Phil O'Reilly: Greening New Zealand's Growth

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The greening of the world is good for New Zealand. Even though the world is going through tough economic times, companies and governments are still focused on sustainability. There's an understanding that those companies and countries that move towards sustainable practice over the next few years will be better able to take advantage of emerging opportunities than those that don't. There's a deep desire for sustainability and New Zealand is well positioned to benefit from that.

That's the thinking behind the Green Growth Advisory Group's report presented to Government this week. Two important areas of focus are: Green the big four and Have a conversation.

The big four are the sectors that have most potential to grow exports - high value manufacturing and services, high value tourism, food and beverages, and minerals and petroleum. The Advisory Group recommends a process of greening our whole economy, with early emphasis on the big four.

"Greening" existing sectors and jobs is likely to be more effective than seeking a separate green sector, with green companies and green jobs. All enterprises, even the most carbon-light and sustainable, require physical appliances and amenities - steel for railway lines; metals and minerals for cellphones and computers; fibre cables for connectivity; physical buildings, furniture, consumables, tools and plastics - meaning a 'pure green' company may be a bit of a myth.

It's more useful to focus on greening already existing companies and jobs, Greening is a verb, a doing word. We need action to make greener what we already do.

In tourism, for example, we recommend uptake of more environmental management systems and promotion of successful tourist destinations as models for their sustainability practices. In the minerals sector we recommend that the government provide more public information so everyone can be more informed about the environmental and economic risks and benefits, to help reach consensus on how much we should mine and under what constraints.

The big four are important because they have the most potential to grow exports. Each of them leverages off our national brand. So the Advisory Group recommends that we be clear about what our national brand is.

Our national brand is not "clean and green". Clean and green is certainly the bedrock element of the New Zealand brand, but the brand has other elements too - creative, authentic, non-corrupt, resourceful, stable, trustworthy, and so on. These elements and others all contribute to our national brand.

We believe that New Zealand's brand is actually New Zealand. We recommend the government better articulate the story of Brand New Zealand and the elements it contains -- including our green reputation -- and draw together relevant facts about it to create a public information resource.

This will help us get consensus around how we go about greening the big four sectors. Consensus helps you move forward. In the 1970s Norwegians debated what they wanted from their mining sector. They decided to set up a public fund from mining royalties, to pay for future health and welfare needs. Their oil fund is now a huge pension fund, providing security for generations of Norwegians to come - and it all started with a national conversation.

We may not have Norway's scale of resources, but we could usefully do a similar thing here to achieve intergenerational benefits. Imagine a fund that could pay for long-term infrastructure, biodiversity protection or development needs of iwi and other communities.

That's why the Green Growth Advisory Group views it as important that New Zealand have a conversation. It recommends the government publish a series of green growth indicators - a dashboard - once every three years, making it easy for everyone to see how we are doing in key areas, and making our national debate better informed.

The dashboard should sit at the interface between environmental and economic issues - giving a score, for example, for the carbon intensity of our exports. We recommend the continuation of current reforms in the innovation system.

The government should provide more support for the transfer of knowledge and technology from overseas to support green growth, and more capability should be given to officials assessing funding for green growth opportunities. Rather than having a special new fund, existing funds should be administered by people who are more alive to the opportunities of clean tech and green growth.

And public sector procurement itself can be more of a driver of green growth. For the important small business sector the Advisory Group makes several recommendations to assist in capability building to improve environmental performance, including refocusing the role of EECA on helping businesses, farms and households reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, with a particular focus on small and medium size enterprises.

So the Green Growth Advisory Group's report is a practical one. It starts from where we are, and suggests cost-effective actions that we can do right now to help us move more quickly down the green growth path.

I hope it is the start of a good conversation.

* Phil O'Reilly is Chair of the Green Growth Advisory Group The Green Growth Advisory Group's report is available on www.med.govt.nz and www.businessnz.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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