James Shaw is the Green Party's new co-leader. The former PwC consultant has advised Shell, Cadbury Schweppes and HSBC Bank on sustainable business development.

1. You've been an MP for 10 months so far. Has Parliament been what you expected?

I told my wife Annabel there's a difference between knowing you're going to get hit by a truck and the experience of it. The first five or six weeks were one of the most stressful, disorienting periods of my life.

2. How were you involved with Shell oil?
Shell's obviously a very dirty company but they were trying to clean up their act, at least a little bit. When I was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers they actually did us a favour by extending their sustainable supplier policy to include their professional services. At that time PwC earned something like a billion dollars a year from Shell globally. That's a driver for change. Supplier policies have had an extraordinary effect in lifting environmental and labour standards around the world. Not consistently, not everywhere, they're hard to audit and dodgy stuff goes on but it made a difference to us at PwC.

3. What did you do at PwC?
We undertook a wide-ranging sustainability project. We were located in the chairman's office and reporting directly to him. He was busy merging a global firm but we'd catch up once a month. I learnt a lot about organisational change. You try to introduce an idea like that into an organisation of that scale, 45 or 48 countries, all of the internal dynamics of the partnership, the fierce commercial imperatives. I helped pull together what later became PwC's Sustainable Business Services, the world's largest consulting practice of its kind. Sustainability is often seen as a distraction from core business. You have to look for the commercial opportunity. You put processes and systems in place but, most importantly, you've got to have champions who take responsibility and stick it out in the face of overwhelming apathy. I've had chief executives unable to get the idea through their organisation because no one else was committed to it.


4. Is developing leaders your specialty?
Yes, my master's degree was in leadership and sustainability. My main client from 2006 until 2012 was HSBC, a multibillion-dollar bank which had had some catastrophic failures. The chairman, a lay preacher, was deeply concerned about climate change and wealth inequality damaging the emerging markets in which HSBC operates. If you're trying to run a bank in Pakistan and millions of people get washed away in floods, it's not good for business. Our brief was to develop a cohort of high-potential leaders who would take greater responsibility for making the organisation more sustainable as they moved up the ranks.

5. Did you do the same thing at Cadbury?
Yes. Cadbury comes from the Quaker tradition. They see themselves as values-led. So it was making sure they didn't go off the rails as they grew. Like any large corporation they had problems. There was stuff around palm oil in Indonesia. They had a big food scare - a sample had been contaminated in a factory. It was amazing seeing how they responded. That piece of news hit, it went to the chief executive and within an hour they had pulled the entire product line globally, even though the vast majority of those chocolate bars were not produced in that particular factory.

6. So were you a kind of covert evangelist operating inside enemy turf?
It's funny but since I got into Parliament people have said, "Are you a National Party sleeper agent?" But I was actually more of a Green Party sleeper agent inside the business world.

James Shaw:
James Shaw: "I'm so committed to progress I'm prepared to work with anyone to get that done." Photo / Fiona Goodall

7. Would you be more at home in a room full of suits or a room full of greenies?

Equally comfortable in both, I think. My mission is to make those two groups comfortable with each other. Climate change is bigger than all of us. If we're going to change the world we all need to do it. Separation is the single greatest dysfunction. I'm so committed to progress I'm prepared to work with anyone to get that done.

8. Who do you like in National?
Todd Muller. He's a former Fonterra executive now at the bottom of the ladder as a backbench MP. There have been a few times when we've looked at each other across the aisle and just gone, wide-eyed, "What is going on here?" We share the idea that we're here to get something done and we ought to be talking to each other. Todd has a great deal of integrity, thoughtfulness and openness. Chris Finlayson has surprised me. He got nature's rights into New Zealand law with the Treaty of Waitangi settlements for the Whanganui River and Urewera. The idea that no one can own them, that they have the right to exist and not be degraded is an extraordinary principle that sets a revolutionary precedent in terms of how we govern our relationship with the environment. How did this arch-conservative MP get that through a National Cabinet?

9. Would you work with John Key?
If he wants to work with us, he'll find a way. Any climate change deal would have to meet our requirements but we're open to talking. Their constituents' interests would be protected by long-term political stability on climate change. Businesses can wear a lot of cost as long as it's predictable. They can build it into their business models and go to investment markets on the basis of those models.

10. Is the National Party persuadable on this?
Most humans are persuadable on most things. We need to make them feel safe enough to engage with us. They could be worried about losing voters because they're talking to us or that we'll crow about being in the conversation. We need to remove the fears one by one. All I'm trying to do is get in a room. Because of the way Parliament's structured, even reasonable people on both sides can find themselves constrained from working with each other. So you need to go around the system, or change it. It's not working, it's broken.

11. Have you always rebelled against the system?
It's funny, when I got elected somebody who I hadn't seen since primary school left a comment on a blog saying he remembered me as someone who was always fighting the system, fighting injustice. I was one of the naughty kids. I'm with the Green Party, right? We're the "naughty party". I grew up in a household with progressive political values. Mum and her partner Susie were both active in the PPTA. I went to Wellington High School, an incredibly diverse inner-city state school. There was only one person in our circle of friends that had two parents - male and female, not divorced. I remember everyone questioning him about what that was like.

12. Are you religious?
No. I did study world religions under Professor Lloyd Geering at Victoria University. It was a great way to explore history and cultural development. The lecturers were all ex-priests or rabbis and such brilliant story tellers I ended up majoring in it. I didn't finish my BA. I'm more of a practical learner.