Sustainability : Manufacturing Our Future

For years New Zealand has been declaring the funeral of the manufacturing industry, but I say the corpse has yet to be found. This month we’re celebrating year of more sustainable business leaders (see page 14 for the full story on the NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards) and what’s interesting is how many of these sustainable business leaders are involved in design and manufacturing – here in New Zealand.
Another of our great fashion icons, Kate Sylvester, won the SME Emerging award. Sylvester has only recently taken on sustainability challenges, but has clear ethos around supporting the local array of fabric printers, knitters, pleaters, cutters and machinists. As well as wanting to support the industry that helped the Kate Sylvester brand get to international markets, the company sees it as good practice to ensure the next generation of designers will survive. Her reason for this? She says that international manufacturers are not interested in offering tailor-made services to small scale or start-up operations, but there are still New Zealand manufacturers who will.
Resene Paints, winner of the Trailblazer (Corporate) Award, has been manufacturing paint in New Zealand since 1946. Resene has for many years been highly aware of the environmental impact it potentially has, and was the first to develop water-based paints in New Zealand. These innovations, which moved away from lead-based paint and reduced risks to environment and health, allowed Resene to achieve Environmental Choice NZ certification and attract the more ‘conscious’ shopper.
By manufacturing in New Zealand, Resene has retained control it may not have had if it went offshore: control over waste minimisation, plus connections with the local market, allowing greater control where designers can constantly rethink, re-develop and innovate paint range which meets the needs of an increasingly aware marketplace. Further, by keeping up its profile with its local community, there are spin-offs into paint sales as well as sense of accountability for its product range.
Highly commended in this Corporate category was Criterion Furniture, another local manufacturer based in Auckland. Founder Brian Smaill regards the lower social and environmental standards associated with both the design and manufacture of products in Asia as reason to keep manufacturing local. The company has tapped into market in Germany that demands higher environmental compliance, which they can confidently meet and exceed the requirements from their local manufacturing site. Smaill also reminds us that engaging factory in Asia to manufacture and assemble your goods is as good as handing the factory your intellectual property.
The winner of the 2008 Sustainable Business of the Year award, Paraoa Bakehouse, is cottage industry manufacturer which distributes its products across New Zealand. Paraoa makes Purebread, fully organic bread and other baked goods and is small scale but fast growing, socially aware, sustainable enterprise par excellence.
So what makes this organisation award winning? The judges were impressed with founder, Robert Glensor’s strong vision towards sustainability, which has permeated the business. New staff are given an induction manual that includes section on sustainability to ensure they are appropriately trained and understand the company’s values. As result, the company now sees its staff continuously looking for ways they can be involved in the overall improvement process.
The Bakehouse has adopted cradle-to-cradle (soil-to-soil) practices to further increase its commitment to the life cycle of the product. With all ingredients BioGro certified it means no toxic chemicals are used through the supply chain, waste is reduced to the size of netball (per week) in its manufacture, and through its product control systems any unsold products are reclaimed and used as the ingredient for new product lines or fed to animals to eventually become nutrients for the soil.
As I’ve written before, I don’t see China or other Asian countries wanting to keep degrading their human and environmental resources so that Western countries can enjoy higher profits for ever. Yet many leading businesses continue to send our toys, clothes and furniture offshore for manufacture. What happens when the labour standards and environmental standards of China increase? We must keep our hand in with the manufacturing sector or it may be too late to return to New Zealand if our factories have been closed and workers absorbed into other industries.
So what can you do? Support New Zealand made to keep New Zealand made alive.

Rachel Brown is CEO of the Sustainable Business Network. For more information go to www.sustainable.org.nz or email [email protected]

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