Making a difference – using a regional partnership to influence the business community
Ann Smith1, Jane Puddephatt2, Campbell Sturrock2 and Jeska McNicol1, (1)Landcare Research, New Zealand; (2)Auckland Regional Council, New Zealand
There are many examples of business success attributed to companies embracing environmental and corporate social responsibility. Some of these companies already had a culture of involvement in “good causes"; others used high profile incidents as the stimulus to remake their public image. They remain a relatively small proportion of the business community. The majority of businesses fall into the so-called intransigent SME sector, too busy surviving to have time for "good causes", fearful that getting involved will be costly and often falling below the thresholds of regulations. Environmental regulators rarely have the resources to fully enforce all companies and all existing regulations. To spend time identifying business opportunities related to resource efficiencies or to suggest involvement in local community projects that complement the company’s interests is a luxury for most regulators. Government agencies involved in programmes to influence companies to adopt more responsible practices are open to accusations of hypocrisy if they themselves are not "walking the talk".

This paper describes how a partnership of regional regulator, central and local government, and NGOs has engaged in research to find more effective ways of influencing the business community. The partners identified opportunities to: share resources leading to a wider range of support for the business community, the need to develop a common language to describe sustainable business practices, the need to engage with traditional business regulation and support structures, and most importantly, the need to lead by example.

These developments were complemented by an extensive evaluation of programmes to influence businesses, covering the full spectrum of interventions from enforcement, through sector and geographical approaches to awareness raising and voluntary membership of a sustainable business network. The study has provided a better understanding of the levers and barriers to business engagement and the influence that government can exert through leading by example.