Last Thursday I attended the launch of the new Pure Advantage campaign – a campaign led by some of New Zealand’s most successful business leaders and entrepreneurs.

This group, which includes the likes of Sir Stephen Tindall, Geoff Ross and Joan Withers, have coalesced to form Pure Advantage to add to the growing concert of academics, economists, progressive companies and environmental groups demanding that the Government takes action to protect our reputation and move New Zealand towards a cleaner, smarter way of doing business. 

The venue was the salubrious Northern Club in downtown Auckland and was well attended by industry royalty, notable commentators, financiers and politicians from across the spectrum, although government representation was notable for its absence.

The message from the speakers, including Chris Liddell, Rob Morrison and polar explorer Rob Swan was clear – in a world that is rapidly moving to a low carbon way of doing business, New Zealand could become a leading exporter of renewable energy and clean technology expertise and underpin our future prosperity. And at the same time, Kiwi companies, innovation and engineering could play a leading role in pioneering the solutions to some of the world’s most urgent environmental problems.

Indeed, the case is compelling. The growth of the global green economy is forecast to grow to an estimated US$6.8 trillion by 2015, much of which is being invested by countries who are both existing and emerging trading partners, desperate to claim the clean energy crown and cement their position as the world’s economic power house. As President Obama put it: the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.

Yet, the lack of leadership, the cosy relationship with climate change dinosaurs such as Solid Energy and Fonterra and the plague of myopic thinking at the top of our government threatens to undermine this opportunity and increasingly isolate us on the global stage. The Government’s recent Green Growth Discussion paper is a case in point.

The document issued earlier this week is a damning indictment of the lethargy with which our country's top brass are rising to the challenge of climate change and economic growth. Light on detail and strategic vision, it demonstrates a genuine lack of understanding of what is required to unleash our nation's clean energy potential on the world. It's a 'yeah, we could, but we probably won't' narrative that's fast becoming the hallmark of the government's attitude to fulfilling it's obligation as stewards of our environment and our global reputation.

Indeed, one of the most pertinent points made last week underlines this need for action and leadership. In 2006, New Zealand's environmental performance was ranked first out of 146 countries; last year we came in 15th and as a result our economy is suffering. Our GDP now ranks 57th in the world, behind Nigeria and Kazakhstan.

So while the government fiddles as those fires rage across Rome, the launch of Pure Advantage should be welcomed for its ambition to bring those global, green growth opportunities to New Zealand.

But it must also be more than this. It must be a challenge to those mandarins and Ministers who have taken leave of their responsibility to safeguard our future.
The true measure of a successful campaign is not how it starts the race, but how it runs it. It is more than just marketing and slick PR, but about getting its hands dirty by taking on those companies and corporates that hide within the citadels of business as usual. And most importantly, the Pure Advantage must be an advocate for the environment, as well as economic prosperity, if it is to have the integrity and the support that it is asking for.

We look forward to seeing if this really is the pure advantage that New Zealand's been waiting for.



Photo by Alastair Thompson / Scoop