We’re in the middle of an environmental restoration paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift needs three factors to happen - growing awareness of the issues, early adopters taking action and Government regulation.

By Louise Saunders, CEO Manaaki Kaimai Mamaku Trust.

Growing awareness - something’s going wrong 

Conservation used to be something you did in your spare time. It was a “nice to do”, like a small donation to the Greenpeace fundraising folks with a bucket outside the supermarket. Given with little thought and no ongoing commitment.

But that’s no longer true.

Globally, we are all now painfully aware that we need to apply a defibrillator to our environment or our economy and our businesses are toast. 

We all have a direct and vested interest in environmental restoration. If forests collapse, if harbours fill with sediment, if there’s not enough water or too much water, then our lives, livelihoods, communities and businesses get washed away with the next cyclone or fried up in the next drought.

Increasingly we are feeling the impact of the environment and understanding the inextricable link between the health of forests, waterways and biodiversity and the stability of our climate. 

New Zealander’s also know that the environment we have now is not healthy enough, not diverse enough, and not resilient enough to protect itself, let alone us and our economy, from climate change. We have to do more than just conserve. We have to actively restore our environment.

Growing awareness... it takes money to fix it.

Before 2020, most conservation funding for the Kaimai Mamaku came from the Department of Conservation (DOC). That funding wasn’t enough to prevent the decline of the forests but the community was largely unaware of this. We took our pae maunga and its forests and streams for granted. 

But a third of Aotearoa New Zealand is Crown owned conservation land, so it’s the Government’s responsibility to pay for this… right?


The current funding model for conservation is broken. The Government simply doesn’t have the money to fund all the restoration work needed, and neither do councils or philanthropy. 

Central and local Government and charitable funders know that investment in restoration is needed. In 2020, the Jobs for Nature Covid response saw $19.4 million in funding for the Kaimai Mamaku Restoration Project as part of the North Island Forests Collapse Prevention programme. We also had $1.6 million investment from our two regional councils and DOC and $2.5 million in co-funding from philanthropic funders, TECT and BayTrust.

While that seems like a lot of funding, it's simply not enough.

Jobs for Nature was a short lived, event-based Government funding response to shore up the economy. It was not the start of long term funding and it finishes in June 2024. Council funding only lasts until 2025. And the charitable sector simply doesn’t have resources to fund restoration of all the Kaimai Mamaku forests, let alone cover the full 300,000ha catchment area. 

This model of Government, council and philanthropic funding is broken. It doesn’t work. And everyone knows this. We are missing one vital piece of the puzzle.

Growing awareness… business has a role to play.

Social licence is a community's perception of the acceptability of a business and its operations which includes responsible environmental practices. 

According to the Kantar Better Futures 2023 report, more than a third of New Zealander’s have sustainability as top of mind; they believe in sustainability AND they do something about it. People say they’ll invest in and support companies that do the right thing. They'll remove their support from those who don’t. And they hate greenwashing, when business can’t be trusted to deliver on their environmental claims.

As a nation, we believe that business should do more than just meet legal requirements, do more than just comply, be more than neutral. We believe that responsible environmental practice means businesses will take carbon positive and nature positive actions. 

And actually, business wants that too.

The Sustainable Business Network survey found that most businesses want to be better than neutral; they want to be nature positive. They just don’t know how. If you haven’t read this report, take a moment to peruse this fascinating read. 

The survey found business wants to do the right thing for the environment for a range of reasons including mitigating nature-related risks, meeting stakeholder expectations, and retaining good staff, who increasingly want to work for purposeful organisations.

What’s holding business back is a lack of knowledge of how to invest, the “return” on their investment, and the time, expertise and relationships to know which projects to invest in. Businesses what to have a direct relationship with projects they invest in and assurance that their investment is going to produce genuinely beneficial outcomes.

And they want a way of taking credit for their investment so their community knows what they are doing, giving them social licence to continue operating.

Innovators and Early Adopters… businesses investing in restoration.

There are numerous examples of innovative businesses who are already investing in restoration. They recognise that this is the right thing to do and that this is what their consumers, stakeholders and community expects. 

  • HealthPost invests $100,000 a year in the Wharariki/Farewell Spit Ecosanctuary restoration project in Golden Bay.

  • Tasti Bar invests the proceeds of sale of its muesli bars up to $200,000 a year in forest restoration at Maungataniwha.

  • Z Energy has a $1 million investment fund for improving the resilience of NZ’s indigenous biodiversity

  • Air NZ planted 185,000 trees in 2022 alone through Trees that Count, and almost 300,000 trees in total. 

  • Trees that Count has 19,000+ tree donors, many of which are large corporates donating thousands of trees. 

The mechanisms for business investment can be direct funding of a restoration project they are connected with, proceeds of sale contributing to a fund for restoration investment, and sponsorships. 

And you don’t have to be a large corporate to invest in restoration. Restoration investment is happening across the board from large corporates to SMEs to individual farms and contractors. Almost every Country Calendar episode features businesses contributing to local restoration projects. These are all examples of business innovators and early adoptors investing in restoration. 

And as Kantar found, the community expects business to take responsibility and make a contribution to restoration. 

So what about the third part of the paradigm shift… Government regulation?

Government regulation is on its way.

New Zealand’s National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity was published by the Ministry for the Environment in July 2023, setting in place the policy framework for councils managing our native biodiversity. That document largely focuses on vegetation and habitats that are considered ‘Significant Natural Areas’ but the Government also recognised that we need regulations to encourage investment in biodiversity restoration. 

In September 2023, the Government released a discussion document on a biodiversity credit system. The document explored ideas for a new way to finance ‘nature-positive’ projects. It's just a discussion document, but it's the starting point of a conversation about the Government’s role in regulating biodiversity investment. 

It might take three years, it might take five years, it might start as voluntary, it might end up compulsory... but eventually there will be some form of Government regulation to incentivise or require business investment in restoration. It’s already happening overseas and there is a clear expectation from our key export markets, especially signatories to international climate agreements, that we will follow suit.

Government regulation does not happen without clear direction from their constituency, and in New Zealand’s case, also from our export markets. A biodiversity credits system for business will not Pass Go in Parliament unless there is clear support or drivers for it.

And as we’ve already seen, there is.

The paradigm shift for business investment in restoration is nearing the tipping point. 

The only question is when the transition will occur and what part you’ll play.

There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen and there are people who wonder what happened. No matter which one you are, make no mistake, this paradigm shift is already well advanced. So put yourself and your business in the driver’s seat and position your brand as an early adopter, doing the right thing.

Find the restoration projects in your local community, near where your business operates or in surrounding landscapes.  Find projects that have scale, impact and measurable results. Find projects that involve mana whenua and the community, have social and cultural outcomes, and have an independent organisation to verify their work.

Get to know what work that project is doing, what monitoring they are doing, and how they connect to other projects. Find a way to help, get involved and build relationships. Don’t fall into the trap of only focusing on sexy species and scenic landscapes.

And it's important to remember that sometimes the best way to maximise the effectiveness of your investment is to fund an existing project, with existing infrastructure and trained people who have the desire, capacity and capability to scale up. 

Large scale restoration is vital in the context of climate change resilience and vital for sustaining communities of species… business involvement and investment will play a vital role in ensuring that happens.

The Kaimai Mamaku Restoration Project is playing it’s part too by setting up a model for restoration investment that delivers what businesses need:

  • People doing the restoration work in places that desperately need it

  • With coordination of effort and activity to maximise effectiveness

  • Involving mana whenua, communities, and agencies 

  • With data to support outcomes and assurance of the benefits delivered.

I know that you’ll want to be part of this!