SUSTAINABILITY : Eco-achievers – Young, smart and environmentally aware

The tightening of the high-skill labour market in recent years has been mirrored by rise in environmental awareness and focus on environmental problems, and the solutions needed to solve them have become vital part of the younger generation’s thinking.
And now, with the labour market tightening and more choice than ever for high-skilled workers, businesses are increasingly stressing their green credentials in bid to attract these potential employees. This next generation of management material is the new breed, unwilling to check their environmental ethics at the company door.

Aaron Harvey
Interiors architect Warren and Mahoney (based in Christchurch)
Architectural firm Warren and Mahoney has established itself as company that takes the environment very seriously. It’s the first New Zealand architectural firm to become carbon neutral, the first to set minimum ethical environmental standards for all of its future buildings, and it has taken an active role in the development of the New Zealand Green Building Council.
Interiors architect Aaron Harvey joined the Christchurch office of the firm three years ago, and while he admits the opportunity to work with some of the best architects and engineers in New Zealand was the main reason for signing up with the firm, its environmental credentials are certainly major attraction for new talent. “When I first joined the firm, they weren’t really marketing themselves as environmentally sustainable designers, but if it was the same situation now, it would definitely be big selling point to pull me into the practice. The company has really become involved with some true forward thinking on the issue and become adept at change, instead of being scared of it.
“The entire company is absolutely behind the issue and you can see it every­where in the practice, from the director level, where you have people like Graham Findlay who is part of the green building council, right on down. For example, we have new designer based in Queenstown who takes the waste paper from the office and recycles it into bricks for heating his house. And you can see things like that happening in the company every day.”
Environmentally sound business policies such as this are fine way to attract highly skilled and motivated staff, but Harvey says the marketing of this sort of thing still needs to be handled carefully. “The danger is that issues such as this can sometimes be seen as hot topics or fashionable, and that can give them sense that they have sell-by date. So you really have to be careful to ensure that people realise these are issues which are not going to go away.”
Harvey has set about informing people about environmental issues in way that won’t turn them off. He made the initial suggestion that led to free screenings of the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth and associated environmental documentary The 11th Hour, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, in Christchurch earlier this year – events that saw several thousand people attend. Harvey says he was inspired to suggest the screening after seeing Gore’s film at local festival. “I picked up on one of the key messages, which asked the viewers what they can personally do to help. I was really affected when I first saw it, and I thought others might also be, and I started thinking about spreading the word and getting more people involved. The values of the film aligned with values of our company, so I asked them to sponsor it and it just took off from there.
“It’s all about getting the word out about living sustainably. You try to do as much as you can and every little bit helps. Rather than just falling into pit of despair, giving up and hoping for the best, everyone can make small effort, and that helps on larger scale. It can be as simple as composting organic waste, which takes huge amount of rubbish out of landfills, or installing lighting which detects how much natural light there is and adjusts accordingly.
“For companies, this sort of thinking can have financial payback in the short term, but if you are also seen as environmentally sensitive, other eco-friendly companies in the same business can pick up on it and you can find yourself getting more work as result. We now have the technology to do something about environmental [issues], and the rewards are obvious. All we need is the will to change.”

Sara Peary
Strategy and relationship manager Beacon Pathway (based in Auckland)
When Sara Peary first made the move from California to New Zealand couple of years ago, finding job in company with strong environmental focus wasn’t easy. While talks between government and business on sustainability issues had begun, there was still long way to go. She accepted position with one of the country’s top pharmaceutical companies.
But after stint back home in United States last year, where she worked for commercial development and property management company, Peary returned to New Zealand to find the landscape had radically changed. “I was amazed when I came back late last year – within three weeks I had three job offers. All of sudden every­one knew about things like the emissions trading scheme. From those three offers I whittled it down to two. One of them paid significantly more than the one I eventually took, but the one I did take was the one that focused around sustainability and resource efficiency and that is something I really believe in.
“It has always been important for me to work for companies I believe in, and that I am morally behind the organisations I work with. Otherwise you don’t have the passion to get things done, you don’t have the passion to work six days week. But I am morally and philosophically and educationally behind companies that proactively deal with environmental issues.”
Peary has been working with Beacon Pathway, collaborative research consortium that seeks to radically change the design, construction and renovation of New Zealand’s homes and neighbourhoods, since December last year, but says she has always had green in her blood. This was partly due to her upbringing in California, arguably the most environmentally proactive state in the United States, but also stems from her generation’s growing awareness of the need to tackle environmental problems.
“It has always been part of my thinking, but it really came to be more important when I did my degree in communication, looking at the philosophy behind why people do things in business. So I came out of that and the last thing I wanted to do was work for one of the big advertising companies in Southern California, because I didn’t want to sell things that people didn’t need.”
Peary began working for the biggest construction defect litigation firm in the States, looking at problems such as toxic mould, cracked slabs and leaky windows. From there, she completed her thesis, which looked at emissions trading and business strategy, examining cross section of Europe, Australia and New Zealand and the different ways the countries dealt with Kyoto compliance issues.
During this period, Peary worked in the European parliament on environmental policy, and also spent time working with the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star programme. At this time, she identified business opportunities in the field, especially when it came to thinking beyond the level of compliance. “It’s not just matter of ticking the boxes that need to be ticked, but going beyond that. That’s where innovation comes that gives you competitive advantage in the marketplace. In New Zealand, it’s just starting to take off now. Some companies have missed out on some great opportunities by not moving quickly enough. They could have been up and running six months before everybody else got on board, but now they’re just running with the pack.”
Peary says it’s more than just an easy way to make buck, with some companies simply “green-washing”. “The important thing is that I want to work with orga

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