All around New Zealand, families are doing their bit to improve the planet. From worm farms to compost heaps to walking school buses, we're making small changes that we hope will add up to a big impact. But what about businesses? How are the companies we buy from making an effort to improve their impact on the environment? We take a closer look at six Kiwi businesses and find out how they're changing to become more earth-friendly.
"Green" is a buzzword that we can't seem to escape. From reducing our carbon footprint to conserving water to investing in renewable and sustainable sources of energy, the environment and our impact upon it is
certainly at the forefront of modern society's thinking. When our grandparents were having babies, the post-war economy was booming and the state of the environment certainly wasn't the worry that it is now. Chemicals were helping to bring luxury to the masses, making "the good things" in life easier and more accessible. Instead of tying your curls up in rags at night (like shirley temple did as a child), you'd go down to the beauty parlour for a chemical perm, frying your locks into kinks and waves. Silk stockings, once ruinously expensive and fragile, were replaced by the incredible innovation of nylon pantyhose. Tv dinners, microwaves, aerosol hairspray, chemical pesticides, air travel… But these wonderful advances in technology, which we take for granted and can't imagine living without, are the same things that are causing our environment harm.
As a consumer, you are a faced with a great deal of choice when it comes to buying ecologically conscious products and services. We're told that we should be looking for items that are organic, natural, green, eco-friendly, environmentally conscious, sustainable, ethical, fair-trade, and kind to the planet. Imagine you're standing in the produce aisle of your local supermarket, looking at two bins of apples. Both are red and rosy-cheeked, but one is marked "organic" and the other isn't. Which are you more likely to buy? If the price is similar, chances are you'll reach for the organic apples over the non-organically grown ones. It's become almost a relex to choose the "greener" option.
But what if those organic apples were lown in from the US, and the non-organic apples were locally grown? Then how do you choose? The organic apples' impact on the environment, through the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere via the fuel burned as they accrued thousands of "food miles" just getting to New Zealand, might be greater than that of the locally grown apples that were produced with the aid of pesticides.
Organic cotton or bamboo clothing is a similar story. It's all very well and good to produce organic clothing - certainly it's better for the environment and for your own body - but what about getting it to New Zealand? We're a small country that lies, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere, and if the organic cotton outfit you've just bought for your newborn was made in another country, investigate how it got here. Was it shipped or flown? Did the company whom you bought it from offset the environmental impact of transporting it from it's country of origin to here? Further still, was it produced in an ethical, sustainable manner, in a factory that subscribes to fair trade requirements? Or is the fabric it's made from the only thing "organic" about it? It's important to take a closer look at where your purchases are really coming from.
With the current focus on environmental impact, it is no doubt tempting for companies to "greenwash" their actual contribution to reducing their carbon footprint. But who is really spending the time - and the money - to investigate ways that their business can be run more eficiently and more "green"? What companies in Godzone are making a difference to the planet through innovative, out-of-the-box initiatives that will not only help consumers, but also help the environment? We took a closer look at six Kiwi businesses and the lengths they're going to in order to preserve our planet.
Recycling disposable nappies
Do you use disposable nappies, and do you feel guilty about it? Disposable nappies are constant targets for abuse about their impact on the environment. The flak they cop seems to have more to do with their disposal than their manufacturing, as environmentalists and cloth nappy aficionados alike critique the way they're bundled up with the household rubbish and dumped in landills. So-called "biodegradeable" disposable nappies do exist (and we've tried them), but they require composting in the backyard rather than simply tossing into the rubbish bin, so aren't "disposable" in the traditional sense of the word.
Modern cloth nappies are one option if you're concerned about the impact your child's bottom is having on the earth. But if you're feeling virtuous for using cloth nappies, keep in mind that the environmental cost of producing the material used in making those nappies can be huge. cotton, which many cloth nappies are made from, is considered the "dirtiest crop" on the planet because of its negative impact on the environment. A recent UK study shows that the environmental cost of cloth nappies, when manufacturing and washing are taken into account, is similar to that of using disposables anyway.
The New Zealand Ministry for the environment reports that disposable nappies make up around 1.9% of our landfills. While this is not a huge percentage in the grand scheme of things (for example, plastics make up 9.1% of landfill, and rubber accounts for 5.1%), one disposable nappy manufacturer has devised a way to reduce this number even further - without asking parents to change their minds about using disposables.
Kimberley-Clark, the manufacturers of Huggies nappies, has recently taken steps to reduce disposable nappies' impact on the environment. First, as any parent using Huggies over the last couple of years might have noticed, Huggies have slimmed down their nappies, reducing their bulk by over 50% in the past five years through improving their product design. The UK study has concluded that design changes such as these have decreased disposable nappies' overall environmental impact by 12% in the past decade.
But more interestingly - and more excitingly for parents using disposables - Kimberley-Clark has helped to develop the technology to compost disposable nappies, sanitary products, and wipes. Located in Canterbury, close to the Waimakariri and Hurunui border, the Huggies envirocomp solution (www.envirocomp.co.nz ) is a joint project between envirocomp Ltd and Huggies. This initiative is the first commercial nappy composting facility in New Zealand, and quite probably the only one in the world able to compost all brands of disposable nappies, sanitary products, and continence items.
The Huggies envirocomp solution was started by parents Karen and Karl Upston, who, in 2007, conducted a five-month trial composting disposable nappies. The trial, which involved 200 families, six preschools, and a local maternity unit among others, composted approximately 450,000 nappies (around 56 tonnes). Working with a composting company called R5 Solutions, the manufacturers of a range of composting facilities called HotRot, the Upstons concluded from their trial that disposable nappies and related products could be commercially composted.
"We got involved in the initiative initially because we were impressed by
the combination of Kiwi technology and initiative which matches our own
commitment to evaluate alternative solutions for disposing of nappy waste," Huggies states on the envirocomp website. It's clear that there are benefits to being able to compost disposable nappies, and impressive that the composting facility is able to handle all brands of disposable nappies, not just Huggies.
The way that the envirocomp system works is that nappies are collected - first from homes in the Christchurch, Kaikoura, and North Canterbury regions - then taken to the envirocomp plant and loaded into the specialised HotRot composting unit. Over a period of two to three weeks, the nappies decompose, eliminating all pathogens and becoming compost. At the end of this three-week period, the compost is screened to remove all of the non-compostable materials, such as plastic from nappies. The plant will be able to compost 2.5 tonnes of nappies per day - about 15,000 nappies - and as demand for the service increases, they are able to quadruple this volume to be able to compost 10 tonnes (about 60,000 nappies) per day.
Initially, Canterbury families will be the lucky ones able to take advantage of this innovative technology, but Huggies envirocomp hopes to expand the service into other areas of the country as interest grows. In June 2008, the Upstons were presented with a Green Ribbon Award from the Ministry of the Environment for "Making a Difference to Household Sustainability" through the Huggies envirocomp solution.
Carbon-neutral courier company
Everyone loves it when the courier drops off a parcel. Whether it's an online auction win, an internet shopping purchase, or an unexpected gift, chances are you've had a visit from a courier this week (especially as it's so close to Christmas). Businesses use couriers even more than consumers - to send urgent documents off to be signed, request parts from warehouses, transfer items between branches, deliver orders… For many things, the regular old postal system just won't do, and this is where couriers are invaluable.
All of those courier vans zooming past us on the motorway emit carbon
dioxide, through their use of fuel. That's where Urgent Couriers saw a prime opportunity to not only reduce their carbon emissions, but to take things even further, becoming New Zealand's first transport company to be certified carbon neutral, and the only courier company to hold this distinction.
How can a company whose day-to-day operations involve burning fossil fuels become carbon neutral? In 1999, Urgent couriers adopted sustainability as a company policy, but it didn't stop at abstract thinking. First, they measured their carbon footprint so they knew, as a company, what they were doing to the environment. This was done through the carboNZerocert programme, an internationally recognised greenhouse gas certification scheme, and this footprint is externally audited each year.
As well as keeping track of their carbon emissions, Urgent Couriers has taken practical steps to reduce these emissions and make positive changes to their business practices, such as:
• Increasing the size of their "pedal fleet" of cycle couriers, and increased the area in which cycle couriers operate so there's less of a need for vehicle couriers in some areas.
• Developing innovative technology to improve efficiency and reduce number of kilometres travelled per day.
• Implementing vehicle guidelines for new contractors, in order to reduce fuel consumption and raise the number of low emissions vehicles in the fleet to 50% by the end of 2008 and 80% by end of 2010.
• Replacing all company-owned vehicles with low-emission vehicles. This has already resulted in a 40% reduction in fuel consumption, and played a large part in keeping their carbon output relatively static while the business has grown.
While Urgent couriers is offsetting their carbon footprint, their real goal is to find ways to continuously reduce that footprint. In the meantime, they are offsetting remaining emissions, through tree-planting and by purchasing verified carbon credits from Landcare research's EBEX21 project, which creates credits through native forest regeneration, wind farms, and landfill gas projects.
Urgent couriers' Managing Director, Steve Bonnici, serves on the executive board of the New Zealand Business Council for sustainable Development, and was part of a team of international experts to put together a sector supplement for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRL) for the freight and logistics sector.
"As a business that emits carbon from fossil fuels, we wanted to take responsibility for our environmental impact, and inspire other businesses to do the same."
Have you ever seen a printing press in action? It's noisy, it's fast, and it's definitely exciting. There is something very satisfying about seeing every issue of this magazine being printed onto pages that are cut, collated, covered, and bound - and it's even more satisfying seeing it in the hands of a reader. Despite the omnipresence of the internet, humans are very tactile beings, and we love to hold a book or magazine in our hands, flip through the pages, and see the printed words there.
OHbaby! magazine is printed on one of five massive presses at GEON's 11,000 square metre Highbrook "super site", based in East Tamaki, Auckland. GEON is New Zealand's largest sheet-fed printing operation, with 12 manufacturing sites country-wide.
GEON is a very strong proponent of good environmental practice, recommending that their clients use environmentally friendly papers from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified mills or ISO14001 sustainable well managed forests. There are other factors not as obvious, such as the fact that 97% of the unused paper that is left over from print jobs at GEON is recycled. Because of this ongoing commitment, GEON's Highbrook plant is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. There have been many positive changes in the printing industry, which puts it on the front foot as far as the environment goes. For example, GEON uses environmentally friendly inks wherever possible - the ink is soy-based, with no heavy metals, very low VOC's (volatile organic compounds), and does not hinder the recycling process. These inks are far more biodegradable, as well as derived from renewable resources. And they won't make you pass out from the fumes.
GEON also monitors and controls their power supply with power factor correction units, which maximise the efficiency of the power supplied. And if you're a subscriber to OHbaby! Magazine, your copy will come wrapped in a clear sleeve, which is actually biodegradeable. Called "low wrap", GEON has implemented this for the use of wrapping and mailing of magazines and direct mail campaigns. Besides all this, GEON is also in the process of gaining PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes) accreditation.
Print is very sustainable. The trees harvested for paper are planted in well-managed, sustainable forests, and will absorb carbon dioxide - for every tonne of carbon dioxide a tree absorbs, two tonnes of oxygen are emitted.
What does all of this mean to us, and to you, the reader? Well, by choosing a printer that's committed to environmental causes, OHbaby! is taking steps to limit our impact on the environment. so next time you pick up a magazine, brochure, or other printed product, check out who printed it. Does that printer, like GEON, have a continuous commitment to improving environmental performance? The team at OHbaby! want to lead by example, and we are proud of our ongoing efforts to protect our people and planet.
A greener cab ride
Taxis are a way of life in the big city. Tens of thousands of taxis around the
country provide city-dwellers, businesspeople, people who are unable to drive, and those of us who don't like paying airport parking fees with a means to get from point A to point B rapidly and with minimal fuss. But this form of transport comes at a price - and we're not just talking about a per-kilometre charge. Like any vehicles, taxis burn fuel, which, in turn, emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.
But one taxi company is changing that. Green cabs, with their ubiquitous green-liveried Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles, is committed to reducing their carbon footprint through a number of strategies. Firstly, they recognise that running hybrid vehicles is only one part of being environmentally responsible. Hybrid vehicles still use fossil fuels, although a much smaller amount than "normal" vehicles, so to offset this, Green cabs participates in practices that reduce their carbon footprint - tree planting, native bush regeneration, and other forms of carbon-reducing activities are part of their company philosophy.
Green cabs is also committed to ensuring that its business practices are sustainable. And they've recently been asked to join the United Nations Environment Programme's Climate Neutral Network. Says the Green cabs website, "We purposely follow a different path from the rest of the industry. We want to show that there is a better way of using hybrid vehicles, to planting trees through trees for the Future's agro-forestry programmes in developing countries."
So the next time you need to call a taxi, think about the impact that cab
ride is having on the environment - and decide whether it might be more
worthwhile to invest in a more eco-friendly trip. Green cabs is currently in
Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Clothing that's closer to nature
Nature Baby, one of New Zealand's most popular and well-respected organic baby clothing companies, abides by the philosophy that their goods should be manufactured where the raw materials are grown. But cotton isn't grown in New Zealand, so they needed to think creatively when it came to their line of organic cotton clothing for babies and toddlers.
Their merino clothing is made in New Zealand, as the resources are readily available here, but their organic cotton is made in India by a company with strong ethical values. The farming region where the cotton is grown is led by a family of Jain Indians, who saw the damage that conventional cotton farming methods were doing to their land and community, so chose to return to traditional methods of organic farming. Once the cotton is harvested, it goes to the local spinning mill, where it's spun into yarn. The yarn is then sent to knitting and weaving mills to be turned into fabric, which is then made up into garments.
The entire process is monitored by two independent organic certifying companies. This means that the community invested in farming the cotton also makes the finished garment, thus retaining all of the rewards of the process, and reducing the garments' carbon footprint as there is less transporting of the garment at its different stages of manufacture and production.
"Before we decided to have the Nature Baby garments made by this producer, we visited all the different stages of the production, from the small villages that grow the cotton through to the company that makes them, and we were truly amazed at what we saw," the company explains. "Things like how the village is entirely self-sufficient, whereas other villages who are farming conventionally are virtually slaves to the seed companies."
The 60 workers are paid above India's average wage, with equality between the pay of male and female employees. No child labour is permitted. Workers are given decent working conditions and overtime is optional. Besides this, the supplier who employs this community of workers is directly involved in the local community, supporting a school for children living in poverty and starting a programme of free medical care for staff.
Making certain that their clothing is produced not only organically, but ethically, is important to Nature Baby, and it's good to know that even though the company couldn't source the materials it needed to make its organic cotton garments here, they chose the next best solution - for the community their clothing manufacture supports, and for the environment.
Meet the sheep your sleep sack came from
Keeping your baby warm and comfortable when they're sleeping is a high priority on the list of new parents - because when the baby is sleeping peacefully, the rest of the family can get some much-needed rest as well. And one of the most popular choices for parents of babies and toddlers is to dress their little ones in sleep sacks.
Sleep sacks can be made of several different materials, from organic cotton to synthetic polyleece. As with anything you're putting on your newborn, natural fibres are more healthy for your child, as they help to naturally regulate their body temperature and prevent them from getting overheated. Merino wool is a bit of a "miracle fabric" in this respect, as it keeps babies warm - but not too warm - in winter, is breathable, and wicks moisture away if your baby is perspiring.
We reviewed the Merino Kids Go Go Bag in Issue 2 of OHbaby!
Magazine, and our reviewer noted that a feature that stood out for her over all of the other sleep sacks we looked at was that the quality of the Go Go Bag was evident simply in the way it feels. that's because the Go Go Bag is made from 100% pure New Zealand merino wool, and not only is this textile renewable and sustainable, it's also produced in an ethical manner.
Merino Kids founder Amie Nilsson says, "As a mother researching the availability of baby, infant and toddler sleepwear products, I was shocked at the number of synthetic products that were looding the market. More so, I was dismayed at the size and state of the unregulated global industry."
Merino Kids chose to stick with New Zealand merino because they knew that they could be certain of its high-quality and sustainability. And this is something consumers can check in a unique way. Each Merino Kids garment is traceable from the farm right through the manufacturing process. Each garment has a unique production code, which purchasers can type into a website and virtually "meet" the farmer, and the flock of sheep, that their particular garment was sourced from. This functionality will be available on the Merino Pure website, www.merinopure.com , starting in February.
Not only are their garments made from renewable, natural resources, Merino Kids also works consciously to minimize their impact on the environment through adopting sustainable business practices, utilizing recycled packaging, and sourcing environmentally friendly fabric manufacturing and finishing processes.
Consumers choosing green
It's important to remember that everything we do and buy has an impact on the environment, which may occur at any stage of that product's life cycle, from raw material acquisition, manufacturing, distribution, use, or disposal. As a consumer, you have the choice to make changes to your own way of living in order to reduce your negative impact on our planet. Actively seeking out companies who are involved in preserving the environment through innovative, thoughtful initiatives that reduce their own eco-footprint is one way that you can make a difference. And by making informed choices about what you are buying, you're teaching your child to be a superhero for the planet.
References and further information
• Environmental Justice Foundation (UK). "the Deadly chemicals in cotton." 2007. Online: www.ejfoundation.org/pdf/the_deadly_chemicals_in_cotton.pdf
• GeON: www.geongroup.com
• Green cabs: www.greencabs.co.nz
• Huggies envirocomp solution: www.envirocomp.co.nz
• Huggies New Zealand - the environment: www.huggies.co.nz/OurProducts/theenvironment
• Merino Kids: www.merinokids.co.nz
• Merino Pure: www.merinopure.com
• Nature Baby: www.naturebaby.co.nz
• New Zealand Ministry for the environment. "special Wastes: Nappies."
• UK Government environment Agency. "Life cycle assessment of
disposable and reusable nappies in the UK." May 2005. Online: www.
• UK Government environment Agency. "An updated lifecycle assessment
study for disposable and reusable nappies." October 2008. http://
• Urgent couriers: www.urgent.co.nz
As seen in OHbaby! magazine Issue 4: 2009