GREEN BUSINESS : Building Natural Capital

What if New Zealand business could truly walk hand-in-hand with nature? Imagine us harnessing our country’s natural power and beauty for long-term economic good. What if our companies could learn from, and work with, nature rather than exploiting it? Imagine them making products that return to the earth, leave no trace and, ultimately, nourish the planet.
Sounds like pipe dream? Not so, according to proponents of natural capital. They believe the future lies in aligning economic forces with conservation. They see path far beyond traditional emotional appeals to preserve our natural heritage. They draw straight-line hard-headed economic and business case for conservation. Save the whales. And save the economy at the same time.
There are companies already pioneering path towards such goal. They may not see themselves as part of the natural capitalist movement. They may not even use the lexicon of the natural capitalists.
But they’ve got sustainability in their DNA. They’re also not afraid to admit they’ve still got plenty to learn.


Brigid Hardy set up B_E_E (Beauty Engineered for Ever) with sustainability principles at its heart right from the start. Seven years on, she’s still deepening her understanding of what working with nature truly means.
Hardy has perfected the art of pleasing the planet while selling with unashamedly savvy slogans.
Her household cleaning products bellow from the shelves: “I’m one tough little squirt”, “I’ll make it all white” and “I’ll do your dirty work”. They out-shout more literal competitors still offering their prosaic promises of squeaky-clean dishes.
Her mission: to provide gorgeous, irresistible, environmentally friendly products for everyday use. “Maybe,” she says, “those little decisions each day, dish-by-dish, sock-by-sock could make an impact on the world.”
Still, Hardy admits that working with nature is not what she first anticipated it would mean. She’s now rethinking some of the practical nuances and unpeeling the layers behind green business.
“People are becoming more thoughtful and more demanding around what they’re asking for,” she says.
“You can’t just name the ingredients, or make broad references to bio-degradability or to recyclability, or even refer to explicitly excluding certain ingredients.
“None of that actually gives you what people want – which is straight-up safety, health or minimum impact on the environment: those basic things. People need comprehensive assurance and you can’t just say something’s natural.
“Working with nature involves considering the impact that you are having and considering the safest, most authentic, most decent choice at every point along the way.”
Hardy says New Zealand has potential as an international champion of natural business capital principles. She emphasises the Kiwi attitude that combines with our country’s natural endowments.
“There’s something about the personality of people in this country that enables them to pull layers of product attributes together. I see that in other New Zealand brands and I get that feeling when I run into other New Zealanders overseas.”
Hardy says there’s fast-growing group of global consumers who want meaningful products that make sense.
“These products feel luxurious because they make sense in terms of their functionality, their position and their sustainability. But they also make sense in terms of the way they tie together these attributes across the board.
“They’re pure, honest and decent. They’re not smacking of corporatia and the ‘more is better’ ’80s approach. These products are peeling back those layers. They’re offering authenticity and decency. They’re offering something that is simple, wholesome and pure. They bring elements of gentle sophistication.”

Paramount Services

A commercial and office cleaning company may seem an odd pioneer for planetary protection. When co-founder and managing director Galvin Bartlett set up Paramount Services in 1979, green was still colour not concept. It was common practice to splash around chemicals that would turn conservationist’s hair grey.
Bartlett started rethinking in the late 1990s: casting around for less damaging cleaning products and ways to nurture, not annihilate, the planet.
He switched to new supplier, started using super-concentrates and fine-tuned packaging.
“Around 1996, without knowing it, we were going down the sustainability path,” he says. “It made good business sense: there were financial spin-offs. Waste minimisation decreases costs.”
Paramount is now the only commercial cleaning company in the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (NZBCSD).
Bartlett continues to toothcomb through Paramount’s activities. Sustainability issues are now the company’s single most important driving force. They underscore what Paramount buys, how it selects and manages its fleet of vehicles, and the smallest choices around paper and electronic transactions.
Just five percent of Paramount’s waste now goes to landfill.
These choices ripple out into Paramount’s network of 100 franchise business owners who collectively polish the premises of more than 800 companies nationwide and who are required to use Paramount’s approved cleaning products.
Bartlett champions crusade to educate his end clients. Some 70 percent of them are now scooting down the sustainability path. His “ambitious goal” is to enlist 80 percent of them into waste minimisation programme within the next 12 months. He wants all of them to clip their waste-to-landfill output to around four to five percent.
One programme suggests clients biff out the rubbish bins at individual desks: instead encouraging each employee to sort and recycle their own waste at on-site company collection points.
Other initiatives include team cleaning at night (to minimise the number of lights in use at any one time), daytime cleaning and micro-fibre cloths that help conserve water.
Senior managers who raise barriers to such initiatives are usually won over by glance at the financial benefits. The black line goes up and up.


Bruce Emerson’s background in the recycling industry means he could see plenty of businesses competing for the low-hanging fruit. To his mind waste paper, cardboard, tin, aluminium cans and the most easily-recyclable plastics were the easy pickings.
“So we thought there was an opportunity for business that would focus on some of the more difficult-to-manage stuff in waste streams in New Zealand,” he says. “And we particularly liked the concept of product stewardship which is more whole-of-lifecycle approach rather than an ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ recycling programme.”
Now director of Hastings-based solutions-provider 3R, Emerson knows he’s got hard row to hoe.
“We’re asking people to change their mentality. We’re trying to get producers to take responsibility for something beyond the end of its useful life. Rather than just selling product and stopping at the end of the warranty period, we’re saying producers have responsibility to help the customer dispose of the product in safe and compliant way.”
3R has already launched the Resene PaintWise project which allows customers to take back their leftover paint and packaging to stores and local transfer stations.
In 2007, 3R received the Sustainable Business Network award in Sustainable Design and Innovation for its PaintWise mobile-crushing technology. The award recognises innovations that have proven economic, environmental and social benefits, and influence their business sector.
Similarly, the 3R Agrecovery Rural Recycling programme provides sustainable solutions for local farmers, growers, contractors and other primary producers to manage their on-farm waste.
This month, 3R will conclude the pilot phase of Gardenwise – plastics recycling programme developed for the Nursery Garden Industry Association.
Emerson has also been instrumental in setting up

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