Posted 8 Dec 2016 by Alex Williams

The Colmar Brunton 2016 Better Futures Report incorporated the results of New Zealand’s first ever survey into the public’s attitude to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to which the government signed up in 2015.

The 17 SDGs include a mix of social, environmental, cultural and economic goals such as no poverty, climate action, reduced inequalities, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth and quality education.

Colmar Brunton chief client officer Sarah Bolger says this year, seven of 10 top concerns are social issues. The top two are violence in society and increased cost of living. But a new entrant this year is the protection of children.

“Further down the list is the lack of affordable housing, crime levels and lack of access to affordable health care. Environmental issues landed further down the list this year. At 10th place is inequalities between rich and poor, which is a new entrant,” Mrs Bolger says.

Generally, New Zealanders report all the UN goals are important, although they consider the most important to be good health and well-being, quality education and clean water and sanitation. But when asked which goal was most important for New Zealand, the results show nearly one in five put “no poverty” at the top.

“People say no poverty is an important goal because it greatly effects future generation’s resilience and ability to move forward and achieve the other goals. They recognise that if we can’t get it right for people, how can we get it right for the environment?” she says.

Howver, not many New Zealanders think their country is a world leader in these goals. For instance, only 6% think New Zealand is a world leader in clean water and sanitation.

“I found this quite surprising. There is greater recognition that this country isn’t the clean and green place we’ve all grown up to know and love. So we are far from being leaders in sustainable practices, maybe we should set our aspirations higher,” Mrs Bolger says.

We'll pay more and be paid less

Crucially, the report found consistent willingness for consumers to pay more for sustainable products. In 2015, the number was considered high at 64% of people, but that rose markedly to 71% in 2016.

“All things being equal, people are willing to pay more for an ethical choice. We see that across all categories. In fact, it’s the insurance companies, banks, airlines and cosmetics producers where sustainability is becoming an increasing influence in producing behaviour.”

On the other hand, eight of 10 Kiwis say they will stop buying a company’s products if they hear it being irresponsible or unethical.

And, perhaps more intriguingly, staff can be easily convinced not to ask for more money if the company identifies as sustainable and eco-friendly.

According to the research, 70% say it’s important for them to work for a socially and environmentally responsible company. Also, 66% say they would rather work for a company with strong values even if it means they are paid less.

“So there are some real benefits in having this mindset and philosophy in terms of the type of people you’re going to attract and the longevity of your employees,” Mrs Bolger says.

However, it’s not so simple for a company to just paste a “sustainable” or “green” sign onto the company letterhead or product label. New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust general manager Francesca Lipscombe says too many companies are still “greenwashing” their products and services.

Greenwashing is understood to be when a company spends more time advertising itself as sustainable or “green” than it does in actually implementing sustainable business practices. Ms Lipscombe says this happens more than many consumers realise.

“It’s a real issue and something we’re up against every day. Anyone can put a label on a product, a picture of a dolphin or a green leaf, and without saying anything it gives off a message of the product having decent environmental credentials.

“The label of sustainability is a tool for businesses to make better purchasing decisions. We are relying on businesses to want to do the right thing, both for development and procurement. We’ve got a long way to go,” she says.

Even with companies shamelessly using green labels where they shouldn’t, the Ecolabelling Trust doesn’t have any power to stop them.

“The trust is a government body but has no power other than if the Commerce Commission was to investigate false claims. However, now there’s a requirement for organisations to prove what they’re claiming is correct,” Ms Lipscombe says.

“But I haven’t seen a reduction in greenwashing as a result of that change. Nor do I know of any company being targeted."


This article is reproduced with the permission of the National Business Review.


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