An emerging trend that has seen increased popularity with new businesses over the past few years is one of integrating sustainability into operating frameworks through climate innovation. This has largely been brought about as the issue of climate change begins to weigh more heavily on the minds of consumers.
New Zealand is no exception, with many emerging companies such as climate-friendly commuter app Hitch, take on climate change in a meaningful way that runs right through their business operations.
Gerri Ward, Director of Climate Change and Sustainability at EY says that a company’s initiative to put in effort as a result of climate change has changed significantly in recent years.
“In the last five to 10 years, sustainability has gone from being something that brands can choose to do or not do and can bring out a differentiating product into the market, as a result of that consumers can choose to either buy or not,” she says.
“There has been a fundamental shift in the last five to 10 years towards sustainability and low carbon solutions now being embedded into products.”
The mindset for many people is that a lot of the products they buy into, there’s an expectation that the product has “incorporated low carbon, sustainable, low packaging”.
Ward says that the increase of sustainability on people’s consciousness is thanks to people connecting the dots with the impacts of climate change on their lives and the media “drawing those consequences” of climate change.
“Even though it feels like an overnight phenomenon, it has actually been a long time coming,” she says.
“The general rhetoric and understanding of what climate change is, is certainly increasing.”
With this in mind, many businesses have taken it upon themselves to respond to the climate crisis “in the most appropriate way”.
Looking at investors, many have made it a priority to invest in companies that are putting sustainable frameworks at the forefront of what they do.
For climate innovation, just like any commodity market, “the market mechanism that is carbon technology and mitigation has responded to demand”.
In New Zealand, many newer companies have founded their operations on frameworks that will address the damages of climate change. Companies such as Again Again, a company that is aiming to address the single-use waste that comes with takeaways, is a case in point.
“What is really important is that you are not just producing a low carbon product, but you are also thinking about all of the adjacencies that around that,” says Ward.
She says that Chia Sisters, a company that makes natural and nutritious drinks is a prime example of this. The company works to create organic products, that uses packaging fit to recycle, is off grid, solar powered and ensures to employ local people.
“They are making sure every single link in their value chain is sustainable.”
Another great example is Icebreaker, the fashion brand that ensures transparency with their customers, with each product providing a barcode that shows which farm and sheep the product is made from.
Pok Wei Heng, a Climate Change and Sustainability consultant at EY says that there are “so many dimensions” to climate change.
However, he believes that climate innovation essentially is “examining a current concept” or “how parts of society works”, and how businesses “can change our perception of that”.
Every company takes on climate innovation differently as the issue is too wide to focus on one aspect of climate change.
“Collective action is the answer to the climate crisis, whatever that looks like,” says Ward.
Heng says that for any business, partaking in climate innovation must have a “true north” of a mission rather than just throwing in a sustainability framework.
If they don’t, he says that even if they have a sustainability framework, they still won’t know if they are doing well.
“The closer you can bring your response to the climate crisis back to the key purpose of your business and how impactful you will be, the broader your reach will be as a result,” says Ward.
Though climate innovation explores the world of new technologies introduced to mitigate the impact of climate change, Heng says climate innovation can also relate back to how companies are using basic principles.
“Another way to look at climate innovation is how we might reshift incentives of our systems to allow us to live in harmony in a just world and nature in the wider world,” he says.
“Fundamentally our thinking needs to change as well because if we are using the same thinking to implement products and services you’re just falling into the same trap.”
Heng does however caution that there are some unexpected consequences that can come from innovation and technology.
“We need to be careful with how we can ethically engage with technology,” he adds.
The landscape in New Zealand that is tapping into the world of climate innovation has potential to go somewhere, says Ward.
She adds that in New Zealand there is evidence that businesses can “innovate on a dime” and “innovate overnight” if needed.
“Overall New Zealand businesses do have some way to go in terms of leadership and innovative response to the opportunity climate innovation presents, some businesses are doing really well in it,” she adds.
“Extreme weather events that we are seeing around the world is further evidence that we have less time to respond then we think we do, the longer we’re going to leave it the more it is going to cost us and we need to move forward intentionally quickly.”
Basic principles businesses can implement on their journey to being more climate conscious:
- Start the conversation, demystify what is climate change and where you sit with your business.
- Identify what you want to work towards in terms of climate change and look towards that vision as your benchmark to frame your actions.
- Look at what is happening indoors and how you can make your business climate conscious across the board.
- Understand which voices are missing in the discussion and how to include them.