This article was published as a joint venture between Velocity and Craccum, in Issue 13 of Craccum and Newsletter 5 for Velocity. Brian and Komal talk to Rachel Brown of Sustainable Business Network (SBN) about sustainability in business, the impact of COVID and the James Dyson Award.
With New Zealanders readjusting to life after lockdown, our lives have been altered in many ways under this new normal. While social distancing guidelines remain enforced, businesses have been forced to adapt the way they operate, to practices including remote working. For those who hate their workmates, this represents news to celebrate, but it also benefits the planet too – global carbon emissions have witnessed a fall of 8% under lockdown. Though these are positive figures, we need to prevent tragic circumstances from being the only reason they occur. Organizations such as the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) support our small businesses in achieving their sustainable operation goals – particularly while COVID-19 poses an additional challenge.
Rachel Brown, ONZM – chief executive of SBN, and UoA alumnus – recognizes that the impact COVID-19 has had on NZ small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is significant, but envisions a valuable opportunity for small businesses to grow in the midst of their recovery. “This is a very difficult time for businesses – particularly anyone who is cash flow constrained. But for those who are personally resilient, now absolutely IS the time [to] reflect and rebuild.”
Rachel describes how a three-year backpacking journey after graduating ignited her passion for sustainability in the business sector. “Seeing the scale of poverty and pollution was a big motivator for me to come home and be a part of solving these issues here in NZ. So I… started what is now known as the Sustainable Business Network.”
Her organization’s mission is to connect their 600 members to resources, people and events, to help promote the prosperity of people and nature. With decades of experience herself advocating for sustainable business, Rachel recognizes the urgent need for advancement in this area.
“Many businesses have frankly been operating unsustainable models for too long. Now is the time to create a business model that supports a fairer system for people and regenerates our natural systems –addresses waste, climate and water too ideally! “
It has been a busy few months for Rachel and her organization, as businesses struggle to recover from the impact of lockdown. “[We’ve] put our effort into supporting our members – we open-sourced everything, from training to resources,” Rachel reveals.
“[We then] spent the next 2 months mapping out a strategy for the government to move from business-as-usual to resilience and regeneration.”
Rachel also describes the initiatives SBN have taken to alleviate the unemployment crisis. “We listened to the needs of Kiwis and are working on a programme called Partnering to Plant, which is a job creation programme linked to our Million Metres Streams programme.”
The latter initiative, launched by SBN in 2012, has to date supported the restoration of 61,056 metres of waterways across New Zealand, with $1.6 million of funding.
Her team has also championed Climate Action 20/25, a programme established to accelerate climate action by businesses. The initiative recognizes the existing cost and time constraints to tackle climate change, as well as lack of expert knowledge. “[We want] to make it super easy for any SME to tackle climate action.”
“So we’ve been busy,” Rachel admits.
The recent period has also given a chance for Rachel and her team to observe the structure and resiliency of businesses under lockdown. “We learnt a lot of new patterns during COVID,” Rachel admits. “One of them was to embrace technology.”
“[Work] can now be done with the use of online tools like Zoom and Skype etc. These need to remain with us.”
“COVID-19 has impacted the entire world, and lockdown [has] highlighted that there are problems with the way we were doing things before,” Rachel acknowledges. “We have the power and more recently, the time, to change.”
This need for change is beginning to be recognized by initiatives such as the James Dyson Award (JDA) – for which Rachel sits on the judging panel of this year’s NZ round. The JDA, run by the James Dyson Foundation, is an annual international award that celebrates the innovative ideas from designers and engineers.
Rachel shares her excitement of judging the award for the first time. “It’s great to get behind a competition that encourages STEM students and recent graduates to share their Kiwi-ingenuity on a world stage.” Her outstanding contribution in the sustainability sector is what led the Dyson team to recruit her as a judge.
“Millennials and Gen Z’s are generally more concerned about the environment and sustainability so being able to see that passion materialise will be fantastic.”
Rachel joins a special year for the JDA, which plans to crown a second international winner, focused on Sustainability, for the first time. “Sustainability is something I have been championing and advocating locally for a very long time, so I was pleased to hear that the Award this year… [encourages] more of a focus on sustainable design.”
Entries for the James Dyson Award go through three stages – they are first judged on a national level, and then an international level. The top 20 international entries are then reviewed by British inventor Sir James Dyson. Winners are chosen at a national and international level.
“Each year we have been struck by the ingenuity and conscience of young people to solve really big problems,” says Sir James Dyson. “So many of the James Dyson Award entries have a focus on improving the world through engineering and technology.”
The biggest problem the world has faced this year, evidently, is the COVID-19 pandemic. Given its large-scale devastating impact on every country in the world, Rachel envisions that many entrants will approach their invention through this lens.
She proceeds to give a few hints as to what she’s looking for when judging sustainable design. “I’m looking for creative ideas and designs that identify current challenges or problems and offer a solution through a lens of sustainability.”
Rachel’s advice to budding, future designers consists of the following: consider the entire lifecycle of your design. “While you may be designing a sustainability-focused product, you also need to consider the environmental impacts of production, packaging and what happens if/when the product has come to the end of its life.”
Entries for the James Dyson Award close on 16th July, 2020. For more information on the James Dyson Award, visit the website here: https://www.jamesdysonaward.org/en-nz/2020-entries/