How to regenerate our economy

By Fiona Stephenson

The tide is turning, with the Covid Curve well and truly flattened in NZ. There are many uncertainties around the shape of the post-virus economy, but now’s the time to act to ensure it takes the form we want. To get the ball rolling, SBN hosted an online CEO Forum on 17 April to get some tips from the top.

Hundreds of people tuned in to watch ‘The New Economy: resilience and regeneration’. Speakers included James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change; Mike Bennetts, CEO of Z Energy and Convenor of the Climate Leaders Coalition; Kirsten Corson, General Manager of Zilch (electric car-sharing company, representing SMEs); and Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network.

If you missed the webinar, you can watch a recording here. Or if time’s short, check out these key take-outs:

  1. Speak up!

Minister James Shaw said businesses wanting the economic recovery to align with a low-carbon transformation need to lobby Cabinet ministers right away. He said: “Now is the time for businesses to speak up about the shape they want the new economy to take.”

He said we have the moral duty and an extraordinary opportunity to spend money now to get us through the crisis, and we ought to spend it on things that will get us onto a low emissions pathway. Businesses that use crises like this to adjust their business model and operations often succeed better over time.

SBN has seized the opportunity, and has already sent a letter to ministers outlining what we believe the government needs to invest in. We asked our members to send us their views, and we included a representative selection of their opinions in the letter, together with real projects the government could and should get behind. You can read the letter here.

It’s not too late to have your say. We’re encouraging as many businesses as possible to advocate for sustainability to play a central role in the new economy. We’re also collating investment-ready projects from across our network. If you’d like to add yours to the list, please let us know.

  1. Never waste a crisis.

Mike Bennetts said we currently have a short window of opportunity when people’s resistance to change is lower, so now’s the time to act.

He suggested that in a couple of months people could start getting angry that the pandemic was allowed to happen and will want to go back to the way things were. It will be tempting for leaders to do that. The concern is that people and businesses will turn their attention to more immediate economic needs, rather than longer-term sustainability.

So use this time wisely and embed social and environmental values into your work.

  1. Be bold.

According to Kirsten Corson, “if ever there was a time for business to be innovative and courageous, this is it. It’s a time of opportunity as well as challenge.”

Businesses will need to be more open to working together to make a significant impact. Zilch is an electric car sharing service. While it forms a valuable part of a low-carbon mobility solution, we need a coordinated mix of different options, such as public transport, cycleways and infrastructure design for an effective system that’s good for people and planet.

Kirsten said: “Don’t lose that simplicity of what we’re doing at the moment, and use that to go forward and make changes within business.”

  1. Build back better.

Rachel Brown called for a system that is redistributive (fairer) and regenerative (improving people and nature, not simply sustaining them).

She said now is the time for a rethink. The negative social and environmental impacts of ‘business as usual’ haven’t gone away. They were unsustainable then. They still are.

She outlined nine ways to build back better:

  • All stimulus investments use wellbeing, circular and climate filters.
  • Bring investments forward to transform to a fairer, low carbon and circular future.
  • Reskill our workforce via cross sector partnerships.
  • Collaborate to support resilient, low carbon SMEs.
  • Invest in our restoration and conservation sector.
  • Prepare for localisation and regenerative food.
  • Invest now in low carbon mobility and accessibility.
  • Invest in sustainable cities and buildings.
  • Invest upfront for waste minimisation and circular innovation.


This is how we will survive and thrive together.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to view this important CEO Forum, please go to this link. It is free to watch, and will give you insight into what a post-Covid-19 economy should look like, and the initiatives SBN is prioritising to get us heading in the right direction.

If you have a specific project or business idea that will generate jobs and be regenerative, please let us know. Please outline the concept, how quickly it could be activated and an estimate of jobs it could create. We’ll add it to our list of member initiatives and will update ministers when we have the opportunity.