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Environmental sustainability in key sectors

Integrating environmental considerations into the decision-making of businesses, households and the state sector will be essential to achieving high environmental standards.

De-coupling economic growth from environmental pressures is at the heart of sustainable development. De-coupling occurs when the growth rate of an environmental pressure weakens in relation to economic growth.

Thus the key challenge for the household, business and government sectors is to reduce their impacts on the environment in ways that still enable overall living standards and quality of life to increase.

What are we seeking to achieve?

Longer term outcomes

  • All sectors of New Zealand society take account of environmental impacts when making decisions.

  • Investment increases in areas that encourage de-coupling of environmental pressures from economic growth.

The following table illustrates trends in some key sectors of the economy related to GDP.




Consumer energy demand

1990 – 2005

New Zealand’s total consumer energy demand increased by 37% compared to a 57% increase in GDP.4

Solid waste disposed of to landfills

1995 – 2006

Converted to thousands of tonnes of waste disposed of to landfill per thousand dollars of GDP, the estimated waste disposed of in 2006 was 29% lower than in 1995.5

Household consumption

1997 – 2006

Real total household consumption (adjusted for inflation) increased 39% compared to an increase in GDP of 30% for the same period.6

What will we do to achieve this?

The work programmes that aim to achieve the outcomes include:


The Govt3 programme aims to change behaviours and practices within government agencies by increasing capability and knowledge, identifying best practice and promoting practical solutions and tools. Govt3 agencies and industry work together to reduce the environmental impacts of government operations, such as waste generation, energy consumption, transport, building and procurement.

The priorities for Govt3 over the next three years are to:

  • provide resources, information and training to the Govt3 agencies

  • develop and deliver programmes that influence behaviour change

  • work with the Ministry of Economic Development to deliver best practice guidance to the state sector on sustainable procurement policy.

Sustainable business

The business sector is a major consumer of resources and has a large impact on the environment. Businesses face increased demands on the domestic and international markets to demonstrate the environmental credibility of their products.

Through partnerships with the Ministry of Economic Development and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, businesses are influenced to adopt practices that enable them to adapt and grow, while reducing their environmental impacts. The key themes for the Ministry’s work on business sustainability are to:

  • Build business capability to create a ‘step change’ that results in better environmental outcomes (eg, greater energy efficiency, reduced waste, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions,) by:

    • integrating sustainability into mainstream business capability programmes and services

    • building capability in the design community to design more resource efficient products (including buildings) that generate less waste

    • providing information and resources (eg, environmental management systems) to assist in reducing environmental impacts and making good purchasing decisions.

    • enhancing voluntary mechanisms in the dairy industry

    • supporting the tourism sector to meet new environmental standards and take up new environmental initiatives, especially Qualmark.

  • Influence business by demonstrating that sustainability results in improved economic, social and environmental well-being. This will be achieved by:

    • enhancing voluntary mechanisms in the dairy industry

    • supporting the tourism sector to meet new environmental standards and take up new environmental initiatives, especially Qualmark.

Sustainable households

The household sector is a significant contributor to environmental pressures such as water and air pollution, waste generation and climate change. Households are the largest energy user sector when transport fuels are included. Pressure on the environment from the household sector will continue to grow if trends of increasing consumption continue.

The Sustainable Households programme aims to increase people’s awareness of the environmental implications of their actions and to influence public opinion to move towards patterns of behaviour that reduce pressures on the environment.

The priority themes for the Sustainable Households programme are transport, water, energy and waste. To achieve the longer term outcome, the Sustainable Households programme will work towards:

  • Sufficient awareness: one of the first steps to acting more sustainably is to understand why transport, energy, water and waste generation are important issues and what actions households can take.

  • Sufficiently motivated: acting more sustainably requires householders to be motivated to take some action. Being motivated by other’s stories is one way the Sustainable Household’s programme aims to change people’s behaviour.

  • Sufficiently value the environment: to act sustainably requires people to value the environment. Understanding householder’s values and how to influence them is a core part of the Sustainable Households programme.

The priorities for this work programme for the next three years are to:

  • foster household actions that protect and improve the environment and will have beneficial impacts on greenhouse gas emissions

  • develop strong strategic partnerships with local government, communities and business in order to effectively reach the target audience

  • build the capability within central, regional and local government to accelerate the uptake of environmentally sustainable behaviour in households.

How will we demonstrate success?


The Ministry will collect information that, over time, will demonstrate progress on specific sustainability indicators and related targets reported on annually by Govt3 agencies. This will be used to refine current actions and develop future initiatives.

Business sustainability

The Ministry will work on developing measures for the business sustainability programme over the next year.

Sustainable households

The following table summarises findings from a baseline survey of householders about the environment:



Raised awareness in households of what can be done to protect and improve the environment

The majority (70 per cent) of respondents reported feeling ‘somewhat informed’ about the things they can do to help care for the environment. An additional quarter (27 per cent) of respondents reported feeling ‘very informed’. Most respondents (82 per cent) reported finding out about the things they can do to help the environment through mainstream media sources such as television, newspapers and magazine.7

Despite most claiming to be ‘somewhat informed’ about the things that they could do to help care for the environment (70 per cent), the majority wanted more information on what they could do; 63 per cent claimed they ‘would like to learn more’ and a further 28 per cent reported ‘actively looking for more information’).7

Sufficiently motivated

One-third (31 per cent) reported that they ‘plan and take into account the impact of the environment in most things they do’.

Three-quarters of respondents claimed they personally do ‘a lot’ (9 per cent) or ‘a reasonable amount’ (63 per cent) to look after the environment. This compares with one half (52 per cent) who believed that most New Zealanders were doing just ‘a little’ to help with the environment and a further 29 per cent who believed most New Zealanders were doing ‘a reasonable amount’.7

Sufficiently value the environment

Just over half (53 per cent) of respondents stated they were ‘deeply concerned that we aren’t all doing enough to protect our environment for future generations’.7

Changes in awareness of sustainability issues will be monitored through household perception surveys. Changes in household behaviour will be measured through trends in per capita resource use (energy, water) and trends in public versus private transport.

4 Ministry for the Environment, Environment New Zealand 2007, 2007.

5 Ministry for the Environment, Environment New Zealand 2007, 2007.

6 Ministry for the Environment, Environment New Zealand 2007, 2007.

7 Household Sustainability Benchmark Survey, 2008.