Water, plastic waste and climate action are the emerging hot topics to come out of the latest Better Futures report, released by Colmar Brunton this week.
The Colmar Brunton Better Futures 2017 research, released this week, surveyed New Zealanders on environmental and social issues, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).
The company’s analysts say that despite social issues topping the list of Kiwis’ biggest concerns and most important Sustainable Development Goals, environmental issues – particularly water, plastic waste and climate action – are emerging as hot topics.
Colmar Brunton’s Chief Client Officer Sarah Bolger says this comes as no surprise, with New Zealand’s ‘clean green’ identity heavily reliant on all three of these issues.
“Eight out of ten New Zealanders said that clean water and sanitation is an important issue, furthermore, 91% of those surveyed think that all Kiwis are responsible for improving the quality of our waterways,” she says.
Life below water was the issue where concern increased the most in 2017, with 67% now saying it is an important issue for New Zealand, up 7% on the previous year.
In addition, cleaning up of New Zealand waterways featured in the top 10 concerns for New Zealanders for the first time, with almost 60% stating it was an issue they were concerned about.
Ms Bolger says something that has been simmering for some time, but has now become elevated recently in its profile in New Zealand and globally, is plastic waste.
“Build-up of plastic in the environment is a significant concern for Kiwis and 2017 is the first time this issue has made the top 10 concerns for New Zealanders,” she says. “It comes in at fifth after hefty social and economic issues including: violence in society; protection of children; the increasing cost of living; and suicide rates.”
When it comes to Kiwis’ views on the UN SDGs, social issues, such as: no poverty; good health and well-being; and zero hunger, feature prominently in the top 10 but climate action is among the fastest rising issues coming in at number four. In fact, two thirds of New Zealanders agree that climate change is the biggest problem the world is facing today.
Ms Bolger says it is clear Kiwis feel strongly about environmental issues.
“The impact of water issues and plastic waste is very personal, with swimmable rivers and the health of the beaches very visible. There is a feeling of anxiety – improving water quality is something that feels like it should be achievable. Kiwis are saying they want it to be a priority and they are prepared to play their part – but they need to know what to do to make the biggest impact.”
The Sustainable Business Council says this year’s research should be a wake-up call to New Zealand businesses that the accumulation of plastic is now a concern for two out of three Kiwis.
“On multiple levels Kiwis are thinking about plastic and how it is threatening our oceans and marine life, and turning up in the food we eat and the products we use,” said executive director Abbie Reynolds.
“It is interesting to see that the conversation around climate change is also building-up. 68% of New Zealanders now believe it is the biggest problem the world is facing today, but there’s no doubt the conversation needs to go a lot further so people better understand what they can do to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
“What is reassuring is that there’s a growing level of understanding from business in this area that, if communicated well, will help bridge the knowledge gap in New Zealand.”
The Sustainable Business Council is also pleased to see that more than one in four New Zealanders are aware of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. That number has grown by three percentage points in the last 12 months.
“It’s really affirming to see just how many New Zealanders are aware of the goals, despite their low profile here. I know Sustainable Business Council members will be delighted to see this growing awareness, because many are aligning their operations with the goals and using them as a framework to design environmental and social initiatives, and do planning and strategy”, said Abbie Reynolds.
Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility expert Nikki Wright of Wright Communications says consumers will support businesses and brands that share their concerns and are taking action to address them.
“Consumers want to see businesses and brands tackling the tough issues – social and environmental. They will be loyal to businesses and brands that are taking on the issues they care about.”
Ms Wright warns that businesses failing to respond to consumer issues by developing credible and clear sustainability plans, risk not only losing customers but also being unprepared for the inevitable future government regulation in this area.
Top 10 concerns for New Zealanders
1. Violence in society (69%)
2. Protection of New Zealand children (68%)
3. Increasing cost of living (68%)
4. Suicide rates (64%) (NEW)
5. Build-up of plastic in the environment (63%) (NEW)
6. Not having access to good, affordable healthcare (62%)
7. Cleaning up of New Zealand waterways (60%) (NEW)
8. Pollution of lakes and seas (60%)
9. Lack of affordable housing (59%)
10. Drugs/alcohol addiction in society (58%) (NEW)
Fastest risers’ 2016 v 2017
- Life below water +7% (67%)
- Industry, innovation and infrastructure +6% (68%)
- Reduced inequalities +6% (68%)
- Responsible consumption and production +6% (72%)
- Climate action +6% (70%)
Which of the UN Sustainable Goals do you think is the most important for NZ to be achieving?
1. No poverty (20%)
2. Good health and well-being (17%)
3. Decent work and economic growth (9%)
4. Climate action (8%)
5. Zero hunger (8%)
6. Quality education (7%)
7. Clean water and sanitation (7%)
8. Sustainable cities and communities (5%)
9. Peace, justice and strong institutions (5%)