20 years of sustainable business - Volker Kuntzsch

4 Jun 2019
Volker Kuntzsch - CEO, Sanford and SBC Advisory Board Member

Volker Kuntzsch has worked on sustainability issues in the seafood industry for over 20 years and helped the New Zealand hoki fishery obtain Marine Stewardship Council certification. Now on the SBC Advisory Board, he reflects on what he has seen in sustainable business in the last 20 years and what needs to happen in the next 20 years.

Volker Kuntzsch - CEO, Sanford and SBC Advisory Board Member

What have you seen in business sustainability in the last 20 years?

I have an interesting history with sustainability in New Zealand, actually. I worked for Unilever 20 years ago, as a fish buyer in Europe, and came across in the late 90s to New Zealand to visit the hoki fishery here and to convince the industry to go for MSC, or Marine Stewardship Council certification. At that time sustainability was more a marketing gig, at least it was perceived like that. Sustainability, the word wasn’t around really. You didn’t find sustainability managers in companies. To then embark on a certification like that was quite an undertaking. But the good thing at that stage was that the hoki industry in New Zealand actually committed itself to that certification and became the first major whitefish fishery in the world to achieve that certificate, and with that highlighted the sustainability of our fisheries here.

Since then a lot has changed. The Sustainable Business Council has been around now for 20 years. The topic of sustainability is certainly much more common, people report very transparently these days in their annual reports, and you find a lot of Chief Sustainability Officers or general managers of sustainability in companies and people talk about this. The other interesting thing that has happened is that, while 20 years ago sustainability was all about being environmental, or green, today it’s so much more. The social, the economic impact of sustainability is also considered, and companies now understand that actually it’s a balance between all of these different factors in order to ideally ensure that future generations have what we have today.

What needs to happen now?  

I think what needs to change going forward is that companies need to actually take responsibility in trying to improve the situation out there. Where it was all about the companies themselves and developing their brands and creating a great image out there, I think in the future it’s companies needing to provoke change in order to create improvement. Because just staying at the level we are today is most likely not good enough. We can see that with everything happening around us, being in the seafood industry we are confronted with increasing issues around climate, warming oceans, ocean acidification, and challenges like that. To just continue on that status quo would leave us in a rather precarious situation.

How do we embark on improving the situation out there? I think as companies we need to take on that challenge and accountability to figure out how we do things better. And that means probably looking more at how do we find the right balance between the economic, the social and the environmental impact of our business.

What needs to happen now?

It’s not an easy challenge but it’s certainly a very exciting one I would think, because we can make a difference.

The other point that I find is really important for all of us here to understand is that we stand a chance of becoming quite a leading country in this regard. New Zealand is small by comparison, we have a lot of innovative power in our country and if we can garner that and ensure that New Zealand is known to actually lead the world in terms of doing the right thing from a sustainability point of view, we can really support our New Zealand brand. Which a lot of people talk about. Which we as a company also highlight out there in order to ideally create more value for our product.

But what differentiates us really from others out there, and right now we can still say tourists come here because New Zealand is a beautiful country, but we all know that we’ve got a number of challenges that we are dealing with. How do we ensure that people understand we’re actually doing something about those challenges in a very constructive way? The Climate Leaders Coalition is one aspect that highlights what we can do as a country if business leaders stand together.

I do believe that we need more in that regard in order to really ensure change going forward and making sure that people regard us or other countries regard us as a nation that understands how to deal with challenges in the environment, in the future of work for example, the changes that happen with digitalisation. There are a number of really interesting challenges out there. But I think we are small enough to actually take those on and do something about those.

What difference can the Sustainable Business Council make?

For the last 20 years the Sustainable Business Council has really ensured that the term “sustainability” goes mainstream in companies around New Zealand and with that also in society in general. I think in future the Sustainable Business Council needs to focus more on supporting businesses to doing more courageous things and not just building their brand image and doing the right thing within the company itself, but actually doing more than just companywide, to introduce change in New Zealand towards a better future. I’ve mentioned that Brand New Zealand as a great value for most companies here. If we can find ways of collaborating in order to support that brand building more then I think we can achieve a lot as the Sustainable Business Council.