. We Kiwis will be in there boots and all.

  1. Al Yates – Director, Ecotricity

“2017 will be the year of rampant electric vehicle growth and consumers moving away from fossil fuels.”

Kiwis are becoming aware of the benefits of electric vehicles. With the arrival of Tesla early in 2017, this will ramp up even more interest in going electric. 

By the end of 2017 there will be more public charging locations around New Zealand than there are currently gas stations.

There are 2,000 electric vehicle owners, who are also vocal supporters of EVs. We expect to see 10,000 on the road by the end of 2017.

Our next mission in 2017 will be to lead Kiwis away from the use of gas in the home and office for heating and cooking, and moving to heat pumps or biomass.

  1. Marjan van den Belt – Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability) at Victoria University of Wellington

“The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are gaining momentum and provide a platform to work together on achieving these goals and also have difficult conversations about conflicting goals.”

The reality is that people are on a collision course with nature and in many places in the world socio-economic and cultural fabric is crumbling. I predict that businesses, government, civil society and academia are starting to relate to the SDGs as a way to map and communicate their future work.

You’ll see organisations ask the questions: What do the SDGs mean to us? How does our purpose contribute to these goals? The SDGs will help translate goals into concrete targets for organisations, sectors and nations, all while contributing to global goals.

This is an opportunity to acknowledge long standing systemic hurdles that need to be overcome to transition toward a more sustainable, just and desirable society and world. Leaders with reflective capacity will emerge and they will be able to navigate difficult conversations.

The 17 SDGs should be everybody’s goals and include: no poverty, decent work and economic development, gender equality and reduced inequality, sustainable cities and communities,  climate change, life on land and below the sea, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships for the SDGs.

“There is no business case for climate change and poverty”: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.

  1. Jane Mansfield – Sustainability Manager, Asaleo Care

“I’m optimistic about the coming year and the positive impact the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will have in our region.” 

During 2016 governments, businesses and communities all over the world began exploring, discussing and setting out to deliver the targets set out under the 17 SDGs.  This will create a deeper awareness of the social and environmental issues that we all face and will foster the development of innovative products and services being offered to consumers.

For example, Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) will bring about a greater focus on source-of-origin and production of materials that can influence climate change and social equality.  Some jurisdictions have already responded to this issue (e.g. Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act; EU’s  FLEGT and timber regulation; UK’s Modern Slavery Act), and in 2017 we can expect the shopping behaviour of consumers as well as public procurement practices to become more discerning. At the same time, businesses will develop new socially and environmentally responsible products (and services) that target genuine ‘hot spots’ within the product’s life-cycle.

In New Zealand, Goal 7 (Affordable & Clean Energy) will simply spur on transformation that is already taking place, moving away from fossil fuel dependent technologies and towards a low-emissions footprint. The growing electrification of New Zealand’s car and bus fleet is particularly exciting.

14. Greg Visser, Acting Chief Executive, EECA

“Climate change will be front and centre this year internationally and in New Zealand.”

EECA Business will play its part working with companies that represent 50% of total business sector energy use. Watch process heat and transport in this space.

And a prediction that’ll be no surprise to anyone – more and more people are buying electric vehicles and 2017 will see unprecedented sales. Electric vehicles are the future for road transport in New Zealand, be it personal vehicles, trucks or buses.

On the home front New Zealanders are moving on from the old mentality of just putting on another jersey and accepting cold, damp housing. As part of this landlords are gearing up to meet the new requirements for rental properties to be insulated by mid-2019, with EECA offering subsidies for low-income rentals.