20 years of sustainable business – Karen Fifield, Wellington Zoo

Karen Fifield MNZM, Chief Executive, Wellington Zoo talks about what she has seen in sustainability over the last 20 years, what Wellington Zoo has achieved, and what she hopes to see in future.

What changes have you seen in sustainable business in the last 20 years?

Sustainable business over the last 20 years that I can see has actually become more or less mainstream, which is quite an interesting achievement in a very short space of time. And to see that many organisations from major companies in the country right through to small NGOs, and SMEs are really embracing it and everyone is embracing it at the level they can. And in particularly in Wellington, it’s really just, that’s the way we do business.

How did you get involved in sustainability?

It’s almost like what did you learn as a kid? And I think about my parents and my grandparents and I think they had the answers. They were being sustainable without even knowing that they were being sustainable. Like there wasn’t the plastic around and there wasn’t the waste that we see today. If we want to save species, we want to look after animals in the wild, we’ve really got to look after the planet. And so sustainability is really the other side of that coin. So for me it made total sense that sustainability was just a way of living, a way of doing business and a way of being.

What aspects of sustainability are most important to you?

The Sustainable Development Goals with life on land, life below water. They are very critical things to us as an organisation, and also to me personally. The most important thing about sustainability is that we get that right because those animals are actually relying on us to get it right.

How do you incorporate Māori principles into sustainability?

We’ve just redone our five year strategy at Wellington Zoo and we’ve based that on Māoriconcepts in Te Ao Māoriin terms of the way we organise ourselves, and integrated into our five year strategy is also the Sustainable Development Goals. We did a fair bit of work with Enviro-Mark Solutions to look at our materiality assessment of the Sustainable Development Goals and which ones were the most important to us as an organisation and also to our stakeholders and our community. So those Sustainable Development Goals, and Te Ao Māori are actually embedded into our organisational strategy. And they’re also embedded into our organisational values in terms of manaakitanga. So for us, understanding the indigenous perspectives and approaches to sustainability are absolutely critical to success in this space.

What has Wellington Zoo achieved in the last 20 years?

I think Wellington Zoo has, and I’ll say this very proudly, has been a real leader in sustainability, and everybody who works at the zoo has embraced it. Everybody believes it to the core of their being. They believe it. So it’s been a really organisational journey. And I think when we became carboNZero certified in 2013, everyone went, yeah, we get it now and we really understand it. But I think also last year when we won the inaugural World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Environmental Sustainability Award, that’s a global award, against some of the biggest zoos and aquariums in the world. And it really was quite amazing. And when we won it, the cheer that went up in the room, I just thought, everyone understands that this really is part of our kaupapa. It’s part of our being around “me tiaki kia ora” that we must look after the planet. But the most special thing is how our whole team has embraced it and really believe it. And that’s really part of our DNA.

How has SBC membership helped Wellington Zoo?

We’ve loved being members of SBC for many years now. And what I love about SBC is being with a group of businesses that are so likeminded that everyone’s trying to do better. Everyone’s on their journey to more success in the sustainability space. And that’s everybody from large companies to small. And the SBC whānau is actually a group of people that are fun to be around, but they also are very, very determined to make things better.

How has SBC helped advance sustainability?

It really does convene, coordinate and actually bring together colleagues from right across the business network, right across the country who can actually do things together. Thinking about the climate coalition, all of those sorts of initiatives that they can start and actually put out there into the business world and businesses can get behind that.

It’s also about helping businesses to understand that don’t have to do everything at once. That it’s a journey. So you start and you do a bit more and you do a bit more and before you know it, you’re doing something like carboNZero. And I think with SBC behind you, you do feel like you have real collegial support in terms of the whole breadth of sustainability. So not just environmental, social, financial, really looking at that breadth of what sustainability means to a business. What I see with the people and the organisations that I work with is that everybody has a piece of the puzzle. Everyone is doing something that adds to that big jigsaw.

What would you like to see in the next 20 years?

I think I’d like to see us go back to the future a little bit so that we all do embrace it in our daily lives. Like my parents and my grandparents did. And I think if everybody does one or two things differently, that’s a huge amount of critical change that can happen in the world. And I do think businesses can lead that change and really embrace their consumers and talk to their consumers and their staff and their people about what this means for this country, for the world, and for the causes that everyone believes in.

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