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A greener Government – How business can get ahead of the curve

By Wright Communications - 6 November 2017
New Zealand just got a greener Government. More focus on climate change, emissions, sustainability and the like. So what does that mean for business and how should businesses respond?

Since our inception, we at Wright Communications have specialised in CSR or sustainability communications. We've seen this area gradually become more mainstream over the last decade but our new Government means things will quickly move to the next level and speed up from there.

Businesses need to plan for this, get organised and respond now.

First, let's consider what a greener Government looks like and what that means for business.

Thanks to its agreement with Labour, the Green Party, having outlasted the Maori Party, United Future, Mana and TOP in 'Survivor Election 2017', finds itself with more policy influence than ever before.

Here's a snapshot of just some of the key initiatives, likely to impact on businesses, that Labour and the Greens have committed to in their agreement:

- Work towards a goal of a Net Zero emissions Economy by 2050.
- Establish a Zero Carbon Act and Climate Commission.
- A new cross-agency climate change board of public sector CCOs (bound to impact on all suppliers to the public sector).
- A comprehensive set of environmental, social and economic sustainability indicators will be developed (only a matter of time until businesses are required to report on these).
- Request the Climate Commission plans a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2035.
- $1b investment in low carbon industries by 2020, starting with a Government-backed green investment fund.
- Reduce the extinction risk for 3000 threatened plant and wildlife species.
- Minimise landfill with significant reductions in all waste classes by 2020.
- Improve water quality and prioritise achieving healthy rivers, lakes and aquifers with stronger regulatory instruments, funding for freshwater enhancement and winding down government support for irrigation.

And that list doesn't even include the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which the Government remains committed to as a signatory of the Paris Agreement.

Make no mistake, this Government knows it cannot achieve these things on its own. Business will be required to play a lead role. So how can business do the right thing and at the same time get ahead and stay ahead of the impending change?

Here are three ideas -
1. Tell your sustainability stories better.
2. Undertake a materiality assessment.
3. Consider a sustainability report.

Tell better Sustainability Stories
The good news is that many businesses are already doing the right thing in that they are embracing some of these policies, or at least the principles behind them, as part of their own CSR or sustainability programmes.

The bad news is that many of these same businesses are not successfully telling their sustainability stories. Even those that try and tell them are often failing to connect with their customers and prospects.

Colmar Brunton's Better Futures Report (2016) found that Kiwis struggle to name businesses with strong sustainability credentials and that 75% of those surveyed find the way businesses talk about their social and environmental commitments is confusing and hard to understand.

The same piece of research tells us there is a clear pay off for getting this right, with 71% of Kiwis saying they are prepared to pay a little more for sustainable products and services. That number has increased year on year for the past seven years and we believe that trend will continue, possibly even accelerate.

Materiality Assessment
If you are not doing the right things in your business's sustainability programme, or you are not sure whether you are or not, or you don't yet have a clear link between your business strategy and identified stakeholder issues, a materiality assessment can help.

It's a simple exercise that involves surveying your key stakeholders and charting their responses in a way that prioritises what they see as the key issues for your business.

You can then assess your existing sustainability programme against the priority issues to see if you are addressing the issues and doing the things most likely to resonate with your stakeholders, and make any necessary changes to your programme. Or use the valuable insights to start a sustainability programme.

https://www.unilever.com/Images/unilever-materiality-matrix-final_tcm244- 476008_en.pdf

Sustainability Reporting
While compulsory reporting on emissions and other aspects of sustainability is not part of any government policy yet, there is an inevitable move towards it, to monitor progress towards a zero emissions economy and the other targets set. Publicly listed companies will be first in line (the process to introduce that is already underway) but don't expect this Government to stop there.

There are a wide range of options in the area of sustainability reporting from including a focus on sustainability in existing reporting frameworks, to small bespoke reports or full Integrated Reports or GRI (Global Reporting Institute) reports which can be externally audited.

/case-studies/air-new-zealand-sustainability-report.aspx

The important thing is to start somewhere. Measuring the impacts of your sustainability initiatives and reporting on them - formally or informally - is part of telling your sustainability stories better.

Businesses are agile and can make change quickly. Government is more cumbersome and slow moving. That's an advantage to the private sector - a chance to get ahead and stay ahead - but only for those who commit to action now.

 

 

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