Conference on the low carbon economy – unique leadership opportunities for NZ business

By Andy Kenworthy

The Pacific Summit on the low carbon circular economy took place in Rotorua last week. It highlighted how indigenous values are vital for securing an abundant future for New Zealand.

The Summit was created by the UK’s Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It brought together some of the Pacific’s top circular economy thinkers and doers. The Sustainable Business Network has been working on the low carbon circular economy since 2017. It co-organised New Zealand’s first summit on the subject last year, and was a partner in this latest event.

Glen Crowther attended as SBN’s Bay of Plenty manager. While much was discussed in the all-day symposium, a clear theme emerged.

He said: “We quickly need to come together and deeply immerse ourselves in cultural understanding and systems thinking. Then swing into action and shift to circular systems. That’s how New Zealand’s circular economy solutions will have a positive long-term impact on this land, the water, and our people.”

This unique opportunity could make New Zealand business world leaders in the emerging global low carbon economy. Our history challenges us to find a balanced way forward. On one hand we have the urgent drive for change amid the current economic system, which is dominated by European/Western values. On the other we have the need to increase our sensitivity to the more holistic values embodied in indigenous perspectives.

Speakers throughout the day touched on this core theme from many different angles.

For example, Chris Kurtana is Fellow of the Oxford Martin School. He described how the implicit ‘gods’ of Western society are based around greed. Meanwhile, Gina Mohi of Te Tatau o Te Arawa contrasted that with a call to take the time to truly understand Te Ao Maori approaches.

As SBN member Debbie O’Byrne said: “There’s a unique opportunity in NZ to support and develop a low carbon circular economy. It will be underpinned by indigenous environmental knowledge and values. But we’re behind much of the rest of the world on this, so we need to do it at pace.

Joy Moir from Sustainable Business Solutions commented “It was incredible to see the complexity arising when indigenous culture meets the low carbon circular economy. They’re two different paradigms with completely different approaches. The outcomes could be incredible, but we still have a long way to go.”

The focus of SBN’s work on the circular economy includes our Plastic Packaging Innovation Programme. This builds on our first analysis of New Zealand’s Plastic Packaging System. The low carbon circular economy also features in GulfX, our business engagement programme to restore the mauri or life giving essence of Tikapa Moana, the Hauraki Gulf. And the Going Circular category returns for its third year as part of the 2019 NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards. This year this will be informed by a new guide for entrants, to be published shortly in partnership with Auckland Council. Glen says:

“It’s great to see the growing interest in the low carbon circular economy approach. We are keen to hear from businesses that want to work with us to make the most of exploring the many exciting opportunities this presents”.