We spend countless hours motivating people to look after our freshwater and coastlines.
First of all, we have to create connections to nature and establish love for it. If people lack a connection to nature, it is impossible to inspire them to look after it.
This was a key factor in our decision to coordinate a massive coastal clean-up in the Manukau Harbour recently to celebrate Seaweek - where 1,557 volunteers removed over 77,000 litres (nearly two and a half shipping containers) of rubbish from the coast, in collaboration with the Watercare Harbour Clean-up Trust, 19 schools, several marae, students from AUT University, staff from Westpac, Phoenix Organics, Aurecon and many local community organisations.
We chose the Manukau because of its' proximity to a large percentage of low-decile schools. Many of these kids don't get the opportunity to go to the beach (of a group of 40, 10-12 year old students from a decile one school in Manurewa that we had on an event last year, 15 of them had never been to the beach in their lives), so when we introduce them to this special place, they are undertaking a positive activity that can influence their behaviour inland.
With such big numbers of participants from multiple community sectors, it makes the events fun for those involved, which is vital, because it makes people more likely to continue positive behaviour afterwards if they have enjoyed the experience.
After connecting people to nature, we explain the human-caused problems that affect these places that are so important for our national brand, tourism market and recreation. This include littering, heavy metals coming from cars, paint and other pollutants going into stormwater drains and the pesticides, herbicides, fertiliser and effluent that come from industrial food production.
The next step is to explain how our decisions affect these places that we love. This includes choosing whether or not to drop litter or tip paint down the drain at a basic level, but the real change comes when we make our purchasing decisions.
If we act with our wallet then industry will adapt.
72.4 per cent of the 1.1 million litres of rubbish we have removed from the coastline in the last eight years have been single-use plastic, with food packaging the worst offender by far.
The key conclusion to our education work is, of course, explaining what the solutions are and how people can be apart of them.
Out of all the suggestions I have made in delivering several hundred presentations over the last eight years (our small team at Sustainable Coastlines has delivered presentations to 141,604 school students, corporates and offenders), I simply cannot beat the idea of growing our own, or purchasing organic food. This involves not using chemicals to kill bugs or unsustainable fertiliser.
If you grow it yourself or bring your own packaging, you will also reduce impact of litter and plastic consumption. Gardening also provides much-needed exercise for people and happiness that is proven to combat depression.
The problem is, of course, the cost.
Recently on Sideswipe, there were complaints about shops charging $8 for a cauliflower. It is impossible to expect families living on the line of poverty to be able to afford the exorbitant prices that organic food demands in the swanky streets of Grey Lynn.
This is a difficult problem, but you would have thought that the well documented benefits of a healthy diet and associated savings in treating obesity and diabetes might be a worthy case for some assistance for growers that provide this vital service to our population.
At the very least, healthy vegetables should be served in public institutions such as hospitals. Complaints about this have been rife, particularly in Otago, where Meals on Wheels' nutritional value has been disputed and hospital patients have been served mince on toast.
Along this thread, I fully support the idea, of banning sugary drinks at schools as kids simply should not start life on the back foot nutritionally.
I would have thought that the public sector - particular in health - should set the example of a healthy diet for people.
Happily, the organic food market is growing globally at a CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) of 15.7 per cent. With our abundance of fertile land, surely this represents an opportunity to sustainably add value to our economy?
So what can we do to address the cost and availability of healthy, organic food?
Should we require publicly funded institutions to shift to healthy, if not organic produce and zero waste packaging?
I think that would be a good start, but what do you think?