Hope – with its sleeves rolled up

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By Gord Stewart

Sustainability has many moving parts – social, economic and environmental. Getting it right means addressing current shortcomings, creating strong and caring communities, and innovating for a bright future.

Action is important at the local, regional and national levels. Thankfully, New Zealand is blessed with individuals, community groups and agencies up to the challenge. Here’s a shout-out to three of them.

Warming the kids. Call it knitting with purpose. The offshoot of a city group, it was set up to meet needs in a smaller community, inspired by an understanding of the impacts of child poverty.

Knitting for Cool Kids provides beanies, scarves, fingerless mittens and slippers for new entrants at low decile schools in the community. Packs are delivered to schools the first day of each winter term. In 2019, 150 packs were provided; in 2020, it was 650. This year 773 – one for every new entrant.

“Kids need to be warm and fed to learn,” says the group’s founder Miriam Ruberl, noting that the project is a practical response to a real need.

But there’s more to it than this. “The kids take great pride in their new clothing and are very protective of it,” says Ruberl. “Some of them have never had a gift before, never had something new.”

Sitting pretty … and warm

Some of the volunteer knitters specialise in scarves; others make matching slippers and mittens. Some team up to complete sets collaboratively. Guidelines are provided, patterns available, and monthly colour themes suggested.

Knitters from Kaitaia to Dunedin contribute, all connected through the group’s Facebook page. Others assist by assembling packs, still more with deliveries to schools.

Donations of yarn and money are a help. A local real estate agent has pledged $200 for every house she sells and is telling her colleagues about it.

For Ruberl, it’s a labour of love – love that shines through in every pack delivered.

More info: Knitting for Cool Kids

Nurturing community. They bill themselves as a voice for the environment, a centre for learning, and a catalyst for change. Lofty ideals, for sure, but Go Eco, a regional environment trust, is delivering on them. Their website details 16 active projects covering biodiversity, food, transport and enterprise.

Biodiversity efforts include a region wide predator-free programme and Project Eco, a collaboration of several organisations to protect the indigenous – and endangered – pekapeka tou roa (long-tailed bat).

Go Eco’s every-other-Saturday morning Public Market brings together many of its initiatives. There’s the crop swap and the repair co-op (learn how to repair items, like bikes you might otherwise discard). Seed sharing and a community-led time bank (trading of skills and needs) also feature.

A bike being repaired at Go Eco’s bike repair hub. Donations of bike spares are welcomed.

Kaivolution – their food rescue operation – has three trucks on the road collecting perfectly good food that would otherwise go to landfill or waste. It is delivered, instead, to free stores at community centres and to partner charities for distribution. Last year 475 tonnes of rescued food nourished people in need. Retail value of this food was $2.1 million.  

With funding from government, charitable trusts and private business, Go Eco has 16 (mainly part-time) staff. On any given day, there could be 50 volunteers in action.

“There is a real diversity of people who ‘give a dam’, who want to do something,” says Jo Wrigley, Go Eco’s manager. “They have a picture of what change means and they want to be a part of it.” 

More info: Go Eco  

Building the future. “It will blow you away,” said a friend. The first time I entered I thought: This is a joy to behold. We’re talking about Te Whare Nui o Tuteata, Scion’s new building in Rotorua. (Scion, or the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, is one of seven crown research institutes.)

The building, opened officially in March by the prime minister, is 2000m2 over three stories. It truly showcases what can be done with wood, starting with the ‘diagrids’. Diagonal grid structures provide strength and stiffness, so less material is required than in traditional design. It’s believed to be a world first for a wooden diagrid structure of its size.

Te Whare Nui o Tuteata, Scion’s new building in Rotorua

The engineered timbers (veneer/laminates) are prized for their physical properties, sustainability and environmental performance. The building is carbon neutral in materials and construction (vs a heavy carbon footprint whenever concrete and steel are used).

The design offers real protection against seismic activity. In the event of a fire, the heavy timber components help prevent fire spread or structural failure.

Research has shown the health and well-being benefits of using natural materials such as wood in workplaces, schools, hospitals and homes. The building is certainly quiet. The wood and glass induce a real sense of calm.  

Wood features in the Government’s new Procurement guide to reducing carbon emissions in building and construction. It gets a big tick in the ‘build clever’ department.

“Wood construction for larger buildings is a journey,” says Doug Gaunt, a timber engineering scientist at Scion. “The goal is to make timber more mainstream.”

More info: Scion

Good news. These stories are a source of hope. But they also remind that good things don’t just happen. People dig in and make them happen – through caring, hard work and ingenuity. As environmentalist and author David Orr put it: “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

  • Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics

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