Business leaders meet on climate action

12 Oct 2017
Abbie Reynolds, SBC Executive Director

Climate Leaders Dinner attendees from left to right: Mike Sang (Ngai Tahu), Fraser Whineray (Mercury), Abbie Reynolds (SBC), Mike Bennetts (Z Energy), David Walsh (New Zealand Post), Christopher Luxon (Air New Zealand), Miles Hurrell (Fonterra), Simon Makenzie (Vector)

At SBC we spend a lot of time thinking, talking and drawing on whiteboards; trying to unlock the secrets of how to get New Zealand to be better at responding to climate change.

We’ve used system shift thinking, talked about creating movements, identified levers, back-casted, and created theories of change.  But the simplicity lurking behind that complexity is people: what people believe and the stories they tell.

It’s about what we believe is normal, what we believe others like us are doing, what we believe we might be missing out on, what we believe is important in our community.

And in the communities we form in our workplaces, we spend a lot of time looking at our CEOs trying to figure out what they believe, reading into what they say and how they behave.  For those of us in sustainability, we’re always looking for the signals that this is a priority.  That we have a mandate to keep pushing further.

Which is why last Thursday was important for us.  Because last Thursday a bunch of New Zealand’s most respected CEOs had dinner together.  To talk about climate change.  And explore what they might do together to make a difference for how climate change plays out for New Zealand.

The dinner comes at a time when we’re seeing a growing number of SBC members set bold, long-term climate targets such as 30% reduction by 2030 or net zero by 2050.

This has happened quietly and without much fanfare.  But it’s clear that there is a growing trend across leading New Zealand businesses to move away from incremental year on year reductions in emissions, to long term, ambitious goals aligned to New Zealand’s Paris Agreement commitment, or better.

Famously vocal about climate change, Mike Bennetts, Z Energy's CEO, convened the dinner.  We had seven CEOs in the room, and six others providing their thoughts in advance as they were unable to attend.

The conversation was wide ranging, seeking to identify a place where their combined resources could have an impact.  Was talking to government a priority?  Yes, but we can’t look to them for all the solutions. Was talking to customers important? Yes, and how to do it in an effective way?  Is education about climate change still needed? For some stakeholders, yes.  Are we tackling the priority issues?  What is most likely to have impact if we act together? How can we best help each other?

Having explored those questions (and many others) the group identified some options to explore, which they are working on.  Watch this space.

Disappointed not to read about an ambitious plan for action?  Don’t be.  Remember the complexity of the challenge that a good transition to a low emissions economy poses us. We can’t expect our CEOs to have all of the answers.  Like the rest of us, they’re in new territory and trying to figure out how best to proceed.

What we should take from the dinner is that that they are up for working together on this, and leading for New Zealand.  And that’s a very powerful signal to all of us that our CEOs take this seriously.  On the hard days, that should give us confidence to keep going, to find those solutions or to work in new ways.  Because that’s what we’re asking them to do too.

Abbie Reynolds, Sustainable Business Council Executive Director