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Expert: Organic is not a dirty word

Sustainability is still seen by many as a luxury – so what's the key to mainstreaming it?

Harvard business history professor Dr Geoffrey Jones believes 'greenness' is a dynamic concept, conflicting with many other societal issues. An example is world poverty; China has reduced its poverty level more than any other developing country. However, it has done so with a disregard for environmental issues.

"For example, in the realm of energy, solar and wind technologies are not only essential tools for combating global warming, but they have tremendous potential to provide cheaper energy for the poor of Africa and South Asia in ways that conventional energy cannot," says Jones.

Jones, who recently visited New Zealand and delivered a lecture at the  AUT Business School, suggests finding alternative pathways to reduce poverty levels. He argues the long-term solution lies in sustainable business practices, rather than sustainability being seen as a luxury only the rich can afford.

He has spent the past 25 years researching and teaching many of the successful business practices used by sustainability entrepreneurs after graduating with a PhD from Cambridge University.

According to Jones, one of the reasons New Zealand's consumption of organic food is lagging behind Europe and the US is due to a perception by punters that our produce is already pesticide-free. If more attention was given to the benefits of organic food by the media, he says, then people's attitudes will follow.

A classic example he cites is Waiheke’s inability to sell wine under an organic label because of negative consumer reactions to this. He says consumers need to realise organic food is not a con but something we could all benefit from.

Today, the worldwide organic food global market is worth $US60 billion and the organic beauty global market $US7 billion.

Historically, entrepreneurs who helped contribute to this succeeded because they were "crazy" and motivated by idealism rather than money, he says.

Many were also heavily influenced by religious practices, such as John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg was a Seven Day Adventist who developed spas and natural foods around the principle of health and wellness. Ironically his brother did something similar, but added sugar to create some of our favourite cereals.