Subscribe » Issue #50, Mar-Apr 2014 Mag Cover
Idealog—in the ideas business

Who you callin’ green?

Magazine layout

Laurie Foon photographed by Toaki Okano/Croydon Studios. Background from Corbis/Tranz. Manipulated by Adrian Clapperton 

Like it or not, the landfill economy is coming to an end—and New Zealand needs to get real. uncovers the Kiwis who are doing us all a favour and living up to our undeserved reputation. Just don’t use that ‘G’ word

Read on …

Clean, Green bullshit. New Zealand’s two-word prefix nearly got us knee-deep in the stuff. While pollution that often exceeds World Health Organisation standards was busy turning our Clean Green bumper stickers all kinds of dirty brown, we were taking time to smell the wild roses.

So it was that, unlike much of the developed world, most of us didn’t notice the fumes until Al Gore told us they were there. “Because of our image, for a long time we didn’t think we needed to do anything,” says New Zealand’s Sustainable Business Network CEO, Rachel Brown. “Then two things happened: one, it became clear internationally that change was needed; and two, we realised we could make money from it.”

Just a bit. $2 billion a year at a conservative estimate, says Wellington sustainability expert, Peter Salmon. He heads Moxie Design Group, one of a fast-sprouting crop of communication agencies teaching Kiwi companies about sustainability and innovation. And with that, hopefully, the sob story ends.

Because most of the world still views us through grass-coloured glasses, Salmon believes New Zealand is in a unique position to plant the ‘market leader’ stake in this wide-open field. “And market leaders charge premium prices.”

It seems the best way to undo the damage done by swimming in those muddied Clean, Green waters is to turn around and dive back in. Eyes open this time.

At least we know which way to swim. US research has uncovered a massive and growing market segment and given it a label: LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability). It was worth labelling them, too. Also known as Conscious Consumers, this group practises responsible capitalism—giving cold hard support to everything from organic food to sustainable housing. But before you roll your dismissive vocabulary, consider this: there are 50 million of them in the US alone, where they’re a market worth US$300 billion.

Even oil dynasty scion George W Bush has noticed, recently proclaiming: “There is green in going green.” Now, we’re not positioning the US president as someone to learn from—please believe—but the Lohasians are a different story. Branded by branders as the new market shepherds, they’re intent on leading us out to greener pastures. If we’re smart, we’ll follow.

Sick of the G word yet? You’re not alone

Let us see if we can avoid saying it until the end of this story—research shows Kiwis have a natural aversion to the word, so it shouldn’t be hard. Salmon says there are proportionally more kakariki Kiwis than Americans, but there’s one key difference—we don’t want to hear it. In fact, we’re so sensitive to this label that Moxie felt the need to come up with a completely new term—the more pragmatic Solution Seekers.

“Internationally, LOHAS includes people we’ve typically called gr**n,” says Salmon. “Now, in New Zealand that comes with a lot of baggage. We’ve discovered Solution Seekers want to do the right thing and are making better decisions—but they don’t necessarily have an epiphany, start wearing kaftans and change who they vote for. Many of them see all that in a negative light, so if we call this group a bunch of gr**ns we’re actually upsetting a big percentage of the population.”

Thirty-three percent, in fact.

But in these earth-plate shifting times, does it matter if you’re lime or right? Starfish director Laurie Foon doesn’t think so. “This is not a political issue anymore,” says New Zealand’s first Sustainable Business Network Awards fashion winner.

Nonetheless, the G word has political connotations—ones that much of the rest of the world are blissfully unencumbered by. Johnny Rooks, a US LOHAS language expert (yup), says his country dodged any dodgy inferences, “mainly because our political party is too young to have carried any real negative weight”.

Terry Creighton of Napier ethical investment company Prometheus feels that weight keenly. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what that word means here,” he sighs. “Overseas it’s seen as cool—logical even.”

Logical is a good way to describe pursuing a trend where one in three of your population has an organic olive tinge. And just like a cake baked with Edmonds, it’s sure to rise—there’s been a nine percent increase in Solution Seekers in the last two years alone.

So what’s the real reason a third of us are feeling the Kermit-coloured shame? “I think gr**n has always been thought of as jandal-wearing hippies out of touch with the rest of the world,” says Brown. “We’re a bit sensitive about anything that might make us look backward because of being at the bottom of the globe.”

Or maybe we’re just sensitive about the truth. Proclaiming you’re clean and a word that rhymes with it, when your country is still essentially fuelled by a landfill economy, is lying through your front and middle teeth—the wisdom molars want nothing to do with it. While the OECD’s 2007 Environmental Performance Review of New Zealand acknowledged our improved environmental performance over the last decade, it also told us to clean up our shit. Or in the vernacular: “upgrade waste management systems [and] track movements and treatments of hazardous wastes”.

But the outlook isn’t all rubbish. New Zealanders are—and you may have heard us say this before—innovators, and we’re more than capable of using technology to become more natural.

The opportunities are vast. Brown was hit by the scale when she attended the United Nations World Urban Forum in Vancouver last year. “There were 15,000 people there, and every country representative I talked to had the same problems as us—whether it was water quality or transport or whatever. I went away thinking the business opportunities in innovation are enormous.”

Brown is with Idealog in thinking we are the ones to cash in on them too. “Deserved or not, we still have the Clean, [uh huh] image overseas and that gives us an edge in marketing sustainable products,” she says. “We also have a history of being innovative inventors, so there’s great potential to influence the rest of the world. But we need to move fast.”

The Yale Environmental Performance Index report says we are. The composite index trcks environmental sustainability, including a country’s capacity and commitment to improving its environmental performance over time. It ranks us first. Godzone loves a trier.

Shrinking the miles 

The first hurdle is also our oldest: distance. “Location is a two-edged sword,” says Salmon. “We can position ourselves as Clean and [y’know] because we’re isolated, but it’s a barrier in getting goods to market.”

“This Clean [bleep] image won’t sustain a lot of examination,” warns Tim Rainger, team leader of PR firm Creo Sustain. “Right now food miles are getting a lot of investigation. That is bound to uncover other things.”

The Brits are now counting every one of those 11,682 miles our exports travel to reach them. And while London-dwelling Kiwi chef Peter Gordon is fighting the good fight—publishing facts like the pearler that British lamb production creates over four times the carbon we produce shipping ours to their corner pub—we’ll need to do more to escape the heat in this kitchen.

The Americans are starting to take note too. “Buy Local campaigns are in every state,” Rooks told us. “A current paradigm shift here is ‘Local is the new organic’.”

Awesome.

LOHAS US head, Ted Ning, agrees food miles is a growing issue in his country: “Whole Foods and Wild Oats [stores] have colour-coded labels to show what is local and what is not,” he says.

Fanbloodytastic.

So what can we do about cutting the distance between us and everyone else? “I would say there are still ways New Zealand can build relationships through the copy on your packaging and websites,” says US Natural Marketing Institute head Gwynne Rogers. “People enjoy building a relationship with the people they get their food from.”

We do have some magic copywriters in this country, but even they would struggle to zap away space and time. Brown has a more feasible-sounding suggestion: talk up the safety aspect of our beef, she advises, especially in the wake of the latest outbreak of mad cow disease.

“Our agriculture industry is internationally respected, but for this reason we really need to back ourselves by focusing on making this area truly sustainable,” she says. Perhaps we could start by losing our inhibitions around nitrification inhibitors. We’ll need constant innovation to clean up our act.

Take cow poo. Our livestock may be saving light bulbs by being out in the sun, but they do their emissions out there too. With almost half of our emissions originating from pastures, now is not the time to be chewing the cud on the back paddock.

Then, of course, there is the obvious: becoming carbon neutral. While many pragmatic Kiwis warn of the economic cost, and some just think it’s a rubbish concept, it  may be the best way to go—if only for the PR. Salmon warns: “The co-chairman of the LOHAS Business Alliance in Tokyo last year told me, ‘Anyone marketing to LOHAS in Japan in a couple of years will have to be carbon neutral’.”

Why do we care about LOHAS Japan? Because they are the staunchest—and richest—LOHAS nation of them all. “In Japan it’s like a badge of honour to be [one word, sounds like ‘bean’]. They even have LOHAS department stores selling LOHAS-branded products … LOHAS boomers all want to retire in New Zealand, because we’re seen as an original LOHAS nation.”

The few people in the US who don’t think New Zealand is the capital of Tasmania also envisage us as LOHAS-friendly. “For those who know it,” says Saatchi & Saatichi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts, “we’re viewed as being anti-nuclear—at last that’s a good thing—quirkily independent, welcoming—and yes, Clean and [Grrrr].”

Which makes you wonder what these Lohasian tourists think when they drive down the Desert Road and discover what looks like roadside snow at high speed is actually, when you slow down, just piles of rubbish.

That is if they can get to the Desert Road.

“At the moment these tourists get here and quickly realise our public transport system is below par,” says Brown. “We have to live up to our international image before we can truly stand behind it.”

Fast leaders

Sounds like we’ve got a bit of work to do. So why is the New Zealand Institute suggesting we fall in behind? That’s where we are already—and it’s blocking our view of the future.

“We have a fair bit of catching up to do,” says Creighton. “It’s been said [by the Institute] we need to be a ‘fast follower’, but at the moment we’re a slow follower. The key things we need to look at are our carbon policies, then cleaning up the agriculture sector.”

Oh stuff it—we could just hit the bottle. The wine industry, after all, seems to be getting it right. New Zealand Winegrowers has announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2012, following the giddy success of the much-lauded Grove Mill, which said meh to food miles by becoming the world’s first winery to wipe them off its conscience. Of course there are mitigating factors at play: the Brits dearly love to plonk down in front of Coro with a bottle of our plonk.

In September 2007 The Guardian reported that New Zealand wine now sells at the highest average retail price in the UK—and the curry-eating Coro watchers aren’t missing out either. “Aside from champagne,” noted wine writer Victoria Moore, “I can’t think of any other kind of wine for which ordinary people are prepared to flick notes out of their wallet in the same slam-dunk way as they will swap a tenner for a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.”

So wheel out the whiteboard, here’s the wine industry’s lesson: quality and carbon neutrality are paramount when you’re sending stuff over oceans in these carbon-phobic times. If your product gets people dancing on tables, it won’t hurt either.

Maybe lack of sex appeal is the problem with our organic industry. While growing, it’s still only a 1.1 percent slice of the produce pie. Yet the international market is waiting with open mouths. “People think organic farmers are harking after some utopia,” says Creighton. “But there’s actually huge international demand for it. We’re just missing the opportunity.”

Country dysmorphia

Maybe we’re missing opportunities because we’ve got our eye on the ball—the rugby one. It seems no matter what our size or gender, when we look in the mirror we see a man with stocky thighs. Brown agrees that a mental shift is what we need most. “Despite the food miles issue, there are huge opportunities to export,” she says. “But maybe it’s not sending big logs offshore anymore. Maybe it’s sending your IP overseas, for example.”

What to do if you’re all out of intellectual power? Back someone else’s. “There are lots of existing solutions that we’re not supporting,” Brown says. “We need to get behind things like the housing insulation initiative.”

And, dare we say it, behind the government—at least in its Energy Strategy. “The energy plan is just a very sensible defence strategy,” says Creighton. “We need to start backing up our rhetoric in a strong way.”

Aiming to have 90 percent of power sparked via renewable energy by 2025 strongly underlines that rhetoric. And, putting aside the argument over whether hydro power can really be classed as renewable, the image-aligning move is to be applauded. US energy expert Richard Heinberg certainly thinks so: “New Zealand has enormous opportunities for developing renewable electricity sources and should capitalise on them,” he asserts.

But what do we say to the people worried that their power bills might rise? “Take the hit on the chin,” braves Salmon. “Because the premium value we will get from making our country’s brand authentic will more than make up for it later on.”

But, as we said in the beginning, this isn’t about politics—or it needn’t be, anyway. “Whoever is in power in the future will need to empower the business community,” says Brown. “Because businesses can respond a hell of a lot faster than the government when it comes to providing solutions to these kinds of problems.”

Over to you then

Followers, however ‘fast’, are destined to fight over the cut-price scraps. And New Zealand, rightly or wrongly, is seen internationally as an environmental leader. So we need to act just to protect our pure image—and not just in the minds of consumers. It’s important in a business sense, too, like ethical investment.

It’s not a huge sector here yet, but signs indicate it will be. Ethical investment has been big business in the UK and Europe since the mid-90s. And the US LOHAS newsletter includes its own mini Dow index.

Overseas trends also show people start by making changes in their immediate environment, which eventually flow on to their investment decisions. Creighton believes it will be the humble KiwiSaver that nudges the public towards ethical investment here. Next year, the government will require KiwiSaver investment providers to declare whether they have a responsible investment policy. Once that hits the media, oh look—watch that ball roll.

But don’t stand back; doing nothing could flatten you. And us. “Increasingly it’s a business risk not to become sustainable,” says Creighton. “Look at what happened to Nike when they ignored the social indicators over their sweatshop labour—they took a massive image hit. This is the same thing.”

Creighton says it’s no longer enough to make money for shareholders—they want to know that you’re playing with their play dough nicely. “People are starting to ask, ‘What are you doing with my money?’” he says. “It’s a powerful question.”

“Every single business in this country should be running a sustainable lens over their business,” adds Brown, who advises over 600 New Zealand companies in her Sustainable Business Network. “If they don’t, they’ll soon be a dying breed.”

There’s your green light. Go.

Follow this leader

Laurie Foon of Starfish Fashion

Magazine layout

New: season, hemline, waistline, everything. It’s no wonder an industry with a mantra like that is not exactly setting a fashion for picking up sustainable accolades. In fact, Wellington label Starfish is the our fashion industry’s first, winning the Emerging Sustainable Business Leaders category in the 2007 Sustainable Business Network Awards. 

“Fashion and sustainability are not a contradiction in terms,” says Laurie Foon, Starfish’s director and head designer. It’s a point she’s been quietly making for the last 14 years.

 The words were formed after Foon reached London on her OE, and quickly found herself overwhelmed by the culture of consumption—or, as she puts it, “The Constant Want”.

Then she spotted a painted-green oasis, The Body Shop. “Anita Roddick’s business appealed to me strongly. I’d always been involved in the fashion industry, but I’d become uncomfortable with the values involved with it,” she says. “I remember having an epiphany, thinking But if you get out of this industry, who’s left in it? So I decided to get into ‘it’ properly, came back and started Starfish.” 

Foon started in an eco-friendly fashion in all areas of her business—and other people’s. “We recycle everything,” says Foon. “We even recycle Trelise Cooper’s hangers for her. A lot of it comes from being very frugal. You can sometimes find our financial reports on the back of a note.”

The “better choices” are made right down to finishing touches—printing labels with eco-friendly ink which outline the garment’s production history.

 Monitoring your materials tends to be easier when they’re produced down the road. “We always buy New Zealand fabric, when we can, from companies who care about this stuff too,” says Foon. One of those suppliers is New Zealand textile company Hemptech (see page 43); together, the two companies might make hemp as desirable as the plant’s combustible form. “Carleen [Schollum, Starfish’s designer] and I were like, We’re gonna make hemp the styliest fabric in the world. We made a jacket called The Wanderer and it sold out.” 

Among hemp’s sustainable qualities is the longevity of its weave—another of Starfish’s star concerns. “We really enjoy making things that last,” says Foon. “Our favourite story is when people tell us they still wear Starfish clothes they bought years ago. That makes me go all fizzy.” I can testify to this. When I tell Foon my oldest—and still often worn—dress has a Starfish label sewn in the back, she turns positively effervescent.

Back to hemp: the once-coarse fabric is feeling pretty light itself these days. “It comes in all weights now,” says Foon. “And even if it didn’t, it’s a designer’s job to make it look good. Let’s demand it and support it while it’s still around.”

If that feels like copying, don’t worry about it—Foon isn’t. “You want people to copy you. If Glassons copies us, then great—and you don’t usually say that in fashion! Sustainability has got to be about the big picture.” 

Follow this leader

Dave McFarlane of Design Mobel 

Magazine layout

Meet Dave MacFarlane, capitalist, employer, air points earner, outspoken critic of the Labour government—and darling of the sustainability movement. The founder and boss of Design Mobel is, on first meeting, an unlikely winner of the NZI Sustainable Business of the Year award. He has the swagger and flat Kiwi drawl of a prop forward from his beloved Bay of Plenty, yet MacFarlane describes the win as “the most important award we’ve collected—and we have a few”.

The furniture manufacturer has received most of its numerous awards for export and design, but the sustainability prize recognises what MacFarlane says is the essence of Design Mobel: the triple bottom line. “It’s how we’ve run our business from the beginning, a holistic approach to people, profits and environment. These days it’s called sustainability, but actually it’s just what we do.”

The company works on a ‘circle of sustainability’, from sourcing materials to disposing of waste. MacFarlane claims that in 16 years Design Mobel has planted 60,000 native trees to replace the native timber it harvests; it uses 100 percent latex, compared to synthetic mixes in most mattresses; a recycling programme has reduced waste by 90 percent over several years; waste timber is turned into fuel briquettes; staff are offered incentives to contribute to innovation and waste reduction; and a generous community sponsorship programme has earned kudos in its home base, Tauranga.

Overseas we will never compete on price alone … It’s much easier to sell our products when we have a premium, sustainability story 

All good stuff to crow about. But it’s also good for business. “We don’t come at it from a compliance mentality,” says MacFarlane. “It’s a competitive advantage because we save on waste, our staff are more productive and we’ve got an authentic story to back our products.”

MacFarlane is dismayed that more Kiwi businesses aren’t on the bandwagon, pointing to just one other Bay of Plenty company, Comvita, that embraces the triple bottom line approach. He’s particularly disappointed in the uptake among manufacturers where competition for premium, branded products comes less from China than it does from other developed countries. “Overseas we will never compete on price alone,” he says. “It’s much easier to sell our products when we have a premium, sustainability story.”

He reserves special criticism for the government, whose goals for a sustainable economy are too modest. “The government is paying lip service to this. Look, the only reason we haven’t had an international environmental scandal is because we don’t have 60 million people like the UK.”
The opportunity to make good on the clean green image is one that government and business must snare, right now. “I want half the country to be operating sustainably as soon as possible.”

MacFarlane knows about stretch goals. The company has launched a new range of retail outlets called Okooko (Maori for ‘cradle in arms’), in Wellington, Hong Kong and Philadelphia. It hopes to open another 50 stores in the next five years. Now that’s a big triple bottom line.

– Vincent Heeringa

Follow this leader

Mark Lucas of Hemptech 

Magazine layout

There is hemp in our airports—chair-loads of the stuff. Air New Zealand smuggled the natural fibre into its Koru Club lounges after commissioning chair covers from Kiwi company Hemptech.

Hemptech has been in the legal trade for a decade, since director Mark Lucas brought a baseball cap in the US that lasted way longer than fashion dictated it should. 

When we started, synthetic design was in vogue and New Zealand design was uncool. Obviously that’s all changed! 

The cap enjoyed its long lifespan because hemp has twice the tensile strength of cotton. It’s this quality that appealed to our national carrier over any other, but hemp has a bunch of other benefits too. It provides the biggest yield per acre of any natural fibre, and the best insulation; it requires no herbicides for production and it filters 95 percent of UV rays, far more than cotton or linen. 

Today, Hemptech is a world leader in soft furnishing fabrics. “When we started, synthetic design was in vogue and New Zealand design was uncool,” says Lucas. “Obviously that’s all changed!” 

One more change Lucas would like to see is where the hemp is grown. Although Hemptech has conducted successful growing trials in conjunction with Waikato University—including investigating the viability of creating a composite to replace fibreglass and plastic—the company lacks the facilities and machinery to extract the fibres from the plant, and so still has to import the raw materials from Europe and Asia.

“The market is open and waiting,” says Lucas. Sounds like an opportunity for some growers to move into the mainstream.

Follow this leader

Soraya Hendesi of Snowberry Cosmetics

Magazine layout

Skincare cynics call it ‘hope in a jar’. But jars of hope can sell for upwards of $200 in a global industry worth US$8.2 billion, and Soraya Hendesi reckons she’s found a gap in the market.

Hendesi saw just two real choices in the huge skincare market: premium lines from big-name luxury brands, with plenty of even bigger chemical names in their lists of ingredients, and the all-natural products, with plain packaging and ingredients so basic you can buy most of them at the supermarket.

“The premium brands, even though they are anti-aging, have ingredients I don’t want, like petrochemicals. But the natural brands don’t have the active ingredients I do want,” she says.

So Hendesi launched a third choice: Snowberry, a New Zealand-made line of premium skincare derived from natural ingredients, but containing functionally active extracts born in the biotech lab—all rolled up in great design.

Snowberry has big competition from big players, but Hendesi’s determination, resources and passion seem boundless.

“If someone really wants something, failure doesn’t come into the picture,” she says. “But doing a range like this takes a lot of effort, and needs a lot of expertise behind it.”

There is an amazing wealth of resources in New Zealand’s native plants  

That expertise comes from Dr Andy Lavrent, a cosmetics scientist who has worked for premium brands like La Prarie, whose hopeful advocates pay US$650 for a 100ml jar of Skin Caviar Luxe Cream. Lavrent was about to accept a role with a cosmoceutical giant in the US when Hendesi suggested a better deal: stay in New Zealand and have some freedom in his work.

In an industry hemmed in by corporate interests, being given a free reign to create an entire line of skincare from scratch, using any ingredient he wanted, is not common. “The only constraints were that all ingredients have to be naturally derived, safe and not tested on animals,” says Hendesi.

Lavrent spent four years on the formulations, developing an initial range of eight products from 180 exotic ingredients, from Arctic cloudberries to Indian neem oil. Future formulations will likely include more local ingredients, thanks to 22 hectares of land in the Wayby Valley, north of Auckland, home to a new bio-discovery centre dubbed Snowberry Gardens.

“There is an amazing wealth of resources in New Zealand’s native plants,” says Hendesi.

The land has been planted with once-endangered puka trees, harakeke flax and some 50,000 indigenous trees and plants — although snowberry itself, a native New Zealand shrub, prefers the frosty surrounds of the Southern Alps.

R&D is done at Snowberry’s own state-of-the-art laboratory in Manukau. By 2009, a Snowberry HQ will be built in Auckland to the exacting environmental standards of Green Star, with the goal of achieving a six-star ‘world leadership’ environmental rating.

Hendesi has high hopes for the planet, and for her product. But hope isn’t for skin, she says.

“It’s unethical to sell people something that doesn’t deliver. People say products offer ‘hope in a jar’. What is hope? Hope is not good enough. You need a guarantee.”

— Annabel McAleer 

Speaking peak

The planet has its own solution to global warming—it’s about to take our oil away. But New Zealand could have the easiest fix of all, Richard Heinberg tells Gena Tuffery

Magazine layout

Volvo has always erred on the side of caution, to the point where the Swedish carmaker once had us all convinced that driving around in reinforced metal boxes was sexy as hell. Okay, maybe not quite. But we definitely bought the company’s ‘safe as houses’ sell—especially since many Volvos look exactly like one.

Cautious company; cautious country. In 2005 then-Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson made an announcement: “We are about to experience peak oil”.

Our government isn’t so certain, saying it’s unclear whether oil production will peak this decade or a decade or two later, but it acknowledges Mr Peak is lurking in the neighborhood. And this: oil production is declining in 33 countries out of 48.

That’s not to say there aren’t vast quantities of oil still underfoot, it’s just that the Earth won’t give up the next batch without a fight. There could be a great well of the stuff under Antarctica, for example, but the labour-exhaustive extraction process would warrant an Armourguard-accompanied trip to the ATM before you hit the pump.

When Andrew Janes wrote about the peak oil issue in The Listener three years ago, he commented: “With current oil prices approaching US$60 a barrel, the world is suddenly taking notice.” Now that barrel prices are approaching US$100, shouldn’t the world suddenly be taking action?

The human economy is a subset of the environment, and not the other way around  

“Businesses have to think realistically of long-term trajectories,” US energy expert Richard Heinberg, author of The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, warned on a recent visit here. “If they’re doing their figures based on current electricity and oil prices, they’re really boxing themselves into a corner.”   

To get an idea of how claustrophobic that corner is, look at General Motors. In 1955 the company’s styling division head, Harvey Earl, said: “Our biggest job is to hasten obsolescence.” Today GM’s business-as-usual approach to producing disposable gas-guzzlers has seen its market share decimated by Toyota’s smaller cars and hybrid vehicles.

Heinberg believes the economic theory that GM embraced—growth can go on forever—is wrong. He prefers the less poetic, more pragmatic: “The human economy is a subset of the environment, and not the other way around.”

And this is where the good news creeps in—well, the convenient news anyway. Heinberg believes New Zealand is potentially in a better position than most for the climate changes and oil-free times ahead. He told Idealog: “New Zealand is very well-placed to become energy self-sufficient. You have enormous opportunities for developing renewable electricity sources—and that’s more than can be said for many other counties, including mine.”

Heinberg believes that, comparatively speaking, our major problem is transportation. “The New Zealand government has to get serious about putting in electrified public transport,” he said. “Otherwise Auckland in particular, which is way too spread out, is not going to do well in a post-peak oil environment.”

Clive Matthew-Wilson, the man behind the iconic Kiwi car-buyer’s buddy, the Dog & Lemon Guide, is perhaps a surprising advocate of Heinberg’s public transport cause. The car nut even despairs of the recent push to make us upgrade our vehicles, saying: “The amount of energy a car uses on the road is the smallest it will ever use.

It’s the manufacture that is the horrifically energy-intensive part of the process.”

When the time does come to sponsor car manufacturing, our resident car expert recommends sending your dollars to Asia. Toyota’s vehicles are now built to last 20 years, he reckons, while you’re still lucky to get seven out of a European. Heinberg is also all for paying for long-lasting goods, branding planned obsolescence “a 20th century phenomenon”.

It’s these changing times that have turned Matthew-Wilson into a proponent of caring for the elderly. Despite getting the standard car-lover’s thrill from test-driving the latest sports car, the Dog & Lemon Guide editor says: “The wonderful Kiwi mentality of holding onto things forever is actually very environmentally sound—as long as you look after it. If you use it carefully, your old 1990 Corolla is actually better for the environment than buying a new car.”

Even a Volvo?

“If you have a choice between trusting a politician or a European car, I’d go with the politician every time.”

100% pure britain

Stephen Jewell in London observes the European attack on Pure Enzed

A sign at my local supermarket, Budgens in Crouch End—a leafy north London suburb populated by young families and affluent middle-class professionals—proudly proclaims its meat is “100% British”. The Independent calls Budgens “an ethical foodie’s paradise”, but you won’t find New Zealand lamb there. It’s an example of how British consumers’ increasing awareness of the environmental track record of the food they purchase has dovetailed neatly with a burgeoning appetite for fresh produce and farmers’ markets, fuelled by celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein.

Budgens’ shelves couldn’t be more different from the homogeneous selection available 20 minutes down the road at a Tesco in Finsbury Park. Tesco stocks Kiwi lamb—to the ire of British farmers who, the august Midhurst & Petworth Observer reports, accuse it of selling meat that “has 12,000 food miles, has been dead for at least eight weeks and is now old-season”. Ouch.

Tesco claims to be the biggest seller of British lamb and says the New Zealand imports only supplement the homegrown supply when it is out of season. Meanwhile, the upmarket Waitrose chain has launched the Fair Trade for British Farmers campaign, which with its ‘no cows = no countryside’ slogan encourages shoppers to buy local lamb, beef and dairy products. It’s a move that some critics call nationalistic protectionism disguised as environmentalism—thoughts echoed by expat Kiwi chef Peter Gordon, who suggested in The Independent that the carbon footprint of food is often confused with the miles it has travelled. The fossil fuels used in the production, manufacture and distribution of the goods are not taken into account. It’s also often assumed that most New Zealand imports are flown to Britain, when 99.75 percent are sent by sea.

But even if the food mile sums don’t add up, the argument still has a powerful influence upon British consumers. New Zealand’s geographical remoteness also means that it is an easy target. Reporting that Gordon Ramsey’s high-end Claridge’s restaurant is launching a high-priced water menu, The Guardian and the Evening Standard each cited the example of New Zealand spring water 420 Volcanic, which sells at the exclusive five-star hotel for around £50 a litre—about NZ$135. (Other New Zealand brands Waiwera and Antipodes sell for a relatively measly £9 per litre.)

The move is ill-timed as it coincides with London mayor Ken Livingstone’s attempts to persuade the city to drink tap water because of the difficulty of recycling plastic bottles. Tests show people struggle to distinguish between the bottled variety and what comes out of the tap. However, considering the silty nature of London’s water, at least the Kiwi drop won’t leave a bitter taste in your mouth. 

Originally published in Idealog #13, page 36

Share this on




Tagged as