Sustainable business: Global business is shifting its focus from profit by exploitation, to prosperity through nurturing people and restoring our natural environment. There's a long way to go, but it is vital we recognise each step we take. The winners of the NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards are some of those who are taking the biggest strides in the right direction.
SPECIAL REPORT: NZI NATIONAL SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS NETWORK AWARDS
Seen by many as the most important recognition of forward-thinking businesses and individuals in the country, the NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards are now in their 10th year. They recognise and celebrate innovation and positive impact in renewable energy, community work, business efficiency and work that restores our environment. There are also awards for communicating sustainability and for an individual sustainability champion.
Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network says: "This year there was some tough competition, with more than 230 entries in total. The finalists represent the leaders in their fields with each company and individual having an inspiring story to tell. I'm thrilled to see such a cross section of organisations from different sectors, of different sizes and from all corners of the country, showing that it's possible to embrace sustainability whoever you are."
For the first time the awards have been split into four areas; renewable, community, mega efficiency and restorative. Renewables focuses on the goal of making New Zealand powered entirely by renewables; community covers business models that help to build thriving communities; mega efficiency is concerned with the maximisation of resources; and restorative covers businesses that enhance New Zealand's natural capital.
WINNER SUPREME AWARD
KIWIBANK AND NGA TANGATA MICROFINANCE TRUST
There are people that banks won't lend to. Kiwibank wants to reach them. It has gone into partnership with Nga Tangata Microfinance Trust, a coalition formed by Child Poverty Action Group, NZ Federation of Family Budgeting Services and the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, to create a microfinance service for South Auckland (and which is now being rolled out in the Waikato).
"We believe as a financial institution we need to address issues of access. There will be people who have accounts, but they don't have access to credit," says Murray Wu, Kiwibank's general manager of corporate responsibility.
Kiwibank provides Nga Tangata Microfinance with capital for lending and with banking knowledge, such as legal support, processes and procedures.
"It's not an investment for financial reasons. It is philanthropic," Wu says.
The microfinance loans of between $1500 and $3000 help people cope with emergencies that may arise without having to take out high-interest loans. There is also a debt-relief loan available for people who want to get out from under predatory lenders.
Wu says the long-term aim is to empower people to take control of their finances and build up the credit history needed for mainstream bank credit.
Clients must work with a family budget adviser before being referred for microfinance, and they must continue to work with the budget service so they build financial knowledge and skills. This award was sponsored by NZI.
VECTOR HOME SOLAR PILOT PROGRAMME
Shifting New Zealand's energy to fully renewable sources is not going to be easy. It will need clever design, new technologies and greater collaboration between businesses, as well as innovative strategies to improve the production and distribution of renewable energy.
Vector is in the business of moving energy to where it is needed, but the product that won the renewables innovation category moves it as short a distance as possible.
"When we did the research, we found the number one barrier for customers not getting into solar was the investment cost so we set out to significantly reduce that upfront cost," says Vector's Anthony Thornton.
In the home solar pilot programme, the lines company owns, manages and maintains the equipment for the 12.5-year contract. Customers pay a $2000 installation cost and $70 a month. With expected savings of an average $100 a month, customers are cash flow-positive from day one.
The technology side of SunGenie consists of high efficiency solar panels, an intelligent control unit and lithium ion batteries to store power for use in the evenings, overcast days or outages.
The house stays on the grid, so power can come from panels, batteries or from whichever retailer the customer is with. People can register online to be part of the pilot.
ENERGY MANAGEMENT & RENEWABLES IMPACT
YEALANDS WINE GROUP
Yealands was the only other winner of two categories at this year's awards, demonstrating undeniable leadership both in its sector and in the wider business community.
In 2012 Yealands was named the world's most sustainable medium-sized business at the International Green Awards, which are held in partnership with a host of influential environmental and sustainability organisations, including the United Nations Environment Programme and WWF-UK. It was the first winery in the world to be certified by carboNZero, having measured its greenhouse gas output, committed to reducing it and mitigating the remaining unavoidable emissions.
Throughout its existence, the firm has employed a barrage of energy efficiency measures at every point of production. This includes heat recovery units and computer controls that reduce energy usage and smooth out spikes in energy demand during winemaking.
Yealands uses solar and wind power alongside boilers burning waste vine prunings to help heat and light the winery, resulting in energy use of about a quarter of that of many of its competitors. Right now the company is installing electricity generating photovoltaic solar panels onto the northern side of the winery. Vineyard machinery runs on bio-diesel derived from cooking fat, and to reduce the need for machine mowing the vineyard hosts 1500 baby doll miniature sheep.
Michael Wentworth, Yealands' general manager of marketing says: "In conjunction with quality, we believe sustainability is our key differentiator. Sustainability has no end point and there are always things we can do to reduce our impact."
This award was sponsored by EECA Business.
TURNING TRASH TO TREASURE
Adam Buckingham's mission to turn trash into treasure has earned him the Community Impact award.
He says being in the competition felt like a David and Goliath struggle, with an individual taking on three companies; Hobsonville Land Co, Sustainability Options and Environmental Education for Sustainability Trust.
"I do this in my spare time, my volunteer time," he says.
The west Auckland early childhood teacher has been turning off-cuts, overruns and obsolete items into the basis for creative play for more than a decade, and estimates he has created something like 500 pieces of educational equipment. He sees it as a way to turn children into responsible adults and to connect with the natural world.
"I want to make a generation more aware of the environment and sustainability, and to encourage parents and especially fathers to engage more with their children."
Buckingham has a book, Turning Trash Into Treasure For Young Children, a website trash2treasure.co.nz, and runs workshops for teachers and community groups to show them ways to turn scrap into science lessons.
"My dad does handyman things, and I grew up with it all. I see something and see how it can become something useful for children to use. Children really enjoy using real objects, and not all young children can play with real objects in their home. As long as it's safe, it's fine. It's real Number 8 wire stuff."
This award was sponsored by University of Waikato Management School.
BioBrew makes pro-biotic microbial tools for agriculture; stock feed supplements brewed from water, molasses sugar, buckwheat, kelp, dolomite (lime) and a special mix of safe microbes that make the whole thing 'live', in a similar way to the old fashioned, home-made organic yoghurts we are all supposed to be eating.
The use of BioBrew's products reduces a farm's need for chemical fertilisers and pharmaceuticals, especially antibiotics. In addition to this, BioBrew operates a container reuse scheme that reduces the need for packaging, and recycles all the containers that can no longer be used. It has also established a network of regional production and distribution facilities to eliminate the need for long-haul transport in favour of more efficient, lighter vehicles travelling short distances.
Andre Prassinos, director, says: "Farmers are facing a very serious realisation, in that the post World War Two chemical farming paradigm may be making themselves and their families ill. It is costly in itself and costly to the environment and simply isn't working. But in recent years they have been sold freeze-dried 'probiotic' products that don't work as they should, so we have to overcome that perception and are still in the early adopter stage for our products at the moment."
IMPACT MEGA EFFICIENCY
As a centre for educating the business people of the future, it is perhaps not surprising that AUT is leading the way on sustainability in its own operations.
Recently the university has upgraded lighting throughout its facilities to increase efficiency, including the installation of solar-powered LED lighting to its North Shore campus car park. This saved approximately 1,000,000kWh of power and about 140 tonnes of CO2 emissions between 2011 and 2013, the equivalent of negating the effects of running 27 average-sized cars.
AUT also installed two high-efficiency boilers for heating and partially buried 'Molok' bins that compact their contents to reduce the need for recycling and waste collection.
Recycling has been increased by 40 per cent between 2009 and 2012; there are even eight worm farms installed at the School of Hospitality and Tourism to turn food scraps into compost, and cut waste to landfill by a fifth.
University staff are incentivised to make the switch to public transport, with a combination of the 'stick' (increased parking costs) and the 'carrot' (inter-campus shuttle service) that accounted for about 250,000 trips in 2012.
Anne-Marie Holder, AUT communications executive, said that AUT now has a university wide sustainability taskforce promoting these ideas across the organisation's entire culture.
This award was sponsored by Auckland Council.
INNOVATION MEGA EFFICIENCY
NEW WORLD NEWLANDS, & FOODSTUFFS NZ
Often it is the innovation behind the scenes that makes the difference when it comes to sustainability. So it is with the use of carbon dioxide as the refrigeration gas at New World Newlands, Wellington. This innovation could help keep the planet cool too, by knocking out a staggering 99.97% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to the system, compared with the mixed natural and synthetic gas systems that are commonly used. It also cuts energy use by 10 per cent.
Foodstuffs NZ, which owns the supermarket chain, has set itself the goal of being the most resource efficient sustainable retailer in New Zealand. It is certainly happy with the results from this trial, as well as a parallel retrofit of similar technology at its store in Devonport, and is going ahead for similar installations at Pak' n Save Clarence Street in Hamilton, New World at Kumeu and Pak' n Save Massey.
Mike Sammons, who was appointed as Foodstuffs NZ's first sustainability manager last year, said: "Foodstuffs Wellington were also constructing a similar size New World store close by in the Churton Park area with a standard system. The monitoring of the two stores in the first 12 months of operation revealed not only that the Newlands store's refrigeration performed equally well as the Churton Park store, but also used less energy at certain times of the year."
This award was sponsored by Ricoh.
THE FARM BUTCHERY
New Zealand is a young country with young soils, so Bev Trowbridge from The Farm Butchery can't understand why farmers send those soils off down the river, mixed in with a hearty dose of chemicals.
With partner David Crabb, she is working to change one farm at a time by giving farmers a financial incentive to build up their soils and grow meat in an environmentally sustainable manner."I'm an ecologist, so my background was understanding natural systems. From a historical perspective New Zealand has stripped the natural vegetation and now we are stripping the soil," she says.
Over the past decade they have restored the soils on their own 200-hectare farm by re-mineralisation, nutrient balancing and aeration so that the topsoil is now growing by 1cm a year.
They are using the experience to mentor and support other farmers within the Integrated Kaipara Harbour Management Group, a multi-stakeholder environmental initiative covering the 640,000 hectare Kaipara estuary catchment.
Meat produced from such farms is more nutritious and, says Trowbridge, more tasty, so The Farm Butchery was set up to source and sell such meat from farmers around the country.
"The main reason farmers are stuck in a lowest common denominator trap is there is no market for a premium product because the meat companies have a monopoly. You have to step outside that box and try to do the whole cycle yourself to have any chance of getting properly paid for what you are doing."
THE NAPPY LADY
Disposable nappies have long been a smelly poster child for unnecessary waste, as they are landfilled in their millions around the world, complete with their complex manufactured materials and our children's bodily wastes. But in the past they represented a much more convenient option than folding and cleaning cloth nappies yourself.
With the advent of lighter nappies to reduce waste and nappy composting services on the disposable side, and easier to use fitted reusable nappies on the other, the situation has become more complex.
A 2008 lifecycle study by the UK Environment Agency also stressed the importance of efficient washing behaviour in order to realise the benefits of reusables over disposables. T
his is where Kate Meads, the Nappy Lady, comes in, offering independent advice to 24 councils around the country looking to cut down on landfill, and advising on the use of reusable nappies as a cheaper, environmentally friendly alternative.
"It has certainly been hard work and has taken a long time to get where I am now," she said. "But it is a very exciting place to be. With nearly half of the councils in New Zealand embracing the programme, cloth nappies are definitely making a comeback. My ultimate goal is to have every baby in New Zealand having one cloth nappy change per day, which would prevent over one million disposable nappies per week from going to landfill in New Zealand."
Meads also devised the Cloth Nappy Week, a hugely successful awareness campaign for communicating the environmental benefits of their use.
This award was sponsored by Convergence PR and Marketing.
Sam Judd was in the Galapagos recovering from a tiger shark attack when he got the idea of encouraging the island's community to clean up the rubbish floating in from the ocean.
The taste of community engagement he got from organising the clean-up of 7.5 tonnes of rubbish in a day from the coastline of San Cristobal Island led to the formation of the Sustainable Coastlines Charitable Trust.
The 2013 Young New Zealander of the Year will add the latest prize to a string of awards and commendations, but he's not one to rest on his laurels.
It soon became clear to Judd that clean-ups weren't enough. A rubbish blitz on Great Barrier Island in 2009 picked up 2.8 tonnes of rubbish. A year later, 3.1 tonnes came from the same beaches.
People needed to become aware of how choices they make about products and packaging affect what happens further down the chain when that bottle or bag or plastic strip winds up in a current somewhere. His focus shifted to education, emulating the SADD (Students Against Drink Driving) model of students taking messages home to their parents. A lot of the Trust's efforts now go into capacity building and training other people to use the systems it has developed for education and volunteer response.
One of his capacity building initiatives targets Olympic athletes, who are picking up the Sustainable Coastlines programme to deliver in their home lands.
Judd is also working with the Department of Corrections focusing on programmes for offenders that instill an increased sense of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, within a sector of society that is often lacking pride in themselves and the places they call home.
Despite the workload, the keen surfer and diver still finds time to get out in the water. "It's important to keep getting back out there and reaffirm why I started doing this. Having a lovely baby daughter helps to do that for sure," Judd says. This award was sponsored by Element.
So many good ideas, not enough gongs. That's when the judges in the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards bring out the commendation stamp.
In the Mega Efficiency Innovation for businesses that shift towards new business models of production, ownership and consumption, Ooooby was commended for its take on food distribution. By behaving as an aggregator rather than a traditional wholesaler, it is able to get food from producers to customers in a single day rather than having to carry the infrastructure needed to receive, sort, store and dispatch needed in wholesale and retail. And its reuse of delivery boxes cut its cardboard use by 40%.
Auckland War Memorial Museum was commended for Energy Management after it rewrote the control software for its heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Within the first 12 months the programming had cut electricity consumption by 19% and natural gas consumption by 46%, amounting to 600 tonnes less carbon dioxide a year going into the atmosphere. AUT University was highly commended in this category for its broad range of efficiency measures.
Soar Printing got a commendation in the Mega Efficiency Impact category for doing lots of little things right. Its lean manufacturing process and the implementation of e-business systems to reduce travel, design costs, errors and waste means a 98% job accuracy rate, 99% client acceptance rate and savings of $75,000 a year in operating costs through using less power, water and waste disposal.
Progressive Group, which supplies equipment for the renewable energy, forestry, recycling and construction sectors, was commended for its Wood Weta product that recovers forest residue that is contaminated with elements like soil and pumice. That means mills can burn woody biomass rather than coal.
Solar inverter manufacturer EnaSolar's commendation came for its EnaSolar Solar Ready Home Kit. Developed in response to the Christchurch earthquakes, the Kit means homes that are being repaired, rebuilt or renovated can be prepared for solar for under $250, saving thousands of dollars in retrofitting costs when solar systems are finally installed.
Wanaka Wastebusters was commended for the way it communicates sustainability. Faced with a rising tide of waste packaging filling up the town's landfill, it launched a national competition, the Unpackit Awards, to encourage businesses and consumers to make smart packaging choices.