A manifesto for sustainable business

20 September 2017

With the election only days away, it is a great time to look at the top sustainability priorities for business over the next three years.

The cut and thrust of the election campaign has reinforced just how passionate Kiwis are about the protection of the environment and the well-being of all New Zealanders.

Leading New Zealand businesses feel the same.

The Sustainable Business Council’s (SBC) Election Manifesto found the top two sustainability issues businesses most want to work with the new government on are: climate change and helping New Zealanders get into decent work, education or training.

Our research showed the main priority for SBC member companies is the transition to a low emissions economy. It also revealed they don’t want to see any New Zealander left behind – they are increasingly concerned about housing affordability, homelessness and economic growth in the regions.

It is a growing trend for Kiwi businesses, big and small, to express a desire to step up and take the lead on important environmental and social issues. They know it is the right thing to do, but also, if society doesn’t function well, then business is at risk.

Our Election Manifesto showed forward-thinking companies think business has an important role to play in advancing New Zealand’s environmental and social performance, as well as economic performance.


Making a Manifesto

Over several months, SBC conducted a survey of its 91 member organisations and held meetings with senior business leaders, to determine their top sustainability issues. The manifesto identifies opportunities for collaboration, investment and partnerships with government over this term.

SBC members have a strong voice. They make up a substantial proportion of New Zealand’s jobs and income, employing 128 thousand full-timers and generating 29 per cent of the private sector’s GDP.


Issue Number One – Climate Change 

The number one priority remains the transition to a low emissions economy. SBC businesses, representing 11 different industries, want to work with the government to develop a strategic long-term plan to reduce emissions.

Our research found uncertainty about the future of climate change policy can have a chilling effect on business confidence to adopt low emissions technologies and make investment decisions.

The good news is that many are investing in technologies that will reduce emissions from the goods and services they sell. Dozens of companies like Air New Zealand and Mercury are replacing their ground vehicle fleets with electric vehicles. Z Energy is building New Zealand’s first $26 million biofuel plant and Westpac has created a CleanTech sector investment fund worth more than a billion dollars. Increasing numbers of members, like Toyota and Fujitsu, are targeting being net zero businesses by 2050, or sooner.

These initiatives show leadership and will have a big impact. They show the momentum is growing.

But business leadership can only go so far without government support. SBC members want to see the debate around climate change de-politicised over the next three years, so there is certainty beyond the election cycle.

And it’s not just Sustainable Business Council members saying this.

A Deloitte BusinessNZ survey of 575 Kiwi businesses found climate change is now one of the top ten government-related issues. One third of respondents want the government to engage more with business on the transition to a low emissions economy. And half want more incentives for cleaner production and resource efficiency.


Leave no one behind 

The Election Manifesto has also revealed the second sustainable business priority is decent work and economic growth. The welfare of regional communities, small and medium businesses, and young or vulnerable New Zealanders has become a top priority for our members.

Increasingly, SBC businesses tell me they are concerned about the New Zealand families who can’t afford to buy or rent a house and, in the worst cases, end up sleeping in cars or garages.

This worries them as concerned citizens, but also as business managers. Several leaders have told me they can’t get the best people to work for them in centres like Auckland or Queenstown, because the cost of living is so high.

Leading businesses are investing in solutions. There are so many untold stories of business partnering with government or community organisations to get more Kiwis into meaningful work, education or training. And SBC members still have an appetite to do more.

One fantastic initiative up and running is The Warehouse Red Shirts in Community programme. The company has partnered with the Ministry for Social Development to help 16 to 24 year olds, who aren’t in work, education or training, gear up for job applications with work experience in their stores.

Another example is the L’Oreal New Zealand and Fostering Kids NZ programme, which helps teens in foster care get into work, education or training. Over the past ten years, Face Your Future has put 450 young New Zealanders through a careers programme. It has now been extended, to offer apprenticeships within the hair and beauty industry that provide on-the-job training and experience.

These sorts of companies say they create these projects because they want to help New Zealanders get ahead.

And again, the concern goes well beyond our membership. A Deloitte BusinessNZ Election survey found businesses now rank socio-economic well-being in the top three indicators of higher economic performance, along with GDP growth and economic return on resources. The NZHerald’s Mood of the Boardroom survey also found two-thirds of respondents are happy to keep tax rates largely as they are, and use future surpluses on a mix of debt reduction and greater social services.

It seems issues of inequality and fairness are becoming prominent concerns within the business community. Being a sustainable business is about much more than the economy or even the environment. We cannot have healthy businesses without healthy communities.

If there is one thing the SBC 2017 Election Manifesto has hammered home - being sustainable isn’t just a moral project, it is now a business imperative.


Abbie Reynolds  Executive Director, Sustainable Business Council - BusinessNZ