“Better Futures” keeps environmental issues to fore

Environmental and sustainability issues remain a major concern for Kiwis.

The dramatic and worrying emergence and spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 and the thankful cessation of forest fires in Australia may have temporarily taken climate change and environmental issues off the main headlines in our part of the world.

But environmental and sustainability issues remain a major concern for Kiwis at least, judging by the findings of the recent “Better Futures” survey by research agency Colmar Brunton.

“Better Futures” 2019 surveyed 1500 New Zealanders on a range of environmental and sustainability matters and the overall response shows again a growing mood for changes to protect the environment and encourage sustainable practices at individual, business and government levels.

Three main environmental issues motivated kiwis:

  • the build-up of plastic in the environment, which was named as a concern by 69 per cent of respondents
  • climate change – 50 per cent of respondents said they’d taken action on it in some way
  • reducing waste – the numbers of respondents composting, using re-usable coffee cups or food containers, buying second-hand goods, borrowing or hiring rather than buying new were also up on 2018.

Almost half the respondents said they had switched to a brand or service provider which was more sustainable in its operations.

It was notable that there was still some hesitancy around taking positive action. When asked if they would consider sustainability when making product or service choices, 39 per cent of respondents said they would if it was “convenient”; just 19 per cent would go out of their way or “do their utmost” to choose a sustainable option.

When asked who should drive action on sustainability, 46 per cent of respondents said it was the job of government, while 24 per cent believed companies needed to take a lead.

Interestingly, more than two-thirds of those who felt companies should the lead said they would make eco-conscious choices even if the eco option was more expensive.

Government taking a lead is something Environmental Choice New Zealand is keen to press for in New Zealand, as we still languish behind many OECD countries in not having any government-led sustainable procurement policies in place.

Local government has taken a lead in this area, as recent initiatives by Auckland Council in seeking sustainable providers will attest.

Businesses need to do more too. A significant number of respondents felt businesses weren’t doing enough to reduce their environmental impact – 83 per cent –  while 72 per cent said the way businesses talked about social and environmental commitments was still confusing, which may explain the first finding. Greenwash remains an issue.

The good news for ecolabels like ours was that 70 per cent of the respondents who felt businesses should show leadership (and 67 per cent of all respondents) said they looked for labels that showed the choices they made were environmentally and animal-friendly.

The takeaways for the cleaning industry are strong. Cleaning companies are no strangers to waste and there is the potential to use products that could have a detrimental effect on the environment.

Fortunately, there is a strong environmental and sustainability ethos within the industry as witnessed by the large number of companies that bear our ecolabel for example and take time and care to minimise their impact on the environment through use of less-harmful products, waste management practices, reusable containers, electric vehicles and other positive initiatives.

Francesca Lipscombe is general manager of the New Zealand Ecolabelling trust, which administers the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

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