Sustainable Vision for New Zealand
By Graeme Norton, Executive Director, 3R

In early November I had the privilege of being New Zealand’s delegate to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) meetings in Shanghai. We addressed the recent Vision 2050 developed by WBCSD members and the translation of that vision into a plan of action in the coming decades.

How might that vision translate to New Zealand and in turn to Hawke’s Bay? Heady stuff!

First, who is WBCSD? It is a “by invitation” group of around 200 large-scale businesses along with 60 regional (country) associations of businesses with a committed interest in sustainability and sustainable development. More at The member companies have a combined turnover of US$7 trillion per annum and 15 million employees. New Zealand’s affiliated organisation, NZBCSD, has around 55 businesses as members, who collectively make up around 40% of New Zealand’s GDP. So it is mostly big business at the table.

Vision 2050 seeks to promote conversations around what a future sustainable world might be like and the pathways to it. The guiding premise: “In 2050 around 9 billion people live well and within the limits of the planet”. Given that premise, three questions need to be addressed in Vision 2050.

  • What does a sustainable world look like?
  • How can we realise it?
  • What roles can business play to ensure more rapid progress towards that world?

The UN projects that between now and 2050 the global population will increase from 6.9 billion to 9 billion, with 98% of this growth happening in the (currently described) developing and emerging world. The global urban population will double. If we continue with ‘business as usual’, growing populations and consumption (in most countries) will be compounded by inertia stemming from inadequate governance and policy responses. The result is degradation of the environment and social stress. ‘Business as usual’ sucks!

The pathways to a sustainable world in Vision 2050 are described in nine critical areas – values and behaviours, human development, economy, agriculture, forests, energy and power, buildings, mobility, and materials. To achieve a sustainable world, “swift, radical and coordinated actions are required at many levels, by multiple partners”. Early on in the process member companies asked: “Can we achieve it?” Their overwhelming answer was YES. We have the capability; we need the collective will.

I encourage you to read Vision 2050. It is both inspirational and scary.  (

Our NZ Council is embarking on a process to examine what Vision 2050 means for New Zealand and how might we influence our path to a sustainable future. We have begun the process by allowing “under 35s” who are developing leaders in business and who will be around in 2050 (unlike us older fogeys) to set the terms of reference for the work and participate in the shaping of the vision. More on that at a future time!

So, back to Shanghai.

The Green Race is on! Individual companies (and some countries) are embracing the realisation that business as usual will not cut it. They are turning the need for change and challenge into opportunity. Countries like China and Korea ‘get it’. They are moving very quickly to alter their ways of doing business and there is strong alignment of objectives between the political and business leaderships around those changes.

A vision which has 9 billion people living well and within the limits of the planet by 2050 holds profound implications for New Zealand. Our economic pillars are built on growing food (and drink) and sending it a long way to our markets. Aside from agriculture in all its forms, our other pillar is tourism.

I went to Shanghai thinking that New Zealand, a small open economy a long way from its markets and underpinned by sectors that will be impacted hugely by a resource-constrained and very different geo-political future, does not yet understand the mind and action shifts required if it is to thrive in this future world. We simply, as yet, do not ‘get it’. The experience of Shanghai and ‘listening’ since has only served to reinforce that personal view. We are not on our own. Our trans-Tasman neighbours are probably even further back than we are – cushioned as they are by the ability to keep digging!

What does this all mean for Hawke’s Bay? We should have a serious conversation about what a sustainable future might look like. Here’s my ‘short form’ Vision 2050 for NZ and Hawke’s Bay …

NZ has a population of 15 million (Australia 35m). Almost all of the influx is urban, a third live in Auckland. Our metropolitan and provincial cities have grown up, not out.

HB is home to 500,000 people. Most of them live in Napier (again it has grown up, not out). Hastings has shrunk – we now value the Heretaunga and its aquifer beneath too highly to put infrastructure on top of it!

Our biggest trading partner (and market) is still Australia as we have a combined population of 50 million within easy reach. Beyond that we are inextricably connected to Asia. Our productive (agriculture) capacity is diversified We have mapped and identified our (micro) climates and focus our production around least resource input and greatest food value products. Our biggest growth sector has been in added-value ‘smart’ thinking and services that we sell all over the world.

Our population is bright, articulate and happy. Why do people live in HB? Because it’s about whanau. They are able to live and thrive here in a temperate climate fully connected to the dynamic world around them.

I relish the opportunity for real debate about our shared future, given what makes this place unique, what we cherish and what must change to enable a viable community to thrive.

Our visioning is too short term and lacks imagination about what we could be. Without doubt, our futures will be challenged substantially in the coming decades. We can either just wait for that to happen to us, and react as it comes, or enter the shaping process. Bring on the latter!

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