Being environmental change-makers is not something that has come to us overnight. The environment has always been important to us. Our parents introduced us to the outdoors at a young age. We grew up in a family where hiking in the local National Parks was a common weekend activity; we took cardboard boxes to the supermarket rather than using plastic bags back in the 90’s, we planted trees in the park across from our house in an effort to bring back native flora in our local community, and later solar panels lined the roof of our family home.
It was at university 10 years ago that we were first confronted by the concept of climate change. I worked on the founding documents for Generation Zero, a youth-led organisation that started to champion climate change in Aotearoa in 2010 and now has a 40,000 strong following across the country. Generation Zero is responsible for the first draft of the Zero Carbon Bill, designed to make New Zealand net carbon zero by 2050, that was unanimously passed into law last month.
Generation Zero was formed by a bunch of 20 years olds. We were asking ourselves what we wanted our country to look like for the generations that came after us. What could we do to make that happen? For the very first time, we thought about the impact that our actions would have on the environment for those that came after us.
Fast forward ten years and we were running a sustainable and nutritious juice business and being confronted with the realisation that the industry we are playing in is one of the worst examples of a model based on business for profit without accountability, the Beverage industry. In waste, it accounts for the disposal of more single-use plastic than any other product type.
Despite the key players’ significant profits, factory workers are more often than not paid minimum wage. Two offshore-owned corporates dominate the marketplace in New Zealand effectively blocking New Zealand companies with the genuinely nutritious and sustainable choices consumers are ever more asking for. We decided to tackle this industry, from our very own solar-powered juicery in Nelson.
What we at Chia Sisters ultimately want to help make possible is a better future:
Where the impact on the environment from humans is positive instead of irreversibly negative because the environment is now part of the business equation and included in the balance sheet.
Where the atmosphere temperature rise is slowing now that businesses are accountable for reducing and offsetting CO2.
Where the cost to the environment is now a standard feature on every organization’s business plan as we head towards a sustainable future, where we become good ancestors.
To us, this is an entirely possible outcome. But that doesn’t mean to say it is easy because it’s not! It’s scary and it’s hard. Being in business is already hard, every day in business we go from cloud nine to the bottom of a pit and back. Several times over.
We are not experts in any of this but we do want to out line a few things that we are doing to include our community and environment in the way we do business and the way we are inspiring other business to follow suit.
Twelve months ago our business was in a perilous position. The company that made and bottled our juices went into liquidation and was closing suddenly without notice. We had near permanent installation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of bottling equipment in their factory that we had painstakingly designed years before and there was no plant or manufacturing facility in the country with space to take on our equipment at such short notice. Our choice was this, close the business or move in. It was a decision that we thought hard about. We decided to take out a bank loan and take over the factory. We were well out of our depth. To say the least.
We had a brainstorm of how we could make use of the fact that we now had our own factory. There were a lot of negatives: we needed an updated food safety plan, we needed new employees, we needed to clean to food-grade standard. We had rates to pay and double rent while we moved in.