20 years of sustainable business - Kaapua Smith

20 Jun 2019
Kaapua Smith, Head of Sustainability at Contact.

Contact has been providing energy for New Zealanders for just over 20 years. Kaapua Smith, Head of Sustainability, talks about her path to sustainability, what she has seen in sustainability at Contact and what she would like to see in future.

How did you get involved in sustainability?

So I've been at Contact for about five years now. And I often think about how I ended up in the sustainability field and I think I have to go right back to the values I was raised in. I went to kōhanga reo, I went to kura kaupapa Māori. Those are Māori immersion learning environments. And I think sustainability is really embedded in my values within that framework. I was taught to value the environment in the same way that I'm taught to value people, communities and collectives. And that's really carried with me through my entire career.

So I actually have a background in social research, community development and communications. And actually my role here at Contact evolved out of my participation in the communications team initially, but I've always worked in social justice and that kind of space.

What changes have you seen in sustainability at Contact?

So I think we've made huge progress in the area of sustainability over these last few years. We have particular things we are really proud of. So our emissions reductions of 51% through closing thermal power stations that we've been able to achieve since 2012 are really fantastic. We've been able to use the initiative and skill and knowledge of our team to develop, things like our bioreactor in Wairakei which treats geothermal fluid, to improve the quality of the water. And then the other thing I'm really proud of is how sustainability has become more embedded in our business DNA. It's not just a thing on the side, it's not an add on, it is embedded in our strategy. It's embedded in our culture, it is just how we do things. And I think you see that reflected in our tikanga, which tells us to put our energy where it matters and where it matters, is really led by people. They tell us.

So sustainability has been part of who we have been for many, many years. We have actually just engaged someone who was our first sustainability advisor to rejoin us and help us grow our focus internally again. So it is interesting because we are in a business which relies on natural resources, and  relies on communities support and partnerships. So it's always been part of who we are. I think just bringing it to the fore more, has been really important.

How has being a member of SBC helped Contact?

So I have found our SBC partnership really valuable in ensuring we're focusing on the right things, that we are connected to a wider network of sustainability professionals in likeminded businesses, so that we're working together. It's fostering that collaboration and partnership, which is really key to driving sustainability outcomes. It's making sure that we are ahead of the curve in terms of what businesses are expected to deliver in the sustainability space. and then of course the leadership aspect of being able to say, we are proud to be a sustainable business and to stand alongside these other businesses and say that.

What would you like to see in the future?

I think in this last two years I've seen a real uplift in sustainability and the profile of sustainability more general, generally in New Zealand and then the business community. I would like to see that grow even further.

I would like to see sustainability embedded, in the same way that we're seeing it starting to develop now, more deeply embedded into business planning, business strategy, business relationships, business outcomes. I mean that's what we're all about in the sustainability game, so to speak. And I think for sustainability professionals in particular, it's really supporting us to develop the skills we need along that journey. Because the other thing I've noticed is what you need, and your skillset, changes as your businesses adopt and embeds different aspects. So in my own role, I've seen a shift from a stronger focus on influencing to once that mind shift has been created within an organisation, that's delivering and it's empowering others to deliver. So it's constantly evolving and it would be great to see that evolve even further.

What’s coming up to sustainability at Contact?

Well, I'm really excited about the growth of sustainability and our focus on sustainability as a business. I think that's reflected in the new team that we've created, looking at how we support our customers to embed sustainability in their own organisations. We have just established a new role, Head of Sustainable Opportunities, which is all about looking at how we support our customers, our commercial and industrial customers to embed sustainability solutions within their businesses. So that's pretty exciting. I'd like to see where it goes to.

How did that come about?

Partly it was customer driven, but partly a lot of the drive comes from embedding sustainability into our business strategy. And when it was embedded in there that decarbonisation is our primary goal in our generation and development business, it's a natural flow on effect and decarbonisation addressing climate change becomes everyone's job and when it comes to engaging with our customers and those conversations, that is also part of the focus.

So once you had that lens on your business, it creates these opportunities and identifies these areas where you need to have those areas of focus.

Has the Climate Leaders Coalition been helpful?

I think the Coalition has been valuable in identifying some key commitments that we need to step up to as businesses. Contact are really pleased to be a part of the Climate Leaders Coalition. We were one of the organisations there at the launch. We have since aligned our sustainability program to make sure we delivered on those commitments. And I'm looking forward to seeing the next evolution of that moving forward. And again, stepping up to the plate.