Byline: Ruth Le Pla
When the Rena container ship foundered off the Bay of Plenty coast last month one of my colleagues told me he felt violated as a New Zealander. The globs of oil washing up on Motiti Island, Papamoa and Mt Maunganui beaches struck raw nerves of concern for our fragile environment.
They also tapped into a groundswell of angst about the validity of New Zealand's clean green claims. Such concerns have been bubbling away for some time now.
Two years ago when NZTE published its 'clean economy vision for NZ in 2025', it noted that our pre-established 'pure' reputation rapidly needed authenticating to avoid reputation risk.
Just seven weeks before the Rena hit Astrolabe Reef, and a 12-hour plane flight from New Zealand's shores, delegates from round the world had gathered in Seoul to examine the emergence of an independent and very pragmatic Asian sphere of influence in international environmental regulation and trade in renewable technologies.
The Harvard Project on Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) in the Republic of Korea posited that Asia is carving out for itself a leadership role in such matters.
Yet while west and east may increasingly share a common lexicon of concern for the environment, many people suggest the underlying drivers are very different.
Here's a small, but telling, example. When NZTE did a study of Tesco's buying decisions on its home turf in Europe, sustainable practices ranked way high. NZTE GM strategy Grant McPherson says in that part of the world, green demands translate into basic business-as-usual prerequisites. Not so in Tesco China where the same survey showed sustainability as a mere blip on the chart.
McPherson suggests that in Europe consumers demand smarter green practices while in Asia, by and large, it's the governments that are driving the push for a cleaner environment.
Here in New Zealand, a group of independent business leaders has become so concerned about our country's future role in a more green-conscious world that in July this year they launched the Pure Advantage campaign.
They aim to address what they see as the growing gap between our nation's clean green marketing and what they call its "very different reality".
Pure Advantage campaign manager Duncan Stewart says environmental debate in Asia is not framed by global warming and climate change.
"It's driven by the need to reduce pollution and environmental degradation, as both are significant drags on GDP growth," he says. "Equally as important for many, it's driven by the desire for energy security."
For some time, many Asian governments have pursued the line that they'll lift their economies first before sorting out their environmental problems.
Now in many parts of Asia this approach is morphing into policies that clearly harness environmental improvement to simultaneous economic growth.
At a recent Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Hanoi, Vietnam, senior Asian and European officials, drawn from ASEM's 46 member countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat, met to work out ways to shift from a 'grow first, clean up later' approach toward a greener development path.
Over in Korea, Han Seung-soo, chair of the international Global Green Growth Institute, has described "green growth" as a new revolutionary development paradigm that sustains economic growth while at the same time ensuring climatic and environmental sustainability.
In his foreword to the book Green Growth in Motion: Sharing Korea's experience, he says green growth "focuses on addressing the root causes of these challenges while ensuring the creation of the necessary channels for resource distribution and access to basic commodities for the impoverished.
"Under this new paradigm, new ideas, transformational innovations and state-of-the art technology will become the major drivers of growth. …