Why I want WELLINGTON to be the Coolest Little Sustainable Capital in the World

Laurie Foon, Sustainable Business Network

When I was a young kiwi doing my OE I had never been so inspired as when I discovered Anita Roddick’s way of doing business, with her multi million dollar chain The Body Shop. Her style of talking about issues and doing socially and environmentally responsible business made absolute sense to me. After three years I “hightailed it” back to NZ to create my own business as I could see there was opportunity here.

I tried to emulate what Anita did in my business, Starfish. For 25 years I loved it – the growth, the clothes, the team, the shows, it was a challenge and fun. But the thing that got me out of bed in the morning was the challenge of how I could do my business for a good purpose, for our community, for our environment as well as financially. I believed everything we did could be part of a solution and not a problem.

During this time we were the first fashion label to win a national sustainable business award and we were the first to lead NZ Fashion week with the concept of Eco Fashion. Today our eco collection is held by Te Papa as one of the this country’s first eco labels. Hopefully we had an early influence on the fashion industry.

In all that time I was also a strong advocate for local business. After travelling around Europe for three years, I knew what we had here was special. Why would we want to be like everyone else when in the end what Wellington and New Zealand had to offer was a much edgier and original version of what other cities had. We were radical, independent, early adopters, resourceful and will give anything a crack and anyone a hand. We’re creative and industrious and we have a close knit relationship with our green landscape. And I still live here because you can’t beat the people.

John Key’s statement that Wellington was dead came right at the time I had to close my business due to economic pressure, so it was certainly feeling like that to me.

Then I was shoulder-tapped to do a radio show. I’d always wanted to be on the radio. So I started a show, driven by the fact that I had been isolated in my own business for so long, I was longing to know to know what Wellington was up to, and maybe others would like to listen in too.   Surely there was still some life in the city I loved?

I’ve been doing that radio show and blog, called B-side stories, for two years now. I have interviewed over 130 people about what they are doing that makes for a good story for our capital, and been overwhelmed by what Wellingtonians have been up to. The podcast has had around 8500 listens, and now there is a small team helping out with B-side stories. We can’t keep up with the Wellington changemakers, innovators, local businesses, and people doing things for environmental or social good. And for every listener there is more likely to be a connection and an action. Which means surely this is strengthening our community connection and belief in ourselves that we are doing a good thing?

But also there is an empowerment to people when they talk into a microphone and into the ether, they also validate their missions. It is a great honour to listen to the Wellingtonians who have a mission, it is empowering for them.

The next opportunity came a year after closing the business, when a friend sent me the position for the Wellington Regional Coordinator for the Sustainable Business Network. I knew that had to be mine. After one year in this role I’ve never been happier, or more honoured, supporting new and existing businesses that are doing business for good. So now I am not running my own, but through that experience I am encouraging many others.

With the SBN my goals are still the same as the day I fell in love with what Anita Roddick was doing…I’ve had a go at it for 20 years and now I’m helping other businesses to have a competitive edge through doing good business. Smart tech, local food systems, being a Fairtrade city, integrated with natural biodiversity and arts groups crossing into social change, we have it all going on and we are good at it and it is getting more exciting.

So what makes me very excited is the opportunity I can see for our city. I believe we are the coolest little sustainable capital in the world.

A recent visiting expert says the business world and cities are moving toward sustainability being the core storytelling of what they are about and it is happening quickly. He said that what we need to do is have stories to tell, believe it and package it up and be ballsy with exporting it to the world.

Because in the future there will be a big opportunities for cities that are leading with community collaborations and sustainable solutions. A city that frontfoots its innovation and community lead solutions will be regarded by the world as a leader, a place to visit and enjoy, a place to live and have the best of both worlds. Ask all those that have returned here after living overseas, they all know the goldmine of opportunities we are sitting on. But we need to lead, we need to be the coolest at it, we need to make it our “essence of Wellington” edge.

I believe one of the missing links in this is media/story telling platforms, so there is a place for us to tell the stories about what we are doing here. , The stories have to be told so WE all believe in our ability to lead the world, to rise to the challenge and sell that idea of Wellington globally. Why? Because the world is looking for solutions and we can punch above our weight in being the great city everyone wants to refer to/ live/ and visit. We are not even tipping the iceberg.

So If you are a business that wants to understand the benefits from a sustainable journey and a sustainable story please come and see me to find out more about what we at the SBN can do to support you.

If you also see an opportunity for creating the multimedia platform to keep promoting the fact that that we are the coolest little Sustainable Capital in the world. I am looking for a team/ funding for a media platform that promotes this concept. ‘it will be around solutions focused media’.

“You must be the Change you wish to see in the world”

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