The Government's Commitment to Sustainability- Triple Bottom Line forum, Massey University campus, Wellington

  • Marian Hobbs

Thank you for your welcome. I want to congratulate Tall Poppies for the work they are doing in the engine room of Triple Bottom Line Reporting. And I want to congratulate you, the enterprise agencies and companies, who are grappling with adding social and environmental accounting and reporting to your traditional financial reports. It is a learning-by-experience curve for all of us, and it's important that we share our successes and problems, and collectively find better ways forward.

It is a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon to share with you the Government's commitment to sustainable development for all New Zealand.
As Minister for the Environment, I have a vision to make our clean green image a reality - that is to make it a substantive and enduring feature of New Zealand, not just a passing flirtation that is green only around the edges. As a Minister of the Crown, giving effect to that vision is my particular contribution to the Government's wider commitment to sustainable development.

Today I am going to talk about my objectives and priorities, and how these are reflected in three very active current projects, which underpin and illuminate the Government's commitment to sustainable development.
· The first of these, is the findings of the recent Rio+10 Community Programme
· The second, is the development of the New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy
· The third is the Triple Bottom Line Reporting development project.

Rio+10 Community Programme
My first objective in making our clean green image a reality is to motivate and empower people to own the problems that are barriers to sustainability - and the solutions. This is also an objective of the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg next September 2002.

Earlier this year in order to inform New Zealanders about the problems and solutions, and in order to obtain a report card from New Zealanders about their perception of how well we were doing in the 10 years since the last World Summit at Rio, I conducted a community survey.

Thirteen thousand (13,000) information packs were distributed eliciting three and a half thousand responses - many of them very detailed. They show that:
· We do have an informed and discerning citizenry, who care about the environment and want to contribute to its long-term well-being.
· Three quarters of respondents said that our environment was not as healthy as it should be and that generally New Zealand had not made a strong enough commitment to dealing with environmental issues in the last decade.
· The condition of our rivers, streams and lakes was the major area of concern and priority for action (79%).
· Global warming, healthy freshwater systems, and clean air were seen as key areas where progress had been too slow.
· Reducing waste, managing the coast, managing toxic substances, and achieving energy efficiency were all important issues to the public.
· Most New Zealanders think central and local government, business and households all need to do more.

The Programme helped New Zealanders understand some of the dimensions of sustainable development. It showed me that we do have a constituency of support for more action. It showed that New Zealanders want their government agencies to act more purposefully, but also that they have high expectations from business and their own households.

The New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy
But for a government to work in concert - across all its departments and agencies it needs to have a strategy.
In July the Government agreed to the development of the New Zealand Sustainable Development Strategy. The Strategy is intended to establish principles and a framework for highlighting the interrelationships between the social, economic and environmental pillars of society.
Through better integration and holistic approaches it will pave the way for a form of development that "meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The Strategy will be for all New Zealand, not just Government. Consistent references are being inserted in the new Local Government Act - the present proposed new purpose of local government being "to enable local decision-making by and on behalf of citizens in their local communities to promote their social, economic, cultural and environmental well-being in the present and for the future".

In many ways leading New Zealand businesses are ahead of the Government along the path to sustainability. Organisations such as the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development and Redesigning Resources, are leading a wave of forward looking business practice which enables them to be better partners in sustainability with their communities and the Government.

As a first step in developing the Strategy, the Government has asked officials to prepare a draft statement of goals and principles that will underpin and guide the Strategy. This work is being led at a high level by DPMC (Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet), with my own Ministry officials playing a prominent role, along with those from Social Development, Te Puni Kokiri, Economic Development, Treasury and Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Once Government has agreed to those goals and principles (hopefully before Christmas) they will be circulated widely through New Zealand seeking input and comment. Ultimately the intent will be that local authorities, businesses or other organisations might adopt the statement for themselves, or develop their own customised goals and principles which can stand alongside (or be nested within) those adopted by Government.

The consultation period will run through to the end of March 2002.
It is expected that the Strategy itself will be adopted about the middle of 2002. The Strategy will contain other elements specifically relating to issues such as:
· the measurement of progress - headline indicators of sustainable development
· accounting and reporting on sustainable development - the Triple Bottom LineReporting project I will describe shortly
· local government guidelines
· a central web-based information service on sustainable development
· priorities for action.
It is intended that the Strategy will be a high-order statement that underpins other strategies of Government and provides guidance for them. So, high order statements are very important. Civil servants use them like a bok of rules. This is an essential part of achieving integration. It reflects the centrality of sustainable development to the Government's view of the future.

Sustainable development thinking is a driver for all of the priority projects in my portfolio - all of which contribute to securing my vision of realising our clean green image:
· climate change
· genetic modification
· hazard and waste reduction
· protecting biodiversity and air.

In other portfolios, I expect to see work such as the Transport Strategy, Social Development Strategy and even Taxation Reform to be included within the framework of the Sustainable Development Strategy.

(School Buses)

The Strategy, along with a comprehensive retrospective review of New Zealand's performance against the 40 chapters of Agenda 21 (adopted at Rio) will form the basis of a forward-looking Leader's Report that the Prime Minister will take to the World Summit. That report will confirm and promote New Zealand's commitment to sustainable development here, and globally.

Triple Bottom Line Reporting
I have said that one of my objectives is to forge new alliances with green and socially aware business. The capacity for Government to work more effectively with business is one of the most exciting developments in the term of this Government. An example of working together is the Triple Bottom Line Project currently running in the Ministry for the Environment.

This project has been funded for three years to encourage and facilitate best practice triple bottom line accounting and reporting in New Zealand. Government is committed to finding better ways of measuring progress at the national level through a range of indicators that reflect our growth as a society better than GDP does. It is also interested in finding better ways to measure the progress and performance of individual enterprises, whether they are businesses, departments or agencies.

The Triple Bottom Line Project is intended to develop such methodologies for New Zealand; to test and demonstrate best practice, and to build experience and confidence.
To this end the Ministry is working with clusters of businesses (initially through the NZBCSD), departments, agencies, and local authorities. These clusters are essentially mutual-support networks focussed on shared learning experiences.
The business cluster includes a full range of business organisations including some experienced in sustainability reporting - The Warehouse, Hubbard Foods, Sanfords, and BP, and new entrants - Telecom, Urgent Couriers, Interface Agencies (carpets), and City Care. They are reporting shortly on their first efforts, so that we can learn from them.

Shortly the Ministry will be convening a parallel cluster of government departments to experiment at that level.

This work will be reported to Government as part of its Strategy development in mid-2002 and will form an ongoing element of the New Zealand Strategy.
Already Government is starting to think about key issues that are common to the Government sector and business such as:
· standards for reporting
· review/audit/validation procedures
· filling gaps in our accounting and reporting capacity, especially in the environmental field (refer National Energy Efficiency & Conservation Strategy) and social field (eg support for the Social Auditing Conference in Wellington last week).

Concluding remarks
Sustainable development is a bit like freedom and democracy (both related ideas). It is about the manner in which we conduct our affairs now, but it is also inherently about the long-term - about future generations, and about ecosystem- scale and health. There is urgency about getting started, but there is time to work out how to do it. Doing it is not a bad place to start. Doing it critically and progressively is ideal at all levels.

Doing it together also helps. It reinforces the notion that businesses are connected one to another, and that they share common communities of interest. It reinforces the notion of a whole-of-government, integrated approach to policy, and is averse to independent policy fiefdoms. It rewards the notion that business and government have shared interests and common but differentiated contributions to make to the sustainable development of New Zealand.

You are stepping out on a journey. So is Government. Our commitment to the journey is to share it with you and to discover a better way of assuring an enduring and sustainable future for New Zealand - a New Zealand where clean and green is a reality and not just an image used as an advertiser's ploy.