Global Women Impact Series: The Tools to Co-Create a Sustainable Aotearoa

Our most recent Impact Series webinar explored how we can co-create a more sustainable nation — highlighting the power of rethinking everything from frameworks to leadership approaches, business plans to ourselves.

We were joined by Andrea Thompson, Mavis Mullins and Dr Caralee McLeish, who along with facilitator Amanda Ellis, shared their insights on what needs to change as we navigate a more sustainable path forward.

Between thinking intergenerationally, sidestepping siloes, purposeful policies, we’ve gathered our inspiring panellists’ insights below to inspire your approach to sustainability in your path to contributing to a more sustainable Aotearoa.

The new framework, New Zealand’s Role, and why it’s so important

All nations in the UN have agreed on a Sustainable Development Agenda and a set of underpinning Sustainable Development Goals from now until 2030. For New Zealand, we’re part of the small group of countries that are trying to integrate a broad wellbeing approach to really underpin overall sustainable development — rather than focusing on the outdated version of GDP. Our Panellist, Dr Caralee McLeish states that Treasury will be applying both the Living Standards Framework and concepts of Te Ao Māori and concepts of Māori Wellbeing when advising governments policies and budgets.

What’s the Living Standards Framework? It’s guided by the principle that people don’t just want and need material wealth for fulfilment, but rather considers how broader aspects of personal ‘wealth’, like environmental factors, wellbeing and overall hauora play into the equation. When the framework is applied to policies, it makes decisions and strategies “more rigorous by measuring human, social, natural capital, alongside traditional physical financial capital that we see in balance sheets and income statements.” It doesn’t replace GDP, but rather it enhances it.

The Living Standards Framework as a lens for sustainable decision making

It also helps us look at issues that have typically been underplayed “like risk, resilience, distribution and equity across people, place, time, generations” says Dr Caralee. Applying the Living Standards framework helps us to see—and importantly measure— the broader benefits of projects. This can be everything from school participation to job creation, safety to better health.

Where traditional business metrics are applied, some sustainable goals appear weak as a business case. However, when these broader benefits outlined in the framework are considered, it shows a much greater case for investment. Ultimately, the Living Standards Framework provides a frame for monitoring wellbeing outcomes, and in turn, makes a difference for how decisions are made.

“The Pandemic has shown the importance of taking a really broad approach to wellbeing. A focus on health outcomes helped to hold up economic activities — and not compete. The hallmark of New Zealand’s response has been social capital, levels of trust have held up, and the unevenness of the downturn has highlighted the need to look at equity,” Dr Caralee McLeish.

Cultural aspects alongside the Living Standards Framework

Dr Caralee also mentions how treasury uses Hauora Waiora — the Māori Perspective of wellbeing — where natural capital, the human spirit that’s inseparable from the natural world, is part of the equation. Taking this perspective challenges people to weigh environmental challenges differently when looking at policies. It’s also an approach that is helpful in looking at intergenerational wellbeing or long-term impacts of policies.

“It’s about having more rigorous advice, and to make sure we align public investment with what people really care about, which is overall wellbeing,” Dr Caralee McLeish.

The thinking needed for a 500-year business plan

For Mavis Mullins, who’s projects includes a 500-year business plan, co-creation starts with challenging ourselves. We need to confront the resistance before us, and challenge the norms, and challenge a way of thinking that leads us to bask in comfortable norms thinking that it’s not a problem that could be improved on.

The environment and people need to be put first, because both have primacy. Thinking this way connects everything together, brings the ecosystem together, and Mavis reminds us that we need to be careful that we don’t silo these elements, adding that “the minute we do we challenge the balance.” Ultimately, co-creation lies in the knowledge that our greater environment, metaphysical elements and ourselves are hugely entwined.

The Māori world view in this, which is helpful for co-creation, is understanding the conflicts: the collective community vs the individual, the planet vs profit, inter-generational planning versus quarterly planning. “All of these paradigms need to be fronted, and it’s all about being brave enough and smart enough. The answers are right in front of us: they’re grounded in indigenous knowledge, they’re grounded in western science and our own — all we have to do is have the kōrero.

“We can talk these wonderful terms, we can articulate these beautiful values, but unless our mind actually forces action, it goes nowhere — we end up with a beautiful picture or a lovely phrase,” Mavis Mullins.

What are the capability gaps?

It can be overwhelming thinking about sustainability — because we all know sustainable issues aren’t solved by one single person. Andrea Thompson, co-founder of Catapult and leader of the Sustainable Leadership Programme with the Sustainable Business Council, talks about the power of mindsets, skill sets and capabilities to overcome this feeling and navigate towards the Aotearoa we want. She provides the following concepts, steps and skill sets as tools to adopt a sustainable mindset.

  • Seeing the connections and the interdependence of society, the economy, the environment, is the first step in shifting this mindset.
  • Thinking outside-in, and future-back: being aware of the external world and it’s megatrends, a longer term view, and bringing that perspective into the organisation to shape long term strategy.
  • Systems leadership: seeing the relationship of an organisation in its system rather than in isolation — bringing those shifting perspectives of stakeholders into view. These can be policy related or perhaps investor, employee, consumer preferences.
  • A repurposing of business: where people are putting sustainability as core to purpose and strategy, rather than a bolt-on.
    Diagnose complex sustainable challenges: identifying what skills are needed to bring them to light.
  • Collaboration: many sustainable gains work with your value and supply chain.
  • Seeing leaders as facilitators: moving away from the individual with power and more the holder of space and a crafter of dialogue who can invite in other stakeholders with perspectives, and navigate a way forward.
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