Towards a green economy for NZ: where to now?

7 April 2014

We welcome the new paper from the Royal Society calling for a shift to a green economy in New Zealand. Read on for our opinion on what we should do next and for examples of businesses that are already taking action.

The Royal Society’s paper “Facing the future: towards a green economy for New Zealand”, released in March 2014,  states that New Zealand is well positioned to become a green economy, with  benefits  in the short- and long-term including enhanced societal well-being, improved environmental quality and increased resilience of the economy. That’s something we absolutely agree with.

Authored by a Royal Society of New Zealand panel chaired by Emeritus Professor Gerry Carrington, the paper points out that the growth of human consumption over the last century has had significant effects on the global environment, such as reduced water quality, loss of biodiversity and a changing climate.  

“These environmental changes are not good for long-term sustainability and wellbeing. The panel agrees that New Zealand can avoid adverse consequences for the economy, society and the environment if it reconsiders its direction of development,” says Professor Carrington.

The paper draws on several global reports to identify a number of linked social and environmental challenges and then places them in a New Zealand context, including the continuing growth in the global population, the expansion of the middle-classes in developing countries, and increasing consumption of resources globally as factors which affect New Zealand.  

We’ve heard this before – for example back in 2011 Pure Advantage produced a report which led them to focus on seven work streams, including housing, geothermal and others, which they see as the biggest green growth opportunities for New Zealand. Meanwhile, the 2050 vision and Action 2020 framework and priorities have helped set the work plan for the Sustainable Business Council.

We believe the time has come to move from conversation to action. At SBN, we’re already taking action to move towards a low carbon economy that is resource efficient and socially inclusive – the three crucial characteristics of a green economy as defined by the United Nations.

“There’s some good information in the Royal Society report, and we’re pleased to see it lifting the conversation prior to the election,” says Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network.

“Our concern is that we have been talking and researching this area long enough: now it’s time for action. We need businesses to join us and respond to this sort of information with new models, products and services. The opportunities are huge and global if we get it right. We can’t keep researching and reviewing without trialling, testing and doing things differently and better. As the report reminds us, the world is experiencing huge global challenges while many people, who really could be doing more sit on their hands,” she says.

The report lists several examples of economic, social and environmental opportunities necessary for a shift. We’ve gone one step further and identified some businesses we work with who are already taking action to transition New Zealand towards a green economy.

  • Land use

New Zealand is well placed to develop and trial locally-responsive agricultural and forestry regimes that are more resilient and result in improved environmental indicators and higher value products. Examples include the collaborative approach taken by the Land and Water Forum; the similarly collaborative steps fostered by the new Forestry Stewardship Council; ; and businesses creating value from the environmental and social qualities of their products.  The Farm Butchery, BioBrew and Franko Solutions are all creating systems, embedded into their business models, that enhance and restore our agricultural land.

  • Low carbon

New Zealand has a strong competitive advantage in low carbon electricity generation, from sources including hydro, wind, geothermal, tidal, solar, biomass and wave energy. Several businesses, councils and community organisations are undertaking initiatives that contribute to a low-carbon transition. Progressive Group’s Wood Weta; Otaki’s Clean Tech Centre; and LanzaTech are examples of New Zealand businesses with products and services that are fast-tracking a shift towards a low carbon economy.  

  • Energy supply

A secure electricity supply that is 100% renewable is technically achievable with the existing hydro capacity plus additional wind, geothermal, bioenergy and peak generation, although there is some uncertainty about how the system would operate in the existing electricity market. Renewables make up 39% of New Zealand’s total primary energy supply, however New Zealand’s transport systems are currently almost completely reliant on oil. Meridian Energy, Westpac and  Vector are already diversifying to meet the demand for renewable energy solutions.

  • Housing and domestic energy use

While residential energy use per capita is comparatively low compared to the OECD average, our ‘wooden tent’ houses are poorly insulated and difficult to heat, which has detrimental health outcomes.  Beacon Pathway are working to solve this challenge in NZ.

  • Transport

Decarbonising the transport system will involve technological and behavioural changes at all scales, including government, business sectors and households. Four aspects to consider include changes in transport technologies; the way this technology is used; shifting norms and aspirations; and broader changes such as infrastructure and policy settings. Z Energy has recently announced its intention to build a $21 million domestic biofuel manufacturing plant in Auckland. Meanwhile, Generation Zero works with local governments to encourage behavioural and policy changes in transport.

  • Resource efficiency

More efficient use of resources, including paying attention to the full life-cycle of goods and services and recycling waste products, is an important feature of a green economy. This includes making proper use of energy; maintaining, enhancing and where necessary rebuilding the natural environment; and improving the efficiency of infrastructure including roads and power lines through better demand management. Inzide, Resene and Ricoh all have innovative product stewardship schemes.

  • Socially inclusive

Resilient, robust and sustainable solutions are more likely to be generated by collaborative processes which incorporate the relative strengths and advantages that come from government, communities, businesses and individuals. Initiatives which bring together different interest groups, such as the Land and Water Forum, show that sustainable solutions can be generated by collaborative processes.

According to the report, the key to greening New Zealand is through locally relevant technological change, ‘pulling’ through incentives, information sharing and public good science spill-overs, rather than ‘pushing’ New Zealanders to ‘do and be good citizens’ through second-best legislation.

Professor Carrington says the aim of the paper is to encourage the discussions that will help shape a sustainable future.

“Becoming a green economy will require action and collaboration across all sectors of society. It’s good that we are already seeing this happen… the challenge for us is to act nimbly and with foresight,” he says.

We believe the most important thing is for us to act.

Join SBN as we take practical steps to green our economy. Click here to read the full report, and check out the Green Economy infographic for more information.