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Culture Roundup Series

Beyond the greenwash: Building a positive future for our environment

hand holding ice in front of mountains

It’s not long ago that our entire country got up in arms after a visiting British family left a mass of rubbish behind at Takapuna beach.

In a nutshell

  1. Our 'Nature' cultural current captures the shift towards people bringing nature back into their lives in an attempt to halt environmental damage and recalibrate in our increasingly urban and digitally connected world.
  2. This movement is being felt globally, but New Zealand’s historical connection to the land means there is a strong local nuance which impacts how the current plays out in our day to day.
  3. Kiwis are doing what we can to minimise our personal impact, but many people feel powerless to affect real change and are instead looking to big business to take an activist stance and use their power to further big environmental and social agendas.

The initial disrespect they showed to the local environment resulted in them being aggressively persecuted around the country. And while the public reaction was intense, we can begin to understand where this all came from when we look at how important preserving and respecting nature is to New Zealanders.

Globally there is a rising sense of fear as it becomes clear that we humans have been gradually destroying our natural environment. It is this fear which is driving the emergence and development of a strong cultural current that we call 'Nature'. People are looking to bring nature back into their lives as we attempt to halt the damage we have caused and recalibrate in our increasingly urban and digitally connected world.

Our unique Kiwi view

While this movement is being felt globally, New Zealand’s historical connection to the land means there is a strong local nuance that shapes the current when it lands on New Zealand shores and this impacts how the current plays out in our day to day.

Our connection to the natural landscape has evolved over the years – from rugged Kiwi blokes farming the land, to nature as an escape from daily life and a remedy for our over-stimulated world. But the core essence remains the same: that nature is in our DNA as New Zealanders.

We puff out our chests a bit when people from overseas compliment us on our beautiful scenery. We seek time in nature when we’ve had a tough week. We fill our summer days with beach time – after all that’s the essence of a Kiwi summer. We seek out adventure, and ‘going exploring’ is proclaimed with pride.

A great exemplar of this is the ongoing “Band Together” campaign tackling litter which has released a song titled “It’s just how we do things round here” as part of its platform. It speaks directly to the Kiwi way of doing things – respecting our natural environment is par for the course, a norm in our culture and something we all contribute to. So we can see where the outrage towards the British tourist family came from.

Looking to organisations to ease our fear for the future

But because nature plays such an important role in our lives, Kiwis are especially concerned that our natural environment as we know it may not be around for future generations to experience. As a result, movements within our Nature current related to sustainability, conscious consumption, plastic reduction, circular economies, water conservation and ethical farming are gaining momentum and quickly becoming mainstream.

"We are doing what we can to minimise our personal impact, but by and large people feel powerless to affect real change."

We are doing what we can to minimise our personal impact, but by and large people feel powerless to affect real change. So we look to big business to take an activist stance and use their power to further big environmental and social agendas.

Patagonia is a prime example of one of these activist brands. The outdoor clothing company’s mission is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” They continuously work to improve their own sustainable practices, campaign for systemic change, empower employees to volunteer and fundraise, and invest a percentage of their sales in non-profit organisations that are working to address environmental issues.

Interestingly, acknowledging that Patagonia itself is part of the problem forms the core of the company’s approach to their business practice. They accept that in some ways, it could be better for the environment if they stopped operating entirely. And while this could be said for many businesses, big and small, that’s not practical, realistic or especially useful. Instead, companies can use their powerful voices to influence and instigate change that is beyond the means and abilities of individuals and governments. The focus on organisations having a 'net positive' effect is important. 

Evolving expectations

Brands can no longer separate themselves from these environmental undercurrents. The expectation is that they stand for something meaningful and prove it through their actions, investing not only in improving their own supply chain but also in sustainable, ethical causes that benefit the future of our planet.

What we are really trying to say here is that it is about more than tapping into the 'Nature' cultural current to make your communications resonate with people or impact the bottom line. People are smart in this regard and see right through a company’s ‘greenwashing’ efforts. The real opportunity here lies in authentic action – actions speak louder than words after all, and it is action that people want to see when it comes to the future of our natural environment.

Claire Tutill
Marketing Manager at TRA

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