OHbaby! talks to Heather Saunderson about how to Keep New Zealand Beautiful

OHBaby! chats with Keep New Zealand Beautiful general manager, Heather Saunderson, about raising kids with a "clean up" conscience, and how families can help during national Clean Up Week 14-20 September.

OB: Tell us about your kids...

I have two fantastic littlies, my daughter Madison Harlow, who's five years old, and my son Kristopher, who's two  years old. They keep me busy!

OB: And how long have you been the general manager of KNZB? What drew you to this job?

I've been with KNZB for two years now. Prior to that, I led Law Societies for nearly ten years. Whilst I loved that particular role, my professional mind-set began to shift once I had children. I have always been an active volunteer, and the role with KNZB allowed me to combine my passion with my profession. This really is about ensuring New Zealand is still a wonderful place to live for the next generation of Kiwis, our children.

OB: How do you apply the Keep New Zealand Beautiful philosophy in and around your own home?

For me, being environmentally aware and sustainable extends beyond just social responsibility, although that’s a big part of it. I really make a conscious effort to walk the talk. The majority of our office furniture has been made out of recycled pallet timber. The kids are at an age where they really love learning about their environment…and what two year old boy doesn’t enjoy getting muddy in the garden?  Veggie gardens and fruit trees offset the cost of our groceries, and for a family of four that can be a huge savings. That’s something all mums can get behind.

OB: What happens when you’re out an about with the family and you see litter, or people littering?

I don’t view myself as the authority on litter policing, if I see litter I simply pick it up and put it in the bin. I'm an advocate for policies and penalties for littering offences to ensure effective  deterrence. I believe most people want to do the right thing. It is my job to educate, inspire and empower.

OB: What do you do/say to your kids?

To be fair, I don’t have to say a lot. My daughter has fully absorbed the ethos of Keep New Zealand Beautiful. When we are out and she spots some litter, she says, “Oh mummy, someone’s not keeping New Zealand Beautiful.” ‘Be a Tidy Kiwi’ was a campaign we originated over 30 years ago, and it still resonates with Kiwis today…all age demographics, from my daughter to my mother in law. I think parents have done an amazing job of instilling this mantra in today’s youth, and children are drawn to the positive messaging.

OB: What do your kids enjoy doing to help – and what’s more of a challenge for them?

My children are drawn to picking up rubbish, they get really excited about keeping their town tidy. It's wonderful as they are trying to do their bit, but I don’t want them to touch anything unsanitary or hazardous. The challenge is really for me, trying to remain encouraging but also implementing safety measures and explaining these parameters to them. That is no easy feat with a two year old boy!

OB: What advice do you have for parents on how to foster a sense of responsibility (with regards to rubbish/graffiti) in their children?

I've taught my children to differentiate between street art and graffiti. We partner with local schools and use urban murals to replace graffiti-vandalised walls and there tends to be a reduction in tagging when the murals are reflective of the local community. My children absolutely love these murals, often times they are designed by other children, and they turn a public space into an inviting space, thereby promoting a sense of community. In regards to rubbish, my daughter gets very excited about recycling, she wants to clean the bottles and place them carefully in the bin. Children are eager to learn more and participate – they want to help.

OB: And if littlies want to get involved in clean up initiatives, what’s some practical advice you could offer?

We have a comprehensive guide on our website which outlines health and safety, hazardous materials, etc. If you sign up to participate in our annual Clean-Up Week, we send you out a kit that contains gloves, rubbish and recycling bags, badges for the children, certificates and more. We can’t bubble wrap our children, but we can protect them. Obviously we don’t want them to pick up glass, sharp objects or hazardous materials. They should always wear gloves when picking up rubbish, and the most important aspect of any KNZB event – get stuck in and have fun!

IMAGE/Jessie Casson



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