How to save money and save the planet

By Rachel Brown

Rachel Brown
Over the past six weeks the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how quickly we can take united action when the threat may be only two metres away.

First published in Stuff

It has also highlighted the importance of taking decisive action as early as possible. There are some obvious parallels with climate change. We’ve been experiencing the early warning signs for some time already. In New Zealand that includes rising seas, melting glaciers, intense rain and drought and new pests. Along with the rest of the world, we may more susceptible to new viruses.

No magic pill is going to help. It’s up to us to take action and that means making changes to the way we live, work and play.

Don’t worry. I’m not advocating staying in physical isolation any longer than we need to. Interestingly, the lockdown has given us a glimpse of how a low carbon economy will cut our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

SBN’s initial analysis shows that the reduction in our emissions during the first weeks of the lockdown in New Zealand was on par with what we’ll need to do on a permanent basis to meet our commitment to the Paris Agreement. About 50 per cent of the cuts came from parking up our cars and planes and staying home. Great result with noticeable benefits like cleaner air and water, but not the way we want to achieve that. And, let’s not forget that agriculture is still our major greenhouse gas emitter and will also need to be a part of the solution.

The good news is that we already know what needs to be done and, as cash is tight, now is the time to act.

New Zealand’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can help lead the way, but they face a range of barriers to their involvement such as time and cost constraints — more so now than ever. SMEs make a significant contribution to the New Zealand economy. According to the latest government figures prior to Covid-19 they accounted for 97 per cent of all New Zealand businesses and generated 28 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP), 35 per cent if the self-employed are included.

It’s vital that SMEs are supported to make a significant contribution to reducing our emissions. They also need help to be resilient and prosperous in the face of ongoing climate change and its associated effects.

On Thursday, SBN launched a new initiative to help SMEs act on climate over the next five years. Climate Action 20/25 is an easy-to-use programme to help lower their GHG emissions. We’ve kicked it off with a report that examines the issues and opportunities, and provides a pathway for action.

We’ve been talking to key players in the climate system to get an understanding of the existing solutions, gaps and needs of SMEs so we can co-create a ‘non-debatable’ way forward on climate.

To make it super easy, cheap and practical for SMEs to act we are creating:

  • A toolkit of practical resources, including links with existing quality tools and resources
  • A series of training programmes called CO2LABS run regionally and online
  • Inspiring local case studies and recognition of leaders at our Awards

At the same time we are working with government agencies, EECA and Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency), as well as large businesses that share our commitment to climate action. These organisations are helping us create the conditions to ensure that SME’s taking climate action are more likely to win procurement contracts, or are showcased for their climate action.

If you are committing to action we recommend the “Motivate – Measure – Minimise – Mitigate” pathway. Start by finding out where your emissions are generated throughout your operations and then take action to reduce them — this is where money can be saved.

The next step is to set a reduction target and a simple monitoring system. At some point you might consider getting your climate action verified or even certified. Planting trees, or buying certified carbon credits, could be an option at any stage, either to offset certain activities or the whole business’s emissions to attain ‘carbon neutral’ status. You could go even further and offset more than your total emissions and become ‘carbon positive’.

Our Climate 20/25 programme is a collaborative effort. We will continue working with a range of private and public sector stakeholders, including existing service providers, to ensure the programme complements and connects to existing initiatives.

Our aim is to make climate action a way we do business here in Aotearoa.