"Kindness" in business and environmental sustainability growing in importance.

Unless you've been living under a single-use plastic bag for the past year, you'll have noticed some big changes in the way Kiwi consumers are thinking and acting.

We're far better informed on a range of issues, from climate change through to economic inequality. Social media is helping to shine a light on unethical practices, occurring right here in New Zealand, which until recently would have remained unexposed.

Colmar Brunton's annual Better Futures report is a good litmus test of the changing expectations Kiwis have about the companies they buy goods and services from; this year's findings send a clear message consumers are expecting more from their employers and CEOs.

It shows growing momentum among Kiwi consumers – particularly on climate change action, but also for less tangible things like 'kindness' in business. In the past, sustainability has brought up images of tree planting, recycling or beach cleanups but these days Kiwis see sustainability as having a social dimension as well, like paying staff a fair wage or affirming the value of diversity among a workforce.

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Meridian has long put environmental sustainability at the heart of our business. We're committed to only generating electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources - wind and water.

That's not just a "nice to have", it's written into our DNA. We're happy to make Colmar Brunton's list again this year and utterly committed to making New Zealand a fairer and healthier place to live. It fits squarely with our company purpose that promises Clean Energy for a Fairer and Healthier World.

We'd like to think our environmental performance and our sense of social equity contribute to what Kiwis see as our sustainability credentials. Our commitment to supporting our most vulnerable households is a sustainability goal, as was our decision to become a zero carbon business last year.

We're looking at our business holistically and challenging ourselves to ensure every action we take is sustainable. Our actions must deliver good things for the planet and for society and, importantly, create value for our shareholders, our customers and the communities we work in. Value for all is important as, if we don't turn a profit, we can't achieve any of the goals we're setting ourselves.

What the Better Futures report shows is that sustainability and profitability are inextricably linked. This echoes the sentiment of Larry Fink, Chairman of BlackRock, the world's largest investment management firm which has become renowned for using its economic clout to advance sustainability.

Larry sent a very clear message to the world's CEOs last month that businesses needed to do much better in addressing social and economic issues. He reiterated his strongly held view that purpose ultimately drives profits, words that all New Zealand businesses would be wise to remember.

He also warned against using purpose as a tagline or marketing campaign. Colmar Brunton's research shows Kiwis are acutely aware of greenwashing by businesses, so those that pay lip service to sustainability will ultimately be punished.

Instead, we're learning that real, authentic purpose is a driver of long-term business success. It brings employees, companies and communities together. It discourages or prevents unethical decisions and encourages businesses to operate in a way that has a broad, positive impact for the good of all. This behaviour ultimately makes businesses more enjoyable places to be and ones consumers want to engage with.

We can build on the big changes we've seen last year, from the high-profile ban on microbeads and single-use plastic bags, and start tackling some of the bigger and knottier issues we face as a country.

Moreover, businesses have the opportunity as leaders and catalysts in these efforts, not because it's great for soundbites but because without purpose, they won't succeed in an era where consumers, customers and citizens hold the balance of information and balance of power.

-Neal Barclay, Chief Executive, Meridian Energy