A local effort to provide environment-focused employment in the Far North has grown into a diversified, innovative business.
The Community Business and Environment Centre (CBEC) with offices in Kaitaia and Whangarei, is a region-building business that, rather than fading away after an initial burst of enthusiasm, has gone from strength to strength.
Established in 1989, and now an Employment Service and local Economic Development Agency, CBEC is a major employer in New Zealand’s Far North region, and is engaged in joint ventures and consultancy services around the country. The enterprise has become a significant provider and in some cases, industry leader in services ranging from recycling and waste, to landscaping and environmental education, to the management of facilities such as swimming pools.
Business is increasingly accepted as playing an important role in the development of sustainable and healthy communities. The Canadian Centre for Community Renewal has observed that the increase in skills, experience, wealth and influence in a region resulting from successful business is critical, and can help focus attention on the future. Such an outcome may be particularly important in challenging economic times.
Sustainable Development, Building Communities
What is unusual about an enterprise as diversified as CBEC is its focus on activities “required by the community… but of marginal profitability”. An example is the soon-to-be-launched Busabout Kaitaia, a bio-fuel minibus service targeting especially the needs of low income and elderly people in the large and sparsely populated Far North. CBEC has also been involved for more than 12 years in works projects, which have provided employment while developing public parks and assisting civil defence initiatives.
Recycling and Environmental Education
CBEC is perhaps best known for its efforts to establish local waste reduction and recycle initiatives, in part through joint ventures with partners such as Te Runanga o Te Rarawa (the leadership council of the major Maori iwi in the target area).
The current economic climate has resulted in a significant downturn in the world market for recycling (for example, an Associated Press article Recycling Goes from Boom to Bust describes job and service cutbacks at recycling centres in America), but CBEC has worked at keeping its recycling saleable by focusing on quality. This involves procedures such as hand-sorting plastic and aluminium on collection trucks rather than at the plant, with the result that there is less contamination of the final product.
Local Solutions to Climate Change
A key advantage of a regional enterprise (rather, than, for example, a multinational corporation) undertaking waste reduction and recycling services is the educational value for the community. Such a focus on local solutions to environmental challenges is a significant aspect of the approach of organisations such as Transition Towns, which stress the importance of communities developing pragmatic responses, optimism and resilience.
CBEC was the establishment entity of the Far North Environment Centre Trust, which has partnered with Transition Towns and other bodies to promote public awareness of the environment and develop responses to ecological challenges in the region.