Kilmarnock Enterprises CEO Michelle Sharp with the team. (supplied)

Making money, saving the world: all the NZI Sustainable Business Award winners

Big businesses such as New Zealand’s largest ever transport infrastructure project are tackling “real” sustainability issues instead of the greenwashing of the past, organisers of the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards say.

“We’re all desperately looking for ‘how do you do this stuff’ now. I don’t think businesses would be deliberately doing things that would harm people or the planet but they don’t necessarily know how to do things.”

That’s Rachel Brown, CEO of the Sustainable Business Network, on why the social enterprise’s annual sustainability awards are so important.

In particular, she is talking about the example set by the City Rail Link, winner of the Supreme Award for 2018 – the NZI Transforming New Zealand Award, which is leading the way in changing how infrastructure projects are designed and delivered.

The 3.5km underground rail link will turn Auckland’s Britomart transport centre into a two-way through station and allow for a doubling of capacity on the rail network, reducing both congestion and carbon emissions. But more than that, New Zealand’s largest transport infrastructure project has calculated a whole-of-life footprint of 100 years for the project and put sustainability at the core of every decision.

Because there is no sustainability standard for the sector in this country it has adapted the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia’s framework, working with mana whenua to make it more appropriate for the New Zealand context.

To achieve its goal of zero waste to landfill it has supported and educated its contractor companies and their employees in avoiding, reducing, recycling and recovering as much waste as practicable. Energy efficiency initiatives have included replacing diesel generators with grid-connected transformers, training haulage drivers in fuel-efficient techniques, and smart controls on escalators to reduce electricity use.

The construction industry contributes 40% of the total waste going to landfill in Auckland, and CRL has proved this doesn’t need to be the case, Brown says.

“To have the largest civil infrastructure project ever built in New Zealand start with a goal of zero waste means CRL has the potential to show the wider sector the real value of integrating best practice throughout design and construction,” she says.

“It’s a great showcase for what can be delivered.”

In accepting the award, CRL chief executive Sean Sweeney said his team was building a piece of infrastructure that will be transformative for Auckland. “We wanted to make sure that the building of it was going to be transformative for the construction industry. We hope that this is just the start of really making the construction industry better and more sustainable.”

The NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards are now in their 16th year and have attracted a new record number of entrants. “The engagement has really lifted,” Brown says. “Last year we thought we had our largest number with 236, and this year we’ve got 263 and the largest turnout (at the awards dinner).

“That suggests it’s become a must-do activity for business, definitely mainstream.”

The Sustainable Business Network is seeing good growth in young entrepreneurs creating purposeful business models. “Their scale is not there yet, but they are businesses that have got potential for real impact.

“Then you’ve got businesses trying to tackle what we would call business material issues, so real issues – not just the greenwashing of the past.” She points out last year’s Supreme Winner was New Zealand Post, which had introduced 500 electric vehicles into its delivery fleet to reduce carbon emissions.

Sixteen years ago businesses may have viewed sustainability initiatives as nice-to-haves. There is still a risk of that, but the message that humankind needs to change its ways is growing ever louder, Brown says.

Developments such as the warning from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world only has around 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and the supermarkets finally banning single use plastic bags, are having an impact on people’s consciousness. Programmes such as The Blue Planet series narrated by Sir David Attenborough have also raised awareness, she says.

“It’s made people feel like we have to move a bit faster, there’s a greater expectation from the community.”

Each year the awards see winners who are revolutionising the business landscape, says Garry Taylor, Executive General Manager NZI which is the Principal Partner of the Sustainable Business Network Awards.

“A sustainable business takes into account environmental, social and economic factors to create a business model that endures the test of time. This year’s winners tick all of those boxes.”

This year the Sustainable Business Network introduced a new award category, Millennials on a Mission. The inaugural winner is Olie Body, whose witty and engaging organisation Wa Collective also won the Communicating for Change category and was a finalist for the Supreme Award.

She discovered that a third of New Zealand students have skipped class due to a lack of access to menstrual products, and this country sends 357 million menstrual products to landfill each year – taking up to 500 years to decompose.

It drove her to found the social enterprise Wā Collective, which aims to end period poverty, period waste and the period taboo. Wā Collective uses humour coupled with an open and frank approach to break down barriers and educate young Kiwis about the benefits of switching to a reusable Wā menstrual cup, instead of using disposable tampons and pads. For every cup sold it subsidises one for someone in need.

“To be standing here in celebration of periods tonight is bloody phenomenal,” she told the awards ceremony in true Wā style.

The third Supreme Award finalist and winner of the Going Circular category is Ethique, maker of sustainable beauty products. Ethique produces solid bar alternatives to liquid shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, body lotion and self-tanner, thereby eliminating the need for plastic packaging.

Everything it makes is vegan, cruelty-free, and palm-free, and all its packaging is compostable. By the end of this year the company says it will have prevented one million plastic bottles from being made and disposed of. The business is growing by 300-400% a year, and its largest market is the US.

This year’s Sustainability Superstar is Tracy Brown. Chair of DairyNZ’s Environmental Leaders Forum, Tracy is a sustainability champion for the dairy industry. Through all her many industry involvements Tracy inspires farmers to make changes in on-farm practices, protect waterways, enhance biodiversity and work towards reducing their environmental footprint. She is also helping farmers understand Maori values and tikanga.

She was accepting the award on behalf of all the dairy farmers who have a vision to make things better, she said.

“We do care, we’re working hard to make things better. It is going to take some time, and it’s going to take a collective effort.”

The Hardwired for Social Good winner is Kilmarnock Enterprises, a Christchurch-based social enterprise that provides employment, training and support to people with disabilities. By providing a supportive paid work environment, Kilmarnock teaches adults with a range of abilities the skills needed to transition into open employment.

One of New Zealand’s oldest social enterprises it employs 85 people, the majority with disabilities. In 2011 it lost the Anzac poppy contract and with it 30 percent of its revenue. It transformed the business, and is now a commercially successful, diverse contract manufacturing operation.

Take My Hands has won the Partnering for Good award for 2018. Take My Hands works to improve healthcare in the Pacific while minimising waste in New Zealand. It collects usable medical equipment destined for the landfill and works with partners in the transport, storage and logistics chain to take that equipment to health providers in the Asia Pacific region.

Its first project was in 2010 when it sent 400kg of artificial limbs to Pakistan for $50.

The Smarter Transport winner is Yoogo Share, a one hundred percent electric car sharing service – the first of its kind in New Zealand. Founded in Christchurch in February, it is now expanding to Auckland. It has a fleet of 100 vehicles in Christchurch with 3000 users, both private and business.

Taking out the Revolutionising Energy category is emhTrade, a new platform and personalised app helping people choose clean, affordable power. Its platform helps electricity retailers and distributors access flexible demand, while its PowerPal app tells people when to act for cheaper, cleaner or more local power. Users win rewards, which encourages further action. PowerPal is helping some consumers cut their power bills by $90 a year.

Transforming Food winner Our Land of Milk and Honey is a certified organic dairy farm, apiary and market garden, and has been farmed by the same family for almost a century.

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari has won the Restoring Nature award. Its daily safaris make it easy for customer to experience the wildlife of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, New Zealand’s first and largest national park of the sea. The company works closely with the Department of Conservation and research partners, giving its customers the opportunity to interact with on-board marine mammal experts and take part in sample and data collection. Conservation and environmental protection has always been a core part of the business and were a catalyst for its creation.

This content was created in paid partnership with NZI. Learn more about our partnerships here


This content is made possible by NZI. The NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards are the pre-eminent and longest-standing sustainability awards in New Zealand. The awards recognise and celebrate companies and organisations that continue to revolutionise the business landscape.

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