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Small steps for big gains: Expert tips on making your business more sustainable

Rachel Brown, founder and chief executive of the Sustainable Business Network, is speaking today at the Future State conference in Auckland. An expert in all things sustainability, she talks with Zahra Shahtahmasebi about the tangible actions businesses can take to be more sustainable.

Ditch the work car and sign up to a rideshare company instead – that’s just one of Rachel Brown’s tips for businesses looking to improve their sustainability.

It’s easy, affordable and far more efficient that having a fleet of pool cars that only get used sporadically, says Brown, CEO and founder of the Sustainable Business Network (SBN).

And while a move like that might seem daunting and drastic to some, she adds that the good news is there isn’t just one way to become more sustainable.

Brown is excited to be sharing her knowledge today with attendees at the one-day Future State session, being held at Auckland’s Spark Arena. The event looks at the ways contemporary culture shapes business – this year it encourages attendees to discover the future of circular design, artificial intelligence, regenerative materials, and many others

Brown will speak on a panel discussion titled ‘The Circular Revolution’, alongside Jayden Klinac and Sara Smeath, two other business leaders passionate about sustainability.

She says the circular revolution starts by shifting from a linear economy to a circular one, explains Brown. This means going from the ‘take-make-waste’ model to one of reduce, reuse and recycle.

A circular economy has three key parts:

  1. Designing out waste
  2. Reducing emissions
  3. Regenerating nature and working to restore natural systems.

At a high level, massively reducing resource use is key – this minimises waste and excess energy output, making processes and systems more efficient, says Brown. Ultimately, these businesses are more attractive to work with.

Start small, suggests Brown. She encourages organisations check out the Climate Action Toolbox, created by the SBN in partnership with Spark, as a starting point.

The toolbox teaches the user the key areas where they can reduce emissions, measures their carbon footprint, sets targets, and then creates a step-by-step plan of recommended actions.

Brown sees many struggle: feeling they have no time, money, or often – with lots of conflicting information from different sources – simply not knowing what to do to improve their sustainability practices.

Read more: Future State gives a glimpse into the unknown

The toolbox is the perfect antidote: “It’s one source of truth. It helps businesses get started in sustainability with five things you need to do to and it’s free and easy to use,” says Brown.

Case studies – including branding and packaging company Marx Design and a Central Otago cherry farm Forest Lodge – demonstrate an immediate reduction in their carbon emissions as well as the financial savings they’ve made after making changes in this area.

Brown also points businesses to the SBN website, which has a number of free tools and resources people can use to learn more about sustainability and circular practices.

She founded the SBN 25 years after returning from her overseas experience and seeing how polluted other countries had become – she didn’t want to see New Zealand go the same way.

A lot has changed in that time, she says.

Climate legislation has played an important role here, with about 200 entities across the motu required to provide climate reporting against national climate standards.

It has become a lot more of a collaborative effort. “When we first started, there was a focus on daily practices like turning off light switches in offices at the end of the day, now we’re more focused on systems changes,” says Brown.

“It’s now the whole sector, it’s not so individualised.”

The Idealog team will have a full report on the conference online tomorrow (Friday)

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