Time for sustainability and resilience to go viral

By Andy Kenworthy

Rocky stream
The Sustainable Business Network has now been going for more than 18 years. Every member can take pride in the work we have done to develop the new sustainable economy. Now it’s time for it to take over.

Most of us are reeling from the pandemic’s shocks. But nobody should be surprised at the fragility of this economic system. This is what unsustainable looks like. It shows up most clearly when a system meets a reality it can’t deal with. And that’s when paradigm shifts happen.

Pushing sustainability down the agenda now would be like ditching our paddle when we realise we’re up the creek. And we know the waters are rising. We know there are more storms ahead.

It’s no longer enough to say we shouldn’t let unsustainable and unresilient systems continue. We can’t let them continue. Because if we don’t transform them, this crisis, or the next, will disrupt them in ways we can’t manage.

This is our window of opportunity. There’s a historic effort to be made. But it’s not a choice. Some say we must choose between sustainability and getting our economy going again. That’s like saying we must choose between eating healthily and doing some exercise. We must do both.

There’s no point in patching up unsustainable systems. They will just stagger into another boom and bust cycle. To get the economy we all want we must face reality. We must complete the installation of the resilience and responsiveness we need to thrive. After all, what is an economy for if not to look after our communities and the planet we share?

Here’s what that looks like for our network:

1. Be more kind.

“People in the ideas business have only two jobs, lift people up and bring people together.”  Arthur C Brooks

The pandemic is teaching us how to care for our loved ones. But we need to extend those circles to our whole nation, to the whole world. We need to judge our actions by their generosity, not just what they accumulate for us. One of the world’s leading thinkers on sustainability is the architect William McDonough. He puts this question: “How do we love all of the children of all species for all time?” Can we answer that? We can start by getting clear about what we have that’s really valuable, and how we share it as widely as possible.

How is SBN living this? At a time of uncertainty, our income is tight. But we’ve pressed pause on invoicing for membership fees while we check how our members are faring. Securing access to the government’s support package for our team has enabled us to join other organisations in opening up events and webinars beyond our normal membership and clients. We want to help anyone who might benefit. We’re making more of what we do free or very low cost. That’s not just for the lockdown. We want to make more ways to help more people our business as usual.

2. Be together, work together.

Being forced apart has reminded us to appreciate being together, with everyone. We’ve always all been in the same bubble. It’s called planet Earth. New Zealand should operate less like ‘NZ Inc’ and more like a family. Challenges that affect everyone need everyone working together on them. This is no time to be competing with others on this mission, or pointing the finger at those who aren’t (yet).

How is SBN living this? We’re reaching out to similar organisations to ours. We’re actively seeking ways we can work together, sometimes for the very first time. It’s about making sure everyone gets the best help they can. That way sustainability will rapidly expand to fill the gaps in this society.

3. It’s broke. Don’t just fix it, reimagine and reshape it.

The pandemic’s impact on business sectors has to some extent mirrored its impact on people. It has tended to hit sectors hardest that had pre-existing conditions undermining their health. The worst casualties have been those already showing signs of becoming unsustainable. Recreating them the same as before is setting them up to fail. That’s not fair on those whose livelihoods depend on them. Instead, we need a rethink revolution.

We must remember that this rebuild will mean borrowing from our children. So we have a responsibility to create the environment and economy they’ve been telling us they want, from the school strike for climate to their desire to work for ethical companies.

How is SBN living this? Every organisation has bits that don’t work as they should. A crisis like this makes them all too clear. We’re taking a long hard look at how we do business. We are using this lockdown to rigorously reshape ourselves for much greater impact. We have a new strategy, a new structure and renewed focus on getting the world’s best sustainability ideas and working for New Zealand. The low carbon circular economy and the Government’s well-being measures, supported too by Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics. These ideas now need to be installed with greater rigour and vigour. We’ll be pushing and working for that harder than ever.

And we continue to encourage ethical spending as one of the most powerful ways we can support positive change. SBN members are innovating and adapting to continue operating within the lockdown. Give them your custom when you can.

4. Become a just transition nation, with nobody left behind.

Paradigm shifts happen when a new way of working better suited to reality takes over from the old. The faster the sustainable, resilient, zero waste, low carbon circular economy takes over, the better life will be for everyone. This is how we will create businesses that thrive in this new reality, along with high value, meaningful employment that will be resilient for the long term.

How is SBN living this?

  1. We have begun work with Akina and others on a rapid first draft of a National Regeneration Framework. This will chart a pathway towards a national resurgence that makes a radical shift away from unsustainable systems. It will advocate for an acceleration of the adoption of the emerging low carbon, equitably redistributive and ecologically regenerative circular economy, which works with the indigenous principles of Te Ao Maori. We’re opening this up for discussion with government ministers and business leaders at this Friday’s sold out online CEO Forum. If you haven’t registered yet, look out of the recording that will follow.
  2. We are about to launch a new programme to help SMEs contribute more actively to the emerging low carbon economy. Business owners and managers are being told to lower their emissions, but not exactly how to do it. They hear talk about climate change risks that might impact their business. But they are not shown exactly how to respond. They’re aware of new climate change laws and regulations. But they are unclear about the responsibilities and opportunities the new rules present. Until now they’ve lacked clear and consistent independent, systematic advice and support.

We aim to provide it. Climate Action 20/25 is a five-year partnership. It will create an easy to use toolkit of practical resources, local case studies and integrated training programmes. It will be ‘open-source’ for easy adaption and adoption.

  1. We have made a ‘shovel ready’ proposal to government to invest in employment creating conservation restoration across New Zealand’s waterways. Along with initial partners Te Whangai Trust, Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group (IKHMG) and Ngā Uri O Hau Native Nursery we propose a national restoration network to deliver long term employment, training and pastoral care for New Zealand’s most vulnerable communities, while restoring Aotearoa’s blue/green infrastructure along our waterways.

New Zealand’s response to this pandemic has earned us worldwide acclaim. We must build on that with accelerated progress towards a truly resilient and sustainable way of life. It’s the time for this new way of living and working to go viral. It only takes a few of us to spread this thing. New Zealand could be the centre of the outbreak.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash