Hope and connection at our Homegrown Conference

By Natasha Fromont

This year’s SBN Conference was Homegrown, showcasing the sustainability stories of local businesses, large and small. From regenerative agriculture to locusts. From a family journey of discovery in a biodiesel bus to Blockchain technology. And from millennials to the wisdom of those with decades of experience. It was a day to reflect, be inspired and connect.

If the day were to be summed up in two words they might be ‘hope’ and ‘connection’. Delegates we spoke to were filled with the sense that while the sense of urgency has never been greater, change is underway. Connecting and collaborating is a vital part of that.

The sense of pulling together was never more evident than in the 24 hours before the conference. With a tangi taking place at Orākei marae, we had to find a conference venue and new caterers with only hours to spare. The strength of our network came to the fore, with our members stepping up to help out. We are enormously indebted to Westpac for providing a stunning alternative venue at such short notice and to everyone involved who helped make the event run seamlessly against the odds.

The energy in the room was vibrant and positive. While there was incredible variety in the topics covered during the day, here are some of the common themes that emerged.

Mindfulness is the missing link.

We have tended to focus on science and technology to solve climate change and sustainability problems, but we need to understand these issues holistically. Shaun Bowler of Enviro-Mark Solutions showed us how mindfulness creates greater awareness. This can help change behaviour. It fosters empathy and compassion, and helps us see connections.

We need a different economic framework.

The Doughnut Economy, created by Kate Raworth, is a useful framework that brings together planetary boundaries (the outer layer of the doughnut, representing the environment) and social boundaries (the inner layer). Climate Minister James Shaw told us the Government is using this thinking to inform its work on the Living Standards framework and the Zero Carbon Act.

There is cause for optimism in agriculture.

Agriculture is the backbone of New Zealand’s economy. If we can shift it onto a regenerative path we have the potential to transform our economic system. For years, agriculture has been viewed as a problem, but it’s changing at pace. For example, Synlait has set a target of a 35% reduction in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years using existing technology.

We need to think big, otherwise we will fail.

2+2=7. That’s the mantra adopted by EcoStock Supplies (which turns food waste into fuel) to ensure it acts at scale, rather than incrementally. The conference heard from three millennials who saw a problem and promptly created a business to solve it. Dignity, Wise Boys, and Turn the Tide on Plastic are each spearheaded by millennials who thought big.

Tell your story authentically.

In order to be front of mind, you need your story to be genuine and to resonate with people. Kōkako travelled to Papua New Guinea to live among coffee farmers to tell their story. This helped connect producers with consumers, and vice versa.

Collaboration is essential.

Connecting with like-minded businesses is invaluable for learning, support and forging partnerships. And there were connections aplenty at the Homegrown Conference. It’s important to work with organisations in different sectors and spheres. We’re all in this together.

Quality trumps all.

In the words of Kōkako’s Mike Murphy, you simply can’t be a sustainable business and not focus on quality. The two go hand in hand.

Prepare to risk change.

We heard the personal story of the Loop Crew, a family who traded stressful city living for a sustainably designed life on a bus. The message was that we all need to shake ourselves out of our comfort zones from time to time. That’s how we find new horizons of hope and inspiration.

Dream it and do it.

The breathtaking developments of Sherwood and Camp Glenorchy are touchstones for a conscious approach to Queenstown’s booming tourist industry. But both came from humble beginnings, where the end result was by no means obvious. Having a team that sees and holds a special vision is all important in getting the right results.

View photos of the Homegrown Conference here.

Thank you to our sponsor thinkstep for running an activity where attendees put their sustainability stories and aspirations on the map. You can view a short video of it here.

Thank you to our sponsor EECA Business, and supporters Hallertau, Soar Print, Kōkako, Bird on a Wire, Otago Locusts and Hire Plants. Thank you also to our volunteers, and to The Furnace for supplying our lovingly crafted name tags for the day – made from the offcuts of their beautiful artwork.

And a massive thank you to Westpac for providing a venue and catering at the eleventh hour!