Phillip Mills: Green chances far outweigh costs

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Why chase Aussie with our tired economy? Let's lead the green revolution, says Phillip Mills.

Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

All of a sudden we are at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century. Just yesterday, it seems, we were watching for Y2K disruptions while greeting the new millennium. Now a new set of problems threatens our treasured lifestyle and life quality, our values, our prosperity, and the long-term viability of our country.

Our tired old economy is flagging despite relief from recession. We work longer hours but achieve lower productivity than others in the OECD. Our social systems are groaning. Our exports and tourism are under threat as international media and bloggers slag us off for the gap they perceive between our 100 per cent Pure New Zealand brand and our actual behaviour.

And as a small pastoral economy, we are at risk of being sucked dry by spiralling resource costs due to the increasing affluence of emerging economies.

As often happens at critical times a solution is within reach, just waiting for our up-take. A green wave, slowly building, will gather force over the next decade and bring an economic boom on a scale to rival the knowledge wave and the industrial revolution.

We can jump on this wave or get buffeted in its wake. If we grasp the opportunities it presents, we can become a leading voice in the world and in the process recreate paradise in New Zealand.

Our lifeline is in the development and commercialisation of innovative green technologies and smart thinking - in the areas of clean energy, clean transportation, clean industry, clean agriculture, and the environment.

If we wholeheartedly embrace this, we can achieve a clean, low-carbon economy that is highly efficient and fiercely competitive. There will be new prosperity for all New Zealanders, new jobs and retraining, higher-value exports and a stronger eco-brand to attract tourists and consumers.

New Zealand is blessed with huge natural advantages in this arena. Hundreds of Kiwi companies are already riding the green wave and quietly achieving marvels - from start-ups such as Lanzatech, which is making ethanol from flue gases and has attracted big capital to do it, to giants such as Air New Zealand, which has just been recognised as the world's greenest airline.

Our biggest exporter, Fonterra, outlined its benefits from climate change, energy and sustainability strategies at the World Environment Day symposium in June.

To succeed as a nation, however, we need to act now to formulate and implement a shared vision.

We will need regulatory changes, and a sound policy and incentive framework, as well as scientific and training hubs around clean energy and clean technologies for agricultural science.

The naysayers talk about the cost of developing and implementing clean technologies. But the opportunities far outweigh the costs.

A recent project in Germany, in which taxes were shifted from labour to carbon-based energy, reduced CO2 emissions by 20 million tonnes and helped to create approximately 250,000 new jobs in renewable energy and other sectors.

Denmark and Sweden, also early-movers in greentech, have had similar results and the rest of the world is beginning to wake up.

In the US, President Barack Obama has vowed significant investment to move to an alternative energy economy. American businesses are investing heavily in the development and deployment of clean technologies as the basis of the country's next wave of wealth generation.

Countries and organisations that are investing in clean technologies also make savings from reduced expenditure on raw materials and energy, greater efficiency and reduced waste, at a huge rate of return on their investments.

And they are future-proofing themselves against scenarios such as the spiralling oil costs and a worldwide resource-grab that small countries like New Zealand can only lose.

For more information on how we can profit from this coming boom, I highly recommend reading The Clean Industrial Revolution by Australian economist Ben McNeil (Allen and Unwin, 2009).

We Kiwis can be an odd mix. At one time, we can be fired with creativity and innovation, and solve huge problems with number eight wire ingenuity. At another time, we can be dour, stern and straight-mouthed, and stolid in our obstinacy against change.

But by riding at the forefront of the green wave, we can have it all - equitable prosperity, quality of life, the ability to live our values, and a viable economy over the long term.

My New Year's wish is for our businesses and organisations, the Government, and research and tertiary institutions to create a shared vision of our gutsy country riding at the forefront of the green wave.

We led the world on anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid action, and on getting the vote for New Zealand women. We can lead the world out of the Age of Stupidity by doing the right thing for ourselves and the planet.

Why chase Australia by busting a gut to raise productivity and wages under our tired, old economy? Let's lead the green revolution, and bypass and surpass Australia with a strong, clean economy.

Come on, Kiwis. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

* Phillip Mills, executive chairman of Les Mills International, received a World Class New Zealand Award for New Thinking in 2009. He was Ernst & Young NZ Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004.

- NZ Herald

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