Embracing sustainability – a growth strategy for the future

Embracing sustainability – a growth strategy for the future

Southern Woods Plant Centre

In a world where sustainability is no longer a buzzword but a business imperative, a local plant nursery is turning what some may see as a business obligation into an opportunity for growth. 

Located just south of Christchurch, Southern Woods is one of the South Island’s largest and most progressive nurseries, producing millions of trees per year of over 500 species on its 7.5ha site. The organisation is currently waiting for confirmation of their Toitū certification, a testament to their commitment to business sustainability efforts.

Chief executive John Perry says that while the organisation has always taken a holistic approach to sustainability, the certification journey has enabled them to fully understand their environmental impact and provide opportunities for future business growth.

“As a team, we’re constantly looking for innovative ways to grow plants, improving our processes for quality, capacity and efficiency, while also keeping a strong focus on the environment. We’ve always worked hard to reduce waste and are committed to ongoing emissions reduction and reducing our footprint, but one of the challenging things when we first started this process was knowing what our environmental footprint was before we could even start setting targets for improvement.”

With 40 permanent staff plus a number of casual employees during the busy winter and spring period, there was the additional challenge of how to measure the organisation’s impact without creating too much additional work for the team that could take them away from key tasks. The Toitū certification process has enabled them to start this journey, providing a manageable programme of work to build into their operations and track their ongoing sustainability actions.  

John says embracing sustainability has not just been about environmental or social responsiveness, but a strategic and profitable business move. The challenges of where and how to prioritise and integrate eco-friendly practices into their business model has led to a robust long-term growth strategy – from existing investments in energy infrastructure and an electric fleet, to looking at investing in alternatives to diesel generators. The nursery has also implemented pot and plastic recycling, a tray and pot refund scheme, water recycling and storage, and the installation of hundreds of solar panels across the nursery site.

“Our journey really shows the importance of viewing sustainability not as a cost but as an investment in sustainable business practices for business growth, productivity, and meeting customer expectations. Despite economic pressures, there are opportunities for those willing to adapt and innovate, gaining a competitive edge, increased business efficiencies and customer attraction in the process.  

“I would encourage others to think about your organisation’s focus areas for improvement and opportunities for greatest impact. Consider what measurable and realistic goals might be and take an incremental approach towards better business practices. Engage the team in the mission and communicate your sustainability journey to stakeholders.

“It’s about taking small steps. We’ve still got work to do, but we’ve made good progress by being open to change. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination.” 

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