Northlanders are being encouraged to promote sustainability by volunteering overseas and supporting fair trade.

This was the topic of a talk given by Gill Greer, chief executive of Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA), at a Fair Trade Breakfast in Whangarei yesterday that was attended by 34 people.

"I was here as part of growing Fair Trade Whangarei, which is looking at more businesses signing up to be fair trade for the principles of sustainability, and there's a close link between what they're doing here and what we're doing [at VSA].

"It's about being the future you want to see, and for us that is what our volunteers are doing when they go to the Pacific to make a difference," Dr Greer said.

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VSA is New Zealand's largest and most experienced volunteer agency working in international development. Through the agency, Kiwi volunteers share skills with people in the wider Pacific to help them build a better future.

Dr Greer did not know the number of Northland volunteers off the top of her head but said out of the 200 volunteers from New Zealand, few came from Northland, which was something she would like to change.

"There's so many people with skills and experience and knowledge here who could contribute working alongside a partner organisation in a whole range of ways and really make a difference," she said.

Bay of Islands woman Jane Banfield, co-organiser of yesterday's breakfast, is a supporter of fair trade and has volunteered abroad seven times. From 2009 to 2010 she volunteered in Bougainville in the human resources division of the Autonomous Bougainville Government, and encouraged more Northlanders to volunteer.

"It will change your life forever," she said. "Volunteering made me aware of how what we do at home makes a difference to people in other countries across the Pacific."

Elaine MacKintosh owns the Heads Up on Bank beauty salon, one of 18 businesses that support fair trade in Whangarei. "I believe that everyone can make a difference and I can do whatever I can." Heads Up on Bank is also one of seven Whangarei businesses taking up the World Fair Trade Coffee Challenge, supporting fair trade coffee farmers, which kicked off yesterday and ends tomorrow.

To become a Fair Trade-accredited organisation visit www.fta.org.nz; for information on VSA visit www.vsa.org.nz.