democracy government green party law Middle East peace politics

Civility to fight injustice

Golriz Ghahraman is an international human rights lawyer who is also a former refugee from Iran.   She has worked to restore communities after war and human rights atrocities, particularly in empowering women engaged in peace and justice initiatives.   She is standing for NZ parliament on the Green Party list.

Update:  this was recorded on 28th July 2017, broadcast 3rd August 2017.


“I prosecuted for the UN, but I also defended”.

Defence comments at 10mins, 20mins & 25:05

Talking points

Standing up to might – don’t take no for an answer.

Bringing down the bad guys.

Each (horrific) situation begins with dehumanising a group

Changing back to language of inclusion.

Sustainable: Environmental and social justice measures are intrinsically linked so we need to sustain humans at the same time that we sustain the environment.

Superpower: Making an argument and being persuasive.

Activist: Yes, activism is the rent that we pay for being on this planet.

Motivation: Justice, I’m the type of person who gets deeply annoyed by injustice, getting involved and fighting for the justice system.

Challenges: Getting into parliament is a pretty massive challenge for me.

Miracle: On a global scale for me it would be about democracy, about giving that dignity to all global citizens. The only way we can be sustainable is through self determination.

Advice: Please vote, not everyone can.

business community creative

Creating entrepreneurs to create change

Jesper Kjellerås is the Founder & Managing Director of Impact Hub Stockholm.   A change maker, process facilitator, team coach, business coach, Jesper believes we can change society in positive way through entrepreneurship.


Talking points

Being the change we needed to see

How do we change behaviour to actually care for each  other?

Drive a prosperous community that can be the change you need to be.

Everybody will have an impact

See unlikely allies as potential for collaboration

The goal is to solve the issue, this needs a business model to be viable, and that means scalable.

Innovation at the edges

Not just the best in the world, the best for the world

Creating entrepreneurs to create change

Sustainable: I don’t really like the world sustainable, because really what is sustainable… does that mean that nothing happens and it’s just sustained?

Success:The scaling program that we did with eight different houses in Europe was a huge success.  

Superpower: My ability to not give up, I’ve done this for many years now, I’ve been on this rollercoaster and it’s just been going really steep down hill… but somehow we always seem to get up again.

Activist: I grew up with both of my parents as activists, so in some ways yes I have it in my blood. In a present sense, I’ve tried to do it now by creating a framework for others to try and take action.

Challenge: We just launched the SDGhack (Sustainable Development Goal Hack ) our upcoming challenge is developing our role as a creative workspace in stockholm, we are really taking on these sustainability goals.

Motivation: My children, probably my five year old who wakes me up in the morning. Being able to hear their struggles, ideas and creativity… it’s so motivating.

Miracle: I would put women in power, not just an equal power share but a comparable amount of power that men have now. Just flip the imbalance.

Advice: Be yourself, whoever you are meant to be and be transparent about it. Don’t be ashamed if you think differently to others, just embrace it.



Future whisperer

The inspirational Liselotte Lyngsø is Founding Partner in Future Navigator.  We talk about studying that which does not yet exist.

Talking points

Human revolutionaries have a different set of competencies, they don’t just work in a different box, they have to create the box themselves.

The distance from envisaging to implementation has never been shorter…this is democratising the future

From more to better

Inspiring decision makers

Don’t think outside the box, create the box

Sustainable: I hate the word sustainability, because I would never like to be in a sustainable relationship with my husband. I’m more ambitious than that, I would like to create something better. Sustainable is as good as it gets, I like the abundance theory: That the more flow you get in people, the more movement, the more activity the richer we get in life quality. 

Success:  I managed to be in six countries at once using modern day technologies, and as a result of that I asked these big shipping companies to change their trends.  Future-based disruption. 

Superpower: My ability to break down barriers and move people into territory where change can occur.

Motivation: As I am a mother of four my motivation is empowering the next generation, especially because what I think that we are leaving them with currently is quite embarrassing. They have the power of change – meaning and value seeking. 

Activist: I consider myself to be a futurist, instead of having lots of prefabricated opinions about the world I instead try to focus on the change.

Challenge: Globalising and digitising myself, and hopefully empowering the future generation to start to challenge the society as it is, basically becoming dispensable.

Miracle: For everyone to listen louder to the people who are challenging your world view.

Advice: Don’t feel victimised or scared for the future, look at it as a playing field and their is so many people who would like to contribute and help you out there.


Liselotte was in Dunedin to speak on drvierless futures at the IPWEA conference.   Their assistance is much appreciated.

business education innovation maori psychology

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

To say that Mana Forbes has a background in education and IT is a massive understatement.  He worked on computers when they had whole rooms, and is heavily involved in education including Te Wananga o Aotearoa, including Te Mana Whakahaere Council, Hamilton Raroera Campus Manager, Foundation Director Te Arataki Manu Korero (Elders traditional knowledge Diploma Course), Foundation Manager Te Puna Rangahau Iwi Research, Foundation Trustee Aotearoa Scholarship Trust, Foundation Executive Member of Te Runanganui o Ngati Hikairo, and the Foundation Licensee of the first Early Learning Centre Raroera Te Kakano.    His educational philosophy is one of empowerment based on capabilities and an understanding of self and purpose.  He is now working with Minded to bring these resources he has developed to the mainstream.


Talking points

Opening the door to participation

Looking and thinking: we don’t need to be the same.

Giving life to learning and purpose to life

Nurturing the desire to care

Developing a sense of responsibility

Celebrating success

Fulfilment of your exit strategy

Cries we should be following are those of young people left by wayside of schools operating on a paradigm of one, without communication and relationship

Project-based learning: whole of person and guide them through

Get it out there – at scale

Sustainability: Replenish

Success: Minded.  The development of the course, I think the direction of what we are teaching is so important for today’s learning, and so important for preparing people for living and communication and working relations.

Superpower: My ability to connect the dots and work alongside with other skilled people.

Activist: In some regards yes, the areas that I have passion for I will embarrass myself and people around me and thump the table to make a change, I don’t want people walking out the door thinking that I wasn’t passionate about this particular purpose.

Challenge: Trying to get the establishment and trying to work with the government structure and understand their way of thinking.

Miracle: For the ministry of education saying that we realise the benefits of this and we need to have this in all of our high schools and middle schools.

Advice: If you can make a difference, work out what that might mean to you, your family and the wider community.

business social enterprise

Cooking a difference

Rebecca Stewart has worked in not for profits around the world.  From anti sex-trafficking in Delhi, and reproductive family health in Fiji to Jesuit housing, all of these roles have been about making a difference.  Now she has founded Pomegranate Kitchen in Wellington, a catering business – where the cooks are all from refugee backgrounds.   We talk about social enterprise, described by Rebecca as “charity that makes its own funding” and how we could be better at celebrating good news stories.

Talking points

Jobs that make a difference

So much injustice…the privilege of inequality

Systemic change that isn’t a bandaid.

Pushing back in a loud way against injustice

Sustainable: For us it’s about financial sustainable being a self funded charity as well as human sustainability, so upskilling the cooks so that they either stay with us or continue with the growth of their careers.

Success: On a personal level, recovering from cancer was a huge achievement.From a business point of view moving into a new kitchen of our own, as well as the ongoing interpersonal relationship within the business. A real family.

Superpower: Empathy, my superpower is my connectedness with other people, that’s why I’ve been able to do Pomegranate in the way that I’ve done it, I’ve been able to connect with the cooks on a certain level, getting them excited to help out.

Motivation: The people that I work with, I want to keep creating and supporting a life for my workers that is enjoyable and rewarding for them.  

Activist: I’m happy having uncomfortable conversations and staying true to my values, but I’m not the type of person who would be in the front row the the protest.

Challenge: With this new kitchen we are scaling everything up, so we are about to run a three hundred person lunch for TradeMe, so there are a lot of upcoming challenges that will be on a much greater scale than before.   Novelty, doing good. 

Miracle: Ideally world peace, resulting in no more refugees being relocated. On a more local realistic level, doubling the New Zealand refugee quota which is well within the countries capacity would be awesome!

Advice: Be kind to each other.


Efficient hippie

Driven by a sense of purpose, Simonne Wood is chair of Sustainable Dunedin City.   Simonne has worked in fair trade, in international relations, in an ethical property company, and now Otago Polytechnic – all “organisations looking to change the world in a positive way”.


Talking points

A sense of it being possible to change things

Sustainable language has been co-opted by the elite

Collective impact, a sense that we can all take responsibility for small things

The big challenge is how to do values at scale

You can make a difference, or at least you have a right to try

Sustainable: Trying to live a life without waste and I think waste is what really upsets me, and that’s not waste in the narrow sense of rubbish but rather about people, resources and nature just being wasted.  We’re trying to move to a sense of regeneration, interacting together. 

Superpower: I’m an efficient hippie! Being someone who has fairly non-mainstream opinions and maybe quite idolising views about creating a better world, but someone who executes change in an un-hippie like, effective and efficient way.

Activist:I’m an activist in the sense that I strongly believe in our personal responsibility to take action, for me that mostly means doing things in a non-confrontational way. I believe that most people would like to do the right thing if they knew more about it, so instead of being an angry activist I work to educate people about the issue.

Motivation: The sense of not letting things go to waste as well as knowing that there is an intrinsic value in every person and the natural world that shouldn’t be spoilt and wasted.

Challenges: I would like to get more involved in climate change, water quality and the reduction of waste in the Dunedin City area.

Advice: Sign up to the SDC (Sustainable Dunedin City) newsletter and get involved with the events within the community.


climate change dunedin politics

Engaged generation



I realised, “Oh, crap. That’s going to have to be me.” Or that’s going to have to be people like me, who want to see the change going on, and realise that the political process doesn’t involve waiting every three years for an election to come along.


Shane: So our guest tonight is Finn Campbell from Generation Zero. Finn is a masters student at Otago University, studying politics. Generation Zero is a youth-led organisation in New Zealand, focus on transitioning society away from its dependency on fossil fuels, and combating climate change. And you’ll know if you’re a regular listener to our show, we’ve had Generation Zero on several times over the years.


So, Generation Zero was founded with the central purpose of providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities, and independence from fossil fuels. And the group believes that young people must be the forefront of tackling climate change, and that young people are the inheritors of humanity’s response. Welcome to our show.


Finn: Hello, how are you?


Shane: Not so bad. So, before we go on to talk about Generation Zero, let’s tell a little bit about yourself. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?


Finn: I was born in Christchurch when my dad was doing his PhD. Quickly moved over to Wagga Wagga – in Australia – for the first two years of my life. Didn’t have a great impact on me. Don’t really remember it, being a young child. And then Dad got a job at the University of Otago, and I spent the rest of my life here, living in sunny old Dunedin.


Shane: So what schools did you go to?


Finn: Opoho Primary was my first school, right around the corner from the house. Went down to Dunedin North Intermediate, and then shipped my way over to Logan Park High School before somehow ending up at University of Otago. So, I think that’s been about two kilometres of my education radius.


Shane: And if anybody doesn’t live here, that’s a very typical set of schools to go to for-


Sam: A very good high school.


Shane: Very good high school.


Finn: Thank you very much. I think-


Sam: I think so.


Shane: All our sons have gone there.   Excellent. Excellent school.


So, what got you involved with … What was your passion at school?


Finn: Passion at school … I think I had the pretence that I was going to be a dentist. And I think that was – on reflection – that was a terrible idea. But I always, at the same time, wanted to do something right. I don’t really know where to put my thumb on the mark and say, “That’s what ‘right’ is,” but I’ve always felt like, if you’re going to be doing something, you should be at least trying to make a difference. And then what’s going on around you.


Shane: Where did you pick that up from? Is that something you just developed, or is that something that’s part of your family?


Finn: I feel like it’s been a family thing. My dad is a food sociologist. Does a lot on sustainability. But at the same time, he’s never really pushed that one on me. Maybe it’s … I haven’t quite felt his breathing down my neck, telling me, “You must get into sustainability. It’s the only option for the future.” I think it’s just more of an osmosis – naturally picking up everything from just casual conversations. Seeing things going on and just realising, “Maybe that’s just the way that things should be done.”


Shane: Do you think you actively tried to avoid it?


Sam: I think he actively tried to avoid it.


Finn: I think he would have been horrified to think that he was forcing a son to do something in particular.


Shane: What did you do at school?


Finn: Lot of music. Lot of music. Played in the jazz band. Played chamber music. Did science. Biology. Chemistry. Physics. No English – I dropped that as soon as I could. I thought it was terrible. A waste of time. I thought science was the way to go. I regret that one.


Shane: Was what’s turned into, now, a bit of a direction in terms of sustainability … Did you know that was going to be there, underneath whatever the actual job you did?


Finn: I don’t think so. I think during my high school years, I didn’t really have a clue. Was just travelling through, thinking, “Got to do something, but … ” I’d sit down at a park bench and look out across the park, and say, “This is great, but what am I going to do? Perpetual existential crises of, “I’m going to have a job, but where? Why? How? I better go to University and find out.”


Shane: So, what did you do when you first got to University?


Finn: I signed myself up for a double major – Bachelor of Applied Science in Energy Management and Environmental Management. I thought my pathway to success was becoming an electrical engineer. Someone who’s very in tune with the physics. What was going on with renewable energy systems, with conventional energy systems, fossil fuels. Understanding, doing the geography parts of it. Thinking this was absolutely the pathway to go. “I’m going to change the industry from within.” And then I realised that, holy-moly, I do not like the maths. If I came out and followed that degree through, I would have been a fairly average engineer. And I thought, “The world doesn’t need another average engineer telling people what to do.” And then I realised it wasn’t changing people through action, it was changing people through actually being the positive change I wanted – without becoming an engineer. That politics and people were really the problem that we’re facing these days. That we’ve got great wind turbines, we got great solar panels. Not so great hydro-electric, but still not burning fossil fuels to use them.


Sam: Did you have a moment of epiphany that the problem’s not technical, but people?


Finn: I think getting into politics – studying politics at the University of Otago – thinking, “Holy moly, this is great.” First of all, I was really into it. Really passionate. I always thought … Reading the newspaper in the morning – I’d get really excited about what you’re reading about – was just a hobby. And maybe it still is. But, kind of clicking and going, “Oh. Politicians are the ones who are telling people how to do things.” Policy-makers. Planners. All these people having such a great influence on how we actually use what we’ve got. So I’m not going to try and tackle what we’ve got. I think what we’ve got is great. But how we’re using it, on the other hand, is where the problem lies. In my mind.


Shane: You said you started studying politics. So when did you-


Finn: Yes.


Shane: When was that? Was that like, you’re at the end of first year, went, “Ah … ”


Finn: I wish it was the end of first year. I was a little bit stubborn-headed. I went and studied for two years, doing my Bachelor of Applied Science. And thought, “I need a break,” and went and worked in a hospitality job for about a year. And went backpacking around Europe. One of those classic, “I’m just going to escape from all my problems, and maybe find some energy for energy management again.” Give it a second shot. Came back, gave it a second shot, and went, “Ah, man, no, something’s not going right, here.” But at the same time, I was picking up a politics paper, and I was just killing it. Loving it. Having a great time. Such a great time that I was kind of skipping out on my energy management work that I should have been doing.


Shane: Is it something fundamental about that energy management approach? Or is it you? Or a combination of those two?


Finn: I think energy management is excellent if you’re going to end up working in the field, or maybe telling people how to work from within the industry. But I think – for me, personally – I think I look at a problem and, for me, it’s never the numbers game. The message we have is, “Fantastic. It’s such an easy sell. How come we’re not selling it?” And so it’s always been in messaging. Messaging, messaging, messaging. Where’s it going wrong? How’s it getting lost out there, and what on Earth can we do to actually bring it back into the forefront?


Shane: So you should have been listening more to those English teachers and Drama teachers at Logan Park.


Finn: Yeah. Yes. I’m sure the English teacher would have had a few words to say about my blog post writing. Still work in progress.


Shane: So, you got yourself a politics degree.


Finn: Yes.


Sam: You sort of changed career on the basis of the first paper that you loved. Did the rest of the degree deliver on what you hoped for?


Finn: If you say maybe from where you’re around from the start in a nursing degree, or a law degree, sending you directly into a career of law or nursing. A politics degree, I think … I got pretty tired of people asking if I wanted to be an MP. But I think it’s certainly and interesting way to study how things are happening. It’s a study of people in a very strict environment, if you talk to a political scientist, political theorist. I’m sure that I can say politics is very broad, and I’ve had to write many an essay on all that.


But you say politics, and the governance, and the systems, and the understanding of power relationships and how they form – why they’re there in the first place – you have a different lens through which you approach things. You realise you can be a sort of normal citizen, but you’ve got a extra pair of glasses that suddenly see through all the nonsense that’s going on. And you go, “Why do we have to accept this?” “Why do we have to accept that?” “Why is this person even here? What are they doing? They’re monstrous.” They really don’t care. What are they in it for? Is it just a meal ticket for these politicians? I don’t know.


Sam: And why has it turned into such a game? Or theatre, perhaps?


Finn: This is one of my struggles. This could leave me leaving this interview, going home, and just staring at the ceiling for a long time. How does it end up like this? People vote for their instinct. People vote for what makes most sense to them. They voted for their interest. And you can’t fault them for that. You can’t fault someone for voting for something they believe in, because it’s just sensible to stand up and say, “I should take care of myself, because that’s in my best interest.” And so you sit there like, “Why is that your best interest? What’s been teaching you? Who’s been teaching you? What’s been involved in your life to make you think that that is your version of the optimal outcome?” That’s the problem. And then you get politician that reflect that behaviour. They’re merely a mirror of their constituents. People who just voting for self interest.


Sam: Is politics broken?


Finn: No, you can’t break politics – unless you somehow inject a whole lot of money into it, so it’s represented by corporations. But democracy … You’ve just kind of got to accept it at face value that it’s everyone gets a say.


Sam: There seems to be a lunatic in the White House.


Finn: Yes. I hold out hope that ultimately there will be a good outcome from that. He is a terrible person, but what he might do for the American political system might be good. If he goes, and goes quickly. Because they’ll say, “Let’s not let that happen again. Let’s figure out what went so horribly wrong.”


Sam: And in the meantime, he appears to have fallen out with Europe.


Finn: Yes.


Sam: Pulling out of Paris.


Shane: I was reading the articles just today, thinking, “Trump might pull out.” “Trump might pull out.” “Trump says he’s going to pull out.” “Trump has pulled out.” And I’m like, “Oh, crap.”


Finn: Oh, no. I guess that’s the problem with international agreements. International agreements always pretend to be some sort of higher authority upon states. “Look, we’ve got the UN now. Now we’re going to tell you what to do.” No, no. Every international agreement’s just pretend. People buy into it because they can, or they want to. And so they’ve got to think that there’s a reason why people should get involved. So if the US pulls out, and they think it’s not their interest, you can’t do much to stop them.


Sam: If, when they do pull out, what’s the message for New Zealand politicians, do you think? Should we pull out too?


Finn: No, I don’t think we should pull out. I think, when you’ve got the US pulling out, yeah, that’s definitely not good. But the fact that China and India are still committing to it – and they’re the sort of economies that you’ve really got to worry about with that sort of transition. They’re the ones who are often brought to the negotiation table and think, “Why should we commit to this? You’ve had a life of luxury, United States, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain. Why should we not follow in your footsteps? We have every right to industrialise. We have every right to develop.” And the fact that they’re buying into this and continuing to say, “We’re going to move forward,” is very optimistic. It’s a great sense of possibility that these countries are still continuing to think that this is something worth following.


Shane: So, you finished your degree?


Finn: Yes.


Sam: And then went back for another one.


Finn: Back for a master’s.


Shane: Must be in the blood.


Finn: It’s terrible. I don’t know what I was thinking. I think I made one smart call, in that the Masters of Politics has only been around for its second year, now. I thought, “I don’t really feel like being a guinea pig.” So, I worked in hospitality, again. Kind of escaped, I think. From where I started university in 2011 until last year, I’d spent quite a long time in and out. And I thought, “Time to just have a wee rest.” Stop thinking about it so much, academically. Do my volunteering. Do my activism, but also take a break. Recharge. Give the batteries a chance to get going again.


Shane: So, eventually, you got back?


Finn: Yes.


Shane: And you’ve decided to do what?


Finn: For my Master’s of Politics? Factors of water scarcity in conflict in what will be the Middle East will be my case studies as part of my dissertation. But it’s a part taught, part dissertation in master’s. So I still have my theoretical “Theory of Politics” paper, and then I have comparative regional conflicts. I still have to learn the whole suite of things expected to come out as an Pols student.


Sam: Did you say, “as a driver of conflict”? Water scarcity?


Finn: Yeah. As a factor, I think … When you read political journals talking about climate change and conflict, the narrative is not always the same. An I get a bit bemused by that. But I guess all my friends from Generation Zero – sustainability-minded people – go, “Of course climate change is related in scarcity. How could you not think that?” And because there’s water scarcity, of course there’s conflict. Water scarcity runs into crops. Disease. All these sorts of other factors. Of course there’s a relationship. And I’m sitting there going, “Okay. Okay. Okay, I’ll have a look at that.” I want to pull that apart, and really look at what the academics have been writing.


Some people say that is not a factor. That water scarcity is not good – there’s no doubt about that. I don’t think anyone stands up and says, “Water scarcity is fine, don’t worry about it.” Everyone seems to be saying it’s either good governance, or bad governance. You can have plenty of drought. And, “Where’s the war? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the starvation? What’s going on, here?” And the other places, which have got plenty of clean water, and far more conflict. So, with something as complex and multi-dimensional as this, you got to try and figure out some cases where you can really pull them apart, look at water scarcity, and go, “All right, this is where it’s going wrong. This is a direct factor in conflict.” And that’s what I’m looking for. Hopefully I’ll find something like that, but I guess for the sake of academic integrity, I can’t just say, “There’s going to be water scarcity. Let’s go for it.”


Sam: Presumably, just to jump ahead to a thesis you haven’t written yet … You’re going to be concluding something about complexity, systems thinking, wicked problems … It’s all that mushy stuff put together.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: You already know it’s not as simple as yes or no.


Finn: Yes.


Sam: Through that politics degree, things like complexity, system thinking, wicked problems … Are they a thing that we’re actively teaching people?


Finn: No, I don’t think so. Not at any level, I think. You’d only really start approaching that, at least in a political sense, when they do lots of conflict analysis. That’s still very much like, “Oh, you’ve got this factor, so X is going to happen. There’s no doubt about it.” And you think, “Well … We need more information. We need a better understanding of what’s going on, here.” And then you realise as soon as you start getting more, and more, and more, and more complex, that there are so many factors going on. That you can’t look at one thing and say … You can only create building blocks, which you can contribute toward something. But you can never quite say, “This is exactly what’s going to happen.”


In politics, you hear a lot about political theory trying to predict conflict – predict why states act. And all of it’s just useless forecasting, at the end of it. They have some sort of pretence that they’re going to know exactly when the next conflict’s going to rise up. When it’s going to happen. How it’s going to happen. Who’s going to be involved. And you go, “That’s a bit rubbish.”


Sam: Does political theory cope with that kind of complexity?


Finn: No, it doesn’t. Not at all. It likes to think it does, but when you start applying it you realise you almost have to become a complete specialist in one country, or one conflict to really know such of the information that’s going into it. You can’t … Specialist in the Middle East, and even then, they specialise in Syria. And then they’ve got no understanding of what’s going on, necessarily, in the Pacific Islands. And you’ve got someone else going in there. And it’s just … It’s interesting stuff. There’s no doubt. But as soon as you start getting into it, you realise you can’t really make proper claims, assessments, or forecasts without understanding the information. It just gets so complicated so bloody quickly.


Sam: So, somewhere along the line, you decided not just to study stuff, but to do something about it?


Finn: Yes.


Sam: What led to that?


Finn: I think that itch was going on in the back of my head, going, “You’ve got an obligation to be the change that you want to see going on. If you want a future, why not fight for it?” I can’t just expect to sit at my computer all day, wonderfully, in bliss, playing on my computer, reading news articles, and then expect someone round the street corner to show up and show me what the world could be like. What a nice Utopia world we have amongst us. I realised, “Oh, crap. That’s going to have to be me.” Or that’s going to have to be people like me, who want to see the change going on, and realise that the political process doesn’t involve waiting every three years for an election to come along.


And so, I found out three years ago that the group Generation Zero – which I’d just heard about – was doing enrolments on campus for the students. And that main goal there was actually to be completely non-involved of the politics of it. Whether you’re a National voter, Labour voter, Green, New Zealand First, ACT … We didn’t care. We said, “If you’re a young person, you should be participating.” We held events. We had a gig down at Refuel where the door entrance fee was signing up and proving that you’re on the electoral roll. And if you weren’t on the electoral roll, we had a form right there. And I remember I got my right hand onto TV-3. It was in some back shot somewhere, writing on a form.


Sam: So, give us Generation Zero 101.


Finn: Generation Zero 101. So, nationwide organisation – wonderful – where a sort of governance going on at a national level. And then you have teams based in every city, and they’re relatively autonomous. I’m the convener for Generation Zero Dunedin at the moment, or co-convener, with another person. And we do what works for Dunedin, I think. We don’t have a lot of people coming from national level team and saying, “Dunedin needs to be doing this, because this is the most important thing for all of New Zealand.” We kind of sit there as our group, and we go, “What’s going on in Dunedin? What’s actually the problems? Why is South Dunedin a big issue? What’s going on with cycleways? What’s going on with housing? Why are these things not being addressed, and how can we, as a group, best target them?


I guess we felt like being a regional-based organisation and contributing to a national cause … Sometimes you spend a lot of time feeling like you’ve got a megaphone held up to nothing. You’re just shouting your message out there, and you’re thinking, “It’s just bouncing off the walls. Surely no one’s picking this up.” So when you talk at a regional, local level, you find yourself sitting in council chambers, hearing councillors talk. You go to resource consent applications. We go onto the second generation district plan. We’ve made submissions on that. And we find that we get immediate feedback and an understanding of what impact you’re having at that level, specifically. And then through a combined effort through all these teams doing this in Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Auckland …


You find that all these major centres in New Zealand – really slowly but surely – having sustainability and Generation Zero’s vision embedded into what’s going on. So that cycleways are getting passed because there’s been a record amount of submissions coming through one of our online forms. I think Auckland team has the pride of having one of the largest submissions ever held for a consent application for the SkyPath. They adopted it. Their SkyPath wasn’t their plan, but they found out, and thought, “Wow, this is bloody excellent. How can we best make this happen?” And so they wrote an online form, basically got a couple of text boxes for people to come in on their website and say, “Yes, we want this.” And I think they got 10,000 submissions. Which I think, for anything of its kind, it was the largest.


And then councillors found out about it and said, “Yes, that’s all right.” They tried to do it again, and counted it as one. So, we had hundreds of people would come in. Thousands, whatever. They would say, “That’s the Generation Zero submission.” And we’re, “Oh, crap, we’re going to have to change our form options, because otherwise they’re going to … One person vote at a council policy submission doesn’t really count for much.” So we had to change all the forms, so everyone gets their own name put on it. And we just adjusted the system slightly, and carried on. Writing a whole boatload of those.


Sam: Is influencing the people who are sitting around the tables making decisions … Is that the best way of making change?


Finn: I think it’s one of the ways. That’s how I feel. I think there is a fairly comprehensive sustainability – so climate change – or transport movement going on in New Zealand. Or, I can speak for Dunedin – say, Dunedin, I think, has got a very interesting one. And trying to figure out what piece of the pie you make up. Everyone contributing in some particular area. You’ve got students for environmental action doing environmental focuses on campus. You’ve got SPOKES, who do cycle-related things. And we think, “How can we best fit into this piece of the puzzle, so we’re not doubling up?” We’re not expending unnecessary energy doing something that’s been done before. And the councils, planners … Whenever they hear us come along, they almost say, “Please come back. Come back for more. We need to hear what you people actually want to say.” It’s like finding out you’re the youngest person in the room by half, and then it’s amazing if someone in their 30s shows up, and you’re 24.


Shane: Not just because you’re turning up, and you’re young, but because you’re turning up and being constructive.


Sam: Yes. Because you make a point of not just having a submission saying, “We don’t like this,” but actually putting forward quite detailed proposals, and things.


Finn: We have some people in Dunedin who have background – who have done the Masters of Planning, everything. So they’ve basically got the credentials enough to become a planner. We’ve had people who are law students, and so they have a great understanding of the law, and what’s actually helpful or not. And so, we get down, we figure out what’s going on with the Resource Management Act application. We try and figure out what’s going on with the Second Generation District Plan. We try and figure out, “What are they actually trying to do, here?” And sometimes we’ve gone, “Oh, man, we’re just scratching our heads. What on Earth are they actually trying to do, here?”


And so we went along to the hearing, and we … The lady before us went, and she didn’t like wind turbines. Sitting there, bashing my head, biting my teeth, trying not to say anything as she went on a big tirade. But democracy is democracy. And she attacked wind turbines, and I went, “Oh, crap. Why is this person … ” And she just basically abused the planner. “You need to do this. You must never let these things happen in our city. Never again. This is terrible. They’re windy. Noisy.” Whatever. You name it. She’s got something wrong to say with it. And the look on the planner was just like, “What have I done to deserve this?”


And we didn’t know what to do. And we said, “What would it mean to have wind turbines, here? Why do you want to do this?” And she went, “Ah, there’s a reason X, reason Y, reason Z.” And we said, “What would it take to change the policy? Because we don’t know how to write these things. We’re not a planner. We have no idea what to do. What do we do? What do we ask for?” And they go, “Ah, you’d want to ask for this.” And we go, “Yes, please, can we have that option there?” Our wind turbines. And we got a mention from one of the other councillors, being like, “That was one of the most productive things we’ve heard from one of these sessions.”


Basically, because the planners know exactly what they’re doing, but they’ve got to write a plan that is the will of the people. And the people are showing up and abusing them. They don’t write very much. And what they write isn’t very helpful. and so we sit there and go, “We want to be helpful. What can we do? How do we say it?” Because as soon as you show up to a council meeting, you show up to anything, and you say, “I would like this,” they can do something about it. But they can’t write a vision for the city as much as they would like to.


Sam: You’ve clearly identified a point of leverage, there, that’s actually making a difference. Which is what you said you wanted to do.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: Do we also need to take the community along with us?


Finn: I’d love to see the community come along for a ride. That’d be great. But, I mean, we are busy.


Sam: I mean, you don’t look like a hippie, but-


Finn: No, no. That’s probably a …


Sam: Do you get accused of being one?


Finn: Lee Vandervis described me as a climate change fundamentalist. That was wonderful. It was great fun. I had a great chuckle. I thought it was the best thing ever. I thought, “If only he knew what I looked like.” I went along to a meeting a couple of weeks after he’d said that, and he couldn’t spot me in the crowd. He had no idea who he was talking to, obviously. I mean, he was referring to Generation Zero, the climate change fundamentalists who want nothing but to ruin his life.


Could you get the community along for the ride? Yes. But I think this touches on another issue for me, which is almost – not a great big, grand issue – but it’s like, “How do we re-democratize politics for young people?” I’ve thought about that. What steps does it actually take to change the political system – the way that it is – so that engagement is there? Engagement is convenient, or that people just see the virtue, or the value, in stepping up. Putting a hand up and saying, “Maybe I want this.”


There’s a UN Youth meeting happening in a couple of weeks, and they want to talk about how to get young people involved in politics. And to make sure they do their bit. And I was tempted to go along, but I realised I’m so busy – full of exams and essays, and I got no time for … And then I sort of found out what they wanted to do. And it’s basically trying to get them involved at a national level or politics. And I thought, that’s not … Just stamping your meal ticket every three years and saying you participated is not what politics really is. It’s showing up to the meetings. Actually being a consistent voice. Actually saying, “What can I do at this meeting to embed sustainability into everything that’s being said?” If the DCC has every policy document coming out for the next ten years, and some group of plucky young people have made sure that everything says, “sustainability” in some way or another, they can’t really avoid it. They don’t really have a choice, at that point. They’ve got to do what the document says.


Sam: You’re calling yourself Generation Zero. Is there a generational divide?


Finn: Sometimes it feels like it. And then sometimes I have bigger supporters – retirees. It’s unfair, I think, to categorise everyone as, “Oh, you’re old, and you’ve got your foot out the door, and you simply don’t care.” I think that’s not true. I think there are a lot of people who see what we do, and some of our biggest supporters are from some of the older communities who think they’ve got a good message, and we can certainly give them our resources to help them achieve what they want to do. Is there a bit of a divide? Maybe, but in our advantage. For some reason, people think that when a young person shows up, a lot of the time that you don’t have to display all these sorts of credentials. You don’t have to wear your badge on your shoulder that says, “Oh, look, you’re a planner, you should know exactly what it’s talking about.” “You’re a lawyer, you need to go all … ” We’ve got these people who basically have these same sorts of credentials. Certainly not the industry experience that some of you would desire.


Shane: I mean, I think it could be part of that, as you say, you’re busy.


Finn: Yeah.


Shane: And so, somebody that would know you’re busy-


Finn: Yeah.


Shane: Or, you could just be having a party.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: Yet, you’re deciding to put your time into this. People give you some respect for that, I think.


Finn: Yeah. Seems to be the case.


Sam: Generation Zero makes a point of being apolitical. Politically active, but not aligning with any party.


Finn: We try to avoid it.


Shane: Despite the fact that some obvious connections to one side, if we put it on a left/right continuum.


Finn: Up until now, yes. Since we released out Zero Carbon Act, actually, there’s been a lot of buy-in from National, which has been humbling. Surprising. Stunning. What on Earth do these guys want to do, stepping foot near this document? And I think it’s a really promising sign that maybe this change is going to happen. Is this really going to be the[party’s initiative it’s always been? Or is the shift happening? What’s going on? Struggling. Don’t know what to do. There’s no one to attack.


Shane: So, tell us what the Zero Carbon Act thing is?


Finn: It’s a piece of climate change legislation modelled off the UK Climate Change Act, which was implemented in 2008 under David Cameron’s Tory government. It passed almost unanimously, and has been quite responsible for UK’s positive climate change impacts it has on its own carbon emissions, and transport infrastructure. And so, we took the guts of the document, kind of ripped it apart – not me personally, I don’t pretend to have any law experience – but we’ve got enough policy wonks out there to basically write a document for New Zealand. And that suits New Zealand’s climate change needs. And so we’re trying to pass that at the moment. I think we have 3,500 signatories signing on. We’ve got quite a few people who are buying in who want to say that this is something that’s important. We’ve had MPs from both – across the board – saying that this is good. We’re getting Youth Party buy-in. People all over the place are saying, “Maybe climate change is not going to be an election issue.”


Sam: But somehow you need to broker that it’s okay that …


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: The first party that comes out and says, “We support it,” you don’t want the other party to knee-jerk reaction and say, “That means we don’t.”


Finn: Yeah. We spent a lot of time talking to everyone. And everyone kind of knows it’s there. Some people like it more than others. Parties maybe like it more than others. But also individuals within parties see there’s something. So maybe we don’t need a complete party buy-in from one or the other. Some people might jump across and say, “Look, this is a conscious vote from me. I want this to happen, and I can see this happen.”


Shane: Has Generation Zero – locally or nationally – worked out what you’re going to do, running up to the election this year?


Finn: Locally – I don’t want to quite say it, because it’s always got a bad word, but – lobby. People always have negative connotations of what lobbying is, because you think, “Money, guns, tobacco, alcohol, and drug companies.” And then you go, “Wait, why can’t we have nice green sustainability lobby, too?” We don’t have much money, but at least we’re cool. So, I think Generation Zero Dunedin … This year, leading up to the election, we’re going to spend a lot of time doing our standard meat and bread policy. Work with the council. But we’re going to be targeting a lot of groups, saying, “We want you to come in and buy in with us, and say that this is something you need.” That sustainability – climate change, all these things – requires a framework to work with it.


If a government’s not doing it, you’re kind of swimming against the tide. If the government’s not providing you the framework to do it, how can we expect the local councils to enact it? They’ve always sort of expressed that they’re sort of hamstrung by what national governance wants. And so, if we can get them to buy in … We had the greater Wellington regional council chair saying he wants to get all the local councils together and lobby on the behalf of the Zero Carbon Act. And I thought, well, I guess I’d better ring up Dave Cull then. I haven’t done that just yet. But that’s something we want to do. We want to make it an issue as such that where … Come next election – when it’s happened, end of September – and we’ve got a new sitting government, that they can see that this is something that young people, old people, middle-aged people, from all across the board see this as a vital part of our future. And that some bandaid policy coming out from one side is not quite going to cut it.


Sam: You said it, probably – climate change, that is – probably won’t be an election issue. But it looks like water might be.


Finn: Yes. Trouble trying to segue into it, I think, when you try and bring the conversation to climate change. People sometimes just shut off. And then go, “Why this? We’ve got housing. Climate change? We can think about that one next year. We got to figure out all these highways. Climate change can happen next.” And so it’s always on the agenda, but it’s always being deferred until next time.


Sam: I’ve always thought it was a shame that we couldn’t say, “Climate change starts next Tuesday.”


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: 4:00pm.


Finn: Come on, let’s do something about it.


Sam: Although, somebody said that that wouldn’t work, because you would get to that time, and you’d have people saying, “See? Didn’t happen.”


Finn: Yeah, and you’re going, “Oh, okay. Well, I guess-”


Sam: “Maybe it starts next year.”


Finn: “Yeah. You got me. Wow. Got you.”


Shane: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Finn: I had to think about this one. Being sustainable is acting or providing an action which you know, without a doubt, is going to be able to carry on in its form. It might adjust with the times, but a sustainable action’s something that will just carry on, no matter what. That’s how I thought about it. I don’t want to go into some deep … I can go on forever, I think, about what sustainability is. But for me, that’s … If you’re being sustainable, you’re doing something where you know it’s going to carry on.


Sam: Some people are talking about sustainability not being enough, anymore. That we need to be regenerative. We’ve wrecked the place enough that just stopping and carrying on like we are … It wouldn’t be enough.


Finn: Yeah.


Sam: Do you think … Do we have to not just slow the ship, but turn it around?


Finn: I feel like … Yeah. There’s something extra that will need to be done if we’re not doing something now. If it’d been 1990, and we had sat down and said, “All right, guys, let’s stop it now,” no problem. Maybe that would have been the case. Now we’re sitting here thinking, “We’re going to have to give up something unless something else changes.” We can’t predict what’s going on, here.


Sam: We’ve been using that line – that it’s not a lesser life, it’s a better life. Do you think we can still pull that off?


Finn: We’d have to change what is normal. We’d absolutely have to change what is normal, and I guess that’s part of what I’m trying to do, is trying to get people to think about what’s normal. What’s acceptable. Everything that’s going on at the moment – sustainability, whatever … Your life has been dictated by politicians. Policies. Personal choices. The influence of your parents. And all these things that … These are just normal. And right now this normal should not carry on. Can you live a happy life? Yes, I think so. But what we’ve got to accept now is that … Why are plastic bags still coming out of supermarkets? Why is there a terrible bus transport system in Dunedin? Why is it every time a cycleway gets put in, people put up in their arms and say, “These are terrible things”? Something’s got to change for what “normal” is. And people are going to appreciate that “normal” is just kind of accepting a status quo of what’s going on, and being an influence in the change that you want. Accepting normality is accepting that someone else is probably going to make a decision for you.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Finn: Last couple of years? Interesting to think that far back. I almost feel like I’ve had setbacks with last election – Greens lost a proportion of the vote. Turns out if you enrol youth at the university you get a lot more conservative ones coming down from Auckland. So, maybe next year. Next time, we’re not going to enrol so many people on campus. Immediate success … Just recently, the Dunedin city council is finally putting funding back into environmental strategy. They gave options on their annual plan submission, and said, “Do you want $150,000, or $200,000?” And we went, “More.” And we got enough people to say, “More,” that they ended up giving us – not Generation Zero specifically, but the environmental strategy [inaudible 00:41:36] – $250,000, through complaining, and saying that maybe that’s not enough. We managed to get a 25% increase on the funding for environmental strategy.


Sam: You’ve hinted at the answer to this several times. In fact, you’ve been explicit once. We’ll ask it anyway. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Finn: Yes.


Shane: Why?


Finn: Activist? Someone’s got to be active. Would I be a traditional activist? No, not really. I haven’t done many protests. I haven’t showed up to many marches. I think one I did was in 2003 against the war in Iraq. That was about as far as marches and your traditional forms of activism go. I think my form of activism, if you can call it that, is pretending you’re a grey old man in a council chamber. And pretending you’re like them, and thinking like them. And then suddenly going, “Wham! Here’s some sustainability for you!”


Sam: So, we’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it, “Tomorrow’s Heroes”. How do you describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight? Other than pretending you’re a grey old man and then going, “Wham!” I’m not letting you have that.


Finn: I wouldn’t call it shape shifting, then, would it? I guess it’s all about people and communication. What I try and bring to the table is participation. My objective is making democracy easy. And when you make democracy easy, you make input – your idea of what democracy is – easy. And for hopefully most conscious, breathing people who want to see a future that does include some form of climate change/sustainability response in your daily life … And changing what we currently have – which is no good – to something excellent, which we can keep under.


Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Finn: We’ve got the Zero Carbon Act. That’s certainly going to be a big challenge. One of my personal challenges will be ensuring that this sort of movement doesn’t die off – when it’s happening because you need it. I don’t want this to be a reactionary movement that says, “We’re going to be here because there’s a problem. And as soon as this giant, pressing issue goes away, and we think the solution’s gone, we’re just going to sit down on the couch and ignore it.” I want to see that people take a more proactive, continuing approach to how they live their lives, but also their participation in everything. We got this way because we didn’t act until we needed to. So let’s not get it so we act until we need to, next time. For whatever that may be.


Sam Okay. Very quickly, because we’ve almost run out of time.


Finn: Not a problem.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?


Finn: Just, change the normal. Change what is normal.


Sam: And advice for listeners?


Finn: Participate. Participate. That’s the best part.


Shane: Fantastic. And we’re going to leave it there.



Helping people transform themselves

We have a duty of care to set people up for a future that won’t look like it does now.

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. This show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, who’s not here tonight that’s why I’m driving and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who’s making a positive difference in applying their skills to a positive future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Glenys Ker who is a colleague of mine. She variously describes herself as a career practitioner, educator and she has got more degrees than anybody. I think it’s seven and she is almost at the point of having a doctorate of Professional Studies because it’s getting submitted in the very near future. Welcome.


Glenys: Thank you.


Sam: Where did you grow up?


Glenys: Geraldine.


Sam: What was it like growing up in Geraldine?


Glenys: It’s the perfect childhood, small town, everybody knew each other, everybody did everything together so lots of sports, church, guides. Yeah, great growing up.


Sam: What were your parents doing in Geraldine?


Glenys: My dad was self-employed. He was a milk vendor. My mum was a nurse, palliative care nurse.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grow up?


Glenys: At what age?


Sam: Early teenage, getting past the astronaut and the train driver.


Glenys: The dancer and the fairy. I probably wanted to be a nurse, but my mum was a nurse so at the teenage years, you don’t do what your mother is so, I decided I’d be a teacher.


Sam: What did you think that being a teacher would let you achieve?


Glenys: One of the first things I liked about teaching was all those holidays, but I had some really good role models as teachers at Geraldine High School and I loved the way they influenced young people so, I think primarily, it was if I could influence people that appealed to me.


Sam: You went off to Teachers College?


Glenys: I did a one-year course at then community college, Timaru, South Canterbury Community College in Secretarial Studies so accounting, business management type stuff. Did a stint in those days, work experience as a legal secretary and while I loved that life, I didn’t like the role of the secretary. While I was there at polytech, the teacher was sick and I said, “I’ll take the class.” Unbeknown to me, the people from teacher training college were there and that is really how I got into teaching because they thought I was the teacher. I went off and did … What was it called in those days? Commerce, I guess. Yeah, so I went off to training college. It was a bit of luck really.


Sam: Did the teaching education deliver on what you hoped it would?


Glenys: Yeah, it did. Those are early years, late ’70s, and they let you experience teaching. You got to play and the lecturers were … You might even know one of them, Burt McConnell. He was my history teacher at Geraldine and then, he ended up at training college and so it was kind of neat, but it was that sort of playground of figuring out how to tune kids onto learning, which I loved. The subject area was totally irrelevant. Economics and accounting, that’s the most boring topics, but also at training college, you could take off and do other things….that kind of thing appealed to me.


Sam: Did you find yourself teaching?


Glenys: Yeah, oh, yeah. I’ve been teaching ever since in some form or other. Yeah, initially, secondary and then, back to the polytech that I first studied in so Timaru, Aoraki and then AUT, and then to Otago Polytech, so all sectors of tertiary, yeah.


Sam: What led you from high school to tertiary?


Glenys: I came home because one of my parents was sick and I was teaching at two schools in Timaru. I went back to Geraldine to look after my mother and someone found out I was there and said, “Oh, you want to come to the polytech and teach?” Ten years ago, I was a student.” That’s how it started and I loved adult teaching. People tended to come to polytech because they wanted to whereas secondary school, kids went to school because they had to. There was quite a shift so that was exciting really.


Sam: How did you get from there to careers practising  education?


Glenys: Yeah, that’s another story. I taught at Aoraki. I tended to teach certificates and diplomas and office systems, business type programmes and a lot of outreach programmes. I’d be putting typewriters in my car and roaring off to [inaudible 00:05:54] and teaching in the tennis pavilion, and I loved that kind of life. Then, how did I get from there to where?


Sam: Careers.


Glenys: Careers. Then I went to Auckland and decided to have a break from teaching and bought a café in the heart of Auckland. Then I taught unskilled people to work in cafés, but my heart was in teaching and AUT had a job, a part-time job going in student services so, I went into the learning centre and helped people learn, who needed extra support. Then, the director of student services at the time set up a career centre and I ended up temping in there. Then, one day I thought, “I can do this.” At the same time, they created the grad dep and career development, more grad [inaudible 00:06:49] so, I thought I’ll study that. I thought teaching career development, there’s some similarities and there’s some differences. That’s how … I fell into that, too, but again, if you look at the thing, helping people figure out what they want to do and be helping them learn. There is a theme there.


Sam: Where do you think that theme came from initially?


Glenys: It’s really interesting. It’s not ’til you’ve grown up that you actually accept that you are your parents’ daughter. My father had had other jobs, a traffic officer and a mechanic, and he actually liked working for himself. He was autonomous, independent and ahead of his time and so he picked self-employment. In a way, there’s a theme for me as the independents. The other is my mother was in the field of helping people. Her nursing career took her into social work. Then there was a time where she went and lived in people’s homes and cared for sick people. She was in the hospital system. She was in the hospice system. In a way, that’s all about helping people, isn’t it? I think I’m my parents’ daughter really.


Sam: You’ve certainly inherited somehow that entrepreneurial spirit?


Glenys: Yeah, very much so.


Sam: Not just in businesses, but audacious ideas and going off in different directions.


Glenys: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a way of being, isn’t it, taking risks and saying yes to things rather than confining yourself, yeah.


Sam: When you actually eventually sat down to do a Master’s in Career Development, was it stuff that you knew or was that an eyeopener for you?


Glenys: The Master’s was amazing and it was an Australian programme and it was like there’s plenty of open scope to what you chose to learn and they took you through almost a generic career development and then, a specialist and then, a very strategic so it fit in my personality. The supervisor of the programme liked the different students and there were two of us who neither saw the world as it was and we ended up lecturing on their master’s programme. I think that, again, that was a lecturer or a teacher that sparked my interest and I saw career not just as a career counsellor helping people in redundancies or getting a job or writing a CV. I saw it much bigger than that. Yes, it did open my mind and lift my thinking to a different level, which meant I can do anything I wanted.


Sam: Do you have something resembling a philosophy of learning?


Glenys: Depends what you mean when you ask that question. Learning is something that you do and I think with … I don’t know. What is it? [Bastardised 00:10:18] it? In a way, we believe that it’s our job. We’re the experts and we should tell people what they need to think and learn, and I don’t believe that if you go back to early, little kids, they don’t learn by being told what to do. They learn by observing and watching and doing and making mistakes. I think you and I have talked about the child that learns to tie their shoelace. They didn’t go through a lecture to learn that. They didn’t read a book. It’s practice, practice. I think learning, it shouldn’t be confined. It should be fun. People should want to keep learning. I don’t know what it would be like to stop learning. It should be a way of being, rather than something that you sign up for.


Sam: Where did that vision and that passion for that vision come from? When you went to teachers’ college, you said it was you were able to experiment?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Did it come from before that?


Glenys: It must’ve because if you look at my … As a young child, like 8, 9, I was in charge of the brownies and then, I took girl guides out on tramps and I taught young people how do to do stuff. I think, is it in your DNA? I think I’ve always had that love. I don’t think I learned it at training college. I think training college gave me the opportunity to experiment how you could tune kids on to learning.


Sam: In terms of career practice, you say it’s more than teaching people how to do a CV. When does it start? Do we start it too late, too early?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Where do people get these ideas?


Glenys: About what they want to do and be and think?


Sam: Mmm.


Glenys: Usually at primary school. Career development should be then. It’s really native. If you can think back to when you were 4 or 5, you probably wanted to be a fireman or I don’t know, what did you want to do at 5, Sam?


Sam: Not sure what I wanted to do at 5. Through high school, I wanted to be a set designer.


Glenys: A what?


Sam: Set.


Glenys: Set.


Sam: Set designer.


Glenys: Right. In movies and …


Sam: Mmm.


Glenys: Yeah, yeah. I think those ideas stem from a very young age and they usually stem from role models, don’t they? You watch what someone does and you go, “I wonder what that’s called that they do.” As a young child, I wanted to be a policeman. Policeman? Policewoman. I wanted to help people, but I was too short in those days and I did want to be a nurse. It starts at such an early age and it’s up to parents and all sorts of people to motivate or grow that, I wonder what you could be. I think also the downside is perhaps for young people today is they could be anything if they only knew what it was because it’s information overload.


Sam: Do you think that we, not scare that out of people, but almost beat it out of them?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: This desire to do something, achieve something, but then we label it and we make them do accounting or economics and things through high school?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: All of a sudden, they’re not changing the world. They’re being an accountant.


Glenys: Yeah, they’re confined and I think that often, the people that have a part to play in that role, like I always am amused sometimes when kids love history at school so the teacher tells them to be a history teacher. Seriously? Why don’t they brainstorm all of the things a kid could do because of their love of history? Then the traditional kid that’s good at sport, “You need to do phys ed.” We turn them off. We haven’t been creative about what that could. I think that at [Aor 00:14:34] growing up, we had to be something. When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor, a nurse, a policeman, a fireman, a secretary, whatever. Kids these days, they grow up and we’re teaching them that they have a range of skills, a range of interests and so then, the hard bit is what could that look like? We don’t want to stifle that in young people.


  I talked with someone today and she said, “I’m just a.” That makes me sad. I said, “I’ve just looked at your CV and I don’t even understand the words you’ve got on it that’s awesome what you do. I have no idea.” She went, “What do you mean you don’t know?” I went, “I don’t understand what you’ve written down. Tell me about that.” Her eyes lit up, but she still was “just a.” That’s very sad.


Sam: You and I work for Capable New Zealand.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: You can give us the introduction to what it is.


Glenys: Capable New Zealand is an innovative school, part of the Polytech that’s probably in the business of helping or supporting or guiding people who already have significant skills and knowledge, significant experiences, and they want to grow and enhance that, change it, open it up, shake it a bit. It’s not for younger people with no experience because they do need to go and learn about stuff. These people come and often, they want their skills and knowledge from experience validated against a qualification and we help them do that. I guess the fun that’s about there that people have horrendously amazing skills and knowledge. They just don’t know that and so, the reflective process that we take them through helps them to really think about actually they know a lot and then, as that confidence grows and that knowledge and awareness happens, they’re open to new thinking, new learning, new ideas. That’s what’s fun about where we work.


Sam: That is the subject for your doctorate.


Glenys: Yeah, yeah. Yes, it was the subject. Is it was yet?


Sam: No, no, no. You have to actually hand it in for it to be was.


Glenys: Okay. Yes. I set out to survey over 400 people who had undertaken two qualifications. I picked those two because they are the most popular so the Bachelor of Applied Management and the Bachelor of Social Services. They had gone through an intensely reflective process with us and I wanted to know what they learned, what they thought about, what changed, what they’re doing now as well as what could we do better, that’s always good because 99% of those people had a successful journey, successful learning process and their lives had changed. For me, how neat is it to write about that?


Sam: In what way their lives changed?


Glenys: They had a new language. They had a set of skills that they actually believe they now had. It gave them the confidence to challenge new jobs or take on new directions or continue learning. A lot of people have gone on to do master’s and I’m sure they’ll be back to do the doctorate, which we’re going to be offering, aren’t we, Sam?


Sam: Almost there.


Glenys: Almost there, yeah. Confidence, identity, new brands, new language, all those things happen.


Sam: In what way is it new learning, in which way is it ticking off the boxes of the stuff they’ve already got?


Glenys: Yeah, a lot of people hope that they’re ticking off boxes and that isn’t what it’s about. Often, the first piece of new learning is understanding how to reflect, how to go, “How do I know that? Where did I learn that?: All those questions that you just asked me, I know that because it’s inherent in my upbringing. I can’t lie about where I grew up, but the first job, what did you learn? How did you learn how to take kids tramping at 11 years old? What did you do about risk? People love that because it takes them back to stuff they’ve done and so often, the first bit of new learning is to learn how to reflect. I’m always blown away when people haven’t.


  Then the next bit of learning is often how to write, write differently, write professionally. Not necessarily academically, but to write coherent sentences that make sense, that sum up information. Some people learn how to research, how to find out more about stuff, to be curious. Some people learn that they actually have a lot of skill and knowledge, that they have an identity so, they no longer say, “I’m just.” There’s lots of learnings. Then people invariably at the end of the learning process, they pull together their skills and knowledge into a framework or a model, a practice and then, you see the old me and the new me, and that’s quite transformational.


Sam: Does learning have to be transformational?


Glenys: It depends on your belief about what transformation means and usually, transformation is as a result of something that changes and it changes and it has an impact on you for today and the future. I think sometimes, people just don’t understand what transformation means. Even the kid that learnt to tie their shoelace at 5 is transformational, though they probably won’t say that.


Sam: How do they learn how to transfer that new learning about themselves or this transformation about themselves to their new self?


Glenys: It comes out in many ways because part of the assessment process, they … A lot of it is written reflection so, they do have to do that and they often get evidence to attest to stuff they’ve done, but then they sum up and they orally articulate who they are and what they are and why they are and what their values and beliefs are and what they’ve learned to a panel of assessors, and as they speak out loud, they start to believe more so than writing it down. We see the transformation. We see the new language, the confidence, the identity that’s changed and often, you’ll see it in their CV or even just in the way they talk about themselves. When they say, “This is who I am and what I am and why I am,” they couldn’t say that at the start. Also, the fact that two people who have experience are assessing them so they know it’s kosher.


Sam: When we talk about developing sustainable practitioners, the sorts of things we’re looking for, it’s not as simple as saying that we want them to make sure they’ve got the recycling title to them, that-


Glenys: The light bulb, yeah.


Sam: Yeah. It’s very much a set of attributes, systems thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking. Is that something, do those things come through that reflective process?


Glenys: Yeah, yeah and in many ways and in many different ways. So often in social services, you’ll often hear people not only thinking about their own self-care in horrendous jobs. They’re thinking about supporting other people to have safe lives and healthy lives, and also the communities. While you were talking, I was trying to think of all of the things that you come through. Sustainability is also developing skills for the future. It’s quite interesting. They often start out with the light bulbs and the recycling and then, they start to push it out around economic stability, sustainability, social sustainability and it’s neat to see that happen, but it does come out and if it hasn’t, naturally, we talk about that. We bring in people like you to talk about it.


Sam: When they’ve gone through the process, do you need to cover each of those things or if you’re going to have a decent conversation with about ethical frameworks, does that go wider to things like sustainability?


Glenys: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got to see it as a holistic process rather than a discrete set of tasks and often, the learner can’t do that at the start. In a way, we’re a connector, a joiner of dots. We help them start integrating stuff. That’s neat to watch, too, because a lot of people do control their life by putting it in boxes. Of course, we know that that isn’t so. It’s the whole self as well and you see that ability by the time they’re finished to combine information and knowledge and thinking.


Sam: Do you think it’s an easier process than going to class?


Glenys: No. No. No. No. I don’t, but I think it’s a more valuable process, a more acknowledging process that people have spent 20, 30 years of their life developing skills and knowledge and learning from it to recognise it and acknowledge it and validate it. Sometimes, it’s hard because we’re stretching people. We’re not just … There’s always new learning so, we’re pushing them. If you can see that they have a strength in sustainability or business improvement or HR development, we’re pushing them all the time. It’s a stretch for them and I’ll often hear learners say, “I hated you,” and so we …


Sam: You’re talking about yourself there, not me.


Glenys: Yeah. No, sometimes. That’s part of it, but it’s not easier. It’s just more validating when you’re an adult. Yeah, you can’t equate it.


Sam: All other things being equal, if you were advising an 18-year-old that was choosing should I go and do this work or should I do this degree, and if I don’t down the work route, I’ll go through a reflective process later, how would you balance that?


Glenys: That’s an interesting question because usually, young people don’t make decisions on their own. They’re highly influenced by their family. They want to make their mum and dad proud or their parents have huge influence where they’re expecting them to do that BCom. Then they can do what they life after that or they’re influenced by their peers so everyone’s going to uni to do a BCom so we’ll all do that. I think that’s the sad bit and the hard bit.  Some people quite naturally have a disposition to want to go to university or polytech straight away and get stuck into learning new stuff and being part of a class environment and that’s really cool. Some people, like I’ve got quite a few kids that actually needed to work and figure out what it is they actually love and it’s okay. Doesn’t matter when you do your study or learning or how you do it.


  I think there’s no one size fits all, but the skill of a career practitioner is to challenge the thinking of a young person and that can be hard if mum and dad are in the career session or if their mates are because they’re highly influenced by that. Because study is so expensive, you don’t want to set them up to fail. From my experience, kids that go to uni or polytech, I’m not talking about one specific, go onto higher education and they don’t enjoy it and they fail, then their loss of confidence is far greater than if they go and get a job at the supermarket for a couple of years and learn about management. That’s always of a worry to me.


Sam: I described you as a career practitioner, an educator and various other things. You described yourself in one point just then as a connector, a joiner of dots.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Other than doing dot to dot puzzles, how do you describe yourself?


Glenys: That’s a hard question because depends who asked me the question as to how I answer, but I’m in the business of transforming people’s lives and whatever that means, whether it’s career counselling or supporting a friend or tuning someone on to learning, I want to help people have a better life. The people that don’t need me, that’s fantastic.


Sam: What happens if their idea of a better life is quite clearly wrong?


Glenys: Firstly, there’s a whole lot of ethics in that.


Sam: I was winding you up for that question.


Glenys: Okay.


Sam: No, that sounds good anyway.


Glenys: Yeah. Yeah. Someone says, “I want to learn to be a burglar and rob people off, old people’s homes at night,” I’m probably going to challenge a whole lot of things around that and try and put them onto something where they can do something less illegal. I don’t want people to do harm or do anything illegal so, I would probably have to say that. When I worked with elite athletes, one of the codes is no drug taking and things, and so you have a duty of care to people to keep them safe and to get them the support, even if they’re not telling you and career practitioners have a code of ethics, too. Equally, I could have someone that comes to me who’s been in gaol for 10 years and actually has decided to have a better life. It’s about not judging that and finding a pathway.


Sam: You described it as a facilitation process. Is that a subset of teaching, different to teaching?


Glenys: It’s got the same traits.


Sam: See, I know the chapters in your thesis.


Glenys: I know. Yeah.  It is the same as teaching, but it’s teacher centred. Teacher centred? Student centred learning. If you look at the literature around what a good teacher does, they support, guide people. Yes, that’s where it is similar, but I might add, we don’t want to be the experts in other people’s lives. We want to help them be the expert, but sometimes we need to be the expert because they’re not there yet, but it’s how you do that. I like to call it the dance, but you don’t like that, Sam.


Sam: If we can presume to advise the rest of education, what could they learn from this reflective learning process?


Glenys: Predominantly, teachers are fantastic. I’ve seen some fantastic people in classrooms tuning kids onto learning, using applied methods. I think for 100 really good teachers, there are probably 5 that should’ve left. I actually think by and large, they are doing the right thing. They’re tuning kids on, they’re trying to find ways to motivate them, to help them to learn, but often, that’s also up to the young person. They might be in the wrong class or they just might need to grow up a bit.


Sam: You said you never see the world as it is.


Glenys: No.


Sam: What do you see?


Glenys: As it could be. What’s the Kennedy quote? “Some people see things and say why. Yeah, I see things and say why not.” It’s the last glass half-full mentality. I always tell the story to my students that I sat on a bus one day to the airport when I was young, 19, and I engaged in a conversation with a much older man because I’m a chatty person. In those days, you don’t have cell phones or iPads. When I got off the bus, he offered me a job in a very important company in those days and that’s how it should be. I could’ve said yes, but I was on a pathway where it was exciting and I didn’t need that opportunity, but it’s about looking for opportunities and saying yes to stuff, developing that resilience. There’s been very few times in my life that I’ve said no to stuff. As a self-employed person, people would say would you take this job on? I said yes to everything. Probably not very sustainable in terms of work life balance, but that’s how I learned.


Sam: In terms of not seeing the world as it is and in terms of transforming people’s lives, mostly, you’re talking there about individuals. Do the same things apply if we scale it up? Can you do this for societal level problems?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: How?


Glenys: Putting people into groups, into cohorts and working together. Is that what you mean?


Sam: No, I’m thinking about solving world hunger, sustainability.


Glenys: Oh, okay.


Sam: Can we apply these sorts of principles and ideas at a much larger scale?


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: How do we go about doing that?


Glenys: Give me an example. Someone comes in to see you and says, “I want to solve the world, I want to save the world, I want to solve world hunger.” What would you say?


Sam: I would work with them to try and work out what they were talking about in terms of, as we talked with Ray and Alysa over the last couple of weeks about the relationship between the problem space and the solution space and those things go around in circles as opposed to a more traditional model of we’ll just define the problem and then-


Glenys: A cycle, yeah.


Sam: The solution will appear.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: I think it’s as you go round and round, you get better at understanding what’s happening.


Glenys: It is very cyclical and that’s very … I’m just trying to understand that question though because often young people don’t know what they want to do and don’t know what they want to be, but they have a fundamental wish to make the world a better place. I’d be interested to see what that could look like and how we build young people to develop skills to do that because that’s a big bold goal, isn’t it?


Sam: Yeah. Do you think that, where are we on the numbers if you like? If we put make the world a better place on the other end of a continuum, maybe we can’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway, to I want to drive a big car and earn lots of money?


Glenys: You do get that. The people will often take engineering or plumbing, that’s the latest, because it’s the biggest earner at the moment. The fact that they don’t enjoy it and have no passion for it is totally irrelevant. They can apply themselves to learn that skill and then, they can earn big money.


Sam: Is it as obvious as a gender separation on that?


Glenys: No, I don’t think so anymore. There’s plenty of young women that have the same attitude. Those people need to go into social service types jobs, the helping professions.


Sam: Do we have a duty of care? You talked about that duty of care that we have for our individuals. What do you think that we as educators, what’s our duty of care on a much bigger perspective? What are we trying to achieve as a whole?


Glenys: I think the word sustainability comes into play here again. What is the future? What does it look like? How do we help people have sustainable futures? What does that look like? Because I think there’s a lot of people that don’t even think about that. We have a duty of care to set people up for a future that won’t look like it does now. There won’t be jobs for life. There won’t be the jobs that we currently have. There’ll be roadblocks doing that. I think some people don’t really appreciate that. We do have a duty of care.


Sam: If someone comes in and says they want to be a, whatever it is that we are pretty sure isn’t going to survive much longer, do we plan to talk them out of it? How do we manage that?


Glenys: I don’t know that you talk them out of it, but you challenge the thinking. It’s the kid that says, “I want to be a doctor.” “Tell me why you want to be a doctor. What is it that a doctor does that appeals to you?” Because often, they have no idea. We have a duty of care to broaden people’s minds and perspectives.


Sam: Which leads me to the questions about the tensions in your data, one of things that came out was the people that said things to the effect of “I liked that how nurturing they were and how they mostly challenged me?”


Glenys: The paradox.


Sam: The paradox.


Glenys: Yeah, will isn’t life, the paradox? Also, that helps people develop resilience. You don’t want them to want to only be nurtured. The skill of a facilitator is knowing when to be what. If they’re having a vulnerable moment, you’re not going to push them at that moment. You are going to be kind and caring, but then you’re going to slowly push them, keep them moving.


Sam: Do you think your understanding of paradoxes, is that a fundamental thing that’s missing from our whole education? We’re too good at teaching people black and white or that’s what we tend to do, and it’s actually the subtleties that matter?


Glenys: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and I think … but I start to see a lot of people using a lot more case studies, real life issues these days where they are exposed to that. When you’re 18 and you’re trying to fill someone’s little brain up with a whole lot of knowledge and information, that’s quite an interesting concept, isn’t it? There needs to be a lot more applied practical exercises, really scary ones.


Sam: You’re talking about there won’t be jobs for life. What is the future of work?


Glenys: The future of work, certainly no job for life and for people to be really adaptable, flexible, mobile. What’s really interesting is facilitators work differently. We seldom work with learners between 9 and 5 because our learners are at work. They’re online with us at 8:00 at night when their kids are in bed or they’ve got an hour or Saturday morning. We work differently and so that flexibility, that ability to go, “Oh, I’ve got nothing on this afternoon. I might go to the gym and get the groceries and go and visit a couple of people because tonight I’ll be working,” it’s a total mind shift. It wouldn’t matter if there wasn’t anyone in the office, Sam, because they’ll all be working differently. Also, that whole self-employment thing, you’re only as good as your last contract. People have to understand what that means. There’s no expectation of an employer funding your lifestyle that you think you deserve. Those kind of things are gone.


Sam: We have this idea in education that we’d like to be doing things…something about lifelong learning.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Are we really?


Glenys: I like to think so. If you tune people onto learning and motivate and enthuse and inspire people and find the things that do spark their interest, then surely that … Lifelong learning doesn’t mean doing what I did and doing a whole range of qualifications. Learning doesn’t have to be attached to anything. What did you learn today? Can you tell me five new things you learned?


Sam: I could, it might take a while to think through them. Yes, I think I could.


Glenys: Yeah, so just tell me one thing that you learned that was new for you today.


Sam: I’ve been in assessments all day so, I need to be careful about what I’m talking about with the individuals, but there’s some ways that people have matched their professional framework to what they’re doing, which has actually been quite interesting things, and the different models that people are using for doing that was really interesting today, and that the difficulties of applying standard research methods to this kind of stuff, but they’re recognising that the  work that people are doing particularly at the master’s level, we can’t simplify. It’s not we can’t do the research by reducing everything down to a single factor and just testing that. It’s people are in their messy work and that the participants in their research are their boss and their colleagues and the people they’re managing and their customers, and we need to pull all that together so there is really different things about what we’re doing. I had some insights about that today.


Glenys: Yeah, that’s why the literature on work-based learning is exciting because it explains that. That will be hard for some people to transfer their thinking from traditional research and academia to professional practice. I think that’s a leap, isn’t it? Because you don’t have to attach your thinking to 50 other theorists that said something.


Sam: The challenge as work is changing, but particularly at the master’s level, but also to some extent at the undergrad is that people are describing jobs that, they’re doing them, but don’t exist as a recognised discipline despite the fact that they’re doing that work. They’re defining their own framework of practice.


Glenys: Yeah, and also you will be hearing cross-disciplinary approaches. Traditionally, people studied subjects like business, social services, accounting, nursing. What about the people and work where they don’t … Like today, I had a good example, a lot of people didn’t line up to anything. Our professional practice qualifications are perfect because it’s about their professional practice, which is multidisciplinary. It’s management. It’s economics. It’s accounting. It’s business improvement. It doesn’t fit into something. It’s melded together. Then all of a sudden, there’s a new project so they’re off doing quantity and quality control.


  I also don’t think people understand how resilient they are where they, “Go, yeah, it’s new. It’s all part of the job,” and yet they’re still working in the same organisation, but they’re doing complex work. That’s another thing. People aren’t going to be subject specific. They’re going to be very integrated. I think our professional practice qualifications are a way bit ahead of its time for some people because they keep thinking, “Oh, is that management then or what fits under there?” That’s neat when they get to that point. We just need an undergrad there.


Sam: I’m getting there.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Some questions to end with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Glenys: Sam.


Sam: You can’t just say, “I’d ask Sam.”


Glenys: Yeah, well, that’s one on the spot. I don’t have one. I’d have to think about that.


Sam: What do you say to a learner that says, “Why should I care about this stuff?”


Glenys: What would I say to them? Why shouldn’t you care? Usually people come from communities that they do care about … they care about the land. They care about the people. Then you find that when you say, “Oh, well, so in 10 years’ time when there’s no fresh water,” they start to think about it and they do start to make changes. Yeah, different communities see it quite differently, but people don’t say that to me, Sam, “Why should I care?” Even young people don’t say that anymore. I think young people have got a much bigger sense of social responsibility. I think that era is past, of leaving the tap running while you clean your teeth.


Sam: You’re not finding people saying, “Oh, but I’m a,” insert discipline here, “It doesn’t apply to me?”


Glenys: No, I’m not. I see some people not looking at it in its full depth, but when you show them places to find out about it, they always come back with really rich stuff and new stuff that you wouldn’t have thought about. I think that’s neat where they figure it out, but you’re just doing some prompts like, “What about this?” Yeah, I’ll have to think of a good throwaway definition though that’s …


Sam: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Glenys: My passion, transforming lives, I know that, but my passion is the second chance learners. I love the people that university or higher ed or polytech wasn’t for their family. It wasn’t for them and so, they left school at 15 and got a job. Then a lot of the athletes I work with that hit rugby or cricket at a young age and sport was their identity and sometimes English is a second or third language, I love those. I love helping them make a difference. I think that’s where if I had a choice, it’s where I’d stay. I’ll leave the masses for you, Sam, but I’ll do the review of learning and the things in your life. It’s helping people who didn’t think that this was for them, being the first in the family.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. What is the super power that you’re bringing to the team? Not the one you wish for, the one you have.


Glenys: The super power?


Sam: Yeah.


Glenys: Maybe you have to tell me. I don’t know.


Sam: You see, the thing about these super powers is that they’re not magical. That’s the point. They are things that everybody could have.


Glenys: Super powers? I don’t know. A super power?


Sam: I’m going to put words in your mouth here. Is it a belief that you can make a difference for other people, with other people?


Glenys: I don’t have an ego that it’s about me. It’s never about me. My motivation is when you see their families at graduation and you see them cross the stage. For me, I don’t need to be important in that process. I need to make that clear, even though it’s cool when they go, “Thanks, Glenys. I really hated you.” It’s more that I’ve tuned them on to something they never thought was for them and tuning people onto learning is important to me, however that learning is. I’m not necessarily qualification focused, but for some people, they do want a qualification. Our oldest learner is 86. He wants to graduate with his great grandson. How awesome is that?


Sam: That’s pretty awesome.


Glenys: Yeah.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Glenys: God, what is the definition of an activist?


Sam: You get to define it in your answer.


Glenys: Someone who sets out to make a difference, someone who sets out to change the world.


Sam: If we go for that, are you one of those?


Glenys: Yeah. Yeah. Come on, super powers and activist. I don’t use those words, Sam.


Sam: What motivates you? You said families at graduation, but that can’t get you out of bed every day.


Glenys: It does actually. Helping people does get me out of bed all day. Making a difference, watching that spark of interest and sometimes, it takes five or six months to see it, but I always like looking for the glue. I don’t care … You know how people tell you a story. I don’t always listen for the facts. I listen for the bits they don’t see.  I listen for the glue and then, I come back to it. People talk about that and I often don’t know how I know, but I find it, all the gold. That’s fun. I can dine out on that for hours if I’ve found that for someone.


Sam: Not trying to be an expert on their lives, but perhaps some sort of magic mirror.


Glenys: Yeah. Sometimes you are the expert for a while because you can see they’re struggling so you are guiding them and giving them more help and information for a while and it’s knowing when to let that go. It’s just not that whole traditional I’m the expert and you’ll listen to me for two hours while I talk at you.


Sam: We’ve got a minute to get to three questions. Biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next year?


Glenys: Actually, it’s crossing the stage with that red gown. It’s never been about the graduation, but somehow I think it will be.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?


Glenys: Personally or professionally?


Sam: You can pick.


Glenys: That everybody could afford to learn, to study, to get those qualifications, to make a difference, that education was free.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Glenys: If you are one of those people out there that have significant skills and knowledge from experience and would like to see if that matches something, I’d love to talk to you.


Sam: That sounds fantastic. Thank you very much.



Aesthetically beautiful and sustainable homes

Alyssa Clift is an architect who is director of Project Habitation, a design firm specialising in aesthetically beautiful and sustainable homes in Queensland.

Talking points

Sustainable: There is a difference between ‘eco’ and sustainability, to be sustainable it needs to be carbon positive, everything short of that is just ‘eco’.  

Success: So far as it stands having a child and my architectural design of the Minough (sp?) treehouse.

Superpower: My ability to deliver sustainable housing solution.

Activist: I would describe myself as an ‘inactive’ activist, I’ve got certain principals with I try to live by, and I try to encourage others to adopt those principals… but I would think twice before participating in a march.

Motivation: (Crying infants…) just being content, I’m happy and excited to wake up everyday.

Challenges: Expanding the business, it’s going to be very challenging to do so especially with small children.

Miracle: For developers financial incentive to change to a sustainable outlook. 

Advice: Sustainable design isn’t not easy, although it’s really important for the future generations. You only have control over yourself and your outputs, so the way that you live is very important, if you need help with adapting your existing home or building a new one, seek that help because it contributing to the generations to come.

architecture communication design

Synthesis through design thinking

A collaborative model, a visual representation of the problem which actually brings together different disciplines and brings together different perspectives.

Shane: So, our guest tonight is Ray Maher and he’s from the University of Queensland with the School of Earth and Environmental Science, and the Global Change Institute and its space in Australia. He is a Masters in Architecture and a Bachelor of Design. So Ray is a researcher in sustainability strategies, a building designer, a teacher of sustainable design and an active member of various NGOs and research groups. And he’s undertaking his PhD at the University of Queensland on Integrated Sustainability Strategies, which seeks to synthesise the complex and interdependent fields of sustainability and present them simply via visuals.


  The reason why he’s here in Otago is because Sam is one of his supervisors. He has recently begun Project Habitation with his wife and Ray’s main expertise is in drawing together the many diverse aspects of sustainability and synthesising them into mutually supportive design responses. Welcome to our show, Ray. How’s it going?


Ray: Good, good.


Shane: Were you born in Australia?


Ray: I was. I was born in far north Queensland, actually, so up in the jungle and beaches north of Cairns.


Shane: Oh, lovely. And what was it like growing up in that environment?


Ray: I don’t remember it well. I left pretty young. It was a beautiful place, though. And from there, after my sister came along, we travelled south and my parents found a new home in Northern Rivers, New South Wales, which is sort of another very beautiful place of subtropical forest and a pretty lovely place to grow up, actually.


Shane: What was it like growing up in Australia as a kid? Did you wander around the forests every night or chasing koalas or-


Ray: I suppose I spent a lot of time outside in the bush and every weekend we would be either going camping or going to local national parks, or going to the beach nearby. So it’s pretty glorious, and just one of those things you take for granted, I suppose. Also, dad’s a builder so he built us a beautiful house and we got a block of land there. Five acres, two and a half hectares, and mum started regenerating the forest that used to be there. So I’ve got to see that kind of grow and develop over time. And it’s, yeah, a pretty wonderful spot, actually.


Shane: I was going to ask you what got you involved in design and sustainability, but I’m beginning to think that was your parents that inspired that? Or was it something you watched and …


Ray: Well, I began with design and architecture so when I finished high school, moved to Brisbane to go to the University of Queensland and study architecture there. And that was a real shift, I suppose, in the way that I thought. Design brings with it a pretty incredible way of thinking, way of seeing the world, I suppose. You learn to see things not just as they are but how they could be. And that becomes really the focus of how I perceive things.


  It took a while, living in Brisbane, especially when you start uni. It’s all pretty social and sort of being in a new place and everything. But then after a while, maybe a couple of years, I suppose, I started to miss something without recognising what it was. And it took a while to realise that it’s sort of the natural environments. It’s being in the wilderness a lot, which I’d stopped doing. And all of a sudden it seemed really strange to me why all of these people lived in a place that was so lacking in natural diversity. And from my perspective, it was certainly not as dynamic and beautiful an environment as I was used to.


  Then I suppose I started to realise from that the scale of it all. That, you know, what I had taken for granted and had been a norm for my life up until then was the exception to the rule, and that most people lived in pretty urban environments. And around the world, the rate of change of natural environments to human uses has just been so rapid and so all-encompassing around the world that those kind of places are pretty special, and we’ve got to work pretty hard to keep what we’ve got.


Sam: What were you hoping to achieve going off to do architecture?


Ray: Mostly it was just purely a field of interest. I wanted to do something where every day would be different. Where I could approach problems from different angles, and architecture certainly is that. I think I got that bit right and I do love the whole field for that reason. But then within architecture I had some fantastic teachers, actually, and learnt from them, I suppose, more about sustainability and some of the issues that we’re facing. And the significance of the built environment within potential solutions to those problems.


  We invest a huge amount of our time and our money and effort and resources in building the places that we live in around us. And the way we do that can either be a massive force for destruction of the environment and people’s lives, or it can be a massive force for regeneration. There is just such a vast difference between the two that I suppose I really grew to love architecture both because of its way of perceiving the world and thinking about things, and also because of the significance of the built environment in addressing these major problems that we’re facing.


Sam: But isn’t architecture all about enabling development? And by development, I mean bulldozers.


Ray: It certainly can be. I mean, as within any field or discipline, there’s a very broad range of perspectives within it. And that’s something that interests me about it too, I suppose. It can be about enabling that but because architects are shaping the world around them to some degree, they have a lot of influence over the experience that people have when living in buildings and in the built environment. And over the sorts of materials that we use and the types of industries that happen. Energy sources, the way we consume water, all of these sorts of things which have these incredible ripple effects out into society and into the natural environment.


  It’s pretty empowering, I suppose, and certainly students that I’ve monitored, that I speak to. I think it can be really empowering to recognise the significance of that, of the responsibility and the influence that comes with it in making these decisions about shaping the world around us.


Sam: So if you have a big influence over how we live – and, as you say, the ripple effects and that’s empowering – is the duty of care that’s implicit in that. In your education, was that made explicit?


Ray: Well, yes and no. Again, there’s this huge diversity so many people including practitioners and at university overlook it. Architecture is very diverse. There is just so much going on. There’s so many different forces that you’re considering and trying to not only avoid conflicts between them, but to bring them into some sort of harmonious resolution. It’s complex and different people typically focus on different aspects of it.


  And that’s fair enough. We should expect that and it’s good for education, for people who have different levels of expertise. But it does mean that some people tend to overlook these aspects of architecture that I’m interested in, that I think are particularly important. And others are it’s front and centre and they do an incredible job. They’re making strides in changing the way that we build.


Sam: Just quickly before we leave off your architectural education, was the sustainable part of it explicit, implicit? How was it embedded?


Ray: I keep repeating this, but it varied enormously. So with some lecturers, which of course are researchers and practitioners themselves, it was all of the above. It was embedded in the core of their work and the way that they perceived the world, and the focus of their actions when designing and when teaching about architecture. And in others it was just kind of off the radar or, if not that, it was secondary to other interests.


Sam: Yep. But there’s something about that way of thinking which has been important for you. You said at some stage, I’ve forgotten the exact line that you said, but it was something like we could eat wicked problems for breakfast.


Ray: Yes, I think something I’ve come to realise is more recently, actually, during my PhD. After I finished my Masters of Architecture I did some research on a range of things, but then I began my PhD with the School of Earth and Environmental Science. So working with a lot of landscape ecologists and conservation biologists, et cetera, and looking at … It became really clear to me, all of a sudden, that the quite a different perspective that designers and scientists have, for example. And each of these perspectives are critical in understanding the world and responding to problems and et cetera.


  But I became really aware of the power of design in addressing the kinds of problems that we face in sustainability. So the way science has worked traditionally, especially in the early days, is one of reduction. One of looking at the world through a magnifying glass or a telescope. Pulling the world apart and looking at the elements that make it up. And that’s been an incredibly powerful force.


  But its’ not very good for solving complex problems. It’s certainly not very good for solving wicked problems. It’s an essential part of providing us a rigorous understanding of how the world works and of outcomes of some of our decisions. But I think much more suited to solving the sorts of problems that we face in sustainability is perspective-like design, where you’re not just balancing and compromising on different goals but you’re trying to find strategies for solving multiple goals simultaneously.


  When you look at, certainly in sustainable design but many other different problems, even our food systems, our water systems, et cetera, there’s just so many different issues embedded with them. Every time we make a new policy, every time we make a new decision or have a new development project, there’s so many implications of that. Across the natural environment, across the built environment, across society. And design is, I think, a pretty powerful way of understanding that bigger picture and developing a response where you get synergy, where the parts are working together to give you multiple benefits.


Sam: So if you were to liken designing a solution for sustainability to designing a house, what’s the process that you would go through in designing a house that we can borrow for how to solve problems in sustainability?


Ray: Okay. First of all, when you’re designing a house you’ve got to approach it from a number of different directions. And each new perspective that you take, when considering the challenge, sheds new light on the problem and brings forward new potential solutions.


  So you might consider you’ve got a new client, a new design that you’re going to undertake, and you might consider it firstly from the perspective of the clients. You know, what are these people looking for? What do they really want, underlying what they’re telling you? What are they really seeking to achieve? What would make their lives better?


  But that perspective alone isn’t enough. You also take on the perspective of the engineer, so how can we make sure these structures stand up? How can it actually be built? And each new perspective brings new information. Then it’s once you start to find a strategy, an approach to designing a building that starts to give you benefits across multiples of these perspectives, then you’re probably on the right track.


  If you can find, for example, a strategy that’s beginning to achieve the client’s ambitions, structural challenges, economic challenges, environmental issues, et cetera, then that’s at least a seed of a good design. And from there you can go and test it. I think that holds up very true for pretty much all the sustainability challenges that we face. That they’re so embedded in the environment and society that, if we’re facing a problem about sustainable farming in Otago, then we need the perspective of the farmer but we also need the perspective of the ecologist and the water systems engineer and the local council and the economist and everyone else.


  And each new perspective gives us a richer understanding of the problem and expands the potential solutions we’ve got to work with.


Sam: In architecture, if I was, as a client, describing what might on the surface seem to be an intractable problem.


Ray: They always are.


Sam: That I’m describing something, that I’m saying I want fantastic views but I also want no windows. I just made that up. How does that not just do your head in?


Ray: Sometimes it does, temporarily, but you’ve always got to look deeper. You’ve got to look below the surface. There’s another saying that you’ll often hear from designers is “first idea, worst idea”. You know, you’ll have a brainwave. You’ll be hearing these designs of a client and see all the challenges underlying it. “Oh, I know what the answer is. It’ll be X.” And you start sketching it out on paper.


  Almost invariably, it’s not a good approach to the problem. It seemed like it at the time. You know, you were working with what you had. You begin the process and, okay, there’s issues with this. But just through going through that process, you can start to see where the problems are and where new opportunities begin to arise.


  So each time you go through that process of testing an idea or having an idea, putting it out on paper, testing it from different perspectives, learning about what worked and what didn’t, and then taking that back to the next layer of thinking, it certainly develops your understanding of the problem and it broadens your number of different approaches that you could take to solving it.


Sam: One of the challenges of sustainability is that notion of think global, act local. And I think that in building a house – We haven’t talked about this but it’s just popped into my head – is that you’ve almost got the solution to that problem because at the same time you’re having to think about the overall house, but also where the doors go.


Shane: I was just about to ask that.


Sam: But if you were to start with the design of the doors and then separately do the design of the windows, you’re going to end up with a higgledy-piggledy mismatch.


Ray: Yeah, I suppose that’s how society typically works. We’ll go big scale for a minute. Sort of post-industrial revolution, the scale of humanity’s total endeavour is going through the roof. We’re getting enormous specialisations, different fields. So you’ve got to somehow organise that.


  The scientific approach, which had been so valuable so far and continues to be, partly resulted in dividing up people working in different fields into different disciplines. And, I mean, that goes back to Plato and before, but that really got accentuated. So now when we approach a problem, then that’s a typical way to do it. Who works out the solution to the water infrastructure problem? Well, that must be the water system engineers. Who works out the problem with farming? Well, that must be the farmers.


  But if you took that approach with a building, let’s just think what would happen. So imaging a client comes along. “I want this building to house my family and live on this piece of land and have a lovely life.” Imagine if you did that by going, “Okay, well first of all we’ll get the engineer to design some footings. We’ll get someone else to design some windows and openings. We’ll get someone else to design a roof and someone else to design some walls and someone else to design a kitchen and a bathroom.”


  And everyone else goes away and does their parts. You bring them all back together and what do you get? It’s a complete mess. It’s a Frankenstein. Nothing works together. Even if each part could have worked well in isolation. But that’s not how the world works. And it’s not how a building works. Everything is working together, or should be, and it’s not how society and the environment work. Everything is completely integrated. There is no way of isolating something, except in theory.


  Because of that, I think this design approach, and this collaborative approach as essential of that, of bringing together different minds and different perspectives, is really the only way that we can solve the most challenging problems that we’ve got. We’ve solved a lot of the easy problems. That’s why so many things are going so wonderfully. We’ve got to not forget that. But the ones we’re left with are the really challenging ones that we can’t solve from our typical institutional arrangements and the way we typically think by dividing up the world.


Shane: So what are you doing about it?


Ray: You said earlier that there was a rare moment of optimism in your numbers this morning. I think there’s a lot of great moments for optimism. They’re not always at the forefront of your mind. I mean, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed by the scale of problems. But there are just so many people from so many backgrounds doing so many great things, you can actually be overwhelmed by that aspect of it as well. It is pretty full-on how seriously and how successfully so many people have approached these problems.


  The momentum we’ve had since the 70s and 80s has actually worked. It has actually built up. We’ve got institutions around the world with teams of researchers analysing every part of the problem. We’ve got thousands of new businesses working at different aspects of providing solutions. We’ve got different types of professionals we didn’t have before. We’d got, as you said, different policies. Et cetera.


  I find that very optimistic but most of the time these groups are still working in isolation. So I really want to try and do what I can to bring together these different perspectives and reconnect between different people working on different parts of the problem. So to do that, that’s what my PhD is all about, is developing a new way of thinking, in part, that brings together these isolated perspectives that different disciplines have, and to embed that in a website for collaboration so that we can have a technical way of communicating more effectively and bringing together people from all different backgrounds.


Sam: How might we go about doing that? I mean, if you had an ecologist and an economist talking about something, they just talk past each other. There’s no overlap in the things they’re talking about.


Ray: It would seem not. I suppose upon further investigation, you can discover there is. But it doesn’t happen often enough. Okay, well the way that architecture and design deal with that problem is through visual communication. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to design anything, especially not something as complex as a building, without having a way of communicating that and describing it visually. That visual way of working becomes a visual way of thinking for an architect, and I think that’s partly what’s lacking.


  There’s been some success here too, but there’s a lot of opportunities in sustainability for visualising the perspectives of different people and visualising different pieces of important information, and that can provide a common platform. You know, a common language and a common platform for people to share ideas. So I think, partly via the right systems of visual communication, you can get the ecologist and the economist on the same page, appreciating each other’s perspectives and even finding common links between what they’re working on and their different perspectives.


  Once you can find that point of commonality, or at least two different perspectives on the same thing, then that gives you a great opportunity for collaboration where you can start to develop solutions which actually encompass multiple perspectives.


Sam: We always ask people if they’ve got a go-to definition of sustainability. I’m not going to ask that. At least I might ask it later.


Ray: You’re welcome to.


Sam: But now I’m going to ask if you’ve got a go-to diagram of sustainability.


Ray: I do. One I’ve been developing. A part of my research has been looking at different diagrams of sustainability. To look at how different people understand the challenges that we face, and the relationships between parts. You know, where the emphasis is in our thinking and in our actions. So I’ve been developing a diagram that synthesises these different perspectives as a way to help synthesise the actual thinking behind it. The thinking is the important part but visuals and diagrams can help us to do that, just like in architecture.


Sam: And?


Ray: And, okay, so this particular diagram, words certainly don’t do it justice. But they never do. That’s another part of our research, is the communication that’s needed is verbal can’t solve all our problems. We like to talk a lot better. So this particular diagram and the thinking behind it brings together different aspects of our natural environment and the built environment and society, and begins to show links between different parts of that.


  So if we’re unpacking a problem about water systems, we can see how water consumption, for example, which might be happening at a personal level, the decision that you or I make about how we consume water, are impacted upon by the infrastructure that we have in the built environment and by different government policy. And they have impacts going out into the natural environment in terms of waste systems or the need for new dams and the effects that has on ecosystems, et cetera. Again, this is very complex to communicate with words but some of these things become incredibly vivid when you see them on paper or on a screen.


Shane: And you’re imagining that people would use it. How?


Ray: Well, again like a building … keep using the metaphor. A building does a lot of things, doesn’t it? You don’t ask someone about their home, you know, what does your home do? What is the answer? Well, it’s everything. It’s a part of our identity, it’s a place to live, et cetera. So this diagram and this way of structuring thinking on sustainability, we want to form the basis of a digital platform for collaboration.


  Different people would use it in different way. A researcher might use it to explore and communicate the different aspects of their research and to help them understand how that fits in, how what they do relates to the big sustainability issues. I mean, this is something that a lot of researchers have a lot of trouble doing, and one of the reasons why there’s this sort of divide between. A lot of common perceptions of research is that it’s so inaccessible. It’s this alien thing that people do in these ivory towers.


  That certainly happens, but if you can communicate effectively what you’re doing and how this new piece of technology you’re working on is actually helping to solve climate change, or how this new way of approaching management problems is actually going to help us alleviate policy in the third world. I mean, this is a big deal. And that can help to, I think, give a lot more weight and value out of all this great research that’s already happening.


  So I suppose that’s from a researcher’s perspective. But if you’re a business and have a new piece of technology or a service that you’re providing, people need to know what it does and people need to be able to see the relationships between the things that they care about – whether that’s biodiversity or climate change or other issues – and some of the solutions that are already being developed to achieve that.


Sam: I was talking about an ecologist and an economist before. If those two people were employed to work on a problem, how might they go about using it to communicate?


Ray: Back to the big picture. A core part of the way that people are now thinking about sustainability is through systems. It’s through understanding. You mentioned at the beginning of the show that it’s through understanding how different things relate to each other. And, of course, diagrams are a key part of communicating that. So through this system, it’s possible for an ecologist to create a systems model, a diagram that shows how different issues relate to each other.


  Which is as simple as talking a bubble or an icon representing the health of the local river and an arrow leading to it from the local water infrastructure, like dams and things. You can build up these models visually that show how different elements of our social, ecological system relate to each other. So an ecologist might build up elements of their way of viewing the problem, and an economist could come in and add in elements that they think the ecologist has overlooked.


  Well, you know, you’re not seeing these market mechanisms which are an important part of the solution here. They can be added incrementally to the system and once you get a few minds on the job, this system can help to sort of synthesise these different perspectives until you get this collaborative model, a visual representation of the problem which actually brings together different disciplines and brings together different perspectives. Like in architecture, then you can get a more holistic view of the problem and of potential solutions.


Sam: It could be because we’re referring to the diagram here, but you’re seeing a much bigger system. Sort of a crowd-sourcing, pulling together of ideas?


Ray: Yeah, that’s right. I suppose if you look at the enormous global movement into online networks and the kind of revolutions that we’ve seen in how we communicate with each other. Things like Facebook, other knowledge sharing platforms like Wikipedia. You know, now the largest encyclopaedia that we’ve ever had has just been crowd-sourced for free. The Uber. Do you have Uber in New Zealand? Yeah, like a beginning? It’s very big in Australia –  Ride sharing. And these things are really transforming elements of society and how we do things.


  We haven’t seen that same kind of transformative networking platform for sustainability yet. We’ve seen a lot of seeds of that. There’s a lot of great collaborative platforms and knowledge-sharing platforms in existence but nothing that really brings together a comprehensive set of issues and communicates it in a way that’s accessible to everyone, from an interested member of the public to a policy-maker to a researcher. That’s the aspirations that we’ve got for this thing and we’ll take it as far along that path as we possibly can.


Sam: And what are you doing here? Talking with me, obviously.


Ray: Talking with you.


Sam: But you’re working with some research groups to map out their-


Ray: Yeah, it’s been a fantastic process, actually. To test this system and develop the ideas, critical feedback is essential. In the same way that you test other kinds of design, it’s important to develop ideas and then test them. At the University of Queensland, we’ve run a number of workshops with students from very different disciplines to use this system to try and explore the ideas and the problems that they face.


  Whether that be architecture students looking at a sustainable eco-village and understanding the issues there. We’ve spoken with and worked with ecologists and landscape ecologists and used it to unpack a problem from their perspective. And now in Dunedin we’re at Otago Polytechnic and, this Friday actually, we’re working with a group of Masters students doing a Masters of Geography.


  And what I know of it is that each student’s got quite a different and very interesting project in their Masters, all with some relation to sustainability. We’re going to sit down together, map out each of their different problems and each of the different aspects of research that they’re doing, and to see how they relate to each other. And to see how the understanding that each has can help to enrich the projects of the others.


Sam And you’ve got international interest?


Ray: Yeah, we’ve actually-


Sam: I’m not saying Australia being international from here, of course.


Ray: [crosstalk 00:32:40]. Yeah, we’ve just had some very big international interest, actually. The Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden is a very major research institution on sustainability and they are working with a number of other institutions including Future Earth, which is a great collaboration platform online. They’re running a programme of sustainable development goal labs. So these are, they call them social innovation labs. Ways of developing innovative ideas collaboratively and bringing out some great new solutions, in this case for the purpose of achieving sustainable development goals.


  They had an invitation to people from all around the world to present different ideas on how they would use collaborative thinking to develop an innovation that would help to achieve sustainability goals. We were successful against phenomenal odds and so …


Sam: Ninety four percent rejection rate!


Ray: Ninety four percent rejection rate. Yes, so now we’re developing these ideas and we’ll be presenting them in Stockholm in August. And with their support, continuing to develop them from there.


sam: Okay. I’ve let time rattle away on me so we’re going to have to hurry through these questions. So here’s your chance. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?


Ray: Just the dictionary definition, which is sustainability is the ability to maintain a process or a state indefinitely. So any process or state that we’re considering that could not be maintained indefinitely is fundamentally unsustainable and won’t be continued indefinitely. So whether that’s our rate of our extraction of resources or anything else that we might do.


  And I think it’s kind of a knife edge definition, but it gives us a pretty clear understanding of the inevitability of change in an unsustainable society or an unsustainable system. Things will change one way or another because things are not sustainable, and it’s up to us to determine which way they go.


Sam: It’s a real challenge, isn’t it, that necessary juxtaposition of things staying the same but in order to do that they have to change?


Ray: Absolutely, yeah. I suppose that’s where the resilience perspective also comes in, that there’s a certain amount of change that a system or a society or environment can cope with. And if we’re gentle enough with ourselves or the place we live, then we can deal with certain changes and still maintain a functioning system. But if we push things too far beyond certain limits, we get systems collapse. We’ve seen ecosystems and even societies around the world that have collapsed because they’ve pushed their systems too far.


Shane: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years? I’ll let you have one free hit about a five month old.


Ray: Yeah, certainly. I’ve just become a dad and it’s an exciting time of your life. There’s a lot going on there. It makes the challenges with work et cetera. But he’s an incredible human and it’s just, I suppose, the thought that the change that my kid is going to see within his life is just going to be absolutely phenomenal. I spend my life thinking about these future changes and where we can shift it in a good direction, and I am totally confident that I have no idea of the scale of change that he’s going to see.


  Now, if I think of my grandfather, died not too many years ago, but he went to school in a horse and cart and wrote on board with charcoal. That’s my grandad. There’s people alive, of course, who around the world are still doing that. But even in our modern, wealthy societies, they did that as children and here we are now with everything that we’ve got. The change has been phenomenal. The next generation of change is going to continue at the exponential growth and it will be vastly more so.


Shane: Are you optimistic? Do you think he’s going to have a better life?


Ray: I think anyone born at this point of time, into a society like Australia or New Zealand … I won’t say anyone, but as a whole we are incredibly lucky. Again as a whole, we’ve got one of the highest standards of living around the world, and certainly the highest standard of living that’s ever been achieved throughout human history. So that’s part of what he’s born into.


  But he’s also born into the mammoth challenges that we’re facing. When teams of the best scientists around the world are telling you that we’re facing a system collapse, or that with climate change we’re facing the largest migration in human history, bigger than all the world wars combined, that is a big deal. There is no underestimating the scale of the problem.


  So, I suppose, he’s going to live through all of that and I don’t know which way it’s going to go. We just push it as far as we can in the best direction we think.


Sam: Okay, well we only have done two of these questions. We really are going to have to rattle. It’s my fault for distracting you. We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. So what’s your super power?


Ray: Super power? It would be the ability to take on the perspective of someone else who I met and fully see the world from their view. You know, everyone’s got so much to contribute, I’d love to be able to get their take on things.


Sam: What have you got now? What’s your super power that you have now? What are you bringing to this?


Ray: I suppose design thinking to sustainability problems and ways of synthesising all different sorts of perspectives. I think there’s a huge amount of potential in that.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Ray: I’ve never used that word to describe myself but I’m certain that we need large scale, systemic change to have a wonderful future instead of a terrible one. So I suppose if I’m seeking systemic change, then that to a degree does make me an activist, I guess, doesn’t it?


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Ray: The gap. The gap between how things are and how things could be is just so vast. The potential futures that lay out in front of us are so widely different that there is just so much at stake in choosing the best path over the worst one. And we really could go any way right now. There’s so much pushing us towards horrific outcomes and there is so much pushing us towards fantastic outcomes that it’s a big pendulum to swing. So swinging it as far as I can towards a good future is, I suppose, all anyone can do.


Sam: What challenge are you looking forward to in the next year or so?


Ray: Bringing this platform to fruition. It’s got to happen. Everything is lining up. You never know when you begin something, a big challenge, how it’s going to go. But you’ve just kind of got to go with it. And then sometimes things don’t go in the right direction. Okay, I’ll approach some new challenge. But other times, things start to line up. And with this one, everything is beginning to line up really nicely.


  We’re bringing together some very diverse thinking into a cohesive system. We’ve got a lot of the right people on board and we’re having the right conversations. And we’ve got the right support from some big institutions. So I think there’s a lot of hope for this.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, tomorrow morning, what would it be?


Ray: I suppose everyone’s got different things that they’ve got to think about and devote their time to but, just for a single moment, if everyone in the world could get a glimpse into the different futures that are possible, vividly, I think that would just … I couldn’t imagine a greater force for change. When people can see how things could be, one direction or another. So there, I’d click my fingers and we’d all see into the future 50 years.


Sam: A follow-up question to that one is what’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact towards that? I’m not sure how possible that is but what could we do that would do that?


Ray: Well, we can see the future. We do it all the time. You know, we look both ways before we cross the road. We can track the path of a ball through the air when we play sports. We vote for someone who will do things in the future which we hope it’s happening in a good direction. And we’ve got incredible science at our back.


  I think we can do a lot in predicting futures. We’ve just go to start looking at the information we’ve got, which means it has to be accessible. We’ve got to see what’s there. And you can feel the trajectory, can’t you? Like, we can all think of an institution, anything, and get some direction of, well, where is this headed? And if that’s not a good direction, how can we steer it?


Sam: I like that idea of glimpsing into the future and we do it anyway. How can we formalise that?


Ray: Well, I’m hoping that’s part of this platform that we’re developing. But how can we formalise that? There are different-


Sam: I mean, in architecture you draw the picture of the house and you put a picture of the house surrounded by trees, looking like it’s been there for a long time and everyone’s enjoying it.


Ray: Right.


Sam: So we explicitly visualise it.


Ray: We do explicit … yeah. That’s, I suppose, one of the great things about architecture. The ability to imagine a future state that doesn’t yet exist and bring it to life in our minds first so that we can then bring it to life in real life. It’s a powerful thing, I suppose. Again, that’s where the power of visual communication behind design comes in so powerfully. And there’s lots of people looking at developing scenarios. I mean, some of this is sort of complex systems modelling and economic scenarios, et cetera.


  But whatever we can do to get a glimpse at that future and share that knowledge amongst people, I think is a very powerful tool.


Sam: Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Ray: Which listeners?


Sam: All of them.


Ray: I suppose if you’re going through life and you’re seeing something that you think needs to happen, you’ve just got to start taking steps in that direction. If you’ve got doubts about how it might turn out, then all that means is that you’re doing something of value. Something that isn’t the default option for you.


  So just take a chance. Just step forward and do that thing that you’ve been thinking about doing that you think is something that someone needs to do. Start doing it. Talk to people about it. Take the steps to do that, whether that’s through a business or education or collaboration. Anything. Just push forward.


Shane: Thank you very much.


business computing environmental entrepreneur

Enterprising Sustainable Technophile

Dr Jack Townsend has worked to investigate startups that address resource and sustainability challenges. The resulting framework can analyse investment portfolios, and  identify opportunities for new digital products.

Talking points

Superpower: Persuasion, I think at the end of the day sustainability is about us having to make some difficult decisions in our longer term interest as a species.


Motivation: A mixture of a strong concern for sustainability, being a technophile and being incredibly curious and inquisitive.   


Miracle: I’d like to see the entire world transition to a decent cycling infrastructure, so that people aren’t pushed into dangerous roads and that I can let my kids go out cyclicing without having to constantly worry about their wellbeing.


Advice: Please start to think about the importance of digital technology and start to reach out to digital communities especially entrepreneurs with your problems, because there is lots of new things that we can do and it is extremely important for digital technology to have a significant role in sustainability.

education leadership

Designing learning that makes a difference






If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.


SL: Tonight we’re joined by Ray O’Brien, and he’s a learning designer at Otago Polytechnic. Welcome to the show, Ray. How are you doing?


Ray: Good evening.


SL: Obviously, that accent isn’t from around here, although this studio is full of accents that aren’t from around here. Where are you from there, Ray?


Ray: Originally from the West Coast of Scotland.


SL: What part of West Coast.


Ray: The original Helensburgh. Still a little bit uncanny here in Dunedin seeing the transplanted Helensburgh in the buses.


SL: What was it like growing up in Helensburgh on the West Coast?


Ray: Other than windy and wet.


SL: Yes.


Ray: It was actually a great place to live. Some was referring to pure adventurers there. That’s certainly something that moulded the early part of my life getting up into the mountains and it’s right on the boundary line between the Lowlands and the Highlands, so to escape up into the hills in Helensburgh was great.


SL: Fantastic. You went to school there. What were your favourite subjects at school?


Ray: Probably physics and if I look back a dream if there was outdoor ed, but there wasn’t, but I’ll count it as a subject I did anyway I missed enough days of school to go up into the mountains that I can count it as a subject.


SL: Do you obviously decided to go to college at some point, so what did you do there?


Ray: It wasn’t physics. It wasn’t physics. It definitely wasn’t physics, no. I actually cards on the table confession time, I went to university to become an accountant and then during my recess at the end of the first term, I realised that that probably wasn’t the life for me and I switched over to human resource management.


SL: All right. Where did you study? Where were you studying?


Ray: The University of Sterling. Again, the choice of university was more about getting into the mountains than it was about any academic concerns.


SL: Exactly. Sterling is quite a small town and so you had … How big is that? How big is the University of Sterling?


Ray: Oh, I’m not sure the figures now. It’s grown a lot since I was there but when I shifted from high school, a very large school, to university, I think there’s only 500 more undergrads there than there was number of students in my high school.


SL: Of course, Sterling is a very famous place and it’s a beautiful little castle and it’s kind of like a miniature Edinburgh, really. You studied human resource management and you graduated with that.


Ray: Yeah. With that and then started working in the outdoors but trying to combine the two, looking at development training. Did a little bit of work with the oil industry doing team building for people that worked out on the rigs and working for companies like Outward Bound and taking a development angle on adventure and the outdoors.


SL: Fantastic. That was you’re based out of Aberdeen, was it?


Ray: That was where the oil industry stuff was, yeah.


SL: Okay, cool. You did that and decided what’s next on your adventure. What happened next? You’re out in the oil industry, decided what to do next.


Ray: Yeah. I was delivering development training for the oil industry guys. I was never managed to get on a rig myself. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle that.


SL: Going out on the helicopters at the North Sea.


Ray: Yeah. The dunk tank test would have got me, I think. Then after university, like I said, I moved north and I started working at Adventure Training Centre run by the Sports Council. It was much more performance coaching rather than developmental, and that led on to a job working for the military for eight years developing leaders and guides for their adventure training activities.


SL: How do you train for leadership? How do you do that? People say you’re a natural born leader or not. How do you train people to lead? What are the key requirements?


SL: Take them up a mountain and lead from there. If they lead their way down, then you’re a leader.


SL: Yeah.


Ray: It’s an interesting question and I think can you teach leadership or can you develop leadership. I think it all comes down to what opportunities you can offer people and how you can help them to relate it to their everyday context. With the military, my job was to work mainly with senior NCOs and officers and find adventure situations that let them practise the skills of their organisational skills, their communication skills, real situations that didn’t have the consequences of them being in theatre, and yeah, and much, much bigger risks.


SL: What is leadership? What is that as a concept?


Ray: How long is this talk?


SL: If you give a brief description of what leadership looks like.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: Is it telling somebody what to do?


Ray: No. I think it has been viewed as that in a traditional sense of leadership. Actually, when it comes down to it, it’s the people who earn the respect and that respect is usually earned through some form of service to the people that you are leading. I think that’s morphing now and that leadership is not as commonly seen as a one person leading and more about the collective leadership and people taking leadership roles within a more equal group.


SL: You’re going from kind of a hierarchical system to kind of a team, more team egalitarian system. Have there been major shifts in society that have driven that or is that just yeah, this seems to be more effective role or is it both those things?


Ray: I think it’s situational. I think it depends what we are valuing or wanting in society. If we’re looking at repetitive consistent outcomes of people doing the right thing at the right time, then there probably is a place for that traditional role. Everyone wants people to actually make a difference to the world and be creative and do things that haven’t been done before in ways that haven’t been done before, then we can’t tell them how to do that because we don’t know. It’s a change to meet the needs of today and the rate of change that we’re experiencing now in all areas of our life, you can’t have a didactic way this is how you do it.


SL: Was this exclusively with the British Armed Force or did you work with other militaries, as well?


Ray: It was a Joint Service Mountain Training Centre, so yeah, it was all the British ones.


SL: Okay. What happened after that? That was obviously a major adventure.


Ray: It was a learning, it was a great adventure and it had me on expeditions all around the world for five or six months a year, but then I had a daughter and I didn’t want to be away from home for five or six months a year and it was time for a change, and that change took the form of a year’s leave of absence where we all came across to live in New Zealand for a short time to try it out, and here we are 13 years later.


SL: Ah. You came to New Zealand and where did you land, first of all, or where did you arrive?


Ray: We tested it out in the classic Brits in the camper van around the ski areas for a winter. Then went back and organised our work and packed up our house and moved to Hawea, just outside Wanaka.


SL: You just fell in love with the place yeah, this is where we want to be, this is where we want to bring our daughter up. Yeah. Fantastic. Are you still based in Hawea?


Ray: No. Moved down to Dunedin two and a half, three years ago.


SL: All right, wow. Fantastic. Now, you’re teaching, you’re a learning designer. Describe for me what a learning designer is.


Ray: I work in a team of amazing people who do a combination of facility learning design where lecture staff and teaching staff take the courses they’re already teaching or take new programmes and look at different ways to bundle up, reshape it, modernise it, change the way that it’s taught, and align it with more strategic frameworks, so it really meets the need of today’s learners. The other half of the team work on how can we build assets, such as online learning, all of the different resources are required to support that, and also how can we help the staff. Because a lot of the changes are quite significant. How can we make sure that they’re fully supported to be successful?


SL: How does this modern teaching environment, how is it different from the traditional lecture setting, talk to class, give them the lecture, students taking the notes, and then asking questions in tutorials? How is the modern classroom different now for people who haven’t been in there for a while?


Ray: Yeah. I think the main thing, the main myth to bust is that we’re going from a modern classroom to, from a traditional classroom to a modern classroom, and I don’t think that new model exists. I think it is much more varied than, perhaps, a traditional here’s a lecture hall. Typically, when you look at some of the things that polytech does across trades and different work contexts, what we really need to find is a blend in that learning environment. That blend can be a workplace, a real workplace or a simulated it. It could be classroom-taught sessions. It could be online resources and it’s finding the optimum blend of those things for that group of students and that topic to make sure that they are the people that are getting employed at the end of it are the first choice of people to be employed at the end of it.


SL: How do you assess that? How do you decide, okay, for this group of students, this mix for them and for this other group of students, this is the mix for those students and those two learning environments might be quite different. How would you assess which students, what models to which students?


Ray: Yeah. The core of our design process is human-centered design, so we spend a lot of time looking at who are the learners. That’s not necessarily who the learners sat in the classroom today are. It may be looking at what new groups of learners might be coming in, how we could change it to allow access to other groups of learners. I guess to give you an example of that, some of the new business courses that we’ve developed, there are campus-based courses, predominantly those groups are school leaders. We also have predominantly online courses, which most of the people on those courses are actually in work, perhaps even in management positions and the two different blends their needs differently and that’s taken into account right at the start, so what do these people need?


SL: Can you teach the same course to different groups of students? Like for instance, ones who prefer the more traditional method and another group, for instance, work or maybe have families and stuff and can’t make the same time commitments. Is it possible to create courses like that or?


Ray: Yeah. With those specific examples of business courses, there are different delivery modes for the same course.


SL: You get the same educational outcomes and because you’re delivering it in different ways…


Ray: Yeah. In terms of the learning outcomes that they match up to and it’s the same qualification. Yeah. The bar is set at the same height. Yeah. In terms of what they gain from themselves, I think if we have rich enough experience in there, then it’s not a cookie cutter experience and people can make their own meaning from what they experience, so yes, the bar is at the same height but how they interpret that and make meaning from it in their own life’s context, that will be different.


SL: How do you sit down with, thinking about students’ perspective, but how from the teachers’ perspective that the lecturer or the instructor, how do you sit down with them and maybe guide them through a process that might be quite unfamiliar to them or challenging the way they’ve done things for many years and how do you guide them through this process?


Ray: You’re absolutely right. It can be very challenging. Yeah. Particularly given we have some very good outcomes and data to say that we are getting it right, so here’s some learning design coming in telling me to change it all. There is a risk. Yeah. There is a risk. I think if we look at innovations anywhere, the risk I think is more with not looking at the future and changing more so than staying with the old model of knocking a blockbuster, whichever you want to compare it to. I think most people recognise there’s a need to change and it’s not just for the set of students that are in the class with you right now. It’s looking forward, and that’s important leverage to make people happy to take the steps and designing something different.


SL: Is there an actual cultural change in the kind of students that are coming through and our expectations compared to 10, 20 years ago? Is that an actual thing or is that something we kinda made up or is it a mixture of oh, we just got the new technology. Let’s just do it in a different way.


Ray: I guess my understanding of that in terms of the New Zealand context is, to some extent, secondhand, because I wasn’t here to witness that. I can certainly see people are being more demanding in terms of students have been more demanding in terms of a return on investment. They’re coming out of education with some hefty debts and I think it’s ethically right that as institutions, we should be designing to make sure that they get value for their money. Yeah. They are demanding that education makes a big difference for them and their lives and they’re quite right to do that, so that’s a slightly different culture from it’s all paid for and just going to study to access cheap beer and have a party.


SL: If you are designing a new course, how do you actually practically go about that? If you come to a course, say, I’ve got this course we’ve been teaching it for ages. How do you come in and go, okay, what do we need to do here? What’s your approach?


Ray: I think the first part is evaluating how the courses go already. It needs to be strengths-based. It’d be very easy to pick sticks out of any particular way we have designed in a course, but you have to look at the strength and what is going right and make sure that those things are not lost in the design. You also have to look at the student and you also have to triangulate those things with what does industry want. Where are these students going after their qualification? To be honest, that’s the real tricky one just now because how sure are we about the industry they’re going into?


As Sam referred to earlier, there’s as a huge amount of unknown in the future of the jobs market, so trying to triangulate that with what we’re getting right just now and who the learner is and what they need. That’s a challenge. From there, we’re looking at what do we want the graduate to work to look like, what do they have to be able to do, what capabilities do they need, and from there, it’s almost like a cascade down that’s getting down to finer and finer learning outcomes and what experiences can we put together to allow them to show those things in an authentic way.


SL: One of the, of course, the key outcomes for any Otago Polytechnic student coming out is that they’re a sustainable practitioner. What’s your role in helping to integrate those high-level goals and outcomes for the students like good citizens and good contributory members to society? How do you integrate those into, for instance, being a car mechanic. How do you integrate this very high-level things into something that’s very practical, cookery course for a chef?


Ray: Yes. There’s two parts to it. One is integrating into the course and then the other part is integrating it with the graduate capabilities framework. I’ll deal with the course first. It may well appear at that highest level at the what we call the graduate profile outcome, the big picture stuff, but it might actually, it can appear in two different ways. Some of it can be quite implicit in the way that the course is taught. The fact that things are role modelled, it could be the car mechanic because you see the workshop is organised and the materials are being disposed of appropriately, and that in every decision that’s made, there is a sustainability aspect to the decision about how things are done. It’s implicit in the environment in which you’re being taught.


The other part of it could be explicit, so it could be they have a project and it could be to tune up an engine to reduce emissions or how do you tweak this system for reduced emissions. Those are two different layers. The other side with the graduate capabilities framework is that every student will look at when they graduate, they’ll have a profile of capabilities across all sorts of areas that are not subject-specific. It’s about you and your employability and sustainability and being a sustainable practitioner is one strand of the capabilities there. The student could be looking for opportunities and it could be not necessarily a structured opportunity but a pure chance thing that comes up and it’s a learning moment that they can record and provide evidence against that capabilities framework to say, “Here’s an example of me making a sustainable choice in my working life.”


SL: Other than, because we talk about how you role model behaviour, then you make it explicit, so the implicit and the explicit instructions about, okay, think about how to do this. With those high-level goals being, for instance, a good team or whatever, a lot of those skills learned outside the classroom. How would you integrate or how would you encourage students to learn those skills outside the direct learning environment?


Ray: I think the key there is to try and break down that barrier where we have the learning environment and outside of the learning environment, that’s the first thing we need to break down. Really, it’s more of a continuum where you get slightly distant from the institution or you get closer within the walls of it, but the learning, the geography of it doesn’t really impact whether you’re learning or not. Again, it’s one of those myths to bust. If you’re not in the class being spoken to, you’re not learning. That’s not the case at all. Some of your base learning will actually happen as your voluntary job at the weekend, is it the club that you do stuff with.


Is it within your family? It’s drawing all that in and including that big picture that rich learning from your whole context, not just when you happen to be on a seat in front of a lecture.


SL: When you’re doing learning design, and when you talk about geography has prompted me to think about this, is that the way the polytechnic now is set up is stepped away from the lecture theatre as being the centre to being having a lot of very diverse learning spaces. Does part of designing a learning environment look at physicality of how you’re learning? Is that part of what you look at?


Ray: It certainly impinges on our design decisions. There’s no point when I was designing a great learning exercise or module. We don’t have the facilities to deliver that. As we publicised last week, we’ve got some major reinvestment going on at the polytech and I think the new learning spaces and changes to pedagogy and how people are learning and the options available to us, those two things ride hand in hand and yes, one has an implication for the other. I heard a great little tale of from the University of Technology in Sydney where they have just gone through I guess 1.2 billion of investment on their campus and the vice chancellor, who is accountable for the spend, was trying to prove the worth and going around and showing the president of the institution exactly what had been done.


He managed to find a group of students working in a learning pod with a screen around the table exactly as it has been done working independently on their project and she went up, introduced, and said, “I’d like to hear what you do and what do you think of the new spaces.” All the students smiled and looked around and said, “Great. We really wish our university had stuff like this.” While it justified the pedagogy and the environmental link, it didn’t necessarily justify the spending. The two things happen hand in hand. From that same example, she had one space, this is Shirley Alexander from UTS, and she had one space where it was very open plan, lots of pods, easy to move the furniture around. Got feedback from one member of teaching staff who said this is great. I’ve got so many different options as to how to teach at this course, teach the same course at another institution that don’t have those options. I can provide a richer learning experience for my students here because of the space.


The same room, she got a complaint from another member of staff who said she had designed the worst lecture hall he’d ever worked in and she saw that as a major measure of success.


SL: You’ve taught in a whole lot of environments and a whole lot of places, but mostly in outdoor work. On your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re passionate about education and the environment. I want to just loop around to educating about the environment. How are we going?


Ray: How are we going? I think we’re still patchy. Yeah. I think education about environment. It’s an interesting concept just about the environment because it’s actually, for me, it’s about building a relationship with the environment, not having a knowledge about the environment. Yeah. Because there’s a lot of people who don’t necessarily understand any of the science or any of the technology that and the, perhaps, some of the global issues that are happening who have a really strong bond and value of the land and of the environment. Education about the environment, I’m not sure that it is an about question and I think building that relationship and education in the environment is where we should be looking more to be able to make change.


SL: How do I teach for with the environment if I’m teaching accounting? I can understand that it’s an easy step if you’re floating down a river to be talking about the river. Yeah? It’s a harder ask if I’m teaching accounting.


Ray: I think you have more opportunity to scale. If I was to put my fledgling accounting student head on, then I would be on a river, I could share, I could make everybody see the value of keeping that clean and swimmable and looking at other sources of power so that we didn’t lose all the rivers to hydro. That is an easy sell. I agree. If I go into the accounting classroom, then I’ve got people who are potentially making decisions not just about how they behave but how whole organisations behave and the scalability of the decisions they’re making potentially, much huger, so helping them look at integrating the triple bottom layer and examples of that and you run a really powerful position and I believe that most students now are looking for something that’s more purposeful. I don’t think we have to wait until we had a divorce or a midlife crisis before we start looking for purpose in life. I think people are leaving school wanting to explore what is my purpose now.


SL: What do you do about those accountants whose purpose in life is to make a lot of money and drive a big car?


Ray: They will always be there. Yeah. There are always going to be challenges that are hard. Maybe that’s not why I’m not an accounting lecturer.


SL: Yes, but you’re helping people design accounting courses.


Ray: Yes, I am. I think people have to make their, it’s based on values and you can expose people to experiences and opportunities and they can still use their own values to make good decisions. Are you going to be able to change everybody’s mind? No, you’re not. Will they have experiences and opportunities that, perhaps, further down the line will accumulate and other life experiences beyond their qualification? Then perhaps you set the foundations for something later.


SL: Do you have a bottom line or a triple bottom line. Do you have a bottom line of how much people can must, perhaps, accept things?


Ray: I think when it comes to values, we are not here as an educational institution to assess people’s values. I think people can be asked to evaluate them themselves and reflect and think on it and that’s where I would say we have a really important role to get people looking at themselves.


SL: If we ask you that lots of times and, hopefully, they’ll get the hint. A couple of years ago you went to Nepal.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: How did that come about?


Ray: Oh. We had some friends who were also had also gone there and they were all teachers or educators of some form, and they got involved with an organisation called REED Rural Environmental Education Development. They were based in Katmandu but operating predominantly in the Lower Khumbu Valley and delivering teacher training programmes, which is an incredible experience. We had 10 days. Each training was 10 days long and teachers came from two or three hours walk, different villages, descended on the village that we were in, and we rotated round, my wife and I working in the English classroom. I wasn’t allowed to work in the English classroom because they didn’t want lots of Nepalis with dodgy Scottish accents so I was helping in the math class getting back to my physics roots of skill. Yeah.


It was a fantastic experience and certainly great to have our kids there, as well, and see them get involved with the locals and school there. A completely different educational outlook of first thing every day at school is brain gym. We’re all out in the field doing our physical shakes and moves and then into the classroom and as an educator, it was quite challenging in terms of we’ll look at changing pedagogy to be more active learning and more participation, but the bottom line is that you’re a teacher in a crammed classroom with a mud floor and there’d be 70 students of diverse ability and age in front of you, some of whom will not have had breakfast, some of whom have already done two or three hours of agriculture work before they come to school, and someone from New Zealand is coming across telling the teachers to form little groups and get them working together.


It’s a very different dynamic and I think that the important thing that I learned there was about just how important humility is when you’re in those sorts of positions because they know far more about what they’re doing than anybody visiting can. You can offer them some extra options. You can be there to answer some questions but, perhaps, probably the most important rule there was to validate what excellent jobs that we’re doing with what they had, yeah.


SL: How would you describe the difference you made?


Ray: The difference I made there. The key thing on the maths sessions that I did was actually the link between maths problems and their real life was not implicit in what they’re doing, so it was all very abstract examples of maths, so algebra. What examples do you teach? How do you integrate it. It was just numbers and letters on a board and making that step toward well actually, this is the price of chickens and this is the price of a kilo of rice. Yeah. Just making that link between real life and something useful and something that’s seen as quite academic and abstract. Within the classroom, that was a difference. In terms of making a difference in the broader scale, I still hold some really close links with the teaching staff and the mentors I was working with there and, like I say, validating what they do by the fact that you see the value in it from your New Zealand western perspective can give them some confidence to do a bloody hard job yeah, so yeah.


SL: You’ve got a value or a mission something but to make a difference.


Ray: Yeah.


SL: I’m not sure how long you’ve been using that particular phrase but you probably called it something else before. Where’d that come from?


Ray: I think it’s always been there. I think probably a big brother thing in there. Yeah. I’m the oldest of three so I think there is an eldest child element to that. It’s become easier to articulate. I lost a very good friend about three years ago in a helicopter crash and he’s certainly someone who lived his life. His mission was to make a difference. He was volunteering In Rwanda, and was kidnapped and had to be rescued by the SAS.  Came back, joined the Royal Marines because he thought that was a way that he could personally make a difference, become a Marines helicopter pilot. Ran lots of missions there and then realised that that wasn’t how he wanted to make his difference and that he didn’t feel that were, he was involved in were making a positive difference.


Left and moved to Wanaka and did some work in Papua New Guinea also setting up flying ambulances in Papua New Guinea, as well, so yeah. In terms of something that flipped the switch and made it clearer to articulate this is actually what I’m here to do, that’s probably the single event that clarified it.


SL: You haven’t used the term sustainability but it’s the name of the show, so I will. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Ray: Putting back more than you take out.


SL: Is that how you tell if it is a positive difference?


Ray: No because I think sometimes you can – I think it’s more complex than that. Yeah. Certainly, I think if it reflected my experience in Nepal, putting back too much could actually disempower, yeah, and reduces sustainability of it. Yeah. I guess it depends how big a picture you look at for putting back.


SL: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Ray: I think for me it’s got to be my kids and seeing them developing values about…I’m going to use the  making a difference phrase again, yeah, rolls off the tongue but I can see that in them, that the caring and the sharing and the things that they value and what they do in their life and I think we’ve all got quite a big responsibility to keep passing those values on, whether it’s through families or friends or relationships. It’s a way to multiply a difference it would make.


SL: We are writing book of these talks. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. How would you describe your superpower?


Ray: My superpower?


SL: Yeah. That you have, not that you wish for.


Ray: Okay. My superpower, I think probably, the thing I bring to the table is more about making connections and joining things together. Whether that’s people or whether that’s events, it’s the connections.


SL: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Ray: Activist. There’s so many different meanings of that, isn’t there?


SL: You can define it like however you like.


Ray: I don’t see myself out on the street with a placard chanting, so if that’s an activist, I don’t see myself as that, but do I see myself as actively trying to influence people to do more positive things? Then yes, I do.


SL: Lots of people answer that question. Oh, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. Then we talked to the head of policy from Greenpeace and he said, I’m not a Greenpeace activist. What motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning?


Ray: Other than my really annoying alarm clock, it’s, it is about the kids. Yeah. It is about the kids and seeing them grow and making that daily impact on how big an impact they can have.


SL: Taking them to every sporting event known to mankind.


Ray: Yeah. Maybe I should look at my carbon footprint about how much sporting driving I do.


SL: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Ray: Right now, I think the biggest work challenge is going to be getting the BMaD or wherever you end up calling it off the ground, and seeing some students graduate from that.


SL: What’s going to be the hardest bit of that, do you think?


Ray: I think probably the next six months of it. Yeah. Next six months the amount of work to get through and I think once we get through the formalities, there’s so much foundation and solidness and underneath the principles we’re working to there, I think once we’re up and running, that will go well.


SL: What will success look like for that? What should we be aiming for?


Ray: Stories. Lots of stories. Yeah. I should be looking on the Facebook account and seeing the graduates off doing exciting things, having exciting results, and being absolutely envious of every single one of them. If I’m not envious, we haven’t succeeded.


SL: You could do them, those things, too.


Ray: Yeah. Because you’ve done lots of those things. We could. There’s only one of me and there will be lots of them.


SL: If you can wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?


Ray: A magic wand. I’m guessing that I don’t believe in magic isn’t an answer to this question.


SL: No.


Ray: Yeah. Okay. If I could wave a magic wand, I’m trying not to make a Miss World answer out of this one. I think I’d probably pass the magic wand on to my kinds for them to decide.


SL: That’s so cheating.


Ray: There you go.


SL: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that could make the biggest possible difference?


Ray: The smallest thing.


SL: Yeah.


Ray: Yeah. I think a smile is cheap and easy, yeah, and it goes a long, long way.


SL: Lastly for me, do you have any advice for our listeners. I think you might have given one but here’s another one. Free hit.


Ray: Advice for listeners. I think yes, the small things do count. Yeah. The smalls do make a difference but as long as you make sure that the person that you small at is sending more smalls, we need to work out ways to keep multiplying what we do because we can’t really the scale of issues we’re dealing with and the rate of change we’re dealing with, there’s no lonesome warrior and no lone-ranger that’s going to be able to do this. It’s everybody and we got to make sure we’re persuading each other and working together to make a difference. 



climate change economics philosophy religion values

Investing in people and the planet




The way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life.


Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Dr Robert Howell whose new book, Investing in People and the Planet, is published by …


Robert Howell: It’s available through Quaker Books, so if you go to the Quaker website and you’ll be able to find it there (
Samuel Mann: So let’s take a few steps back. Where did you grow up?


Robert Howell: Napier.


Samuel Mann: What was it like growing up in Napier at the time?


Robert Howell: It was very interesting because … I went to Victoria University and spent ten years in Wellington then came back to Napier as city manager and when you come back as city manager, you see the city through different eyes. Did you know that the largest storm water pumps in the country are in Napier? And the reason for that is that the earthquake my parents went through – the 1931 earthquake, so that was part of my upbringing but it never did it’s job properly. It only raised the land so far and the water didn’t drain, so coming back and looking at it in different eyes was great. Looking back now, my father wasn’t rich but we were well looked after and we had a reasonably good upbringing. It was Pakeha didn’t take much to do with Maori but it was a reasonable education and some happy times.


Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Robert Howell: Originally, I looked at being a minister of religion but I went to university and I guess that was part of my growing up and I didn’t become a minister of religion.


Samuel Mann: So what did you do at university?


Robert Howell: Well, I did philosophy originally. I’ve got a masters in philosophy and then I went … I had to years in broadcasting and then went the health sector and eventually I joined a small innovative unit that was headed up by management consultants to improve the efficiency of Wellington Hospital and I didn’t know nothing about management and even less about hospitals, I learned a hell of a lot.


Samuel Mann: Can I just take another step back. Why philosophy?


Robert Howell: Well it was part of the religious stuff, but when I look back now, I guess I had a skill and an innate desire to sort out the basic fundamental questions on life. I wouldn’t have put it like that, they just interested me. So that was part of the philosophy stuff.


Samuel Mann: Did you know at the time what you were going to do with it, or didn’t it matter?


Robert Howell: No, because I was growing up and searching and the thing about philosophy is that it gave you the intellectual tools to be able to examine the fundamental issues – that’s not the only discipline, of course, but it’s one of them.


Samuel Mann: So was it a shock going from answering the fundamental questions of life to improving the efficiency of the health service? That sounds quite operational.


Robert Howell: Well, I guess the searching has not stopped and I’ve always tried to be open to new initiatives and I didn’t grow up just by doing philosophy, you don’t grow up. In actual fact, when I got married – being married with my wife for about five years – she had education and sight training and she decided that to keep those alive, when our kids came along, she’d do marriage guidance training and her doing that led me to do that training and I would say part of my growing up was learning those basic skills to be able to relate to people and start talking about my feelings and talking about feelings of others, and those skills were just as important as the intellectual skills that I’d developed with philosophy.


Samuel Mann: So what have you been searching for?


Robert Howell: That’s a very good question. I guess I was wanting to … Because I was brought up in an evangelical religious framework. Christians like “is there a god and if there is, what is a god?” I decided that the personal, so-called ‘being’ that manipulates the world from outside and that’s part of a method of storytelling. It’s relevant for some people but not for me, and then I guess I wanted to just start learning about some of the ways in which the world worked.


Samuel Mann: And if there is a God, what’s he playing at with all the wars and climate change?


Robert Howell: Well. I don’t use the term ‘God’ now.


Samuel Mann: Okay.


Robert Howell: My wife was a Quaker and over thirty years, osmosis took place and Quakers – or one of the attractions of Quakers is that they don’t have a creedal affirmation. They have a lot of emphasis on personal experience. The Maori word for the Quakers of New Zealand ‘te Hāhi Tūhauwiri’ which means the group that stands shaking, blown around, buffeted by the wind of the spirit and I prefer to talk about spirit, rather than god because the term god has been so badly abused. When George Bush says that God led him to go into the Middle East, then I don’t want to use that term. So I talk about a spirit in terms of certain sorts of experiences that have profound impact on one, in terms of thinking about the purpose of life, the mysteries of life, the beauty of life and those sorts of experiences – when you feel one with the world. Doesn’t happen all the time of course.


Samuel Mann: How do you mix that with doing the job, whatever it is? Eventually you found yourself back in Napier, running the city. Is it always in your head, is it something you do at home? What’s the relationship there?


Robert Howell: Can I just go back to the hospital? I saw that my role in the hospital was to help to work at a practical level, helping people, use taxpayer resources more efficiently. I saw that if I could get a better buck for the way in which the system was run, then that was a good contribution to society. So I was brought in initially in Napier by a reforming mayor to improve it, and we did. So I was seeing my work and during that I developed skills and had training and my PhD was really in how do you measure the community’s health for planning purposes? Which led me to use my philosophical skills to say “what is health?”


I rejected the medical model, so I developed a different kind of model for health for those purposes. So it was using the philosophical skills but then embedding it with a more strategic planning framework and I guess I brought, to my work, as a change-agent, as a CEO, as a consultant, as a university teacher, I brought a strategic perspective. So the strategies, strategic processes and how we design and run our organisation. So that’s what I developed.


Samuel Mann: Did you do your PhD while you were working?


Robert Howell: I was able to … the Hospital Board gave me one day a week  – while I was working – to work on the PhD and I did that for two years. I basically read and then I got a medical research council grant to go to the States for two and a half months, and Britain for two months – that was full time – and then I came back in the light of all that experience and did all the fieldwork and wrote up and that was on a medical research council grant.


How I got into the council was that there was no immediate niche for me to get back into the health area – and I was home in Napier – and a new mayor had been elected and he didn’t want a town clerk, he wanted a city manager and he wanted somebody who could reform the council and that was part of my task – very difficult, the council was very divided but we managed to make some significant changes.


Samuel Mann: I’m just looking through your CV over the following ten years and there’s a whole pile of stuff in there. You’ve certainly kept yourself busy and working a whole lot of different areas.


Robert Howell: Yes, at times it became very awkward. In part, my wife was what I would call a social entrepreneur. So she developed a language school in Napier. She was one of the early pioneers in that area – brought Japanese students – and I met some Japanese people and when I left the council, I developed an agricultural College. College is a bit grandiose. It was really a cross between a community high school and a college, but it brought … We had one-year courses, amongst others and brought Japanese students out, gave them three months English training and then put them on farms – dairy farms – beef and sheep, horticulture and so on – practical experience stuff and then, at the same time, I started links with Massey University and they wanted me to run a course in local government and I linked up with Massey people and we did a lot of reviews of that local government process five years down the track.


One of the research projects I did was to look at the way in which governance had been changed because part of the problem of running local authorities is that I was in charge of … I forget how many staff we had now … About a thousand or something like that, a budget of about fifty million. The majority of the Councillors were in businesses that had no more than two or three staff, so the processes of organising a large operation were quite difficult for them and they wanted to get hands-on and really, the whole question of the role a council or a board and its relationship with the stakeholders was the subject of a study that I did, to see whether the reforms in the eighties had made difference … Shorter answer – they hadn’t – but during that process, I did a identified a model by Carver, an American researcher and then I used that subsequently to teach and consult that whole governance area.


Samuel Mann: When you’re working in the council, or in fact, any organisation, any business that’s operating at that kind of scale – in the tens of millions of dollars – is it possible to apply those principles that we touched on before the beauty of life and the peacemaking and all that sort of stuff? Does it work in that kind of organisation?


Robert Howell: When I first went to the council, I used more of my marriage guidance stuff because the council was divided, so it involved a lot of listening and then putting in the systems to be able to make the organisation more efficient and I think that … I mean, I see strategy and organisational design, if it’s done properly, is good problem solving. What you’re doing is avoiding the fisticuffs conflicts and you’re providing a method of resolving those issues in a nonviolent kind of way. So strategy, for me, is part of a nonviolent process if you like.


Samuel Mann: Eventually you found yourself in Auckland doing various governance things and is it about that time you started getting interested in responsible investment?


Robert Howell: What happened was that I wanted to get a consulting job with some Anglican trusts about governance, okay? And their basic job was investing, it was a bit of a mess, there were a lot of them. I never got the job, but then I got invited to be the Quaker representative on the CCANZ – the equivalent of the National National Council of Churches. So I persuaded them to set up a committee to look at church investments as a good background for me to do more consulting on this – a selfish as well as an altruistic motive and eventually, that morphed into looking at investment in not just a religious way, but a more fundamental way for everybody and I set up the Council for Socially Responsible Investment that was open to everybody, and if I could take you down where that led me, was that I then began to say “what are the kind of measures that one should look for, to know that a company is being responsible to the environment, as well as to humans – human Earth as well as the human-human relationship?


To cut a long story short, that took me to two think tanks. One was a Quaker institute for the future, which was set up in North America by the Quakers and the other one was sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand – based in New Zealand, of course. The beauty of those is that they were multi-disciplinary. There were scientist, economists, lawyers – a real mix of people and I learnt a hell of a lot from those groups. The first one was the state of the Earth for sustaining human life is pretty fragile, very fragile, far more than I ever had appreciated. Secondly, a significant reason why that is the case is because of our economic models and our financial models and the third thing was that that’s related to our ethics, and that was what really interested me in going back to my original philosophy. So I went back and did some philosophical stuff. I started reading stuff that I had sort of touched on about forty years ago, but then read quite widely in that area and what I was able to do was bring a public policy perspective as well as an integrating perspective.


So it’s part of trying to get a handle on all of this. It was a very fertile time for me. I’ve done a – what I call – a ‘wiring diagram‘ (see article). It’s on a one page and on the left-hand top are the three or four ethical positions like Aristotle, utilitarianism, the social contract and mapped it out, how over – in Aristotle’s time – over centuries, how they have moved from just being concerned about human-human relationships to include a human-Earth relationship. So all the significant philosophers today, have extended those traditions to deal with those issues.


So that was at the top. In the middle was all the economic models and how they have changed and at the bottom was the science and the major scientific discoveries and then I had little dots, related to major changes that had occurred and I found that was my way of making sense – now, I’ve given that as a lecture for over fifty-plus times and people have found it very helpful. So what I was able to do was provide an overview, an integrating perspective, to look at how the science and the economics and the ethical stuff had change in significant ways, but there were gaps, you see? The economic model that we have today is still based on crude utilitarianism and they haven’t made the changes.


The other thing that it helped me to do was really, then start to think, “well, what does this have for investment” and then that took me back to the journey that this book is about because this book is … Even though I wrote it in a month and sort of corrected it in about two months, with sending it out and proofreading and all that stuff that you’ll know about … It’s really a summation of what I’ve learnt over the last ten to fifteen years and how about ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical.


I made some surprising discoveries. Did you know, for example, that while the New Zealand government was taking on the French government and the American government and the world generally, over three decades, about nuclear weapons, during all that time government investments were invested in the nuclear weapons industry?


Samuel Mann: No.


Robert Howell: No, a lot of people don’t. So part of what I’m on about is saying to people there is a connexion between the way you invest and your values and so what I’ve tried to do is make that connexion and to say it’s really important as individuals that we make that connexion and here are the tools to be able to put your values into practise as a taxpayer and as an individual investor. How do you select the KiwiSaver fund that is consistent with your values? How do you sort out which fund – managed fund or insurance company, or bank – how do you sort out whether they are actually caring for people on the planet? How do you get through all the PR hype in simple terms and start to use the power that you, as an individual have, to be able to make those changes? That’s what the book’s about.


Samuel Mann: You’ve said ninety percent of the world’s investments are unethical …


Robert Howell: Managed funds and sovereign wealth funds.


Samuel Mann: … Does unethical there, mean can operate without consideration of ethics or does it mean, somehow bad? Or is bad by definition if you’re not thinking about it?


Robert Howell: If you go through my Wiring diagram, that gives you all the sophisticated discussion, but at the very bottom line, for me personally, what it means is one needs to develop a principle for dealing with people – a human-human ethic, and then you need to deal with the human-Earth ethic. So for me, the human-human ethic is based on fairness. That’s the term that I would use. Other people use similar sorts of terms that have got similar sorts of mileage but just in simple terms, that’s the core concept.


In terms of human-Earth, I would say rather then exploitation – exploiting the Earth for human utility – one should respect the Earth. There are other terms – Schweitzer used reverence for life, there are lots of other terms, but for me, respect. So I want to then say of the companies that the New Zealand superannuation fund invests in and ACC and the KiwiSaver funds and my bank and my insurance company, the universities, the councils, do they meet those principles? Are they based on fairness? Do they actually abuse people in a fundamental kind of way – and I’ll give you an example with Nucor in just a moment – and do they actually respect the Earth, so that humans can live within the capacity of the Earth to support human life.


Now, at the moment, the way we run our investments and the way we run our business models and the way that we run our economic models, we are not living within the capacity for the Earth to support human life. Those are the two fundamental principles and I then have a series of more detailed questions that enable one to tease out whether that’s the case.


Just to give you an example of Nucor.  Nucor is the largest steel company in the United States. A number of years ago, it got pig iron from Brazil. That pig iron was produced using charcoal that came from the forests of Brazil from slave labour. A group of people in the United States, including – but there are others – the interface centre for court and responsibility, which is a grouping of Protestant and Catholic and Jewish investors with about a hundred billion under investment. They are the world’s best shareholder activists. So they ring along to Nucor and its management and its AGM and they put resolutions to say to Nucor they would adopt as policy, not to buy any pig iron from Brazil that was produced with slave labour and they also wanted Nucor to fund two groups in Brazil to independently verify that Nucor was doing what it promised to do. Now that took three years of negotiations.


So, here is a company Nucor that is using slave labour for steel. It doesn’t meet the human-human perspective. It’s not fair. So that’s one example. Plenty of examples in the human-Earth relationship. All the big Australian banks are invested in coal – fossil fuels. If we don’t get out of coal, if the world doesn’t quickly get out of the use of coal, we are into a two degrees Celsius plus warming. Now that’s got major implications and that’s likely to happen at the moment. That’s likely to happen the decade 2030 – starting 2030. It’s less than fifteen years away. So from a New Zealand point of view, a two degree warming … We have just had, recently, fires in Christchurch. In Auckland we’ve had heavy downpours which have caused quite considerable infrastructural damage. In the North of Auckland we’ve had a nine month drought, okay?


You get a two degrees Celsius warming, you’re going to have more droughts, more floods, more heavy rainfall and you’re going to have it more often. That’s going to have a major impact on New Zealanders, it’s going to have a major impact on our economies. Now, that’s just New Zealand, you need to look at what’s the impact in terms of Australia and some of our major partners we sell our milk and various other things to. It’s going to have a major effect on China.


So there are a number of companies that are simply not preparing us to be able to deal with this sort of scenario. So there’s an example of how you can apply the principles, in terms of human-Earth and human-human.


Samuel Mann: One of my favourite definitions of sustainability is ethics, expanded in space and time, and what I do in some of my teaching is expand on the trolley problem – the train racing down the track and it’s going to kill three people but you can save them but it’s still going to kill one and you can do students’ heads in quite quickly about getting them to the edge of utilitarian ethics, what happens when one of them is you grandmother, that kind of thing. My question is, well if you had a third alternative and you could divert it into a forest, what would you do? And if it’s just an empty forest, then the forest. But what if it’s got the last two remaining orangutan in it? You’ve got a much deeper understanding of this than me.


Robert Howell: These are lifeboat choices, aren’t they? Look, when you’re in the middle of a war, it’s really difficult for these choices and so what I would prefer to do is to slow the train down in the first place, okay? This is the strategic perspective that I bring and let me quote you an example of Shell – not my favourite company, but in late 1960s/70s they set up a strategic planning unit.


Now, at that time, Shell was saying that strategically we look at the oil that was supplied last year and sold and we had two percent and you had a gradual rise in the graph over a decade or so. The Strategic planning unit was asked to look at some of the strategic options and they said “well, instead of two percent, what if it’s twenty percent, what would we do as a company if all of a sudden the oil increased by twenty percent?” And then they started to say “well, these are the things that we could do.” Then the Arabs came along and did exactly that and Shell was very well placed because they’d done the thinking beforehand to be able to deal with how to respond to that.


Except, the shipbuilding sections – the tanker section of Shell – they didn’t want anything to do with this strategic planning stuff, right? And so when the Arabs increased the price of oil, they kept building ships until they had so many ships that they didn’t know what to do with them. They keep falling over them etc. Then they realised that in fact, the strategic stuff was actually relevant. So what I want to say is there are certain things that I can’t do. I think the time for averting significant climate warming … The easy options are gone.


I just think we are faced with some very difficult places and people will die and ecologies will die, animals will die. Nothing I can do about that but what I can do is start to encourage fellow colleagues – people like yourselves and people listening to this radio to say “let’s start preparing options for how we’re going to deal with adapting to these situations” and one of the advantages of the Shell analogy is that once you’ve done that, you can actually read the signs. The Shell people in the tanker division weren’t reading the signs and there are people in New Zealand, including our government, who bemoan the fact that another hundred year flood as arrived since the last five years and another one’s going to come and they’re not reading the signs. How many fires do you need, how many droughts do you need?


Well, if you start thinking about the scenarios and the signs we’re talking about, then you do read the signs and then you’re in a much better position to start preparing options. Some of those options are going to be very difficult. Can I give you another train analogy?


Samuel Mann: Mm-hmm (affirmative).


Robert Howell: I’m very critical of the SRI industry – social responsible industry – because I think that they have been captured by a model that’s not valid and that’s the United Nation’s principles that are responsible investment, it’s not a valid definition. A whole variety of reasons I can give for this but I’ll leave those to one side, you can come back to me if you want to. Now, what that means is that the New Zealand Superfund claims in its annual report “we are a responsible investment because we’ve signed up to the UNPRI,” but they’re invested in Exxon Mobil and they’re invested in Rio Tinto and a whole series of other companies that are really notorious for the way they treat people and the way they treat the planet and so the UNPRI is seeming to do something, it’s what I would say walking southward on a northbound train. It gives you the impression that you’re going in one direction when you’re actually going in another direction. That’s my other train story.


Samuel Mann: Okay, I’m going to add another one then and – to further extend the space and time thing – if we could have an alternative track where we put the train onto some sort of space time loop, that it disappears for ten years, but then it’s going to come back in ten years and instead of two or three people, it’s going to kill off some large number – a thousand people, what would you do? And it really does my head in to think that I’m the person that’s supposed to know this stuff and my gut reaction is to go for that one. Why are we so bad at the ethics of the future?


Robert Howell: If you’ve got two hours with me to go through the psychology of decision-making, I might answer that. Let me give you a couple of suggestions. I think that if you’re a young family with kids, you’re worried about where you’re going to live, how you’re going to pay for your house, how you’re going to get a job that’s going to give you enough, etc., you get focused on the immediate short-term. It’s very difficult to start making significant changes out of that.


So you get bound up into the business-as-usual model. So that’s one thing. The second thing is that if you want to move away from the business-as-usual model in the company … I mean, I’ve bought an electric car, I’m getting solar panels in the house, getting more water tanks – because we’ve just shifted where we are in Auckland – but there are certain things that I … If I really wanted to be purely sustainable, I’d find it very difficult because how do I look after somebody who’s sick, who needs an ambulance? The ambulance at the moment uses petrol, so what do I do? Do I deny using an ambulance to take somebody to hospital because it’s using petrol? So, you’re faced with really difficult choices.


So what you do … I like the analogy of the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan came along and saw somebody lying in the gutter. The good Samaritan was a Jew, the guy lying in the gutter was not. He helped him. Bound up his wounds and took him in. Didn’t bother to save the world, he just wanted to help that guy. So my suggestion, my focus is, where you have the opportunities to help people in small little ways, do it. Because if everybody did that, then the world would change and that’s why I come back to investments. People say “oh, its too hard, I don’t understand finance” etc. But in my book I try and spell out in very simple terms, what we, in very simple ways, can do to use our little money to actually start making some changes and when you do that for others it’s very powerful. Not sure whether answers your question, does it compare?


Samuel Mann: I think so. What it leads me to is a question of can you live ethically, when, as you’ve just described, we almost can’t live sustainably?


Robert Howell: Well the short answer is no. The society that we live in at the moment – the food we eat for example, if we’re really honest with ourselves, is the food sustainable? Do we get tomatoes from Italy? If you’re going to the supermarket and then go through as much as you can – because the labeling’s pretty terrible – ‘made in New Zealand from New Zealand and imported stuff’, but if you really did an accurate assessment of our food and how sustainable it was, it wouldn’t be. Well, one of the alternatives is to actually grow your own food, but if you’re a mum with three or four kids, there is some food that you can grow – you can grow your herbs and get a little garden going, but it’s sometimes quite difficult to be completely organic and … You can pay a bit more for organic food, but your choices are limited. So you do what you can and you try and persuade … So, that’s why I say go and start using your money because that’s a way of helping people to make the changes.


Samuel Mann: So if it’s so very difficult for us to live sustainably and ethically, is there a pathway to a positive future?


Robert Howell: Erm, I think that we all make mistakes. Aristotle talks about ethics in the terms of being an apprentice – which I like – that is that you have to learn how to be good and it takes a while and there are some things that you need to learn at seventy that you can’t learn when you’re twenty. So it’s an ongoing process and there’s some very difficult choices on the way that don’t make it easy. My wife died from cancer two years ago. I thought that I knew how to handle grief because I’d been trained as a marriage guidance counsellor, you see? But I didn’t. So that was a really difficult learning time for me, okay?


The year she died, there were some good times but there were pretty difficult times, but the year after, trying to learn to live with her – my close intimate partner for forty-five years … rat-shit year. Terrible. And it really posed, for me, some very difficult, personal, moral questions about should I have a new partner? When? How? My family didn’t want that. A number of people said “don’t do it Robert, don’t do it,” yet losing that companionship was just terrible. So how did I prepare myself for that? Well, I thought I had but I hadn’t. So life throws at you stuff that you don’t know, okay? So, you’re going to make mistakes, that’s life. What you have to do is try and be as resilient and capable. Use the strengths as you can.


Samuel Mann: Do you have a word that you use to describe what we need to be doing? Do you use ‘sustainable’, do you just use ‘resilient’?


Robert Howell: I think ‘sustainability’ has lost it’s credibility like ‘God’. It’s become a PR term – sustainable companies. Well I want to know what they’re actually doing. I want to know what their ecological footprint is. I want to know what their policies are in terms of human-Earth ethics. I want to know what they’re doing by way of planning for a world that’s going to have two degrees plus Celsius warming. Those are my three questions of the companies. When I go to annual reports and when I talk with banks and so forth, my questions are where are your policies dealing with the human-human, human-Earth relationships and the policies and your codes and conduct, so forth. Secondly, where’s you ecological footprint? Are you actually measuring that? It’s not just CO2 or CO2 equivalent, it’s water use and effect on species and so on. And thirdly, what are you doing to prepare for a two degrees celsius plus warming world? Sustainability and resilience are part of those questions and those stories.


Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations, we’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes’, how would you describe you superpower? What are you bringing to the good fight?


Robert Howell: I’m not sure I like the term ‘a hero’, okay? What I would want to say is that if people can learn from the journey that I had, then I’m happy to talk about it. I think that the experiences and the stories and the learnings that I’ve had are not well-known. Not many people know about the government investing in nuclear weapons industries while they were opposing the French and the Americans. So I’m wanting to make those stories known. I’m wanting to alert the people in public office and organising organisations – both public and private – that the world is really facing some very, very serious challenges.


The thing that I brought to the think tanks – which composed of scientists and economists and so forth – was a public policy perspective and an ethical perspective. I asked questions like “what are your values and how do you integrate that into the dialogue?” So that’s what I bring. The knowledge of fifteen or so years of strategic perspective, talking about that journey. If that’s of value to people then I’d be happy to be known for that.


Samuel Mann: Okay, I’ve got four more questions and four more minutes, so minute per question. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Robert Howell: Yes.


Samuel Mann: You talk about shareholder activists, is that the …


Robert Howell: That’s part of it, yeah.


Samuel Mann: What’s the activist role you have?


Robert Howell: Ah, well at the moment, I’m working with, amongst other organisations and I’ve been in dialogue with the Auckland council about its investments. I’ve taken them to the ombudsman and I’m providing examples and strategies and things to 350.


Samuel Mann: Have you always been an activist?


Robert Howell: No, because when I go back to the start of my career, what I felt is that I could best contribute to society if I worked within organisations to help them be more strategic and efficient, getting better value for money – if you got better value for money then that was a major contribution to society. So I’ve tried to do a lot of working with people. One story I haven’t told you about is that in the nineties I initiated a project to work with the Indonesian police bringing nonviolent training to the police in Indonesia and that was working with the New Zealand government to get funding and working with a group in Yogyakarta. So I was working within the system. But I’ve got to the stage now where I think a more public activist advocacy role is necessary.


Samuel Mann: Okay, we’re now down to thirty seconds per question. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Robert Howell: There are times when I get pissed off and angry. At times I want to finish on … There’s a bit of stubbornness about me. I don’t like people getting away with hypocrisy and stuff and also I’ve got three grandchildren.


Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you like to have happen?


Robert Howell: That’s a difficult one. Well, I really would like the government to face up to these issues of climate warming and the fact that our economic model is bust, and start doing a proper dialogue and regulating. I called New Zealand government in New Zealand the Volkswagon of the Pacific because they’re cheating. I’d like them to be honest and engage with not just the money people of New Zealand, but everybody.


Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Robert Howell: Read my book to be enabled to ask the right questions about which bank you choose, which kiwisaver fund you want, where you want to put your money and join with others to be able to make those changes.


Samuel Mann: Thank you very much.


art communication community occupational therapy urban

Creating opportunities for resourcefulness

I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

Recycling, reusing, reducing, remodeling, and reselling! Juliet Arnott’s social enterprise ‘Rekindle’ is all about diverting reusable resources from waste via creativity and craftsmanship.  Juliet Arnott studied at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Occupational Therapy and went on to use her creativity and craftsmanship with community groups, schools, health groups, artists and designers. Rekindle originally focused on diverting timber from waste within residential demolition in Christchurch, turning it into furniture, interiors, sculpture and jewellery. One of Juliet’s more famous projects was Whole House Reuse, where her team deconstructed and transformed an entire earthquake damaged house into beautiful and purposeful artefacts. More than 250 people from around New Zealand and the world were involved, creating everything from a delicately carved taonga puoro to a finely crafted backyard studio.

Juliet will be honoured in May as one of Otago Polytechnic’s distinguished alumni.



Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience: On Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week, we talk with someone making a positive difference and applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Juliet Arnott, the artist, a founder of Rekindle, and an occupational therapist.  You trained at Otago Polytech.


Juliet Arnott: That’s right. Yeah.


Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.


Juliet Arnott: Pleasure. It’s lovely to be here.


Samuel Mann: Let’s start with questions about you. Where did you grow up?


Juliet Arnott: I grew up in a little place called Canvastown, in Marlborough. It’s between Nelson and Blenheim, near Havelock. We were farming and pretty self sufficient, really, back then in the 70’s. Yeah, that was pretty …


Samuel Mann: Did you say Canvastown?


Juliet Arnott: Canvastown.


Samuel Mann: Like tents?


Juliet Arnott: Which was a gold rush. Yes. It had this wonderful history. In fact, we spent a fair bit of time in our childhood with our gold pans in the river, ever hopeful. It was a pretty lovely existence, living off the land and living pretty closely with the resources around us, I suppose.


Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Juliet Arnott: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I really had a clear sense of that. I just remember being encouraged by mum, particularly, towards being creative. But no, generally I don’t recall what I was particularly aiming at.


Samuel Mann: What did you get involved in?


Juliet Arnott: It was a pretty rural community, so it was barefoot running around. I just remember being outside, I remember being on the farm, involved in all the usual farming activities, and really enjoying that. I do have this story that I recall, which relates to how things did develop in my life, which was Mum and Dad had this beautiful rush basket, that acted as our bread basket. I remember quite clearly, this experience. I must have been really quite young, maybe five or six, going out down to the paddock below the house, which was full of rushes, a different kind of rush, and attempting to weave a basket, but I was completely inept. I absolutely didn’t have the understanding of how to do it, but I remember the magic of that basket as an object, and that’s kind of lingered with me, I think. It’s definitely part of what has since rolled out in my life, I suppose, as that journey towards understanding how those simple resources can be harnessed and valued.


Samuel Mann: I won’t make the obvious connection between baskets and occupational therapy, but is that what got you into occupational therapy?


Juliet Arnott: It was!  My mother was a nurse, and I think in my teenage years, when I was starting to think about what I wanted to be, she did encourage me, or my parents encouraged me towards a health profession. I remember one day, bizarrely, we were taken on a tour of the local … In Nelson, where I was at school, taken on a tour of the local … What was then a psychiatric institution, called Ngawhatu. It was really the old fashioned style of institution, and we were walked through it, which I look back and think how bizarre that really was for school students. I saw this woman working in the industrial woodwork shop, and I saw her role and thought what an incredible role to have, to be able to work creatively with people, to work practically in that way, I suppose. That was all I really knew of occupational therapy, in some regards. It was only when I showed up at Otago Polytech and got onto the course in 1993, that I realised that actually, I had hit the jackpot and I actually had found something that was really aligned with what I valued and was really intrigued by, I think, by its diversity and the fact that it connects with what we do every day.


Samuel Mann: Did it deliver what you were hoping?


Juliet Arnott: Yes it did, and it didn’t. It did in the sense that I learnt a lot. I learnt a huge amount through my training, and through the first probably, fifteen years of my practise, where I was attempting to … Where I was learning about the health system and how it functions, and then attempting to find my place within it. In terms of being able to work well, and truly therapeutically within that system. I think I continuously hit up against the struggles of that system, and whether it was the lack of funding around the time that I could spend with people, or the way that services were limited in the way that they could genuinely support people through big change and challenge in their life. It was helpful in learning some realities, but it’s also been frustrating, I suppose, to be exposed to some of the current systemic challenges. But then, it’s pushed me on to look at something beyond that more conventional occupational therapy role.


Samuel Mann: Because you wanted to do more than was in those bounds, or …?


Juliet Arnott: Yeah. One of the common struggles for me, and I think definitely for other occupational therapists, is that you end up working within the health system, and you work with the people who have needed your support for the time that the service allows them to be a part of that service, but then you have to support that person back into their home, or back into their daily existence outside of the service. And often, there’s not enough there. I’m particularly thinking in terms of mental health services. There’s simply not enough there, to aid that person, to bridge that gap between being really quite unwell and being quite dependent on a service, through to living a really healthy, productive existence, engaged in community. That gap really was something that’s difficult to do anything about, from inside the service. I guess what has happened gradually over the last few years, has been that I have been attempting to create some of these opportunities that I would like for people going through those challenges to have the opportunity to experience. I guess part of the journey recently has been about trying to evolve, and what I was frustrated with the lack of in the past.


Samuel Mann: What was your first venture outside of the conventional bounds?


Juliet Arnott: In part, it was probably … For quite some years, I worked conventionally as an occupational therapist, but on the side I would continue my own creative practise, and the two co-existed. I would go to work and talk about doing my basket weaving, and my colleagues would laugh at me, and I would try and explain to them how important it actually was. I had these two very separate parts of my life, and the creative practise was very much, that was when I was living in the UK, and it was very much about my own personal connection with the environment that I was living in, but it was also about revealing the value of materials that were being wasted in the community around me. That became a bigger and bigger part of my life outside of occupational therapy, to the point where I was being commissioned to make work, sculpturally, with these waste materials, and would do that half the time, then in the winter when I wasn’t doing it, I would work as an occupational therapist.


It’s been a gradual journey to the point where returning to New Zealand, that’s when I started Rekindle and the two came together more indefinitely.


Samuel Mann: What prompted the interest in waste materials?


Juliet Arnott: I think the reality was, growing up in that fairly idyllic farming situation, you’re exposed to a fairly simple relationship to the resources around you and understanding where the natural limits lie, and how to live well with what you have around you. Then, I was quite struck, in a fairly naïve way, when I did move to the UK in my mid twenties, and even in rural England, was surprised that there was quite a strong culture of consumption and disposal. It was that really, that pushed me to really look around in my day to day existence, and to really want to make something of the material resources that I was seeing around me that were going to waste. That particularly started with things like the prunings from the hedge rose when they were trimmed. Corpus material that was cut from Willow or Hazel trees. Then, that moved on through and to … As I learnt crafts to use those materials, then through to use of a lot of the waste that washes up on the beaches in the UK, a lot of rope and plastics. It evolved as my wanting, needing, to make sense really, of what I was seeing around me, in some sort of vain attempt I suppose, to show the value of what that stuff was, because mostly, it was being ignored.


Samuel Mann: And you came back here?


Juliet Arnott: I came back in 2009, after 9 years away, and was feeling relatively displaced, and didn’t really have a grand plan for my return home, and found myself in Auckland for the first time, which I enjoyed. But again, I realise now I was quite naively struck by the waste that I found there. I think that I had imagined that in New Zealand we were well beyond things like landfills, but I obviously found we weren’t, and was just surprised at the dependence on the land fill mechanism and at that time. A lot has changed since, but at that time was surprised to find a big pile of wood out at one of the transfer stations in Auckland, and that is what I responded to with the initial furniture designs that I came up with for Rekindle.


Samuel Mann: You established Rekindle…so Rekindle 101…?


Juliet Arnott: Rekindle 101, yes, it’s definitely been a big journey since then. Rekindle 101, in a sense … I was living in Grey Lynn in Auckland at the time and I was appreciating all the beautiful old villas around in that area, and other suburbs of Auckland, and realising that there was a fairly common sight to see skips with a fair amount of timbers in them, whether renovations were happening, or to see demolitions underway, and I guess that combined with the wood pile I had seen in the transfer station, I was very intrigued to understand what this was all about, and then to learn that of course, demolition and construction waste are such big contributors to our land filling here. I decided to try and come up with a furniture design that would just reveal some of the structural integrity of that material, some of its beautiful aesthetic value and obviously its cultural value, in terms of it being ancient indigenous timber. I did that with the help of a couple of furniture makers in Auckland, we worked together to prototype the first chair, and then tables, stools and the like.


I had just started putting those out into the world, and made a first couple of sales up in Auckland, and then started … I guess being aware through my previous relationship with Christchurch, that my old home that I had lived in in my early twenties was now facing of course, this mess of challenge with regards to demolition waste and the dis empowerment that was occurring as part of that hasty process. That was when I started to think about coming back here, and what role I could play really, in that period of demolition.


Samuel Mann: Your website makes the connection between not just the waste, but the community?


Juliet Arnott: Yeah.


Samuel Mann: And you just talked about that sort of, in the dis empowerment and the waste. Tell me how you’re bringing those two things together.


Juliet Arnott: I suppose I find it hard to look at waste without wondering how making waste affects us as humans. I think it’s something that we take for granted that we do, which of course, naturally, many of the inhabitants of this earth make waste. I don’t think we think enough about the impact of that. I think when your ability to hold on to something that you value, is taken away from you, and when the resources that you have owned are taken away from you, and their disposal is managed by someone else, that … In terms of how the demolition played out here, was very difficult for a lot of people. When people are choosing to dispose of their own resources, that’s a whole other story, but I think for people to have that choice taken away from them, was very difficult. Both taken away by the earthquakes themselves and by the damage that occurred, and of course, by the bureaucratic processes that would naturally unfold afterwards.


I think for me, as an occupational therapist, I see both naturally the environmental concern about the waste, but for me it’s much more than that, it’s the human experience of disposing of materials that we still see as having value. There’s something futile about that, there’s something even a little hopeless about not being able to take the time to value the things that we would perhaps even feel a bit guilty about throwing out ourselves, if we had done it ourselves. It relates to our need to demonstrate value, when that exists. I think if we’re not experiencing that, if we’re not given the opportunity to experience that, that becomes quite problematic.


Samuel Mann: Are we not quite happy having somebody take it away?


Juliet Arnott: I just think we definitely are –


Samuel Mann: We put the bin out at the curb and it disappears.


Juliet Arnott: Absolutely. We would say that we probably would, in most cases, not value the material that we’re putting in those bins, versus say the residential demolition. Different thing. I think … It’s such a complex thing, but you know there’s that thing about there’s hidden nature being useful at times, when we don’t have to face the land fill. If the land fill was just over there, and we saw the seagulls, we might feel slightly uncomfortable, versus what we were seeing with the residential process that was that obvious to us, it was in our faces and that was incredibly difficult to witness.


Samuel Mann: You arrived back in Christchurch, thousands of houses being knocked down.


Juliet Arnott: Yeah.


Samuel Mann: Where do you start?


Juliet Arnott: It was quite overwhelming. I didn’t really know what the solution was at that time. It was a very difficult bureaucratic process to even understand, let alone intercept. I spent probably a year speaking with demolition contractors, gaining their trust, getting them to understand that what I wanted to do wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t unsafe, that I wouldn’t slow them down. Initially, we did a lot of salvage just on sites where the diggers had been, and they’d just left a pile of crushed timbers and we would haul out what was still viable for furniture. But, over that first year, we worked out a way that worked, and with the contractors so that we would salvage before the diggers arrive. That’s how we got rolling really. It was only a symbolic thing in the sense that we were definitely not [occurring] … We were definitely not able to grow this capacity to salvage timber, to the degree that we could really address the whole problem, but I guess we just did our best within the constraints at play.


The second big response I had to the scale of it all, was the Whole House Reuse project, that very much acknowledged the fact that there were at least 9,000 homes in the red zone, and more, demolished beyond that. How on earth do you attempt to make a statement or celebrate the homes that were lost, or even define the value of a home. It was really hard to know how to even begin to think about these issues. I decided that perhaps if we just put all of our energies into this, to the ultimately resourceful response, to just one home, that we might see something from that that feels heartening for us, so that’s what we did. It didn’t happen for the first … We worked on it for years, but didn’t really get underway until Kate McIntyre came on board as the project manager and we managed to get a red zone home from a demolition contractor, and all of the funds raised to allow us to fully deconstruct that home. We then published a book with a catalogue with all the materials from the home. We used that book launch around the country to call for creatives to submit designs of the materials from that home.


That lead to those successful designs being then issued. The people that submitted those were then issued the materials. We sent the materials all around the country and across the world, in fact. And then, the successful objects were sent back. We’ve received around 400 objects made from the home that were later exhibited in Canterbury Museum in 2015.


Samuel Mann: So, nice and slowly…you took it apart?


Juliet Arnott: Yes.


Samuel Mann: Piece by piece?


Juliet Arnott: Yes.


Samuel Mann: Laid it all out somewhere?


Juliet Arnott: Literally, Kate and a team of volunteers put it on trailer loads and took it to the storage unit, categorised it, photographed it, measured it, and created this taxonomy of what we think is the first time in the world that a whole house has been classified in that way. We utilised that catalogue to call for designs, then we had designs submitted from all over New Zealand and some from overseas, from people, from professional designers and makers through to hobbyists and school children, and really fantastic craftspeople, legends of their time, like Brian Flintoff who is New Zealand’s, one of the most remarkable carvers of taonga puoro. With things like an amazing artist on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland, we sent her some broken window panes and she sent back some beautiful slumped glass vessels. Some really wonderful creative responses that valued the material.


Samuel Mann: Did people put in a bid, and say ‘I want two taps and a cupboard door’?


Juliet Arnott: Yes. They all had to kind of … They all had the same catalogue so it was quite a logistical process, making sure that different people didn’t want the same stuff and all of that, and getting it out to people and then getting the finished objects back. But, generally, Kate managed that process and generally it seemed to work quite well.


Samuel Mann: What was the most sought after bit?


Juliet Arnott: Do you know what, I don’t know. I think the timbers … The obvious things, like the beautiful rimu and things were pretty popular, but that actually worked out, that was actually quite well spread. That was kind of … We also did it in a couple of rounds, so it wasn’t all at once. We had the first wave of designs, then we had the second wave, it was helpful to co-ordinate it in that way. Yeah. Then, the variety of things that people made were just extraordinary.


Samuel Mann: What sort of things did you get back?


Juliet Arnott: I mentioned Brian’s taonga puoro, he made some beautiful floats and wind instruments, traditionally carved with [inaudible 00:21:30]. He carved these most beautiful boxes that were traditionally made to store the huia feathers, so they were just three really beautiful ornamentally carved, boxes. And we had Tim McGurk who made a whole lot of stuff with his partner Emma Burn. He made a double bass, which was called the Double Basin, which had a basin as the resonator for the instrument, and it was playable. We had David Trubridge make a magazine rack/coffee table. We had Nic Moon and Lynn Russell from Nelson make the largest object, which was this really beautiful studio building, and it was built in Nic’s  –Nic’s an artist in Nelson, it was built in Nic’s garden, built for deconstruction, so that it could be deconstructed to be brought down here to be reconstructed in the museum. That was pretty amazing, and very beautifully furnished. She worked on it very laboriously and the whole finish was very painstaking and beautiful. There are some beautiful images of it on the website, actually.


Through to, tiny little pieces of jewellery, beautiful jewellery made by people like Jeremy Leeming, and thinking of also the beautiful wooden type. We had some whole synopsis of type carved out of rimu framing, by a type fanatic, Russell Frost, in London. He’s a New Zealander but he was over there, he did that, and we’ve since been printing with that, so it’s quite beautiful to …


Samuel Mann: Did you attempt to value the …


Juliet Arnott: What, the outcome?


Samuel Mann: Yeah.


Juliet Arnott: We’re actually just in the middle of finalising an academic article on this, because we have. What happened at the end of the exhibition was that the makers could decide what happened to the objects. Half of them chose to put the objects forward into a charitable auction, so we literally have a monetary value associated with those objects, as to what they sold for. Some of the makers also chose to gift their objects to the home owners, which was really wonderful, then the rest … Most of the rest either they went back to the makers, because the makers weren’t paid anything, they did this out of their own goodwill, so they could take their objects back or they could gift them into the community, if they had a specific community purpose in Christchurch. We are doing sums around the value, the monetary value, we’re also doing some sums around essentially what was diverted and how much of an impact that would essentially have. That’s quite useful information to reflect on, the rest of what happened here in Christchurch.


Samuel Mann: Did you get stuck with anything at the end?


Juliet Arnott: Yeah. We really wanted to reuse the whole house. The shame of it all was, we actually ran out of time. We would’ve been able to. We could’ve kept pushing it, but actually we had to commit to the exhibition and we literally ran out of time, so we were left with a couple of toilet bowls. We still had some weird things like corrugated iron. Weird things like buckets of nails, because the other quite interesting thing was that, when the makers received the materials, their waste from their making processes, we asked them to send that back, so we actually received buckets of nails from the de-nailed timber. Things like that had a ready place on the scrap metal market, for example. If nothing else. In the end … I’m trying to think what was really hard to deal with. There were things like the boreded timber, for example. The idea with that was that … We weren’t allowed to go to the Canterbury Museum funnily enough, so that stayed in the paddock. Things like that can become wood chip, depending on it’s use.


We did really well. I can’t remember the number of items we had left, but there was a chunk, but not too many given the scale, I think.


Samuel Mann: Did the house have visible history? Layers of wallpaper, and things?


Juliet Arnott: Yeah, there was some cool things like that. There was things like … And actually, some of the photographs, before we deconstructed the home, we had an amazing photographer, Guy Frederick, come and document the home. There’s things like, there’s this beautiful cupboard in the laundry bathroom area, you opened the cupboard up and inside there was this bright orange patterned wallpaper from the 70’s. There’s definite areas in the home where you could see the patina of life in there. We spent time before we deconstructed it, with the family and we invited in some of the older families that had lived in the home before the current homeowners, so we really traced as much of that history as we could and documented that, and we showed that in the exhibition with photographs and the like.


We really wanted to celebrate the life that that home had held.


Samuel Mann: Is this story ongoing?


Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s paused at the moment. The next part we would really like to raise funds for, is to document where all of these objects have ended up and end in their current use. One of the key criteria that we had in the design brief is that the objects needed to have utility, so we would love to be able to follow the story of the objects and see the full life of the house and its new use. Otherwise, we have looked at, with enviro schools, at creating an educational resource from it also, so hopefully we’ll get to do that at some point. But, that’s probably acting otherwise, but its legacy in the sense that we learnt a lot in that is certainly spilling out into my work now in Kokoda, for example. It was certainly a journey. We were quite pleased to get to the end of the exhibition, just because it literally, physically, it was an enormous process to manage.


Samuel Mann: You worked with the museum to do the communication, the narrative around it?


Juliet Arnott: Yes, and to show the work there. There’s actually a lovely film online, on the Whole House Reuse website, that depicts the whole story and gives you some sense of what was seen the in museum.


Samuel Mann: Would you do it again?


Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s funny you ask that. I’ve been asked that several times, in some cases it was a genuine wish to do it again, and I don’t think I would. I think I would do parts of it again. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it easier. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it have greater impact, too. I think it’s a wonderful way for a community to come together around something that they’re feeling concerned about.


Samuel Mann: You talked about how building the community in terms of volunteers. Are enterprises springing up out of this sort of work?


Juliet Arnott: Yeah, I think to a degree. I think there’s various things that happened here, in Christchurch. We certainly saw a boom in the demolition industry and the salvage industry. I don’t know in terms of creative entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t say there’s been that much. My sense about that in Christchurch is that there’s been a lot of things that people have been dealing with. I think when you look at waste minimization across New Zealand though, we are seeing more and more of a thoughtful, creative response to waste, as a means of raising its value, so to divert it from land fill, and it’s really lovely to see that, I think. You know, certainly see that, and the work of the community recycling network across the country, and the awesome organisations like Extreme Zero Waste in Raglan, and Wanaka Wastebusters, and those organisations. They’ve been doing that for some time.


Samuel Mann: You talked before about a resourceful response. What’s your take on resourceful?


Juliet Arnott: That’s become a really big focus for me, I think. When I finished the Whole House Reuse project, when we packed that up and had taken a bit of a holiday, I realised that I didn’t have the energy left to keep working with the focus of wastefulness. It was too … The machine, the big waste making machine, whatever it might be, and whatever is contributing to that, is so vast and there’s so much of it, that for me intellectually, it was becoming a struggle to see how to keep working with that positively. I did a lot of thinking about what’s the other, what’s the antithesis of wastefulness, and really out of that thought came this notion of resourcefulness. That, if we were to look at our lives in that healthy state, and that opposite state to wastefulness, it would be a resourceful way of life. It would be a way of living that allows us to be very much in touch with the resources around us, with the natural limits of those resources. I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.


I think, for me, more and more I’m focused in terms of developing that concept of resourcefulness, what it looks like, what are the realities of that, what do we do, how do we build that positive relationship with the material resources around us. I think you can’t help but reflect on that, by reflecting on your inner resources as well. You can’t just think about … You can’t separate out really, our relationship with what’s around us, without considering how that makes us feel. I can’t, anyway, I should say. Resourcefulness for me, reflects both that positive state, in terms of our [inaudible 00:32:46] and consideration of the earth and the resources that we utilise from it, but also how that impacts on us. If we act resourcefully and repair a piece of furniture, or an appliance that breaks, then that changes the way we feel. We feel it builds our sense of the resources we have to cope, to feel confident, we have what it takes to manage when we don’t have much money, but we have something break on us. It builds our confidence that we have hands that do the things that we need them to do, or that we know about materials, we know about wood, or textiles, you know. That intimacy between us as humans and the resources that we live around constantly, and interact with, is something that is so present that sometimes we don’t really … We almost don’t think about it.


Samuel Mann: Do you feel as though you are fighting a machine?


Juliet Arnott: I feel less like it now. The work that I’m doing currently with Rekindle, is very much focused on the resourcefulness, on depicting and bringing out experiences of that. Offering people opportunities, to feel resourceful, as well as still doing some work that is directly addressing wastefulness. It’s not that I’ve given up on that, it’s just that the two for me need to … I need to show them both, as parts of a continuum or spectrum, for me to feel that we’re really focusing on what’s positive and possible in all of this.


Samuel Mann: What does a resourceful world look like?


Juliet Arnott: I think it’s one where we are just fundamentally really aware of our relationship with what’s around us, so therefore we don’t discard of materials before they’ve had a full life. We also don’t chose to use materials that area harmful to their origin, or to the earth or to each other. There’s all of that knowledge about where things come from, where materials have come from, how we use them in relation to how that impacts the environment, and then also how we share those resources. Because, how we share those resources, how they flow within our communities, also relates to our access to resources, and in terms of poverty and the like, I think there’s a huge amount to be gained from living resourcefully in communities, in terms of improving our access to resources.


Samuel Mann: Have we lost the ability to do that, though?


Juliet Arnott: I think it’s definitely compromised, currently. I think our consumption and a lot of autonomy in our daily lives around … Not so much autonomy, but anonymity, I mean. Each household tends to do whatever they do, with waste. They’re not obviously accountable for anyone else, or anything. There’s not a lot of shared problem solving around that, there’s not a lot of shared responsibility around how we care for the resources that we have. I know for efficiencies sake, it’s good that we have great waste minimization organisations helping streamline that, but the bottom line is that it takes away our sense of need to deal with these things. In some ways, I think that’s problematic.


Samuel Mann: Do you have any idea how much of the, whether you want to see it as a positive or a negative, but, how much of our individual contribution to the waste we actually have control of? How much of it is upstream or downstream of us, and we don’t actually have much control over?


Juliet Arnott: I think we do. I think nowadays we have significant opportunities to control it. For example, the use of the second-hand market has been demonstrated to be a really considerable opportunity to divert material from land fill. I guess, effectively, simply that choice of buying new or buying second hand, that can really impact what ends up going to land fill. It’s not all about the designers or who’s creating what we find on the supermarket shelves. Yes, that certainly contributes to things, and packaging and all of that is problematic, but we absolutely have the choices. Many of the choices that we need around us, in terms of avoidance of packaging, and buying locally without packaging at all, and shopping second hand. That kind of thing.


Samuel Mann: One of the things that we like to talk about is how a sustainable future is a better future, not a lesser future. I think well framing that, in terms of this positive relationship. But, to what extent are you and I, and a disappointingly small band of others, kidding ourselves?


Juliet Arnott: The occupational therapist in me, looks at mental health statistics, for example. I can’t help but look at that and think, that is such a massive sign that we as a race are really, really struggling with our current way of doing things, and that our search for meaning if you like, in itself, is really challenged by the current way that we do life. I think things are becoming so dire, both in terms of our mental health, but also in terms of the economic struggles that we’re seeing around the world, struggles over natural resources and the like, that I can’t help but think that when things change, as things change, that there will be some improvements there, because it’s bringing us back to some of the fundamental realities, like the fact that we have limited resources. Therefore, we have to learn to care for what we do have around us. I guess, I’m so biased that I can’t see.


Samuel Mann: As a species, you’d like to think we’re not stupid. How come we’ve been distracted by this party going on?


Juliet Arnott: I just think it’s so convenient. There’s an allure of the sophistication of being able to purchase what you want, being able to have what you want, being able to wear what you want, when you want, eat whatever food you like, wherever in the world it’s come from, whenever you like, whatever season it is. All of that stuff. But, actually, we’ve splurged on that now. People know that they can … Not everyone of course, but people understand those realities now. The impact is such that it doesn’t really make a difference. It doesn’t really mean that we have everything we need, because in fact it’s distracted us probably from what we really need.


Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. I don’t think we’ve covered this one already, so let’s do it now. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Juliet Arnott: You see, I stay well away from the word. Just simply because, I think it is a word that for me, has been overused in some regards. I find it easier to talK about some of the more specific concepts that make up a part of that, like resourcefulness.


Samuel Mann: Okay. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Juliet Arnott: Success. That’s hard. I think probably the most meaningful thing that’s happened in terms of my work, was recently when supporting some of the planning that’s happening up in Kaikoura, post-quake. I was sitting in a room with a lot of others who had been heavily involved in the demolition process of the red zone, here in Christchurch, residential red zone, was to hear the will for change, so that community can be more involved in deconstruction outcomes, following these kinds of disasters. That for me, was incredibly heartening. It felt like a definite sense that we have learnt something from what happened here.


Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes.’ Looking back at the people who are doing the work. How would you like to describe your superpower?


Juliet Arnott: My superpower. I think probably, it’s something to do with being … My superpower, that’s really …. Something to do with maybe being able to see the inherent value of material resources and being able to transform them.


Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Juliet Arnott: I suppose I do nowadays. I suppose I do. Just in the sense that I can’t help but …


Samuel Mann: That sounds reluctant though. A reluctant action, or a reluctant label?


Juliet Arnott: A reluctant label. The action isn’t reluctant, it’s something I can’t help. I probably don’t call myself that, no.


Samuel Mann: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Juliet Arnott: Just, what’s yet to be done. I guess the opportunities that are there, and the impact that I see that that could have for people who would benefit from, like myself, who would benefit from being creative with resources that are undervalued.


Samuel Mann: What are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Juliet Arnott: I’m looking forward to doing more green wood working. We’ve just got a project that’s being launched at the moment, that’s pushing green wood working into the centre of Christchurch, we’ve set up a workshop in the middle of the city, so I’m looking forward to doing more and more of that myself, working with some beautiful old timbers from within the city.


Samuel Mann: Two more. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, tomorrow morning, what would you like?


Juliet Arnott: I would just love to see … I would love to have a huge craft workshop facilities, that had all of the wonderful tools, and everyone knew about them, and people were coming and sharing their skills and I didn’t have to make it happen.


Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Juliet Arnott: Nothing that comes to mind.


Samuel Mann: If someone gave you a big billboard that you could write on by a motorway, what would you put on it?


Juliet Arnott: I guess I would say something like … I guess I would ask people to consider that wastefulness is kind of like … Them being wasteful, is in effect missed opportunities for resourcefulness, you know? If you think about where those opportunities for resourcefulness lie, and seek them out, that probably will assist your will to get out of bed in the morning.


Samuel Mann: Thank you very much. You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience, on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability projects, brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago access radio,, and podcast on On we are building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields, who are applying their skills to a sustainable future.


In our conversations we are trying to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens, even if they don’t call it that. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Juliet Arnott, founder of Rekindle.


You can follow the links on to find us on Facebook, to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via Itunes as well as all the other poddy sorts of places. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann, I hope you enjoyed the show.


Sam’s pictures from the Whole House Reuse exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

community education environmental entrepreneur local government

Getting stuff done

Vicki Buck on getting stuff done.   And laughing a lot.

It seems to me that it’s self-evident that if you live on a planet that you don’t stuff it up. That you’re here for a relatively short period of time and what you do can make a difference. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve stolen from everybody else on the planet and you’ve defrauded the following generations.


Samuel Mann: Tonight’s sustainable lens is Vicki Buck who is the chair of the Innovation and Sustainability committee of the Christchurch City Council. Thank you for joining me.


Vicki Buck: Thank you for having me.


Samuel Mann: Where’d you grow up?


Vicki Buck: Christchurch, in this town.


Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Vicki Buck: I wanted to be a teacher and then, when I got to high school, I thought that’s a really dumb idea. So I didn’t want to be a teacher at all. I actually saw an interview on TV when I was at high school from somebody calling themselves the political scientist, a guy I know actually, and thought, “That’s a really good job. I’d like to be one of those.” Not having a clue what they did. I was really interested in languages, I loved languages, so thought I might go and study them. Got some of it [inaudible 00:01:20] but I really liked the politics. And, yeah, ended up I still don’t really know what I want to be. So I’m kind of thinking that when I grow up, I’ll know. But as yet I haven’t a clue.


I know I like doing things that I enjoy doing and probably largely unemployable, actually. So I kind of have to go and set up my own companies and do just stuff that’s fun. I can’t see the point of doing it if I’m not enjoying it and having a really good time. So that takes us into all sorts of paths.


Samuel Mann: But you’ve been in local government since you were a teenager.


Vicki Buck: No. I first stood for council when I was 18, 19, so I was elected when I was 19 and stayed in that for a long time. It was a very part-time thing at that time and you got paid, I think, about $260 a year max. So it wasn’t something that you did as a job. I had to have a job that paid the rent and everything as well. Much later when I was 30 something, 33, 34, I became mayor. So I had been in local government a long time. I got out of it completely after I finished being there. I had no intention of coming back. It was only because I was kind of annoyed at what was happening to the Christchurch area that I came back.


And so have been involved in kind of a whole lot of things. Got involved in education because I’d kind of thought that there needed to be some changes and thought, you know, it’d take three weeks to do. I ended up there for about 10 or 15 years. I’m not a teacher. Got involved in a whole pile of climate change stuff that involved sort of deriving fuel from algae and all those sorts of things. And I’m not a scientist either. So I kind of figure I haven’t got any real skills so I just had to play across all of the areas, yeah.


Samuel Mann: When you left politics the first time, or perhaps it was the second time-


Vicki Buck: First time.


Samuel Mann: First time. Off into education despite not being a teacher?


Vicki Buck: What I wanted to do was … The bit that excited me was just kids learning around stuff that they love. What excited them. My own son went off to school and was bored completely, so he would deliberately get kicked out of classrooms at age five because he was annoyed with the teacher interfering with his thought process. He was interesting at school. A pain in the neck, I would have thought. I wasn’t keen to do home schooling because I wanted to be doing a whole pile of other things as well. So I thought, well, okay, so we need a different type of schooling because clearly this is not working. And because I’d actually enjoyed school, I didn’t realise how many kids it wasn’t working for.


We then discovered, amazingly in a meeting with the Ministry of Education, that there’s a lovely, lovely section in the Education Act, section 156, that enables parents within the state system – because I like the state system, I like the idea that everybody has the same options – that within that, if you don’t like the style of education you’re getting that actually a group of you can go and set up a whole new system within the state system. Well, a brilliant little piece of law. And so, well, we decided we would do that. Ironically and not surprisingly, I suppose, the Minister of Education, who was then that guy Smith. What was his name? He was on TV … forgotten his name.


Samuel Mann: Lockwood.


Vicki Buck: Lockwood Smith. That one. He hadn’t thought about the possibility either and so later on Wyatt Creech became Minister of Education and he was way more open to the concept of innovation because, I think … Actually, many politicians, I think, come in wanting to do things and then find that they’re kind of held back by here are the rules, here are the regulations. We’re going to take you through this journey that’s going to take you many years of your life. And actually that’s not what they came in to do. They came in to change things and to try things. So he was amazingly helpful. It still took a long time to get through the ministry. And so we discovered that we could actually do it.


And, yep, they finally approved it and so we were allowed to start Discovery One, which was still based on a state school so it was free. Based on kids learning around what excited them. If you learn around what excites you, first of all you’re going to probably like learning. Because I think we come into the world being naturally curious and excited about possibilities, and then we gradually get that ground out of us. So like “these are the things that you need to know” and “this is what you need to know for NCEA”, so that’s going to be the be all and end all, and there’s never going to be any technological gains or disruptive technologies or innovation of any sort whatsoever.


So I think the really key thing is, one that kids love learning, two that they learn how they do learn and that they have fun along the way. When we wrote the submission I had to take the F word, the fun word, out of the submission to the Ministry of Education. It was not allowed to be included so I had to go and delete it all along the way. People who did know about education helped enormously in the process of doing that. There was about six of us involved in that. So we finally got this up and running. And then, from my own selfish point of view, my son got there just in time, for a year or so, before high school. And so then we had to create a secondary school as well, because otherwise our local school was going to be boy’s mayhem. That was completely unfair on boys I had to do that to them.


So we created Unlimited. Actually, we created it in about 10 weeks from the approval to the start of the term, which was way fun because it meant during the holidays we were in there with the plumber and doing all sorts of things that were just, you know, these are the things that you have to do. So a lot of fun. I had enormous fun with both of them. I haven’t been involved with either of them for about four years but we may merge the two. But, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed just the incredible energy and drive and passion that goes with young people and what they want to do. And the opportunities to learn that are just so widespread and so ubiquitous that it’s mind-blowing. So, yep, that was incredibly good fun.


So I think in many ways, as a parent or as a member of the community, we’re all educators. We’re just not recognised as teachers. I’m cool with that. I have no desire to sort of be a teacher or anything. We got to the end of Unlimited and thought, “Hmm, the university system.” But that’s quite controlled in New Zealand so you have to be really tolerant for that.


Samuel Mann: So you haven’t taken them on?


Vicki Buck: I haven’t taken on the university system, no. Actually, in many ways the university system has, especially – I mean, I work most closely with the University of Canterbury here – has adapted quite a lot. Especially post-earthquake with the student army, with their engagement with what they want the kids to achieve and with their emphasis on community involvement and active internships and all sorts of things. So it’s been great to see that happening. So, no, we haven’t established a university.


Samuel Mann: So now back on council?


Vicki Buck: Yep. I came back on three and a half years ago when I got a bit annoyed about what was happening in Christchurch and what wasn’t happening, and the opportunities that you could see everywhere that perhaps weren’t being taken advantage of. And just what happened post-earthquake was this amazing energy. There was no-one in control for such a long period of time, or it felt like there was no-one in control, so you just had to do stuff. If you wanted things to happen, nobody was going to do it for you. You just had to do it. And all throughout the city, over and over again, you see people doing stuff that they probably didn’t even know that they could do, just because they had to start doing it.


Samuel Mann: So other than the matter of the devastation and so on, it was your dream come true?


Vicki Buck: No, I would never have gotten about it that way. I would prefer to have stayed out of politics, actually. There were lots and lots of things that I found … Like, so I was working in climate change technologies, all of which I love, and the climate change website.


Samuel Mann: With Nick Gerritsen?


Vicki Buck: Yep, and with a range of other people on all sorts of things and on windfarms and stuff, which I was still involved with till a couple of years ago. So there are amazing, amazing possibilities. So the whole thing about sustainability strikes me as the most pressing issue that we have. We don’t really have a Plan B. We have one planet that we’re fast destroying and, you know, even looking forward, never mind my children’s or their children’s lifetime, this will happen in my lifetime. And you can see it with water happening all around. You know, the need to create so-called economic development by taking as much water as you possibly can for intensive dairying. It strikes me as crazy when you’ve got this incredible resource that is going to be one of the scarcest resources in the world and the most important. So water and food and clean air and those valuable commodities that – not commodities, because they’re not commodities, they’re way above commodities – that you just need to treasure. We haven’t and we so need to.


So just from a “what is really important” sustainability and just the awareness of climate change and what we’re not doing and what we could do. I mean, I see it as almost … it’s one of the huge issues of our time. Yep, I can’t ignore it.


Samuel Mann: Where did it come from, that passion or knowledge in you?


Vicki Buck: It seems to me that it’s self-evident that if you live on a planet that you don’t stuff it up. That you’re here for a relatively short period of time and what you do can make a difference. And if you don’t do that, then you’ve stolen from everybody else on the planet and you’ve defrauded the following generations. I don’t even know where it came from. It just seems so apparent, how can I not know that?


Samuel Mann: Were you an environmentalist at school?


Vicki Buck: I think I’ve always been an environmentalist. I don’t think I understood how rapid and dangerous climate change was to all of us, regardless of where we live, and how it affected people grossly unequally, till probably, I don’t know, 20, 30 years ago. Who knows? Who knows? It wasn’t last week and it probably wasn’t when I was nine so sometime in between.


Samuel Mann: Somewhere between nine.


Vicki Buck: Sometime in between nine and last week, yeah.


Samuel Mann: I don’t know what sort of council you’ve got but is it hard work, are you pushing that up a hill on the council or the council gets that?


Vicki Buck: This council and the previous one have actually been quite green in terms of their environmental concerns. So the awareness of climate change is very real. The importance of the quality of our water is felt strongly and the initiatives that we can take, like watch this space later this year for electric vehicle fleets. Entire compact vehicle fleets that we’ve been working on for a couple of years. We’ve got the autonomous electric vehicle out being trialled at the airport, which has been great fun. Those sort of changes that make possible quite different dimensions are fantastic.


We’re spending, probably over a five to seven year period, about 150 million on retrofitting the city and cycle lanes so that when you ride a bike you feel safe because you’re separated from the truck or the car. And I think for a lot of people that’s incredibly important. That makes me ride a bike as opposed to not ride a bike, if I feel safe. And I think that’s quite a different perception for women than men sometimes, and some of the research I’ve seen suggests that. But when you’ve got a city that’s already fitted out, retrofitting it with cycle lanes is an interesting process that requires a huge amount of public consultation. And you have to take the public along with you. So it’s not something you can do in 10 minutes but over a five to seven year period it will happen.


Obviously you’ll see in the central city that the speed limit is 30 ks, that the emphasis is on walking and cycling. We’ve just put some money on to extend our bike share so that it’s citywide, this one in the central city but it needs to go citywide as a means of public transport. So your helmet’s there, your bike’s there and you can leave it wherever at any of the other hubs.


Yeah, so there’s a … I mean, from our point of view, obviously insulation has been seriously important and one of the things, especially in a climate like this, one of the things we’ve been really, really wanting to do is to increase the building code standard. In the district plan we wanted to raise that to about six green star from the current building code, which we think would have added about $1700 to the cost of a building but ensured the wellbeing of children and their health and education and all sorts of things. The government, unfortunately, wouldn’t allow that to go through and the replacement district plan, it’s not there. So you win some and you lose some.


Samuel Mann: In fact, in terms of wellbeing they went the other way.


Vicki Buck: It’s the building code.


Samuel Mann: But in terms of the wellbeing responsibility of council, they took-


Vicki Buck: Yeah, slightly different. This is the district plan so we’ve had a very fast process of redoing the entire district plan. It’s not one I’d really recommend. But if you’re rebuilding a city and you’re rebuilding so many houses, you would think one of the most basic things is that you make sure they’re really well insulated, that the VIM envelope is really important, that you actually build them to a standard that guarantees that those kids are growing up in warm, dry houses, or those adults are living in warm, dry houses. Because you know the impact that that has on education outcomes, on housing outcomes. I mean, on health outcomes, everything. So not to be able to do that was infuriating. Annoying, to say the least.


Samuel Mann: So as chair of Innovation and Sustainability-


Vicki Buck: That’s just this term, so we’re having our first meeting next week, yep.


Samuel Mann: Awesome.


Vicki Buck: Yep, it’ll be good fun.


Samuel Mann: So what’s the first thing on the agenda after-


Vicki Buck: There’s a few things. Obviously one of the things that we do here in council is that we have an open session at the council that we started last time called Vox Pop. So anybody can come in with any issue whatsoever that has to do with the city and they get five minutes, and they’re allowed to talk directly to the councillors. So they’re all sitting there, it’s all live streamed, it’s all the media sitting there. Choong, here’s your issue. Make of it what you will. And that’s been wonderful but I think we need quite innovative ways of engaging people. I’d like to see someone involved in some waste minimization things. Obviously I’d like electric fleets, not only at the council but I’d like to see some trial bus routes. I’d like to see us get to the point where that autonomous vehicle was licenced to go on the road. We’ve done all the work on that and so we’re working with a range of research organisations and the HMI has been amazing on that.


So there are a whole raft of things. From our point of view, probably the transport fleet is the biggest carbon emitter, although probably the destruction of buildings and the rebuild has used way more than we would … I mean, our carbon footprint will have looked horrific in the last five years.


Samuel Mann: I think that’s going to be the most important thing in terms of doing the transition to electric vehicles, is the big fleets.


Vicki Buck: So do I, because if you and I want to buy an electric vehicle we’re probably buying a second-hand one. And to get a big supply of second-hand ones into the country, we want a range of things. We want the big companies to be buying them and so what we’re looking at is possibly with 10 other business and government agencies in the city, so it will make a huge difference to the city, just like that when it happens, which I love, those sort of things. But then when they sell the second-hand vehicles, then they become affordable for everybody else to buy. Because I think, although the running costs and they stack up incredibly well, I think that always with renewable technologies there’s that initial capital cost which is hard for people to get past.


Samuel Mann: And it’ll normalise it and make it viable for things like mechanics to get training or whatever they need to do to get there.


Vicki Buck: Yep. Actually, there’s so few moving parts I think the training will be … you could do it. You could do it as one of your courses.


Samuel Mann: It all sounds so positive to me and so obvious.


Vicki Buck: It sounds obvious to me too, so what’s the problem? I don’t actually see that there is a problem. I mean, it seems to me that any authority, whether it’s a council or a large business or a small business, has a responsibility to ensure that the environment that they live in is not made worse by them being there and is, in fact, improved by them being there. That seems self-evident to me. So I don’t see the problem either.


I think the other thing that’s always really important is the importance of what I see as the strength of Christchurch, is the 386,000 people who live here. And the brains and the thoughts and the talents that reside in those people. And I think quite often we tend to think of cities, you know, pipes and roads and footpaths and, you know. And those things, believe me, not having had them for a while, we love them.


But the really, really important part of any community is the people who live there. And so what you want to do, I think, is make sure that everybody feels that this is their community, that they have a really strong sense of belonging to this community. And that the things that they want to do that excites them, not just in education, not just at tertiary. But, I mean, they’re here for their whole life, or they’re here for 10 years, whichever, that period of time that they’re here, that that sense that they can do the things that they love doing. That anything is possible, so the byline I quite like for Christchurch is that anything is possible. And so that’s what we’re sort of working on. That’s got to be true for every age and you’ve got to maybe make sure that that works for people at certain … so it’s not just true if you’ve got a certain income level.


One of other areas that I’ve spent a lot of time on is housing which was, after the earthquake, really critical. Our housing policy spans from making sure there are no homeless, which is quite a good goal in itself, right thought to helping people into their first house, which we’re currently working with government. Touch wood. Not yet sorted. But those things are really, really important. I mean, people’s sense of belonging, it is way enhanced if they are living in a place that they feel is theirs, whether it’s a rental or ownership. And making sure that there aren’t people living on the streets who … Some people occasionally want that for a while. That’s fine, but if they don’t want that, that there are options for them.


We’ve done some things within the Mayor’s Welfare Fund, for example, where if we can’t within our own social housing, which we have 2300 of and which is now administered by Ōtautahi or Housing New Zealand, that we can actually provide the wherewithal for a private rental. I mean, one of the neat things about Christchurch at the moment is that houses are actually affordable. So I’m not sure if we should tell this, because I’m not sure how many Aucklanders we want here. No, I’m having them on. We actually like them. But, you know, if you’re looking at a million dollars house in Auckland, that’s really hard to come back from. You can buy a house here for, starting with a three, you know, three hundred and something. And you might need to do it up a wee bit but it’s very livable.


And that’s fantastic because you kind of have that affordability factor. For example, I was talking to a research group who were over here doing some research with the autonomous electric vehicle, which is on the Auckland campus, and the guys or the team were from Melbourne. They’d looked at the price of housing over there and they were in their late 20s, early 30s, and they were saying, “We’ve just looked at housing here. We want to relocate our research to here because we can actually afford to buy a house.” And at a million plus, you can’t. I can’t even imagine how much that mortgage must hurt. That’s revolting.


So there are cool things, I think, you can do within a city. And I think the key one is talent and the sense of possibility and excitement about living in that city, and the fact that your community is really important. You need to create those deliberate bumping spaces where you bump into people in the community, where you have a nice experience, where there’s events and you come away feeling good. Those are really, really important issues.


We’ve got some huge issues in Christchurch in terms of mental health, which is not ours but it’s not something you can turn your back on either. That’s like in education. We’re trying to get to the point where if you’re six or eight or 10, we can somehow make available to you all the learning opportunities that are there in the wider community. Not just at your school with your teacher. And in terms of the city itself, like the opportunities for learning through internships and some other some other sort of internships that we’ll create. It doesn’t exist yet.


Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. What is your go-to definition of sustainability?


Vicki Buck: Actually, it’s probably more than sustainability. It’s the fact that you actually leave the planet slightly better than when you came. It’s probably quite a personal one in that I can see my kids, for example, needing, and everybody else’s kids needing clean water, good air, the rivers actually running. I want them to be able to swim in rivers, not wade.


Samuel Mann: And to have some water in them to start with.


Vicki Buck: I’d like water in them. Yes, it would be novel. And I also think it’s sort of having some obligation to the other, not just people but the other species on the planet. In order to achieve your aims, do you have to completely screw other people? That doesn’t seem like a good idea. I mean, for that reason I can’t get the slightest bit excited about the concept of drilling for oil. It just seems like lunacy to me that you would even contemplate bringing out more oil into a world that cannot actually burn what we already know about without destroying the planet. So where’s the logic in this?


Samuel Mann: But there’ll be people in your city that would see Lyttelton or wherever as being a suitable base for a drilling place, don’t you think?


Vicki Buck: Actually, very few, I think. Very few people, I think, would see that because, apart from the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary, we haven’t found much of the thing. And then the drilling part starts right next door, so apparently that oil knows, you know, this is the boundary. Never [crosstalk 00:27:37]


Samuel Mann: Well, I wouldn’t go there, no.


Vicki Buck: We won’t go there because, you know, there’s a big wall. Banks Peninsula, from our point of view, is just this amazing sort of natural wilderness area. And the sea off Banks Peninsula, and off all of our coastline, is so valuable to us that the idea of anything going wrong, that you can’t control, you’re in deep ocean water. You can imagine, there’s no capacity anywhere in New Zealand to deal with that spill. So wait a minute. We’d have to ring Singapore or China or wherever, or America, and find out where the nearest one is. Seven weeks away? Oh, we’ll just wait here patiently while you completely ruin one of the most amazing assets that New Zealand has. You know, its ocean.


No, I don’t think there’s many people that are … actually, I think they need a government. And, you know, even something like Brighton Beach, which for that community is so vital and so loved, that the idea of any sort of crappy oil spill coming up … not welcomed. But no, I can’t think of anybody, actually. I’m sure there are some.


Samuel Mann: So what’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Vicki Buck: That’s a hard question. I think possibly changing our usage to electric vehicles will be. I hope. I’ll tell you that in a couple of weeks.


Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes.


Vicki Buck: Or yesterday’s.


Samuel Mann: No, it’s as if we’re looking back and people like you will be the heroes that people will look back who are pleased that you’re doing this kind of work. So what’s your superpower? How do you describe your superpower?


Vicki Buck: Probably optimism. Probably a belief that all of us can do, actually, pretty much anything. And that may be a completely irrational belief. But actually, the more you believe it the more it comes true, which is kind of weird. And probably the ability to laugh a lot. So when I do something completely insane, which is regularly, I’m not hugely distressed.


Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Vicki Buck: Yes. Yes, I always have.


Samuel Mann: Why?


Vicki Buck: Because the opposite of that is being passive and it sounds so boring. I’ll just sit here passively and go through life. Like, jeez, I’ve only got one of them that I know of. You know, I’m willing to have more. But why wouldn’t you use everything you’ve got to make happen the things that you want to have happen. I can’t see any reason why you would do it any other way.


Samuel Mann: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Vicki Buck: I just like the fact that you can make cool stuff happen. There was a lovely interview with somebody from the airport, and he said, “My job is to make cool shit happen.” I thought, “Oh, that’s my job description.” So, yeah, just making cool shit happen. I’ve stolen that from [inaudible 00:31:05].


Samuel Mann: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Vicki Buck: In the next couple of years? I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be different tomorrow from this day. It’s not like I can plan a couple of years ahead. About a week is good.


Samuel Mann: Alright, take the time off then. What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to?


Vicki Buck: I don’t know. I like them all. I like the idea of completely altering the way we do education here. Which is nothing to do with council, really, but I don’t think anybody will notice for a while. I like the idea of some initiatives that people will come up with that we can help. I don’t think we have to do it all. Really, we’ll delegate it to anybody and everybody. There’s 386,000 of them out there.  So, yeah, just the fact that … what excites me is that I know that today and tomorrow and the day after, people will come up with cool ideas.


We just put a thing on, on Facebook, about a community fridge. And three groups, like, I’d really like to see these. You know, people have got surplus food, just put it in a pantry or fridge and it’s available to anybody in the community who needs it. Three groups have come back and said, yeah, we’d like to do something about this. I just love the currency of ideas that people can make cool stuff happen all the time. Actually, the thing I’m probably looking forward to is getting back into our house which has been completely rebuilt, not as an insurance thing but as a leaky house. Which is not the way you want to do it but it’s going to, in theory, be a 10 star one, which will be a lot of fun.


Samuel Mann: Awesome.


Vicki Buck: Yeah.


Samuel Mann: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would you have happen?


Vicki Buck: Actually, at the moment I’ve been watching that famine in South Sudan and Yemen, and watching those kids not have food. I can’t stand it. I can’t even watch it. And you feel kind of quite powerless about it, so my miracle would be that one … Well, actually, I’d like lots. But one that they’re fed and they get a chance to live their lives. Another one? Would it have something to do with Trump? Yeah.


Samuel Mann: Are those the things that go beyond your optimism? Is everything achievable but there’s things outside that-


Vicki Buck: [inaudible 00:33:56]. Really, what were you thinking? No, I tend to be optimistic anyway, so it’s kind of ingrained. I can’t get rid of it. Even after half an hour of Trump I can still get over it. Yeah, yeah, he does test it to the limit. He’s tests it completely. And his advisors, Sean Bannon particularly.


Samuel Mann: Lastly then, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Vicki Buck: No, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous. I wouldn’t have a clue.


Samuel Mann: So if you were to have a billboard that’s not at election time, that you could put up on a big motorway somewhere, what are you going to write on it?


Vicki Buck: Probably life is short, have fun.


Samuel Mann: Awesome. That F word’s back again.


Vicki Buck: Yeah.


Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.


Vicki Buck: My pleasure indeed.


economics politics

Passionate rationality

Gareth Morgan on economics, inter-generational alienation, philanthropy, politics, Putaruru, and motorbikes and cats.

I think the public are pretty well starved for quality…for intellectual contributions that are on par with them not reduced to the lowest common denominator

Shane: And our guest tonight is Dr Gareth Morgan. Gareth was born and raised in Putaruru. He then attended Massey University for four years, gaining the BA honours in economics. In 1982, he graduated from Victoria University with a PhD in economics. He the father of Sam Morgan who is the founder of Trade Me and that’s the New Zealand equivalent of eBay, and was an early Trade Me investor and director. When it was sold to Fairfax Media, Gareth received 50 million dollars, which he donated to their charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which administers the Morgan philanthropic work, and Gareth and his wife Jo Morgan are also UNICEF good will ambassadors.


So he worked for the reserve bank in New Zealand for a few years, before founding an economics forecasting company, Infometrics Limited, back in 1983, and Gareth is well known for taking New Zealand’s financial services industry to task for questionable ethics and abuse of investors.


So he’s published four works, four books. 2009 was Poles Apart, a book surveying the state of the science around climate change. 2010 was Health Cheque, a book assessing the state of New Zealand’s public health system. In 2011 the Big Kahuna, which is probably his most famous book, and this book investigated the contribution that unpaid work makes to New Zealand’s society, and the consequences and measures of economic production not explicitly recognising such contributions, from community service to care of the young and the elderly.


In 2011, he also published another book, Hook, Line and Blinkers, a book assessing the state of the world’s fish stocks and then appraising the state of New Zealand fisheries here. And then in 2013, his most recent book was Appetite for Destruction: Food – the Good, the Bad and the Fatal, and that was with Geoff Simmons, and a book, which analyses the pitfalls of contemporary processed food and the problem with contemporary diets more generally.


So most recently, and this is why Gareth is here today, he started a new political party in New Zealand called the The Opportunities Party. Welcome to our show.


Gareth: Thanks very much. Nice to be here.


Shane: So you’ve had quite a busy life but let’s talk about your childhood. What was it like? What was growing up in New Zealand like for you?


Gareth: Well it was a very small town, Putaruru, 4,000 people back in those days, 50 and 60s, it’s still like that. I had a big shock I guess, so it’s a bit like some of these back puddle towns in the Appalachians and southern states of the U.S. and the Rust Belt and the sense of when I was there. There were seven sawmills in Putaruru. So I would work in those during my holidays right through school. In fact, I think I had my first job there when I was in standard four, but I kept doing that all the way through university, then worked in the bush a lot.


So I was pretty able in those days, to fund myself, through university. I didn’t need any money from anybody. Such were those sort of harrisome days. But Putaruru has undergone a whole series of shocks and now it has no sawmills. Of course what happen with euthanasia in 1990 there were [inaudible 00:03:07] budgets was that that really hurt low income people, really hurt, and Putaruru was reeling from that shock plus the fact that the sawmills were all closing. And so what’s happened in Putaruru is that the families least able to cope are still there and the families who have the means to move have moved. So Putaruru high school, my school that had 700 when I was there, is down to 300 and that includes the intermediate school these days and of course it’s very low just the whole school as opposed to my day where it wasn’t like that at all because even the capable families or well to do families that are there now all sent their children out to school, to Cambridge, private schools in Cambridge or Hamilton. And even the teachers, only three of the city teachers in Putaruru actually lived there.


And it’s had a lot of troubles. The education review board that has been in there because the schools had suicides and things that put stress on these kids, kids bullying and da-de-da. So I think that’s a bit of a microcosm of what’s happened, the worst of what’s happened during the economic adjustment. Let me put it to you this way, they are still waiting for trickle down.


Shane: Obviously you see that happening right across New Zealand in the small towns … a big shift there.


Gareth: Yeah, I mean, well creative destruction is part of, you know, that’s part of economics and how economies work. Industries, businesses come and go but really I would have thought the role of government in the civilised society has to cushion the impact of those inevitable changes. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the changes but cushion the impact of those inevitable changes on the most vulnerable people, who tend to be the ones with the lowest skills, the lower wealth, basically the lower capability to adjust themselves. And I think that’s probably where we let ourselves down a bit with the Rogernomics revolution that had to happen, there’s no doubt about that. And of course that was a liberalisation type move, Americans were over regulated and we were, we had a constitutional crisis back in ’84 so Rodgernomics was a response and so I was quite a fan, and still am actually, of liberalising markets. What I’m not a fan of neoliberalism and there’s a very big difference.


Liberalisation, as any economist will tell you, is when you move to free and competitive markets. Neoliberalism is when you have free markets but they don’t have to be competitive, in other words they can be dominated by one or two players who in economic [inaudible 00:06:01] extract economic wind because you have no choice but to buy from them. And unfortunately that’s what ergonomics moved on to. Under the Nats mainly but also under Helen Clark’s government, she didn’t pull it back sufficiently. And so as a result of that now we’ve got this rising inequality in New Zealand that’s been, that really took its fist in 1990 when the mother of all budgets in the town of Christchurch under John Key’s government. That’s come under the guise of extreme unaffordability of housing that he has allowed to manifest itself. So rising inequality, rising in probably a ridiculously low affordability of housing is where we are now.


Shane: So we have two parts to this question. One is obviously there is a bit, I can hear the upset in your voice when you’re talking about your home town and what happened there. So obviously it’s very personal, you felt personally the effects of those…


Gareth: It was just so unnecessary. We had a thriving cross section of community, we had some fantastic people come out of that school, Lorraine Muller the runner, of John Graham who was the head of Auckland grammar, Wayne Smith the All Blacks coach, you know? It was a real, I mean, schools are the centres of communities and so if you start [guessing] the community like we have under tomorrows schools and encouraging people to move to a distant school then those capable are going to do that and there was no evidence whatsoever internationally that that sort of streaming of people into the education system does the people at the top any good at all. There’s no evidence for that but there’s a hell of a lot of evidence that tells you that the people left behind in the residual schools do suffer. And the reasons were obvious. The incomes of the parents tend to be lower, the capability of the parents in the terms of being trustees tend to be lower, they’re lower school people, and so you just do not get the community support of your school and the school is nothing without the community support.


So I’m not a fan of tomorrow’s schools at all. I would rather we went to yesterday’s schools and then go straight from there onto the Scandinavian model.


Shane: Where would you describe yourself on the political spectrum? Because you’ve done pretty well out of the economy as it happened, you know?


Gareth: Thailand.


Shane: But at the same time you’re also still pretty upset about what happened and you have described a fairly interventionist approach to the economy. Where would you describe yourself or do you have, how would you describe yourself?


Gareth: Some would say I’m indescribable but I would say progressive liberal if you want a label. Or my political pal Jeff Simmons calls us radically centrist and I think we just are keen to do stuff that works so we are very evidence based as a party. Just about every policy we’ve done, we’re offering, has a book behind it and that book will basically be a researcher’s survey of you know the Brains Trust on that particular subject. I’m not putting us up as the geniuses but what we’re doing is saying, “well what is the state of academia on this particular issue?” We’ve actually just released another book called Pennies from Heaven which is all about how do you actually solve poverty in New Zealand so the books keep coming. But others would call it capitalism but I would put it this way, you cannot build sustainable prosperity on anything but a foundation of fairness.


Sam: So if you are looking, you conceived the party because obviously there’s a gap somewhere, you’ve perceived a gap in the political spectrum that’s been offered in New Zealand, so where is that gap? Where is it?


Gareth: Well there’s no progress so if you want to go backwards you would vote Winston Peters because Pearce essentially harps back to the past all the time he’s worked on, he’s described as an old fashioned conservative. So that’s where you would go with Winston. If you want to go nowhere then it really doesn’t matter vote National or Labour they will give you nothing. And the reason for that is that these are establishment parties with career politicians who basically their mantra is do not disturb or do as little as possible because you could put your voting base at risk. And we’ve seen that with superannuation you know? This is Muldoon’s biggest election bribe, the most successful election bribe that’s ever happened in this country and just remember Winston Pearce lays his craft on Muldoon’s knee.


And that’s what, you know, it was a populace policy and here we are 42 years later and we still haven’t dealt with that. That’s the do nothing governments that have fallen. But you know we have to do something about this thing, it’s like a monster, and I just think that people are ready for it and I don’t see anybody offering to go for it. I mean obviously we have the Green’s as well, who I have a lot of respect for, obviously on environmental matters, their economics worry me but we’re not far apart at all on environmental issues.


So the decision we made was let’s just put common sense, this is how you go forward in stuff, in front of people now, and they will either say, “yeah run it by us, let’s give these guys a bit of influence” or they’ll say, “nah we quite like no change”. What really concerns me with no change is that we are drifting, you know we are drifting to the inevitable, which is an extreme reaction, which is what you’ve just seen in the U.S. and you will soon see in France and the spectre of that I don’t like at all because that is really polarising across the population. So I’m trying to head that off at the pass but it’s like, hey. We can do these changes in an orderly fashion and we can reestablish our democracy so that these governments that we get actually serve everybody in New Zealand not just sector interests.


Sam: So when you think about the kind of person that’s going to vote for you, who is that? What does that person look like?


Gareth: Well, we’ve done a couple of gigs so far on the road in Invercargill and Dunedin, they’ve both been big crowds. They’ve both been right across the age spectrum. One thing that’s quite common is people will say to you, “I’ve never been to a political meeting before in my life”, I’ve heard it from every party that’s on offer over the years and you know I’m just woken up by the fact that we could do something. The questions at the gigs have been fantastic so if they ask you a question as, do you think it’s any New Zealander that cares? That cares beyond themselves, beyond their immediate family. That cares about what the future generations are facing in this country.


Which is, you know, I’m concerned that my grandkids won’t even be able to afford the blooming rent. Let alone, you know, buy a house. And who actually do care for the people at the bottom of this rising and the quality. So those people, that I’m talking about, are right across the political spectrum so I cannot give you a two dimensional profile of who we’re talking to. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen at the end of the …


Sam: You’re speaking with some passion there. Are economists allowed to have that passion?


Gareth: No. That’s why I’m a little estranged from my colleagues. I mean, you know, you look back through all our books and you know, we’ve had help on a lot of these issues from some extremely confident and leading New Zealand academics and global, actually, when it came to the climate one, academics. Quite flawless research, quite flawless. So then I get to this point and I say all right, it’s time to stand up now and do something about this. We’re going to go with the political so the first thing I want, is I want competent team mates.


I want a competent team around me so I turn on these people who are all in their own authorities, in their own right, come on you’re getting near the end of your career at the university or wherever, come and give us a hand. Because you are the icon on your treasure map and I want you. God no. Why would I give my, that’s too much. Why would I subject myself to ridicule? And you know, so they are all in the head share and I can’t get them out and it’s exactly the same experience I had when I raised the issue of cats, which you might recall. You know, I had a 40 year economics career and I spent two weeks on cats and what do I get known for? Cats.


When I did that it was because, when I launched cats to go, it was because I had been told by DoC and Forrest and Bird actually, that cats were by far the main predator in New Zealand. So I said, “well come on then. Let’s tell the people and the people will do something about it.” Forest and Bird said, “we’re telling the people.” I said, “why?  And they said, half of our subscriptions come from people with cats.” And I said, “but that’s not the point. They’re still sensible people, they’ll know that by confining the cats they can have both so that’s the price of your ethics is it? It all begins and ends at the tail.” Yes. So and SPCA was the same.


Okay. So now we’ve made traction on cats and now we’ve got councils doing it. Chipping, something. Whatever it is. Snip and chip in Wellington for cats. Auckland all wandering cats are feral even if they’ve got those on them and a chip so. It’s getting heavy now. Councils have picked it up and they are running with it. so it’s now, four years later, conventional wisdom. But at that time I went with it. It was like the pioneer getting all the arrows in the bag. No one would stand up with you and it’s like this now with the politics. So you wait. If this thing gets momentum they’ll come out of the woodwork, which is fine, everybody’s got to find their own comfort level but to answer your question that’s why I’m a little estranged right at the moment from the economics establishment.


Sam: Where do your ethics come from?


Gareth: Boy, that’s a hard one. I don’t know, I think it’s emotional. I think when I see somebody, I mean I have a core belief that you should treat other people exactly the same as you want to be treated yourself. So it’s very simple, you know, I’m going to say ridiculously simple and so when I see that not happening it actually emotionally upsets me. I can’t control it, it just happens. So it’s about combining that with the logic, the analytical skills, da-de-da-de-da. All that stuff we are doing at the university, whatever, and trying to get the evidence based to help you to achieve your value set. And actually believe that’s how New Zealanders feel. I think New Zealand’s just traditionally other people who, you know, champion a fair go. And that actually puts us incredibly close to what drives what they call the Scandinavian model on many fronts.


We don’t actually mind paying a bit more tax if we had the most civilised society in the world and I think that’s something to aspire to. And obviously so does the rest of the world, that’s why they are banging down the doors to come here.


Shane: So what you’re describing is a passionate view of ethics but that’s not what, you know, economists always talk about the rational actor [crosstalk 00:18:39]. So what’s your opinion on the so called rational actor in economics and society?


Gareth: Yeah.  Well I think people are rational, not every single one of us. I think if we’re going to use economic balance we have a very high discount rate. Which means, in English, we value what happened yesterday and what we think is going to happen tomorrow a hell of a lot harder than anything that’s a year ago or a year ahead. You understand what I mean? So we don’t look past our noses, how I put that in English, and that can be a real encumbrance in terms of doing things that have a longer pay back period. That’s why I say in the Health Check that you will see politicians prefer to be opening hospitals, cutting waiting lists and opening hospitals, than investing money in prevention. Because there’s no cheer and that’s what you’re seeing with the National Party at the moment.


They are announcing these wonderful policies that don’t kick in until world end, you see what I mean? So the discount is actually high, so they say, “well we know that we’ll get you emotionally or swimming holes whether they don’t even have any water in them they’re still a swimming hole by the way. You know the Greens got to get upset about this. But we won’t do that until the year’s up and we won’t do it until New Zealand’s secrets will get us 76. Well the problems sort of were …” you see what I’m saying? So we’ve got this emotional, yeah this is the right thing to do but I’m not taking any risks tomorrow so let’s put it off on the never, never.


So they’re trying to straddle the two aspects of our, so to answer your question, the rational being I would rephrase it this way, if crowds get full information, so I’m getting safety in numbers here, okay? I’m not talking about you the individual but you and me and all the rest of us as a crowd, if we get full information then the crowd will elect very rationally. Doesn’t mean to say each and every one of us does but the average will be rational. So yeah, that’s where I come from and that’s why I suppose I’m pretty supportive, or a champion, of free and competitive markets because all of the markets are an expression of a crowd. So you cannot allow the market to be dominated by one or two players. That is neoliberalism. That is what we mustn’t have and that’s what we must address so it’s free and competitive.


Shane: So on that matter of good information, one of the things that has been a real issue with the Princes of Brexit Campaign and with Trump’s election in America was being this proliferation of you know what could be called fake news, anyway, what we would call propaganda beforehand. How do we assure, and the fact that the media is often, is now captured by one or two key organisations. How would you address, for instance, that problem here in New Zealand?


Gareth: Well don’t let the problems get so extreme that that’s what it drives people to. I mean I can remember when Trump put himself up for nomination for the Republican party and my wife Joann said, “He’s going to win this thing.” And I said, “of course he’s not going to win, the guy’s a moron.” And she said, “Gareth, you’ve spent a lot of time in the Appalachians in the southern states, you know he’s going to win. Because those people are going to run on fear and the people in Washington and California wouldn’t have a clue about how those people feel.” You know? They’re the bullets for the guns in the middle east, you know, cause it’s their kids that go to the middle east. They’ve got no jobs now and the Democrat regime hasn’t delivered them anything in the terms of social services. I mean, you know, it used to be the dream in America to have a three bedroom home in the burbs and you know a Chevy pickup and now it’s a trailer home and a ride on mower, then it’s a John Deere if you’re really doing well.


And it’s that complete smashing of what they thought they stood for and the fear that they haven’t won against terrorism and it’s coming their way, to their town any day, that’s actually driven that extreme reaction. Now I’m not saying that’s imminent in New Zealand, I’m not saying that, but what is imminent in New Zealand is the thing that we’re talking about which is, you know, housing. You want to own your own house? Forget it, it’s not going to happen. They’re being bought up by guys like me and on masse, foreigners, on masse and you know land bankers who are surrounding cities now holding hand and choking a city for expansion until the prices are right.


So all that does, that sort of stuff, is alienate people. And the one I’m worried about in New Zealand is the intergenerational alienation. I mean I’ve saw, not too happy about towns today like Putaruru and all the rest, but the thing I see looming is this massive intergenerational resentment. I mean my generation was basically born with its head in the trough and still got it in the trough. So we need to wake up. Now the good news with the boomers is that when I talked to them they’re all prepared to invest more in their grandkids than they are in themselves at this point.


So I think that the politicians have got it wrong here saying that, you know, we’re not going to change super, we’re not going to do anything to injure the boomers and all the rest of it because they’re our voters, you know? And two things on that. People younger than boomers now dominate the polls, there are actually more of them, problem is that we can’t get the voters out of the bed in the morning to vote, so that’s a real issue and secondly they’re reading my generation wrong. My generation does not want to leave the environment worse than we found it, we don’t want to leave our kids with climate change and we don’t want to leave our kids not even being able to afford their rent. So I think that we’ve got [crosstalk 00:24:36].


Shane: But the evidence is that you’re not dealing with climate change, as you say, your generation is buying up all the houses so it’s not that they are reading the generation wrong.


Gareth: No. You’re two liberals here. That’s exactly the reality, what you just said, but what I’m obviously going out there and presenting to them is, this is how we deal with climate change, this is how we deal with rivers, this is how we deal with the unaffordability of housing in the inequality game. And my age is saying, “yes, we need to do this. It’s about time.” That’s where I get the optimism from. So we’ll see. September will tell us but you know. So I agree with you but I’m looking forward here. In terms of there’s a mandate here, I suppose.


Sam: So how do we switch from fear to optimism? Is there a lever somewhere?


Gareth: Well I think you’ve just got to sell the vision and you’ve got to present credible ways to deliver on that vision. And then I think you will get the support and that’s the sort of challenge that, you know, I’ve set myself really. I may be totally wrong and I might be back on my motor boat come September and that’s fine too.


Sam: Do you want to be Prime Minister?


Gareth: No. I don’t’ actually need a job like that. No. I do have the life of Reilly at the moment and that’s a wonderful life and I want to keep it but I’m very concerned to get New Zealand on the right political, do the right thing basically. I mean I’m not far off from dying now so it would be a tragedy if I walked away from all this work that we’ve done and other people have done having belief in us and all of this, you know, saying “I’ve done all those books and everything and just said I’m satisfied now. What can be done? I’ll see you later.” I think you’ve got to at least just put it out there and the people of New Zealand will say, “Nah. See you later, Gareth.” Or, “We’ll have some of that.” Or, “We’ll have it all.” And see.


Sam: But could you stand being a small party with no influence? I mean, those are good ideas, wouldn’t that drive you crazy?


Gareth: Yeah, I wouldn’t go into Parliament. So we’ll talk about that, aye? I need for me 10 to 15% for me to feel there’s a mandate for this. Okay? So if we got in that sort of range for things over there then I’d go and roll my sleeves up and try to have a difference on whoever the party, the leader, you know. Coming from the days we’d stay in the cross benches because I think as soon as you go into coalition you lose yourself. You actually lose your identity, which is the main thing so you know, and we can see under and plead the evidence for that so that’s no no for us. And also I’m not into just governing day to day, I mean who the hell would want to deal with some disaster with P in a house or something and the minister has got to come up with smart answer today, forget it. Get that to go as we want, cohesion politics, I’m interested in top seven major, major reforms.


Now if we don’t get there and we’re down at naught too, well depends I suppose if you get a list seat but if you’re down in one, this is the way, one level seats and you really are treading water having not a fit. But that’s a building block. That’s a building block isn’t it? Just sit there, I mean that’s for the Green’s. I mean the Green’s are down there and they’re doing blooming well and they’ve put in the yards and they’ve, you know, they’re up to wherever they are in that 8 to 15% somewhere. So that’s a long, so I need people around me who are prepared to do that but it’s not me.


I would rather be outside still doing the research on the stuff, still making a hell of a noise, I don’t need the empowerment to be noisy and I’d still be funding that building team. It’s just that I’d get on with my life of Reilly as well. So I’ve got a few personal scenarios there but the main thing now is to get the message in front of people for you, as a public, to make up your mind and then to try and get some decent candidates coming out of the woodwork too, cause somebody said we’re around the electorates, you understand them. And I said we’re somewhere between zero and sixty, it depends on how much talent comes out.


And actually Winston Peters said that when he started too, with New Zealand First and he ended up of course taking in people. He found out how shallow the talent pool was, who were prepared to go political I mean, that’s the problem. It’s a very small fraction of the talent in New Zealand who are prepared to put their families and themselves on the line. And he ended up filling his ranks with no talent. Well, I’m not going to do that.


Shane: So why do you think that is? Why do you think the people are reluctant to go into politics?


Gareth: Because it’s visceral and it’s just horrible. I mean I’ve noticed that already. I mean I, what have we been in this thing? Three and a half months now, we’re babies but I mean it’s stuff like that right.  ACT does an OAA to the electoral commission on us every second day. Just to cause trouble. That’s just the politics that some of these people get off on. That’s like the worst of Facebook, that’s like trolling, it’s no different. You have to put up with that shit. You know that’s my point. You have to be resilient enough to, and I’m not the sort of guy who normally doesn’t react so somebody is awful to me I tend to be awful back with interest and it’s just my natural instinct and people say put yourself above, put yourself above but you can’t get one without the other.


You can’t get the sort of compassion of go forward without the passion of reaction. Which is why it’s very difficult. I admire people who have got that capability, I don’t. So you have to be prepared. Like I’ve had a woman working with us, the researchers working with us, who are the most stunning, fantastic academic brains that you could have met. So I say to them, “come on girls, you’ve got to come and help people. You’re the expert in this.” No way are they coming near it and putting their family at risk and themselves. And that’s just the reality of politics.


Shane: People say that’s reality but realities can change and there’s just something that the toxic environment, do you think that’s levity created to exclude or do you think … what do you think has created that? How would you change it?


Gareth: Well I think it has been amplified by media, I would have to say. Corporate media has definitely amplified this. I mean look at what they’re doing to journalists. They’re losing their ethics, they’re being told to be stars and get a hit or a sound bite with everything they do. You have the celebrity media thing, like the Hosking  type phenomenon or the Paul Henry type phenomenon where the show is all about them and all you are is somebody to walk over, you know, so you come on as the expert and then you get called this, that and the other thing. So that’s what corporate media does.


I mean I don’t support Trump in any way, let’s just get that clear, but by golly we’re that. He read that straight away and he just excluded them. And the media in America are still struggling to understand the Trump phenomenon. They’re still having a [inaudible 00:31:52]. They’re still having to come to terms with it. And I’ll never forget that graph on election day when the New York Times was there with all the polls and it started at 8:00 in the morning, a 97% chance that Hillary is going to win this and of course at the end of the day it was a zero percent chance.


So that told you what the conventional wisdom, how wrong it was and I actually think we have seen that here already. Where they’re talking about more Labour and National day-to-day, do-nothing, do-nothing stuff. That is not what I’m feeling out there and I’ve only done these two towns but I can tell you now there are people who are very concerned about New Zealand that we are drifting doing nothing and they want change and they want it in a positive way which is what you’re alluding to. So we’re going to have to overcome this toxicity of you know these sort of grubby political movements like ACT and you know John Brash’s  extreme right , those sort of guys. We’ve just going to have to somehow deal with them. And we’re going to also have to go past the commercial media, all the stand there type media, because they just amplify what the corporate owners want them to amplify.


Shane: I mean that’s the real issue isn’t it? I mean like here we can have a conversation and we can actually get into some issues really deep, you know, actually get in a deep conversation and explain complex issues that are facing New Zealand or the world but you can’t do that in a two minute interview on national TV can you? And then you wind just butting heads who is the exact opposite [crosstalk 00:33:37].


Gareth: And that’s the show and that’s nothing in terms of informing the public. But I feel the public is pretty blooming intelligent when it comes down to it and they recognise that as well. And I think the public are pretty well starved for quality, …for intellectual contributions that are on par with them not reduced to the lowest common denominator so I think there’s a demand, I mean I can see it, I can just see it in the numbers of these people that are turning up. And the pillar I look forward to every night is their questions because they are just awesome. You know, that tells me, man that guys thinking. You know? So yeah, it’s cool.


Shane: So the other question, the last question I have, is building your party because you could have done it from the top down. You could have said here’s the party come along. A lot of other parties are going to fill up from the ground as well so how are you finding that as a …?


Gareth: Well it’s lonely. We’re seven people, with seven policies, with seven months until election so how’s that for an outsider? But you know I just hope as we get momentum that we get some real talent come out of the woodwork and we actually have seen it on the volunteer base. I mean we did that by election Mount Albert where we got just under five percent which wasn’t bad for a three month old party, I thought, and against two blooming good candidates. Particularly Julie Anne Genter of the Green’s, she’s high quality that woman.


Shane: [crosstalk 00:35:09]


Gareth: Oh she is. She’s very awesome. And you know Jacinda is not a slouch either so it was a good contest and I only met those three so it was quite a dig. What were we talking about?


Shane: Oh just [crosstalk 00:35:26].


Gareth: So yeah, the volunteers that we had at Mount Albert were just superb people in terms of just their intellect, you know, that’s the part that really got me just the ideas they had on the poll. And we just had it again here in Dunedin the same sort of thing. So I just feel from the volunteer base that’s coming forward and wants to be part of this, they don’t just want to give out stickers and crap you know? They actually want to engage with the public on stuff, you know, themselves and they want to head discussion groups and have them Skype in and all that sort of stuff. Which is sort of the thing you were talking about, democracy from the grass roots up so it’s coming, it’s just that you know I sat at the beginning of the year or the end of last year thinking “how am I going to do this? Oh, I’m just going to do it and see what happens”, you know? It’s a standard technique for me.


Sam: You’ve made a lot of money.


Gareth: Yeah, you’re telling me. It’s ridiculous.


Sam: Couldn’t you just be off on a yacht somewhere?


Gareth: Yeah, I do a bit of that. In 2015, I was only two months in New Zealand, in 2016 I was only four. People think I’m here because that’s the power of social media isn’t it? I can communicate, I can do phone interviews and people not have a clue where I am. So I do have that life of Reilly very much and love, we both love running circles around the world and last year we did Indonesia from the top of Sumatra to East Timor so we’re still pretty active and Joann is planning for us to go from Nigeria to Japan so you know, we’re still pretty heavy in that stuff.


But I can’t do that, and if you read any of the travel books I’ve done you’ll find with me it’s not really about the motorcycle it’s about the society and the politics and how do these people get by trying to scrape a living out of bloody rocks and nothing. And you look back at New Zealand and we’re only worried about property prices, it’s pathetic really. Tend to the problem we really had back in NZ. So it’s not enough for me, that life of Reilly I have to, I’ve spent my whole life in this area on economic and social policy so I probably, no matter what happens with the election, I’ll probably still keep doing that work just to keep my intellectual satisfaction going.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Gareth: I hope that never happens. But the answer to that, I just want to be me. And I’m a sort of spontaneous sort of out there guy and, you know, I’ve got wonderful people around me and I’m a very, very lucky chap.


Sam: Your investment company for the kiwi saver is ethical investment. To what extent is that viable or to what extent is that perhaps, you know, what do we need to do, I suppose my question is, to make that the norm?


Gareth: Well I think consumers are actually demanding it, just like they are demanding better quality food and a lot of things. So that’s definitely the case in finance and that’s great to see, isn’t it? Rather than saying, “well I know if I invest in a company that sells guns I’ll probably make more money than anything.” And then they say no thanks. The issue with the ethical investing for an investment company like the one I own, I’ve sold it now, that’s actually where I made most of my money, it’s about the degrees of freedom. You can actually, no gain companies no smokes, no oil companies, you know what I mean, fossil fuels [inaudible 00:39:21], but what about banks? Because banks bank them all, you know? So you can only go so far with that because you can’t see through that’s the issue. I’m not saying it’s just tokenism but it’s understanding the limits of that. I think the best thing you can do is live an ethical life in terms of your fellow human beings.


Sam: Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Gareth: Yeah. Our environmental policy is to, for each generation to leave the environment at least as good in condition as they found it from this point on, hopefully better. So that’s all economic growth and all economic growth is is income growth has got to be subject to that constraint so that’s why in the environmental policy we had this whole polluted place thing, so I can give you an example of that. Farming. Just talk about farming, dairy farming, talk about the sub-catchment we’ve been leaking nitrates so the authorities that be, whoever they are have to decide well here is a tolerable level of nitrogen leaching so you set that and over time you might set that down, down, down but you set it and any farm that leaks more than that gets taxed.


These are collective taxes, economics 101. And then the revenue of that goes to any farm that leaches less than that, gets that revenue. So we base it so that it’s completely neutral within the geographic area and within the industry. So what you’re doing is inciting good behaviour and distancing bad behaviour and so far as the environmental target is concerned. So we are very much with the Green’s on the environmental bottom line. Same with the rivers. The Nats have just come up with this unbelievable definition of swimable rivers, they don’t have to have any water in them, I mean come on.


Sam: You talked before about the discount rate but is the problem with the discount rate being, I was thinking about the future or people further away than us if you apply it… what is the economics, can do to overcome that? Is there an alternative model for how we should be thinking for the future?


Gareth: That’s just full information. Once you understand the consequences of the situation, not just for tomorrow but further down, and what the unintended consequences might be further down, you’re discount rate will fall. You’ll say okay, “well if I let this go”, say climate change, “if I let this go then the consequences are could be by year X South New Zealand is under water. Oh shit, maybe we should do something.” So you just dropped your discount rate. So I think it’s about knowledge, I think it’s about people being educated on stuff. And people are hugely hungry for information rather than Mike Hosking sound bytes.


Sam: But after almost every news article, particularly on national radio, and there’s an economist comes on and says oh yes, but that’s going to reduce job rates by seven percent or is able to put a number on something that is quite specific we might argue about whether or not those are just made up, but if we’re talking about some impacts into the future we’re not able to have someone come on and say in a sound bite well that’s going to increase jobs by …


Gareth: Yeah so what you need with every policy is here’s the benefits and here are the costs so that’s the draw and that’s what I’ve done with all these policies, is said here is the good news, we’re a very radical flagship policy which is shifting the textbooks, here’s the good news, eight percent of your income comes into your pocket with the tax cuts and I say here’s the bad news, your house is going to get taxed on the half percent of every vehicle they own, okay.


Every policy has got a positive, there’s no free answers here and the stats quo with establishment parties is tendered to be, “here’s a free lunch, here’s another free lunch”, you listen to Winston, how is he going to solve the housing thing? I’m just going to have the government build more houses. Well hang on Winston, where the hell is the money coming from? Specifically, which tax bar are you going to take the money from? Please tell us the downside of your policy because every policy has got a downside. That’s all economist do so I think, people aren’t stupid, we all know it’s a world of trade offs so once the general public understands the nature of the trade off they all make an informed decision.


Shane: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Gareth: I think just doing the books. Yeah, they’ve been. For me, the biggest joy has been working with those cool people, who are so good in their areas and just learning. Understanding, I mean I was the biggest climate change skeptic on earth basically until my wife read Flannery’s book and said, “Gareth, you have got to understand this because you don’t, it’s clear.” Three years later we had a book. That was harder than my PhD, that darn thing. So it’s just the joy of learning is by far the best part of life.


Sam: What’s the big unknowns?


Gareth: For me going forward?


Sam: Yeah.


Gareth: Or for all of us?


Sam: Well, for all of us. What’s on the next on the list of books?


Gareth: Next on the, well I’m almost through with my book phase, actually contrary to what you said I’ve actually done twenty books. Six of them were on travel and the last one was riding motorcycles across North Korea, you know, it’s never been done before or since. So it was a big seller, that book, in Korea anyway, South Korea. I think the big unknowns really for me is how is New Zealand going to handle the opportunity and the threats that are sitting out there. I mean I am not a great fan of what I sort of call the foreign peril when New Zealand is actually selling it’s land and allowing foreigners to have permanent residency without New Zealander tax status. I just think that’s nuts. The demand from abroad for stake in New Zealand is infinite and the value they are putting on it is going through the roof this is what Sir Paul Callahan referred to as a place where talent wants to come and live. That is probably the biggest gold mine for New Zealanders, I mean, that’s available and we need to cap that gold mine in one way or another.


Sam: We are writing our own book about these interviews. We are calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. What we’re trying to do is capture the things people are doing that are making a difference because then if we can work out what that is we can bottle it and get other people to do that. So a couple of questions from that. How would you describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to the good fight?


Gareth: Well I do think we all learn from other people. As our son Sam said there’s no such thing as an original idea, it’s all in the execution and we do learn from what other people do. And I’ll give you a couple of examples of that.


You know we’ve been riding these motorcycles around the world since 2001 and the number of New Zealanders that will come up to me and say, “I’ve read this book, I’ve read that book on travel and now we’ve gone and done the same.” Or whatever has been just awesome you know and so another thing that we’ve, Joanne and I have been very busy doing, is all this charitable stuff. I mean we had to get rid of that Trade Me money, right, so we’ve been doing all this charitable stuff overseas.


Mainly in the country we ride bikes through with funding hospitals and all sorts of projects, Kiwi Heroes is working over there and there’s some amazing people, New Zealanders around the world, in the most desolate places doing incredible stuff. And that has rubbed off too. We’ve been on speaking tours around New Zealand talking about that and other New Zealanders will say because of that we just sold up. We just sold the house, everything and we’ve been off the last three year doing …” and you just go, blooming heck, it doesn’t take much to turn us does it? You know. So you get a lot of satisfaction out of that sort of thing and I’m the same. I get influenced very heavily by my heroes.


Shane: Do you make any mistakes?


Gareth: Heaps. You know, like I say some of my investments weren’t successes, 30% is probably too high probably 20. So you know I’ve done a lot of those. I don’t think I handled the beach discussion as well as I could have. That’s another one. The beach discussion really made me angry because the public ended up paying three million for a beach that we could have gotten for 300,000 and I just couldn’t get that across. I tried to do it in a way but it was a wee bit too complex and it got lost so I see it as a bust. So you know, not everything works. I thought cats was a big mistake for awhile but I don’t now, it’s been an outrageous success. So yeah. You take risks.


Sam: Do you need to find some outrageous things like that over the next seven months?


Gareth: Yeah, I mean I’m basically an anarchist from way back so you know I get no more satisfaction than throwing the marbles across a dance floor and seeing what happens.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Gareth: Yeah, in my own funny way. My trouble is that I’m a bit of a lone wolf. I like teams as long as I can be boss, which is almost an oxymoron. But I do, as Jeff put it one day, we are very team oriented, it’s fantastic. We’ll all have a really good discussion and you know we go back and forth and Gareth makes his decision. But that’s the only way we get go forward. And that’s why I reserve the Green’s actually. I mean I love the democracy of the greens but the trouble is that it’s your worst enemy at times, you know, what did Churchill say, he said something like that about democracy didn’t he? You know or actually Churchill has another great quote about democracy which really resonates with me right at the moment, “I used to believe in democracy really strongly until I had a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.” I’ve had a bit of that but that is actually a bit disparaging. I have found that the people who have shown up for me are really wonderful. But, yeah, democracy isn’t everything but it’s what we’ve got.


Sam: Given that you may or may not get in to Parliament, and even if you do you’re not going to be there forever, what do you need to change? What is it that you would do that you were there that we need to be doing differently over the next 10, 20, 30 years?


Gareth: Well the biggest thing for us, for me personally, in our policy offering as the democracy we see it, that by far for me personally. I mean the climate thing is important but it’s a no brainer you know you’ve got to do it. Same with the river, with the environment all that so a lot of that stuff is you know, you’re just falling off a log really from a technical point of view.


But the democracy we see is a bit more subtle and what I’m concerned with democracy in New Zealand is that actually Parliament doesn’t have sovereignty. Sovereignty lies with the cabinet and despite the fact, you know, the law, that’s what it says Parliament does. All the National MP’s who aren’t in the cabinet are essentially just voting further and all the opposition MP’s you know are almost a waste of space. It’s not their fault it’s just the way the system works. So I would like the sovereignty of Parliament restored and the proposal to do that is first you get up a constitution so I agree totally Palmer on that and the point of a constitution is that it means that you and I understand very succinctly what it is that New Zealand values and what we stand for and we will not allow those rights to be infringed on.


So Muldoon would have never, ever have got that superannuation fund changed in 1975 if we’d had a constitution because a constitutional board would have said immediately this is a breach of human rights of future generations. So you have the constitution so that we all know what we stand for and we’re all in the same canoe and then you have either an upper house or a constitutional review board, whatever you call it, but it’s got to have some sort of teeth. It hasn’t got sovereignty, Parliament has got sovereignty and they can say this coming up legislation that you are proposing breaches human rights.


We’re all aware of it, we know our constitution and we say yeah, you’re not doing that to us. So we would have nipped that New Zealand super bribe in the bud and it never, ever would have happened. Rather than 10 years later Cullen trying to caw it back with the Cullen Fund and with Kiwi Saver because it was such a balls up. And we’re still fighting, here we are 30 years later still trying to deal with it. And to me that’s the biggest thing is to get democracy back on the rails in this country.


Sam: What gets you out of bed each morning?


Gareth: I just enjoy people. I just, you know, why wouldn’t you, you know? I know I’ve only got a limited number of days left I want to max out here so that when the grim reaper comes I can’t say “Hang on I haven’t done this, I haven’t done that.” I can say, “oh thank God! Take me away, I’m knackered.”


Sam: What’s the next motorbike trip?


Gareth: Lagos to Japan. So it goes up West Africa and then across the top of Russia, because we have done [soc row] but we haven’t done the top and gets to Japan just in time for the World Cup.


Sam: Well. If you could wave the magic wand and have a miracle occur what would you have happen?


Gareth: I’d get fairness back in the tax system. That’s our number one policy. I think that would solve so much in New Zealand. Take the tax burden right off salary wage earners and get it across us all so that people like me pay our fair share of tax, basically and I think that just solves so many issues, it solves the housing issue, it gives businesses capital for investment because that’s where the savings have to go. It reduces our reliance on foreign savings and stops the Prime Minister from going around with the bloody begging bowl overseas and bending over backwards to help, to give foreign investors tax breaks. It makes us resilient, self sufficient, makes us fear and makes us more prosperous. I mean come on, what is there not to like here?


Sam: And lastly then, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Gareth: Well I would just say that don’t, especially don’t think you’re powerless. You’re hugely powerful. You cannot throw rocks at what’s happening and say this is terrible, this is terrible. And moan and groan about the government. If you don’t exercise your rights in the voting booth, and to do that in a responsible way you have to be informed. Not just a single issue person and not a bigot. Now the biggest issue we’ve got with the voting at the moment apart from what we just talked about, the whole democracy alienation, is the young ones. Trying to get these young ones out of bed in the morning.


So we took a poll on that you know. We went last season, we just did a whole lot of polling, what would actually get you off your bums in the morning to actually exercise your vote? And I couldn’t believe the answer but the number one issue was Cannabis reform. Talk about a first world problem, you know, I’m not saying it’s completely irrelevant, I’m just saying it’s pathetic in terms if that’s the top if your tree, you know, boy just stay in the educational system mate, you’ve got a way to go.


Shane: Okay. You’re listening to The Sustainable Lens on the Otago Access Radio on 105.4FM. This show was recorded on the 10th of March 2017. Our guest was Dr. Gareth Morgan. Your hosts were Sam Mann and Shane Gallagher. You can get podcasts of previous shows on or you can subscribe on iTunes or on [inaudible 00:55:36]. We hope you enjoyed the show.


climate change science

Community resilience disrupted

Dr Caroline Orchiston is Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Centre for Sustainability at the University of Otago.   She has an interest in resilience from the perspectives of tourism and communities, particularly in the context of natural hazard events.

Talking points

Sustainable: Traditionally it’s always been about preserving what we have now in such a way that it doesn’t encroach on the futures ability to do so.


Success: Successfully negotiating parenthood and staying in academia as well as writing my thesis!


Activist: I love activism, personally I choose to do other things in my life to create action but I’m fully supportive of activists. I do think it is very important to make a difference at some point in your life.


Motivation: Just doing work that might have some positive environmental or societal impact.


Miracle: My miracle would be that people start accepting people of other religions and cultural perspectives, I think that would make the world a much happier place.


Advice: Engage with your community, figure out what is happening locally, if a disaster occurs those connections will be really helpful… as well as trying and find value in everything that you are doing!


Making a difference


Steve Henry runs the Centre for Sustainable Practice at Otago Polytechnic.

Making a difference takes a genuine commitment to change



Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me Samuel Mann. Each week we talk with someone who is making a positive difference and applying their skills towards a sustainable future. In our conversations we’re trying to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Steve Henry, from Otago Polytechnic’s Centre of Sustainable Practice. Stumbled over that because I know that it’s changing. Welcome.


Steve: Hello Sam. Hello everyone.


Sam: Let’s start with some big questions, where did you grow up?


Steve: I was born on the Chatham Islands of all places in New Zealand, eastern New Zealand. North of Auckland, near Waikawa, Curio Bay, it’s where I spent my childhood, before moving to Christchurch, and then further south.


Sam: What were your folks doing on the Chathams?


Steve: My dad was a farmer. He was the only ever farm advisory officer that the government, MAF, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries sent to the Chathams to drain swamps and make farms more productive.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Steve: I had a very informing moment around that when I was 14 when my father arranged for me to go and work on a farm. Because I saw my father on and around farms all the time. I was very keen to do that. He arranged me to go and have an August school holidays with one of his farming buddies. After day one, I rang him up and said, “Dad, I don’t want to be a farmer anymore. Can you come and get me?” He said, “Sure I’ll come and get you in another 20 days, because that’s what we’ve agreed.” That was pretty informing. And then on about day five, this grumpy farmer said to me, “You don’t like this, do you?” I went “No.” He said, “Well, what do you like?”.


  And it was a really pertinent question to ask me at the time and I respect that farmer because I don’t think I could ask that question, or I certainly didn’t hear him. But what I learned from this man, he was actually very onto it, and he gave me a lot of good guidance and we settled on being a science teacher as a way to interact with people. I had a fascination for nature and that seemed like a good place to start.


  Yeah. So that was the path I went on and I decided that at about 14, and then by 16 I decided going and learning about the natural world through science was the path I’d take, and to teach that.


Sam: So you did the biology and …


Steve: Yeah. The biology and chemistry thing and did a degree in chemistry and then microbiology at Canterbury University and ended up teaching, secondary teaching, going overseas in secondary teaching and really loving it. Until of course I realised it wasn’t about science, it was about people. And I loved that even more. So instead of teaching the subject, I began to work with people.


  And I had a really informative time at an alternative high school in Christchurch for 3 years teaching there. Four Avenues Alternative School, which is now shut down, an offshoot of Hagley High. And it was kind of the precursor to the Unlimited and these schools out there now which are really liberal and open minded in their curriculum. Very future-focused, and we got to customise learning for youth on average have been expelled from 3 schools. So they’re pretty colourful, but they’re really bright.


  And I found a real niche in relating to people whilst rock climbing and being outside. The Four Avenues concept in Christchurch, the four avenues represent the square mile in the city centre and the idea was that that was the classroom, instead of stuck in a box somewhere. So we very much met the learners in that square mile somewhere every day, pretty much. And we did interesting things in there, and it taught me a lot that there’s learning everywhere, if you’re willing to look for it.


  And, yeah, a wise mentor of mine said to me, “Don’t teach at that school for any more than 3 years if you ever want to get a job in mainstream education again. Because not only will people look at your CV and run like hell, but you’ll actually change to the point where you won’t want to either.”


  So I surfed that fine edge, and that led me to being overseas as a 25 year old in London, going, well, we don’t get back because it’s either going to be Wanaka, Hokitika, or Queenstown. Those were kind of my dream places and as it happened, I ended up in Wanaka working for the local high school there. Getting really into outdoor programmes and establishing outdoor education as a real powerful point of difference.


  So I moved from science being the pathway into nature to outdoor education being that and watching people having experiences in nature transforming. And I really got into that space for quite some time. So we established some cool things like seeing new students flooding to either of our school life skills type programmes and using the outdoors as a mechanism for change. Grabbing the Outward Bound and Outdoor Pursuit type models and applying them into a secondary school which was really neat.


  And then of course in Wanaka at the time in the early ’90s I watched nature before our eyes degrading. Development of a significant scale and affordability coming in, burning off of, breaking off the hillsides and watching these practises which didn’t really sit with me. So it really awakened a flame in me around, there’s gotta be a better way to do this.


  So originally I came from quite a strong ecological viewpoint that what we were doing couldn’t last. I became very interested in working out how to educate for all that.


Sam: Taking a few steps back through that, if you were interested in nature, the natural approach, why chemistry?


Steve: I thought the path to truth lay in detail at that time. And that hints to microbiology as well. So I got fascinated by lichens and how they operated and the biochemical nature of them. I did a lot of study around them, I studied 10-80 as a major focus for my honours degree, for example. And working with Forest Research Institute at the time, and looking at why 10-80 was the jell baits … were just getting consumed so much so quickly and isolating the fungi that was … and that sort of stuff.


  So I got very interested in the small. And then of course I realised that if you don’t understand the system that something’s in, there’s not much point in knowing more and more about this and this. And I think it was a seminal moment in realising that a systems approach was the only way to think about things if you really want to engender change.


Sam: Did chemistry give you that system thinking?


Steve: Yeah, Chemistry certainly gave me a fascination for atomic theory and how things are different and how things are impermanent and all those sorts of stuff, so it was almost metaphysical for me. In terms of how I viewed it.


  I became more interested in the girl in the lab coat who I ended up marrying than the chemistry, to be honest in the end.


Sam: Different sort of chemistry.


Steve: That’s right, it was. Yeah.


Sam: I’m going to ask you at the end if you consider yourself to be an activist now, but were you an activist then?


Steve: Very much. Yeah, I was involved in doing things to draw attention to what I thought was wrong. So when I think back to the early days of Hectors dolphin protests and I met Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson who are now at the University of Otago. We managed to get off there by I did Hector Stoffin and we made a fibreglass cast around the body of the dolphin and made this into a live painted model that we carried around and put in […] and raised awareness that way.


  When I was in the UK I got very involved in Friends of the Earth there. Went to corporate meetings in a suit. It really taught me that to be an activist there was actually a profession. It was very very different. This was 1989 so it was very much, ICI was still chucking barrels into the North Sea at that time, and it was very much reactionary. And Friends of the Earth took a different stance to the likes of Greenpeace, who were very confronting. What Friends of the Earth did was sit down with suits on, with the decision makers and went “Hey, could we work this out? Let’s do it a little bit better.”


  And I got involved in that quite by mistake but realised that I was very interested in bridging the gap from the corporate naiveté to something that made a difference in a long term. Which we know in the end has served me very well.


Sam: You mean the naiveté of the corporates?


Steve: The naiveté of the idea that we can just keep doing this as long as we like. And wanting to find that middle ground.


Sam: Is there also a naiveté that not engaging the corporates is going to make a difference?


Steve: Yeah, that’s right. I saw the confronting, head-on activism not working at that time, and I went … There’s got to be another way. There’s got to be a way where, and I was quite influenced at the time by reading Karl-Henrik Robert’s work around how in Sweden, that group of people have begun working with the likes of the polymer industry who are producing a lot of plastics and toxicity. Of how it would be in their interests to actually have a better solution.


  And that was news to them. They had done it from purely an engineering point of view of how can we make this stuff. And then bringing in well, how could you do it so that people actually knew there was a good story with it? And I think about hydro-polymer now which is recycling PVC and doing all sorts of stuff in Scandinavia, which was unheard of. And they went on to work it out really.


  So that was a very formative time for me.


Sam: Around ’89 of course, is when the sustainability as a term really rose to prominence. Can you remember the first time you came across that as a term?


Steve: Yeah, I think it was learning about the natural step and swing and, I mentioned Kyle Hendrick’s work. I was pretty impressed that the Swedes had a woman minister for the environment who later went on to become Prime Minister Bruntland. And authored probably one of the seminal reports.


  So in New Zealand very much the ministry of environments the sort of short straw that you give to your not most dynamic MP or leader. And what I observed in Scandinavia was it was taken incredibly seriously and largely because they had poisoned themselves in the 16th Century with all the mining they did when they industrialised in a big way and then when the synthetic chemical industry took off in the 1940s and 50s the [inaudible 00:11:51] lakes in Scandinavia really got polluted and people just really reacted to that.


  And it was a huge win grow and say I watched this. And we’d file on how long that’s gonna take in New Zealand to happen. It happened in my lifetime that we shifted the thinking.


Sam: Sweden’s pretty well off, is that a luxury that they were able to now think like that?


Steve: Well, I think I didn’t see it that way. I saw that they were well off because they made some really good choices, like putting the outlet of wastewater for a factory above the factory. And attach it to the inlet valve. You know? By law.


  It’s got a lot for me that just seemed like smart decision making rather than. So very much into the upstream thinking the stewardship type models, let’s not create waste, let’s design another system. I was pretty inspired by it. And I’ve always taken a view that I’d rather be inspired to engender change than complain about stuff.


  So I felt that the immature type of activism I was involved in in my early 20s, I felt like I got educated to actually solve it positively and Friends of the Earth was the first place I looked to do that when in London.


Sam: Yeah. Were you still teaching at the time?


Steve: Yeah, I was. And so I came back to New Zealand and ended up in Wanaka and it became clear to me that I wanted to do more than just educate about nature or even in nature throughout their education. I wanted to start educating for nature.


  And that was about the time that I got invited by [Jahaket] in Queenstown to run an environmental management workshop for a staff around raising the awareness within their company because they were interested in building a new building which could be environmentally friendly. Which in those days was not really thought about and it was quite. And they wanted to build a building that would be there 100 years by the [inaudible 00:13:54] and it was a neat thing too …


  And I found I really enjoyed that. So, I had a pretty open minded principal who was a boss and I said, look, do you mind if I go? A month a week, a day a month and go and do this work that’s really flooding up on. And he realised I was probably going to go if he didn’t give me that so he happily conceded to that. And here suddenly another company wanted to do that and then another one.


  Before I knew it, I found myself leaving secondary teaching and realising I wanted to get some credibility in the space. So I set up a tourism company of my own taking clients into the wilderness and really enjoyed that but also realised that my heart was in education and change rather than making a lot of money, which it was pretty easy to do. I was surprised, I set myself a target of earning 100k in the first year of operating that company and I met that and everyone said you’ll never do it, but it was … I didn’t see why you’d want to lose money if set something up with the intent of making it, if that makes sense.


  And I realised through that process that money wasn’t motivating me. It was about the difference I could make. So that’s when I learned I needed to learn more. So I went and did a master’s degree in environmental education. And it was ahead of its time really, it was online out of Griffith University out of Australia and was the only thing of its kind that I could find around then. And this was in the early 2000s.


  And … Yeah.


Sam: You said your heart was in education and change … that rattled off your tongue as a single unit. Do you see those two things together?


Steve: Yeah, because for me being willing to educate or … If you’re willing to educate, then you’ve got to be up for change or what’s the point? SO I did a fair bit of training in the corporate sector, you know like leadership training and team building and all that sort of stuff.


  And it taught me that unless organisations really wanted to change, it was just synthetic what we were going through. It was just a lightweight exercise. And it wasn’t real enough for me. There wasn’t enough genuine commitment to change.


  So I made a commitment that no matter how many of these companies wanted to pay me to support them to grade up. That unless they were authentic about it I didn’t want to know about it. And that became a really interesting thing. And at that time the labour government in New Zealand had the 100% pure campaign had just come out around tourism and there was a lot of optimism how [inaudible 00:16:48] government was still supporting sustainability as a development platform.


  And the ministry of tourism ended up contracting a few regions to have a go at embedding sustainable tourism. And I ended up winning one of those contracts to work with organisations in Queenstown and Wanaka. And [inaudible 00:17:06] to support sustainability on the ground in the businesses.


  So I got to go and meet and have conversations with a couple hundred businesses over a period of a couple of years. And it was incredibly insightful. As to what people’s motivations. I had this myth before them in my mind that people who own business are really on to it.


  And for some reason I felt like the people who were in education weren’t quite as worthy as people who were in business for some reason. I don’t know where that had come from. Perhaps to do with earning money and … The power and the influence that money has.


  So at that moment I realised, that when I went and talk to those people I’d rock up. And they thought I was coming in to help sort the recycling out and maybe reduce their energy bill. My first question was why? Why do you do what you? And are you interested in adding value to that? And how do you do that. And they sat down and went, crikey, well, the main reason I run my business is to get away from the wife actually. Or, I came here for a lifestyle and the bloody things grown and it’s ruined it, you know.


  And I was amazed what happened. So what was sustainable for one person was certainly not for another, if you get what I mean. That took me back to well, if we really are serious about the sustainability thing, we need to know what it means and we need to know what we’re sustaining. Are we sustaining a really bad business because someone feels obliged to? Or what are we sustaining?


  And that led me back to Scandinavia and I ended up going on a study tour there where I went there for 6 weeks and did a tour around business education and government as a part of The National Step internationals group. And it was incredibly insightful for me.


  And I did this post my master’s because I had become really interested in understanding that we can only define ecological sustainability from a set of principles. Right? And those are pretty clear at the end of the day. Don’t trash nature in its simplest form. You need to understand nature before you do that. Don’t prevent people meeting their needs essentially, fundamentally from a social science. I got very interested in that.


  So when I came back from that study tour I made a decision to ramp up what I did. On a pivotal day I started contracting staff to work for me to deliver things, by this stage I was contracting into various organisations across the country to support their programmes.


  I had a fortuitous conversation with someone on a plane from Otago Polytechnic who said, oh, we’re looking at setting up a centre of excellence around horticulture viniculture tourism in Central Otago. And this was 2005 by now. And I said oh, that sounds interesting. So I went and rocked along and had a chat.


  And I’d been already in Queenstown and Central Otago area working attempting to open up sustainable tourism so I said, well if your idea of excellence is around financial, social and ecological success, then I’m interested in that. Because for me that’s what sustainable development is, having simultaneous wins across all those areas. That worked well.


  And so I got offer that job, and I said hang on, before I take it I’d like to have a chat with your CEO, because I just want to check that we’re on the same page. Rolled on down to Dunedin and met a guy named Phil Ker who I didn’t know at all. And I walked into his office and said, look I’ve currently been offered this, and I just wanted to check that you’re really interested in sitting at the centre of excellence, but I don’t see that your organization’s excellent.


  And at the time it was a pretty cocky thing to do in lots of ways. And I realise he was either going to tell me to get out of his office really fast or we’d have a meaningful conversation about it. And of course he laughed and said, okay, so what do you see?


  And so I told him what I saw, which was an organisation which didn’t walk the talk if you’re pretending to set up a centre of excellence to provide expertise on that, then you kind of want to come from a place of credibility, don’t you? And we had a very successful conversation for an hour or two. And the long and short of it was, he said, well you come and help me sort out the organisation and take a leadership role in that, and we’ll do that centre of excellence thing once we’ve done that, shall we?


  And that led me to met you, Sam, and others at Otago Polytechnic who understood that educating for a sustainable practise and beating that into a curriculum was the most influential thing Otago Polytechnic could do. It’s a bit like Nike changing the recycling in the office but not looking at how they make shoes.


  As far as I’m concerned educational institutions, what they teach and how they teach and their curriculum is their bread and butter. It is their product. It was a great moment in 2006 to realise that, hey, here’s a tertiary education institution that’s actually committed and serious about this. And here we are now in 2017. What’s that, 11 years later is it? Is that math, no 9. Yeah 9 years later.


  And when Phil and I first had those conversations I said I reckon it will take 50 years. So don’t prod me with resourced effort, resourced focused effort. And I’m not pretending that Otago Polytech is there by any means, but it’s begun the path, and when you’re measuring how far it’s come, yeah, there’s a few indicators that it’s doing all right. A lot of people are saying it is. But when you’re involved in something you can always see what can be done differently and better.


  So that began my work at Otago Polytech, which was to go around to various, there was 16, if you like, faculties or schools inside the institution at that time. That’s been condensed a lot now, but at that time I was charged with going around and having a cup of tea with each of those to have a conversation about what could be done to embed broader economic social success thinking into the curriculum. Which was met with open arms but some of those entities, and with utter hostility by others. As expected.


  So fortunately I’d learned by going and talking to all the businesses that I had the list of an agenda I had going and the more successful the meeting was. So I wasn’t pretending to go in and tell the midwives how to implement sustainable practise in their … In what they did. Or the nurses, or the designers, or the business school, or the guys in blue overalls training the apprentices in mechanics or building.


  I learned pretty quickly to say less and listen better and have a look at where the wins were possibly going to be. And beginning to create a culture of opportunity around it rather than a culture of, you must do this or you’re evil because you’re printing too much. So, it was very much a team effort by that stage, and I joined a group of people who were committed to doing this.


  And three years later Phil said to me, we’ve just about run out of time for you doing that, thanks very much. And we’d had a lot of interest at that stage around what we were doing. And we concluded it would be a good idea to set up some kind of centre to host inquiries and perhaps run courses. And so at last the centre of excellence thing came full circle. And we had a look at setting up a centre which we ended up calling the Centre for Sustainable Practice.


  And at the same time we got given a generous grant by somebody living in the Central Otago.  And we used that to develop qualifications, a graduate programme in sustainable practise. A graduate diploma. And at level 7 and level 5 certificate level programme. And we’ve since been running those. They got developed in 2009 and 10.


  And since 2011 we’ve been rolling out a business programme across the country, that about 120 organisations have been through now called Adding Sustainable Value. And we’ve run that in 9 regions, groups of diverse businesses coming together with the focus to embed social and ecological gain in their organisations. And if you’d told me when we started that that many organisations would have been through, I would have been thrilled. But now I’m kind of like, well is that all? It’s funny how you change your goals.


  And the graduate programmes and the graduate diploma in sustainable practise have really … They’re getting a life of their own now and it’s about 20-odd people a year goes through that programme who are wanting to lead in this space.


  So yeah that’s kind of the back story to get to where I’m at with that Sam.


Sam: All those businesses that you’re working with, are you seeing a pattern of them changing over time, in terms of what they’re coming in to expecting sustainability will deliver? Were they seeing sustainability as a barrier, and now they’re seeing it as an enabler? What are the patterns there?


Steve: Well, I’ve talked about the Manawatu, it’s actually a place in New Zealand … It’s pretty low profile, but actually it’s got a thriving economy. And it’s thriving because it’s a real transport hub in the north island. Toyota have got their head office there, there’s a whole lot of serious bits of infrastructure in the Manawatu, which a lot of people don’t know about. Engineering companies, and the likes of Ashhurst Engineering who make most of the pile-ons in New Zealand for transport and stuff.


  So some of these big companies have … And so Palmerston City Council recognised that they wanted to honour the local government act and have a sustainable city. Which really, it’s a surprise that so few local governments at the time made that decision given that the local government act at the time said that it was about social, economic and ecological wellbeing. Which has since been modified. But at the time they did that.


  So they organised … They had heard about what we’d done down in Queenstown. And by this time I’d realised that individually consulting with businesses one on one was a really inefficient way to use that ministry of tourism grant to reach business. We actually ended up running classes of groups.


  We’d get a bunch of high country farmers in the room and then a bunch of tourist operators. And suddenly, at one event we decided to merge this event of high country farmers and tourism operators as a bit of a trial to see what would happen. And they all walked in the room with arms folded and it was like, oh well.


  And low and behold, when we began talking, they went, hey our problems are really similar to yours. You know, when the dollar drops this happens, got these compliance pressures, we’ve got all these expectations from people not in our sector. You know we began mapping those and using some pretty simple tools to map the drivers of change.


  And Palmerston City heard that we had done this and invited me up to come and have a chat. They said, oh we’ll put on an event you could speak at. Would you be up for that? Oh, yeah, great, fantastic. So there were 110 people in the room. Half of them business owners. It was like, wow, what a surprise.


  And long story short is that the Manawatu Council ended up … And Manawatu District Council joined Palmerston City in supporting over 70 organisations, over half of our organisations that have been through that programme have been in the Manawatu. And what they did through Vision Manawatu, which is the economic development agency, was we partnered with them. So they organised all the events and we kind of came in as the experts to support organisations to think about stuff.


  So we worked out a way to do that very effectively over four one-day workshops with mentored support. As opposed to come and enrol in a course that’s going to take forever. But it was very much at work about work. The work was the curriculum for each organisation.


  And we learned from our experience, the more diverse the businesses in the room, the better learning people were finding. So that got us really excited and some of the companies who went through the Manawatu absolutely transformed the way they saw their organisation and its path in the future. So, we’re in the process of reviewing that programme right now entirely, and it’s been offered in 9 regions across New Zealand.


  We’ve had some pretty tough decisions to make along the way. Do we want to mainstream this work, or do we want to keep it as the bleeding edge, if you like? You know, because as sustainability has become more accepted and more mainstream, do we want to keep that edge of bringing the next piece in, or do we want to focus on working with the 30,000 businesses who are tied up with efficiency for example. Who are very mainstream.
  So those were decisions we were forced to make. We made the decision to attempt to mainstream this work before we got too far away from it. And in many respects that’s worked because we’re no longer needed if that makes sense. The programme has lost its relevance in the current market because it’s common practise now to implement a lot of sustainable practises that were novel in 2011. And now in 2015, 16, 17, it’s considered absolutely business as usual to implement efficiencies and do that stuff.


  So we’ve really positioned our energy now in saying, look, we don’t want sustainable as aspiration. We want restoration and regeneration as our inspiration. So we’re very interested in how organisations can add value to what they do and become more restorative and resilient and regenerative.


  Which may be new terms for people but the idea, if you like, that sustainable is cyclic. So if you can imagine conventional being quite linear. Take, make waste type industries. Greening up a bit, curbing that linear arrow a wee bit, and by the time things are sustainable they’re cyclic. So, not doing harm but not necessarily doing good either. Step in to the restorative space and you’re actually doing good while you do things. And step into the regenerative space and you’re actually having an influence where you’re providing a platform for others to do good.


  So a couple of quick examples if that’s helpful. Electric vehicles are all the rage at the moment. Great to see them coming in. It’s wonderful. A platform like Uber that has been disruptive to the conventional system, taxi ride can cost you 2 or 3 times as much as Uber and Uber’s come in and gone well, we’re going to do it differently and here’s how we’re going to do it. So you could argue that in ride share, for example, I see the potential to partner with a company like Uber to reduce the number of vehicles on the road in Auckland immensely.


  But we have compliance issues preventing that essentially. Uber are up for it, that’s clear. So the question becomes for a company like that, how do you manage the compliance, and how do you work with government to enable things to happen.


  And so the challenges are different for every organisation, Sam, to answer your question. The way sustainable would be. I mean, what are we trying to sustain? That has to be the question that’s asked now. Are we trying to sustain a whole lot of conventional based companies which are polluting and are struggling to remain profitable because someone has come in with a better business model which might be new, but it’s actually a better way to do it.


  So, I would argue the Uber taxi case, if we could work out how to tax Uber properly in New Zealand, and our laws are behind so they don’t know how. If we could work out how to enable ride sharing which we need compliance changes for drivers who can be paid to ride share. And the argument Uber are pushing is that if you’ve got a driver’s licence doesn’t that mean you’re safe to drive? If someone wants to get in the car that’s their business. And that’s very different from how the Taxi Federation see it.


  So you’ve got an issue like that which is actually constraining potentially great change. So I’m really interested in looking at things from a systems perspective and looking at how to get such change happening now. That’s really where I’m at.


Sam: Okay, I’ve just invented a four-part scale. Because I can’t remember the five-part scale of sustainability maturity of businesses.


Steve: Okay.


Sam: And it goes compliance is number 1. Compliance and avoidance. Perhaps that could be 2. And then efficiency gains is number 2. Opportunity, number 3. And 4, it’s the reason for being in business.


Steve: Yep, sure.


Sam: Okay, percentages of New Zealand business.


Steve: My read is that the easiest way is to start at the other end and go, so what percentage of New Zealand business that their sole reason of being in business is to do social/ecological good. Well you can count those on your hand pretty much. Right, you know? These are in the social enterprise type spaces. The Rekindles in Christchurch and they’re not very common. Seeking good by design.


  The opportunity organisation … There’s a lot of organisations now in the opportunity space. I put Otago Polytech in the opportunity space. Through its work of efficiency and getting beyond compliance. It’s actually seen that there are enormous opportunities to deliver differently.


  For example … We’re talking really differently instead of having taught degrees, 50% of Otago Polytech’s programmes are degree-based. Instead of teaching, why don’t we create an experience for example. Okay so Otago Polytech’s begun doing that very successfully through its business unit in New Zealand. So, that is one of the most sustainable initiatives Otago Polytech’s been involved in. And it’s a bit of a game-changer like Uber.


  So instead of people sitting in lecture theatres, having information rammed down their throat which they’re going to forget anyway, we’re saying, let’s harvest the experience you’ve had, and grab the learning from that. And we’ll credit you for that. So that sort of opportunity begins to do an awful lot of good.


  Other companies who are really getting into the opportunity space, and organisations, the likes of New Zealand Post, who are absolutely against the wall, with the declining mail service. The disruption’s come at them faster. So they’ve forced themselves into having disruptive challenges to see how they could do it.


  Some government departments have done it. Department of Conservation, post-Cave Creek, has done a huge amount of reinvention of itself to look at the opportunity of doing business differently. The question is will the taxi company disrupt itself so it can turn into Uber? The answer is it’s incredibly difficult to disrupt. So the majority of New Zealand businesses are in the compliance and efficiency space.


  We’ve realised with our own sustainable business programme, we don’t want to be any more in that compliance and efficiency game space. We want to work with … You can go do other courses for that now. Because it’s business as usual.


  We’re interested in that opportunity and reason for being in business space. How can you align your profitability with ecological and social good as you go? There’s some companies that are committed to doing that. And who are beginning to do that very well. They need to be celebrated more, not less.


Sam: You said how to align profitability. So you’re happy with capitalism?


Steve: Absolutely, I think there’s nothing wrong with people doing enterprise and getting paid for it. I don’t have a problem with it. The problem I have is when there isn’t full cost accounting around that profitability. Social and ecological harm carries the can. So if you like, what we’ve done is privatised our profits and we’ve socialised our losses. To quote Alexa Forbes in all her glory, right, from Queenstown.


  And you think about that. Take housing in New Zealand and the affordability of it. The price of allowing the free market to do what it’s done has meant that our housing system has become unaffordable. And for me that’s an unacceptable privatisation.


Sam: So as we move away from the sustainability as usual and move perhaps back to sustainability as disruption, what are you doing about that?


Steve: Well, we’ve begun in our graduate programmes in sustainable practice, we’ve begun to work on a great project. About 20 people a year are working on their own individual projects. And some of these projects are incredible. They’re all the people’s life’s work, you know? And they’re marvellous things, and I don’t want to name any particular projects other than to say they’re interested in transforming business as usual. That’s what they do. They’re in that opportunity space or in that reason for existing space.


  So we’re talking social ecological enterprise and we’re talking changing the trajectory of major organisations. So, with the consent of the owners and directors.


  One of the things we’ve realised is we that when we have a huge … When we sat down and designed the graduate programmes in sustainable credit we asked ourselves the question how would nature do this? If nature’s really smart, and over millions of years of evolution it’s figured out a whole lot of things. Well, how could we mimic that in the learning setting? Because nature learns essentially. Things learn. A mollusc learns how to have the right shell or the right colour so it doesn’t get eaten or a bird has learned to have a certain pattern of being. Do you get what I mean?


  And so we asked ourselves, what does that look like for learning? And the answer of course has to start with diversity. You can not operate in a single sector. So the dairy sector will never willingly disrupt itself, is my conclusion around that for example. Or those who are real estate agents in the housing sector where they’re making more and more money it seems for doing less and less work as housing is a commodity that’s traded. They’re not going to disrupt themselves.


  It’s a combination of having to come in and go right, where can we make a difference? And that’s really what we’ve been asking ourselves the question now. Is how can we make a difference?


  And so, perhaps the argument is going away from it being about sustainability and sustainable practise, to how can we make a difference to go down from compliance to efficiency gains to opportunity to reason for being there.


  And if people can have their awareness shifted to see the opportunity, to shift along that trajectory. And that’s what happened for the sustainable business programme. Of the 120 businesses that have gone through, I’d say that 20 have changed their reason for being essentially. And probably 50 have done it for efficiency gains, and trying to get their head around this thing that’s coming at them, all this disruption. And the rest have done it for the opportunity.


  We’ve very much learned, if you focus on the opportunities, people are much more engaged in the conversation. Much more willing. Rather than saying what you’re doing is wrong, and it’s evil and it’s going to be outdated soon, so stop doing it. Well that doesn’t go down very well. Whereas you say, there’s more and more risk to your brand, there’s more and more pressure coming.


  And I think about there’s a beautiful thing called a law of three which has … One of the three is pushing in and this is the activating force if you like. So you’re asking about activism, so this activating force say might be the desire to lower a carbon footprint. And you get this constraining force pushing against that activating force, which is business as usual using carbon. And not having solutions to do anything else or it being not convenient for a business model.


  And when those two forces collide that can do one of two things. They can either … And I’m holding my hands punching into each other with fists here, and they can either go up or they can go down. If things go down around there, you go into denial and carbons classic for this. I mean, carbon, schmarbon as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s one of the smaller issues for New Zealand to think about.


  You go into this compromise position of it decreasing the energy and everyone loses basically. So you end up making shitty carbon trading platforms and offsets which to me seem quite ludicrous. And complex systems and hide behind the bureaucracy of that. Rather than saying, hey look, we’ve got this confronting challenge coming. There’s an increasing force to de-carbonize. So hey you carbon guys, what is the opportunity for you to move that and evolve it? And reconcile that and therefore evolve.


  So in other words the law of three is when you’ve got an activating force and a constraining force, if you can take it into the direction of reconciliation, then you can evolve it.


  And I think what we’ve done with those 20 organisations who really got it was to say look. And they saw the change coming. They know what’s coming. Digitalizing things, and ecological challenges, the price of resources. Moving things around. Customers intolerance of single-use products. All that sort of stuff. Driving change. Okay how can we evolve what we do?


  And when an organization’s willing to say how can we evolve what we do as opposed to oh the laws coming, it’s going to kick us in the bum, then you begin to have a different conversation. It’s a conversation of possibility.


Sam: Some questions to end with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability now. You’ve talked about how it was, but what is it now?


Steve: It can go on and on forever.


Sam: But you’re not using the sustainability word anymore?


Steve: Not much, no because I think I’ve found it isn’t effecting change as efficiently, as well as talking about making a difference.


Sam: And people see the on and on forever meaning we don’t have to change. Whereas the hidden secret really is that in order to go on and on forever we need significant change.


Steve: Yeah.


Sam: So maybe we need to make that transformation explicit, as you’re doing.


Steve: Yeah, that’s right.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Steve: Biggest success. Designing myself out of the system of the graduate programmes that I’m involved in. Yes, so it’s not dependent on me. I think Otago Polytech’s success at embedding into its curriculum is something I’m very proud that I’ve been associated with. But that’s a team effort. It’s not just me. Yep.


Sam: And you can go sailing every day.


Steve: I can, I live by the sea and I find that I do much more productive work if I spend an hour a day at high tide out having a little sail.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. So, what is your superpower? What’s your sustainable superpower.


Steve: I think being able to bridge the gap between the world of being a dirty hippy as I used to be, but not now, I’m kind of a corporate hippy. Being able to bridge the world of being a deep green thinker and understanding natural systems and understanding the systems we’re in and being able to see that.


  And being able to relate with a group of people who are either in ties or have no concept of wanting to think broadly. Being able to present to them the case that we’re going to be forced into holism anyway. So being able to articulate that I think is my super power. To motivate people in that conversation, to see the possibility of what they could do rather than, oh my god this is so big. I’ll go and top myself now. Seeing it as a positive opportunity rather than a downer.


Sam: What do you do … How do you present it as a positive opportunity for … I’m thinking of the farmer that recognised that you weren’t going to be a farmer. But let’s say that farmer found themselves into dairy farming and they’ve got a massive debt and … We might like to paint them as being baddies but they’re kind of against the wall.


Steve: Yeah. And they’ve designed themselves into a pretty inflexible space. So they want freedom more than … Just as I don’t want the cows poo in the water. They don’t really want it there either when you talk to them.


  So, looking at what they can do to make a difference and the best thing that you can start with is to have a conversation. Not come to you’re evil, you’ve done it badly. I’ve found that doesn’t help. Being judgemental I guess is what I’m saying. Is that it doesn’t help. Because they know. It’s not that they don’t know. They do know.


  My biggest frustration is with the high level of indifference our governments have shown to having some policies with teeth. I mean that deeply disturbs me. And undermines my trust in the governance. In the democracy we’ve got. Which, I’m lucky to have. But it challenges me greatly.


Sam: When you’re running a session, do you front load with doom?


Steve: Very little. It’s very much. Rights, let’s get the doom out of the way. Who thinks? It’s very much. It’s probably … If you’ve got a day to give it it’s literally 3 minutes. It’s like, rights, what’s wrong. Waterways are stuffed, this is happening, carbon monoxide levels are going up, this is … Right, we’ve got that out of our system, right.


  So, now we’ve said all that, can we actually focus now on doing something about it, rather than continuing the mantra of what’s wrong. Because while we put energy into what’s wrong, it will continue to be wrong. Let’s put energy into making a difference, towards changing it. Yep.


Sam: What do you do if you’ve got someone that’s stumbled into your class that sits at the back saying, this is all garbage, he’s still a dirty hippy.


Steve: No, they don’t come. We’ve kind of … One of the things we learned early is with organisations we don’t just want the environmental manager to come thinks. The CEO either needs to be there, or the leader, you know someone from your leadership team at a big organisation. And they need to buy into the process.


  So we learned instead of just one person enrolling and turning up, you’re allowed to bring up to 4 people from the organisation to the first workshop, so we’ve kind of been insisting that the leadership folks come to the first workshop so they can see this is an opportunity not a smashing session. If you get what I mean.


Sam: So, you said you used to be an activist. Are you still an activist?


Steve: Yeah, very much.


Sam: In what way?


Steve: I think I’m being influentially disruptive in the education system. But positively. That’s how it feels to me, so I’m kind of being an activist by stealth I guess. But it’s not by stealth because it’s just what I do. And it’s not seen as by stealth.


  I’m not out there with placards waving my arms around. It’s in there having conversations and supporting people who are willing to change. And I’ve found there’s more people who are willing to change than I thought.


Sam: I think that that was one of the things that we both found quite surprising, was how little opposition there was. Most people didn’t know what to do, but there weren’t many who said let’s not do this.


Steve: No, there was a pivotal day in 2005, wasn’t there, when we got 80 people in a room at Otago Polytech, which at the time represented about 10% of the staff. Roughly didn’t it? Or 12% of the staff. Something like that. And someone asked, Phil Ker asked the question, is there anyone who thinks we should not go down this pathway? And there was silence. That’s like right. Let’s go.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Steve: I see it’s that I’m making a difference. That I’m having a life that’s worth living, I guess. Yeah, that gets me out of bed in the morning.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next year or so?


Steve: I’m really excited about taking the idea of qualifications by experience and turning that much more into projects. If we’re harvesting people’s experience into qualifications, can we generate those experiences without teaching? Without this traditional idea that you have an adult who stands there, who knows more than you and vomits on you, knowledge-wise.


  Through just supporting people to make a difference. Because I think there’s a whole lot of people very keen to make a difference. And get credit for it. So that interests me a lot.


Sam: Watch this space. Because we’re working on it aren’t we?


Steve: We are too.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?


Steve: I think I’d love to see much more cooperative working than solid working. What I mean is to have well-intentioned organisations almost competing in the non-governmental sector. And government I’d love to see a lot more integrated holistic planning/design.


  I’d like to see schools drop the curriculum as they have in Finland. There’s no school subjects in Finland anymore in secondary school, which I think is an incredibly wonderful way to go.


  Yeah, what else would I do if I could wave the wand? I’d change the tax system to be entirely transactional. I’d use the block chain and these other new algorithms to run a lot of our systems, banking systems, accountancy systems, law systems.


Sam: And lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Steve: I don’t feel I do really, Sam. What’s the advice I’ve got. I think being a crusader in the sustainable practice space.


Sam: Thank you very much.


Steve: Be kind to yourself. That’s my thought.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Steve: It’s a pleasure.