Roll your sleeves up, it’s 2021

By Rachel Brown

2020 was a wake-up call. For generations we have been overstepping the boundaries of nature. This is the first time many of us have felt her bite back. It's clear now that for better or worse, we’re a long way from everywhere, but still connected. We must re-evaluate those connections to regenerate the natural world. I hope that will be a focal point of 2021 and beyond.

I spent a lot of the break in the sea. I swam in clear, sparkling waters. But I also snorkelled over expanding kina barrens. The urchins overwhelm the sea floor where there’s too few snapper to munch them. It’s another way we’ve put nature out of whack. I also heard locals bemoan the lack of tuatua or mussels where they were once abundant.

Awareness is everywhere that it’s beyond time for regeneration. That is this generation’s task, and the task of those that will follow. We’re facing Covid, climate change, water issues, degraded ecosystems and dwindling wildlife. They’re all screaming for change.

So what’s our role in making these changes happen?

Progressive organisations have begun the task. They’re restoring, renewing and healing the whenua through their work. Supporting such efforts has become a major part of what the Sustainable Business Network does. This includes our government-backed Jobs for Nature initiative, which is now a $2.5 million investment. In partnership with the Department of Conservation our Million Metres team has helped create dozens of short-term jobs to help boost nature regeneration.

We’re enabling people to continue earning in these troubled times in close connection with the natural environment. We plan to expand this over the coming years. We also want to challenge the notion that ‘jobs for nature’ only means traditional conservation roles. All jobs should be for nature, and there is much to be done!

We’re continuing to support organisations to build resilient supply chains through our sustainable procurement work. This also encourages much closer connection with local suppliers. Freight capacity and price increases are an ongoing concern for our remote island nation – this is one way we can respond. And the pandemic has illustrated the threats posed by supply chains that disrupt natural systems.

Freight costs, environmental concerns and tightening regulations are also reshaping New Zealand’s approach to waste. We can’t go on shipping waste offshore. Instead, Aotearoa can pioneer a world-leading regenerative circular economy. This means moving to less owning and more sharing. It means resources staying in continuous cycles of use and reuse. It means redesigning everything to radically eliminate waste and pollution.

SBN believes all businesses must be responsible for the entire life cycle of their products. Our Product Stewardship Programme, in partnership with the Ministry for the Environment, helps businesses meet those challenges. Meanwhile, the Government is adding to the products where this approach is compulsory. And our Plastic Packaging Circular Innovation Programme is helping transform New Zealand’s packaging. Rethinking products and packaging is a now must for any brand owner!

Action on climate change remains an urgent necessity. We’ve just launched our Climate Action 20/25 project. It supports New Zealand’s economically vital small and medium sized enterprises to do their bit. It’s set to release an innovative, easy to use greenhouse gas reduction programme for SMEs this autumn. It’s another great tool for your supply chain.

All of this requires us to increase our own skills to drive the change we need in the world. I’m really proud of the uniquely Aotearoa focused Leadership in Sustainable Business Course we’ve co-created over the years. This year’s course kicks off in April, is it time YOU signed up? It will equip you with a deep connection to the world’s most pressing environmental and social issues. You’ll get access to the latest expert thinking. You’ll hear from and meet inspiring leaders in sustainable business. And you’ll come away with the knowledge, confidence and commitment to lead change in these turbulent times.

We reached out to some of our most influential SBN supporters to get their views on the most important developments for sustainable business in the coming year. What we got back was a powerful mix of optimism and urgency. That story and others are set to feature in our new look SBN newsletter, which launches in the first week of February.

What’s clear to me is that we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. We’ve fared better than most nations through the pandemic so far. We’ve achieved this under the banner of pulling together and being kind. That’s a banner that SBN can rally to. That’s what will help us thrive in the face of the challenges to come.

It’s got me determined, excited and hopeful.

Our whole team is motivated by the urgency with which we must meet the challenges of our times. We know many of you are too. We need to get more organisations investing in change. So please remember we’re here to help all our investors make a positive impact in 2021.

We’re about to send out an Investor survey to better understand how we can help you lift your game and ours. Please take some time to let us know if there is something you need from us.