The nature of business sometimes seems to encourage our eco-friendly inclinations at home to be left outside the office door. Things are changing, however.
If you want to make an organisation sustainable, you have to start somewhere.
For Michael Field, the BNZ’s sustainable development manager, that start is Natural Step, a Swedish-developed methodology for eco-friendly business.
Field says everything can be mapped to Natural Step’s “four system conditions” that describe what a sustainable society looks like.
Condition one talks about not systemically increasing the resources we take from the planet’s crust, like oil and metals. That leads to the need to eliminate our contribution to chemicals and compounds produced by society, such as dioxins and PCBs.
Organisations should consider how their activities or resource needs contribute to the degradation or destruction of nature.
The fourth condition is about society’s responsibility to its people and not doing things that undermine people’s capacity to meet basic human needs. Which is why BNZ is the largest user of Fairtrade tea and coffee in New Zealand.
“We believe there needs to be system to fairly remunerate the growers of those products.”
Field says the BNZ has set mandatory sustainable business requirements for its suppliers, and given them 12 months to conform, as well as offering training and resources to help them.
“If an organisation says it has done green, it says to me it doesn’t understand what being green is, and that’s not what this is about. To be green is a cost to a business, to be sustainable should be profitable,” Field says.
Another organisation to embrace Natural Step is Sovereign Insurance.
CEO Charles Anderson says issues like ecological overshoot, the fact that humans are consuming more than the planet can produce, have profound implications for the insurance industry. “We are long-term businesses, with policies that run 30, 40, 50 years so we have to rethink the sustainability of business over that time,” Anderson says.
“For example, we know tobacco is harmful because it causes most of the illnesses we insure against, so why would we invest in tobacco companies? It may be better to invest in health companies.”
“We have to be concerned about social issues as well because you can’t run a successful business in a failing society.”
Simon Harvey, Natural Step’s NZ executive director says the difference to other “green” programmes is Natural Step looks at sustainability as a core business strategy.
He says it has helped Swedish companies like Electrolux and Ikea to become world leaders.
“We encourage business to think about longer term change that will drive innovation and redefine it rather than make it a bit more efficient.”
Scholarships are also available to 10 businesses to take part in the Sustainable Value business improvement programme.
To apply visit surveymonkey.com/s/ASV-Auckland-2012
By Adam Gifford