IN TOUCH : Jane Arnott on Governance & Conservation

Good governance is synonymous with prudent investment, risk management, vision, strategy and other measures ultimately designed to secure and build shareholder wealth over the long term.
In making the case for investment in the conservation estate, which includes preventing the extinction of our unique species, good governance measures are often devolved to middle management in the form of sponsorship responsibilities.
Assessing the economic impact of environmental and conservation challenges is however incompatible with the need to provide simple brand alignment, brand visibility and nights out in the form of corporate hospitality. Governance outcomes versus sponsorship outcomes are very different in timeframe and measurement.
Very few sponsorship managers understand the potential economic impacts of environmental or habitat degradation and the decline in our unique wildlife to the extent needed to convince them of the value of even small investment in the conservation estate.
With the benefit, however, of an avalanche of new knowledge around global warming and climate change there is now little reason to doubt that our conservation estate, upon which many of our economic activities and sentiments rest, warrants serious thought.
I argue that this level and type of investment is best steered through mechanisms of governance as opposed to checklist of sponsorship criteria that run to 12-month budget allocation and seek to address primary need for key executives to network and build relationships with both suppliers and clients.
This is not to degrade the role of sponsorship. It is valid marketing tactic – but the need to invest in the conservation estate is part of much deeper and long-term issue. Some companies grasp it more easily at senior management level. Mitre 10’s Takahe Rescue, for example, won the support of the entire company and customers but was actioned at senior management level because of brand value alignment and the wish to build upon being New Zealand owned and operated.
But for many sponsorship managers the fact that company logos or events do not sit well in National Parks where the integrity of the natural environment is of more value than the recall of company name graphic, font or colour palette comes as an unwelcome surprise.
The new wisdom in the marketplace confirms that investing in the conservation estate will yield long-term dividends, but leveraging the estate without any prudent reinvestment is no longer viable – economically, politically or socially. The risk is that by refusing to acknowledge the powerful nature of brand New Zealand in all of its forms we jeopardise economic growth and mismanage those aspects of our lifestyle that one way or another we treasure. This is governance issue not sponsorship one.
Keith Turner, chief executive of Meridian Energy, made this point while announcing the company’s decision to sponsor Project Crimson. According to Turner: “Many companies make use of this country’s wonderful natural features in their visual imagery and it seems only fair that we should give something in return for the use we have made of this particular New Zealand icon.”
Turner was of course reflecting on the use of southern rata in high-profile television advertising campaign launched by Meridian in 2005.
Investing in the conservation estate should become part of corporate culture in many New Zealand companies. From engineering firms and legal practices to multinational oil companies and, of course, the entire energy sector.
In these times it is as valid an investment as new tarmac for an airport or refurbishment for luxury hotel. As consumers learn to differentiate those companies that are willing to acknowledge conservation and as companies work to leverage their investment in ways such as Mitre 10 with its Takahe Rescue short story and art competitions that attract tens of thousands of entries, additional benefits can accrue in business sense as well as on macro economic level.
It is timely for boards of directors to assess their own governance and business relationship with the conservation estate in manner that recognises their role in maintaining and improving shareholder wealth not just over the financial year but also over the long term.
•Jane Arnott is executive director, NZ National Parks & Conservation.

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