Sustainability wasn't even a thing in business when Peri Drysdale chose to make it the number one priority for her brand Untouched World.

Fast forward 20 years and Drysdale is sought out by entrepreneurs and business groups to share her vision of the importance of sustainability in business.

Drysdale, who set up parent company Snowy Peak in 1981, was a young mum with "part of a brain that was asking to be put to good use".

By 1996, Drysdale had a great product that added value to New Zealand's primary produce.

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But she had become increasingly aware of a great big planet-sized problem: the clothing industry was the world's second dirtiest industry.

She found herself asking questions about sustainability long before many Kiwi businesses had even heard of the concept.

After soul searching and research, Drysdale decided to create a sustainable lifestyle fashion brand and Untouched World was born.

"I wanted a brand that would model a new way of doing business, that would highlight that style and quality could be achieved without pollution to water and air, and filling landfills or treating workers badly."

She also wanted to reach people in a position of influence to really make a change. "So I had to create a brand and products that would stand apart," she says.

"I knew it would be tough. Why bring to market something that the market didn't really want yet?"

In the early days, Untouched World had to compete on its design and quality story, not the sustainability which led to its birth.

Around the year 2000, a PR person commented to Drysdale that Untouched World was way ahead of its time. "Someone had to be, I said, or there never would be 'a time'."

Twenty years on and that time has come. Customers value the sustainability story in its own right and will ask questions as specific as where the eucalyptus trees for its tencel fabric are grown. They want credibility and traceability.

As worldwide consciousness of sustainability in business has slowly grown, there have been many accolades for the business.

Untouched World's success and its Untouched World Foundation, which delivers leadership for a sustainable future programmes for young adults, have given Drysdale a platform to make a difference on the world stage.

The brand's track record in sustainability was recognised by the United Nations as early as 2007 and the collaboration has continued.

Most recently, last month the Untouched World Foundation signed a three-way partnership with UNESCO and the Mahatma Ghandi Institute to join the YES Peace Programme.

"This has been in the pipeline for two years and is quite major," says Drysdale. It will be the beginning of international expansion of Untouched World's leadership for sustainable future programmes.

For Drysdale, the sustainability story speaks more about success than BMWs and baches ever would.

But on the business front, the brand is now being sold in 49 countries and the company is working hard to facilitate growth.

"This is involving finding more space to operate our HQ from and every other aspect of growth that goes with that," says Drysdale.

She hopes the EY Services to Entrepreneurship award, presented by ASB, will be another step towards entrenching the idea in the New Zealand business community that sustainability is way more than a "good to have" and cannot be glossed over.