Policy makers would be well advised to understand how deeply “green” New Zealanders are. And it may surprise some that senior business people are often more green than the general populace.
The recession has not dented New Zealanders’ desire for both economic growth and protection for the environment, which they value highly. Business people are also considering quality and the environment more in their own personal buying decisions than New Zealanders overall, according to the third ShapeNZ national benchmarking survey on environmental issues since 2007.
The results might explain why proposals possibly affecting conservation lands generate such deep-rooted and instant concern. It seems New Zealanders genuinely like being clean and green even while also wanting higher incomes.
Covering 1109 respondents, including 248 business managers, proprietors, self employed and professionals, the survey found:
• 82 percent of business people believe the best role businesses can play in society is to generate returns to investors but balance that with the broader public good (78 percent of all Kiwis agree). Only 14 percent of business people chose the alternative – to focus solely on making the highest returns while obeying all laws and regulations (10 percent of all Kiwis);
• 77 percent of business people (78 percent of all Kiwis) think balance should be sought to achieve economic growth and protect the environment. Only 13 percent of business people say protect the environment even if it costs the economy and jobs, and only 10 percent chose to favour economic growth and job creation even if the environment suffers to some extent.
Interestingly, these values show up increasingly in how business people approach their spending decisions. While price is cited as the most significant influencing factor for Kiwis overall (42 percent), it’s primary driver for just 35 percent of business people; 45 percent rated quality as tops. Environmental issues are driver for 11 percent of business people and nine percent of Kiwis in general.
Despite the recession, Kiwis continue to take personal actions (eg, recycling, reducing energy use etc) for environmental reasons. However, on big ticket item – buying more fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicle in the past year, the country has slipped from 27 percent in 2008 to 16 percent over the past year. This most likely reflects drop in fuel prices from their peak in 2008, as well as the recession. If so, it shows how important price signals are to change behaviour.
This gives some inkling of what might drive behaviour as emissions charges start to apply to fuel and electricity from July 1 this year under the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Pricing strategies to drive brand perceptions, quality and sales are well known to business. Most recent commentary on climate change and the ETS is based on the assumption that we are proposing to do something that no one else is. But this ignores the fact that:
• The Swedes have had carbon tax since 1991 – currently it is $150/tonne;
• The EU has had an ETS in place for major industrial emitters since 2005 and is now requiring other non ETS sectors to come up with reduction plans;
• The US and Australia are both dealing with legislation to put price on carbon that will be likely to be enacted within the next year.
Meanwhile, the opportunities for New Zealand from clean-tech world are immense, including:
• Possible methane-reducing inoculations for market of one billion farm animals;
• Thousands of hectares of marginal land with the potential to become plantation forests or permanent forest sinks. Imagine marginal land, growing manuka, producing organic manuka honey and earning premium on both sequestered carbon and honey;
• Franchised systems for measuring and managing emissions internationally;
• As the Walmarts, Marks & Spencers, and Tescos start putting carbon content labels on their products, everyone in their supply chain needs to measure and monitor their emissions. The software to do this can be developed anywhere, but why not New Zealand;
• Geothermal consulting expertise, already sold for decades. Why couldn’t we have New Zealand-based company that developed geothermal opportunities and owned the generation facilities? Our SOEs, engineering consultancies, and CRIs would all benefit from such an effort;
• Becoming test bed for the introduction of electric-powered vehicles to take advantage of our standard voltage and majority renewable electricity.
Rather than offend the values New Zealanders hold so dearly and in such large numbers, we can draw upon them to prosper – and improve the environment while raising our incomes.

Peter Neilson is chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for sustainable Development. On the web: www.nzbcsd.org.nz

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