Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Following the green road to a rich and happy future

Are we green enough? As another report lays out the environmental and economic benefits of a "green economy" in New Zealand, science reporter Jamie Morton looks at whether we're doing enough to get there.

Environment consultant Clare Feeney. Photo / Dean Purcell
Environment consultant Clare Feeney. Photo / Dean Purcell

As far as Simon Terry is concerned, it's not optional, but essential.

Mr Terry, executive director of the New Zealand Sustainability Council, is talking about a shift to a green economy - and quickly.

Definitions of what this is or what it's called vary, but the United Nations describes the green economy as being resource efficient, low carbon, and socially inclusive.

It means keeping our environment clean and fixing it where it's broken, using less energy and fuel, changing our transport habits, managing plantations responsibly and cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.

It's a concept Mr Terry's organisation, as well as with Pure Advantage, a lobby group of top business leaders, have been pushing hard for some time.

Why?

First, they see a gigantic business opportunity for a green New Zealand.

A lengthy 2012 report on New Zealand's green growth promise, commissioned by Pure Advantage, said the global market to supply low-carbon power, transport and building technologies could be worth more than US$3 trillion per year in 2050.

The opportunities in low-carbon power alone could be around US$380 billion per year, spread across a range of technologies.

Then there was the obvious benefit of ensuring our environment is cared for - something Mr Terry said our economy was entirely dependent on.

Our key natural systems were being stressed too far, meaning the economy ultimately had to adapt to what natural systems can cope with, he said.

It was therefore "essential"our economy was sustainable.

"The longer the economy is not in that position, the more difficult current generations are making it for future generations."

And as is noted by a new paper, released by the Royal Society of New Zealand last week, the longer we waited until a transition had began in earnest, the more expensive it would be.

See the new Royal Society report here:

Mr Terry said electricity production is well on the way to being essentially renewable - because the abundance of low cost renewable options makes this commercially attractive in its own right.

There were some steps in the right direction - electricity production, for example, was well on the way to being essentially renewable - but New Zealand was still stumbling in key places.

Pastoral agriculture was moving "far too slowly" to adopt available low-cost practices that cut emissions and reduced waterway pollution, and the Government had not produced a low carbon development plan despite this being a requirement under international commitments it had made, he said.

Pure Advantage was meanwhile rolling ahead with a green growth programme with an approach of working directly alongside the business community, rather than simply trying to influence Government policy and decision-making.

Following the 2012 report, the business-savvy group drew up a set of seven green growth opportunities it believed was bold but achievable, with help from a range of major New Zealand companies and councils.

One scheme aimed to support offsite manufacturing as a way to help bring high-performance, affordable new housing to the marketplace, with one pilot project teaming up with Kiwibank to deliver up to 500 such homes.

Others eyed biofuels and by-products, commercially-effective new waste minimisation solutions, a corporate engagement model to promote biodiversity, agricultural innovation, a "smart grid" that made the most of renewable energy sources and could save us $3.6 billion by 2030.

Given its comparative and competitive advantages, New Zealand was well placed to seize upon opportunities from the US6.8 trillion green growth industry, Pure Advantage chief executive Duncan Stewart said.

Whether or not we could would depend on whether New Zealand generated "significantly greater" wealth for all Kiwis, in a way that was consistent with high environmental outcomes.

When a Royal Society panel investigated, publishing a 12-page summary on Friday, it suggested New Zealand needed to carefully review its "direction of development".

The paper noted that human consumption growth over the last century has had significant effects on the global environment, such as reduced water quality, loss of biodiversity and a changing climate, and all of it was not good for long-term sustainability.

If it reconsidered its direction, New Zealand could avoid bad consequences for the economy, society and the environment, said Emeritus Professor Gerry Carrington, chair of the society panel that authored the report.

The paper found a number of barriers, such as the perception there were trade-offs between being economically competitive and being sustainable, and that a green economy might lead to a lower standard of living.

Opposition parties have hit out the National Government for its green track record.

"The current Government sees the economy and the environment as being in conflict with each other, whereas we see them as being two sides of the same coin," Labour environment spokesperson Moana Mackey said.

"If we don't have a healthy environment, we will not have a healthy economy."

Ms Mackey accused the Government 0f locking the country into old technology, with an increasing reliance on fossil fuels instead of transitioning away.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said that instead of shrinking emissions, by 2040 New Zealand is on track to grow emissions by an "unconscionable" 51 percent, while the water quality of rivers and lakes had also deteriorated in recent years.

The Green Party has pushed for mandatory renewable energy generation target of 100 per cent by 2030 - the Government has a 90 per cent target by 2025 - along with a strong national policy statement for fresh water, a "fair" price on carbon, a more sustainable transport system and insulation for thousands more homes.

Many businesses and organisations, however, were already aiming for sustainability, communities were working together for change, and innovators and entrepreneurs were ready to grasp the opportunities of a greener economy, Professor Carrington said.

"Becoming a green economy will require action and collaboration across all sectors of society. It's good that we are already seeing this happen."

Becoming greener, the report said, could "dramatically increase" sustainable economic, social and business wellbeing.

"The challenge for New Zealand is to act nimbly and with foresight."

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said while he agreed with a lot of points in the Royal Society report, many referencing work already underway, he didn't see the "green economy" as distinct from any other economy.

"I think we are seeing a greening if the economy over time, which is important because everyone is seeking to reduce the environmental footprint, but peoples' incomes are very important as well, and it's almost striking a balance," he said.

"Some people would argue for faster change, but with potential losses, the impact of peoples' incomes would be very dislocating and I think you'd lose support for that."

Mr Joyce, who last week attended a renewable energy conference in Indonesia, said there was no question New Zealand was already well ahead of the rest of the world in renewables, something that could only grow in time.

The Government's approach to carbon emissions, he said, was to have an emissions trading scheme in place, but to be careful that it did not "displace" our economic activity into other markets, while being "cognisant of how small a percentage we are of the world's greenhouse gas emissions".

"I think we've got to keep working in a range of areas," he said.

"Obviously a big focus is freshwater quality, something that this Government has invested a lot of time and money in, and my strong view, having listened to science, is that we can continue to improve our productivity in the primary sector and also improve environmental outcomes - I have no doubt about that."

Carbon

While New Zealand has several targets for slashing national net greenhouse gas emissions, including a 50 per cent reduction by 2050 compared with 1990, recent modelling indicated that by 2040 our net emissions were expected to be 51 per cent higher than the 1990 baseline.

Compared with other countries, our gross greenhouse gas emissions per capita were relatively high, the main contributing sector is agriculture (47 per cent) followed by energy and transport (43 per cent).


Under present policy, greenhouse gas emissions from these sources would continue to increase for several decades and emissions from the energy and transport sectors alone would exceed the 2050 target by 2030, the report said.

If New Zealand was to meet its 2050 emissions target, the country would have to review its development trajectory in agriculture and energy and transport sectors, and increase its carbon sinks.

The report however also noted New Zealand was taking a leading role in global research to reduce agricultural emissions through the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and the Global Research Alliance.

There was also already widespread interest and innovation in New Zealand in forms of development that slashed emissions - in the transport sector, many businesses, councils and community organisations were undertaking initiatives that contributed to a low-carbon transition.

The Royal Society's report singled out low-carbon electricity generation as a "strong competitive advantage" of New Zealand, with potential for further production from sources including hydro, wind, geothermal, tidal, solar, biomass and wave energy.

As at 2011, the 77 per cent of our electricity generation was from renewable sources and the Government has a target to reach 90 per cent by 2025.

But while renewables make up 39 per cent of our total primary energy supply - in the OCED, only Ireland and Norway compare - our transport systems are nearly completely reliant on oil.

New Zealand produced enough oil to cover around a third of its supplies, but most was consumed here was imported and subject to exchange rate uncertainty.

The Sustainability Council said a carbon budgeting process - essentially the process that integrates the emissions trading scheme, complementary measures and financial limitations - would be a core feature of any green economy.

Labour has pushed to restrict cheap international carbon units and stabilise the price by requiring half of all emissions surrendered to be New Zealand units.

Transport

Shifting to a green economy would mean a large shift away from the transport Kiwis are used to.

Transport is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, a significant source of particulate emissions, and the fuels we use are mostly petrol and diesel.

The report found our transport sector is unusual in a number of ways, among them that we have more vehicles per capita than most others, and our energy use per capita for road transport is 20 per cent above the OECD average.

Decarbonising our transport system would be a "major socio-technical transition" that would require not just technological change, but change in peoples' behaviours at home, in business, and in Government.

An analysis by the report authors of 85 transport case studies indicated that many were already making this a reality.

Wellington Regional Council has been running a transport programme each summer for the past four years, cutting car trips by 20 per cent and increasing cycling and walking.
Yet such efforts tended to work in isolation, prompting the need for a national transport forum.

The report advocated electric vehicles for New Zealand, as they were well suited to our renewable electricity sources and would reduce transport particulate emissions.

The power supply system was expected to cope well with the shift to electric vehicles because demand would increase incrementally, and the new demand would only be around a quarter of the present load.

Electric vehicles were now considered fully commercial on the basis of the last decade's research and development of batteries and electric motors.

The next few years will see these improvements amplified, including longer life batteries and hands-free inductive charging of vehicles.

In fuel saving, New Zealand companies had been innovative with GPS technology, incentives, goal setting, and driver training to achieve large-scale behavioural changes to deliver fuel efficient eco-driving, the report said.

The Pure Advantage report recommended mandatory light vehicle emissions standards for new vehicles, improved public transport and the ongoing assessment of net benefits of developing large-scale, second-generation biofuels.

Energy

Kiwi households consume around 12 per cent of all delivered energy in New Zealand, and residential energy use per capita is relatively low, just 57 per cent of the OECD average.

But our older houses are often poorly insulated and draughty, making them difficult to heat and worse for health.

Research has shown the quarter of households on lower incomes have the lowest energy use and very economical energy practices, but also have few options for upgrading and endure cold, damp homes.

The Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme has been tackling the issue, but despite this, a growing number of rental properties meant more people were disadvantaged because they had little capacity to make changes.

This made rental accommodation a priority for policy action and a "warrant of fitness" scheme, which sets rental housing standards, was currently being trialled.

The report said the use of such schemes, along with standards for appliances, could also help the energy efficiency of the 20 per cent of households with the highest energy use.

The Pure Advantage report called for an evaluation of such measures for current and new buildings, and of how to knock down barriers to residential retrofits.

Per capita, the total primary energy supply in New Zealand is slightly less than the average for that of the OECD, yet the country was unusual for the "abundance of its energy endowments", both renewable and non-renewable, the Royal Society report said.

One emerging electricity generation source - tidal currents - was presently under commercial trial in Kaipara harbour and had the potential to substantially increase New Zealand's power generation capacity.

There was also significant potential for other resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, and hydro.

New Zealand's reserves of non-renewables, such as coal, gas and oil, also include major deposits of methane hydrate, although there was currently no technology to exploit that resource.

The Government's goal was for New Zealand to make the most of all its energy resources, and with existing hydro capacity, along with additional wind, geothermal and bioenergy, a secure electricity supply that was essentially 100 per cent renewable was "technically achievable".

But there was some uncertainty about how the system would operate in the existing electricity market, and these issues and others should be addressed as part of the evolution of a "smart-grid" for New Zealand, the report said.

To drive this, the Government recently announced the formation of a Smart Grid Forum, which was expected to build collaboration in the energy sector.

Another innovative example of industrial level usage of geothermal energy was at Industrial Symbiosis Kawerau, which combined industrial wood fibre processing with geothermal electricity, and low grade steam for pulp production, and drying lumber and paper products.

Land

The report authors said New Zealand was well placed to develop and trial agricultural and forestry regimes that were more resilient, created higher value products and were better for the environment.

The Land and Water Forum had pioneered a collaborative approach to addressing water quality and allocation, while the new Forestry Stewardship Council standards for New Zealand had followed a similar path.

The new council standards required socially responsible management of plantations, the preservation of rare and endangered species, bush buffers along both sides of all permanent waterways, and 10 per cent of the plantation area in native bush to be sustainably managed.

On dairy farms, steps were being taken to reduce environmental impacts through upgraded effluent systems, better nutrient management and smart water use.

It was "vital" that collaborative approaches reached out to all sectors of the community, and that land-based industries worked in ways that were within scientifically-based, independently-regulated environmental limits for carbon and nutrient budgets.

"This is needed to encourage locally-responsive innovation and to ensure that land-based industries are genuinely sustainable," the report said.

Previously, the Pure Advantage report backed a "roadmap" for development of a forestry sector-led bio-economy.

In agriculture, it suggested optimising the transfer, pricing, storage and use of water, and incentives for landowners to develop farming methods that economised fertiliser use and improved nutrient management.

Image

Our multi-billion dollar tourism industry is intertwined our clean green image.

In a previous study, respondents were asked how deterioration in environmental quality would affect their decision to visit New Zealand and the duration of their stay, with the responses translated into expected losses to the tourism.

The survey backed the important link between tourism and our environment - and a sharp drop in perceived environmental quality was estimated to result in reduced expenditure of $780 million in 2001, when the study was held.

For the year ended 2013, international tourism expenditure was about $6.5 billion.

But in the past few years, poor freshwater quality results and carbon emissions have prompted articles in major international newspapers, a headline in The Guardian reading: "New Zealand was a friend to Middle Earth, but it's no friend of the earth."

"Aside from their innate value to New Zealanders, New Zealand's environmental assets and biodiversity are primary attractions for overseas visitors," the Pure Advantage report said.

It said public investments in our "natural capital", which supported sustainable private sector tourist investment, could be identified through collaborative research.

The report suggested the Government could work with industry to develop a register of the assets important to tourism and their condition and performance, and identify how these compare to New Zealand's rival tourist destinations.

"Green jobs" save the environment, and cash - consultant

There was the Hawkes Bay manufacturing company that took part in a three-year waste minimisation programme and saved more than $400,000 each year.

Or the Christchurch electronics firm that identified a major source of waste in expensive and hazardous circuit paste, and with simple handling changes reduced staff exposure to it and saved $56,000 a year.

And then there was the Northland company prosecuted and fined for a series of environmental offences, horrifying the directors so much they demanded to be paid out.

The company was snapped up by an overseas enterprise, prompting one of its Auckland peers to roll out a new environmental training programme for staff.

Within four years, its turnover had tripled.

For two decades, environmental consultant and former University of Auckland lecturer Clare Feeney has been helping companies clean up their acts and reap the rewards.

This month, she launched somewhat of a beginner's guide with her new book How to Change the World - A Practical Guide to Successful Environmental Training Programs.

Though improvements had been made over recent years, Ms Feeney said New Zealand businesses still needed more environmental training - and more "green jobs".

Green jobs are described as decent jobs that slash the consumption of energy and raw materials, limit greenhouse gas emissions, minimise waste and pollution, and protect and restore ecosystems.

They were crucial, she said, for a wide range of reasons.

At the most basic level, they reduce costs and increase profits through leaner, more efficient use of resources like energy, water and materials.

"More valuable is the process of wholehearted participation in sustainability initiatives: when well done, this increases staff engagement, a known booster of productivity," she said.

"Staff retention goes up, saving more money, and companies can attract better new recruits."

Intangible values, which account for anything from 40 to 70 percent of a company's book value, go up as do dollar returned per share.

"But the real value-add is when the environment and sustainability ethos genuinely informs how a company does everything."

In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Green Goods and Services survey found that the green economy accounted for 3.4 million jobs in 2011, with the vast majority in the private sector.

Ms Feeney said all sectors could benefit from some measure of environmental training - and believed benchmarks should be set in partnership with authorities to help this happen.

"Some sectors need formal environmental training more than others, based on both risk and opportunity," she said.

"The nature of their activities and the more obvious needs for legal compliance put some sectors at more risk than others, such as dairy farmers, manufacturers and companies involved in civil and building construction.

"Other sectors will see opportunities for saving money, increasing profits and, most beneficially of all - encouraging innovations that keep them ahead of their competitors."

But on the whole, she believed New Zealand itself had a long way to go make environmental improvements, with the Royal Society of New Zealand's report showing many if not indicators were trending down despite the recession.

"The gap between brand and reality is steadily widening, with significant loss to New Zealand's international credibility, and our collective wealth and wellbeing," she said.

"We need to do much, much more than 100 per cent better. And green jobs can help us close that gap as well as building skills and a smarter, more sustainable economy."

- NZ Herald

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