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Leave no New Zealander behind – a Sustainable Business Election Manifesto

The Sustainable Business Council this morning released its Election Manifesto, a collaborative report representing the views of leading New Zealand businesses including Air New Zealand, SkyCity and Spark. The council’s executive director Abbie Reynolds introduces the report’s findings.

As the election looms, the Sustainable Business Council Election Manifesto has revealed many leading New Zealand businesses are uneasy about the gap they see between the prosperous and the poor, and they see action on climate change as a priority.

Forward-thinking companies don’t want to see anyone left behind. And they want to prioritise moving to a low emissions economy. They believe business has a leading role to play in advancing New Zealand’s social and environmental performance, as well as economic performance.

And they know if society doesn’t function well, then business is at risk. Increasingly, I am hearing from business leaders who are concerned about housing affordability, homelessness and economic growth in the regions. It is a growing trend for businesses, both big and small, to express a desire to step up and take the lead on important environmental and social issues.

Our Election Manifesto makes it clear: businesses want to work with the incoming government on initiatives that will see New Zealand move to a low emissions economy and ensure no New Zealander is left behind.

Making a manifesto

The Sustainable Business Council (SBC) conducted a survey of its 91 member organisations and met with senior business leaders to determine what sustainability issues they most want to work on with the new government.

SBC members represent a substantial proportion of New Zealand’s jobs and income – they employ 128,000 full-timers and collectively generate 29% of the private sector’s GDP.

The Election Manifesto identifies where businesses see opportunities for collaboration, investment and partnerships with government.

Singer Gigi love protests against climate change outside the Trump Tower in New York on November 14, 2016. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Climate Change: the key issue

The number one priority for Sustainable Business Council members is the transition to a low emissions economy. Climate change is keeping some of them awake at night.

All of them have expressed a desire to work more with the incoming government on a long-term plan to move to a low emissions economy. Uncertainty about the future of climate change policy is impacting the speed at which businesses are able to adopt low emissions technologies and make investment decisions.

Already, many are investing in technologies that will reduce emissions from the goods and services they sell.

Dozens of companies like Air New Zealand and Mercury are replacing their ground vehicle fleets with electric vehicles. Z Energy has built New Zealand’s first $26 million biofuel plant and Westpac has created a $1 billion CleanTech sector investment fund. And increasing numbers of members, like Toyota and Fujitsu, are aiming to be net zero businesses by 2050, or sooner.

These initiatives show leadership and will have a big impact. And the momentum is growing.

But there is concern the government is lagging behind. Our members want to see the debate around climate change de-politicised and a strategic long term approach taken.

And it’s not just Sustainable Business Council members saying this. The Deloitte BusinessNZ survey of 575 Kiwi businesses found one third want the government to engage more with business on the transition to a low emissions economy. And more than half want more incentives for cleaner production and resource efficiency.

Leave no one behind

Business leaders tell me they are concerned about the New Zealand families who can’t afford to buy or rent a house and, in the worst cases, end up sleeping in cars or garages. They are worried the cost of living is now so high they can’t get the best people to live and work in centres like Auckland or Queenstown.

Our Election Manifesto results reflect this. The welfare of regional communities, small and medium businesses, and young or vulnerable New Zealanders is now a top priority for our members.

There are so many untold stories of business partnering with government or community organisations to get more Kiwis into meaningful work, education or training. And SBC members still have an appetite to do more.

One fantastic example of the kind of initiatives they’re keen on is The Warehouse Red Shirts in Community programme. The company has partnered with the Ministry for Social Development to help 16 to 24 year olds who aren’t in work, education or training, gear up for job applications with work experience in their stores.

Another example is the L’Oreal New Zealand and Fostering Kids NZ programme, which helps teens in foster care get into work, education or training. Over the past ten years, Face Your Future has put 450 young New Zealanders through a careers programme. It has now been extended, to offer apprenticeships with the hair and beauty industry that provide on-the-job training and experience. This is done in partnership with the Hairdressing Industry Training Association and the government agency Oranga Tamariki.

Companies create these projects because it’s actually the right thing to do. They want to see young people in their community feel inspired and driven to succeed. Being a sustainable business is about much more than the economy or even the environment. We cannot have healthy businesses without healthy communities.

If there’s one thing this year’s Election Manifesto has hammered home it’s that being sustainable isn’t just a moral project, it’s a business imperative.

Read the Sustainable Business Council’s Election Manifesto in full here.


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