Raglan Chamber of Commerce presents on world stage at World Chambers Congress

When the Whaingaroa Environment Centre approached the Raglan Chamber of Commerce to gauge the board’s interest in helping them remove single-use plastic bags from the community, there was very little hesitation to support them.

“The Chamber board understands that the economic health and wellbeing of our businesses is influenced by the environmental health of our community,” said Karamea Puriri, administrator for the Raglan Chamber.

“While we unfortunately do not have control of how or when some of our larger infrastructure issues will be solved, the more tangible concerns, like rubbish blowing into the sea, is something within our control to change.”

The Chamber joined with the Whaingaroa Environment Centre (WEC) to create Plastic Bag Free Raglan (PBFR) at the beginning of 2016. PBFR is driven by three team members, a bevvy of volunteers and a steering committee that includes representatives from both the Chamber and WEC, as well as Xtreme Zero Waste, Para Kore and the Raglan Community Board.

Together, they set out to make Raglan a single-use plastic bag free community by July of 2019.

The latest project launched by PBFR, was the PBFR Partners Programme, created by PBFR and the Raglan Chamber. The programme includes a Business Support Booklet and Accreditation Programme–providing businesses with the knowledge and beginning steps to remove single-use plastic bags from their shops and make way for a more sustainable alternative.

The programme is open to businesses who have officially removed single-use plastic bags from their stores, as well as businesses who may not need to provide bags, but support the mission of PBFR.

Since the introduction of the PBFR Partners Programme, they have accredited over 60 businesses, including the Raglan Four Square Supermarket, who was the first Four Square in New Zealand to remove their single-use plastic shopping bags and implement a 100%, truly compostable bag.

“Plastic Bag Free Raglan is unique in the sense that it is not a government issued change, it is a project ignited by groups who are at the forefront of the community in various ways. But it is especially unique to see a Chamber of Commerce not just supporting, but playing an active role in the movement,” says Karamea.

“The kaupapa of Plastic Bag Free Raglan is in line with the mission of the Raglan Chamber, which is to support, foster and advocate for vibrant and sustainable business in Whaingaroa Raglan,” Karamea stated. “That means sustainable business both economically and environmentally.”

But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the Chamber realised just how big of an impact their involvement in Plastic Bag Free Raglan has made.

The Chamber was invited by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to share the work they have done with Plastic Bag Free Raglan, at the 10th World Chambers Congress held in Sydney last week.

The Raglan Chamber is a member of the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce, which is made up of 30 other accredited Chambers from around the country (a member network of 22,000 businesses and growing). With that, the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce is a member and active participant in the International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Federation, which unites over six million members in more than 100 countries.

The World Chambers Federation hosts the Chambers Congress biannually in different host cities around the world.

“They contacted us about Plastic Bag Free Raglan and asked us to share it as an example project during the Sustainability plenary at the Congress. The plenary focussed on ways in which the public and private sectors could collaborate for more meaningful, sustainable change.”

Karamea travelled to Sydney with 60 other delegates from around New Zealand, and was the sole New Zealand delegate to present at the Congress, which was attended by 1,200 Chamber delegates from around the world.

The Sustainability plenary opened with Gunter Pauli, Founder of the ZERI Foundation and author of The Blue Economy.

“Gunter’s way of thinking is comparable to many of the minds in our own community. He was the inspiration of the conference for a lot of attendees and it was a huge honour to speak on the same stage as him.”

The plenary also featured Nathalie Meusy, Head of Sustainable Development at the European Space Agency and two other Chambers who shared how they have implemented sustainable practices within their own Chambers, including Pedram Soltani, First Vice President of the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber. The plenary was moderated by Peter Townsend, CEO of the Canterbury Employers Chamber in Christchurch.

The presentation of Plastic Bag Free Raglan was warmly received by the room, with expressions of gratitude and interest from many of the attendees.

The director of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce acknowledged the importance of the topic and hopes more Chambers might follow suit. Kenya is one of the most recent countries to pass a governmental ban on single-use plastic bags.

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PBFR has been added to the UN’s Global Goals project.

To add to the support, during the opening of the Congress, there was a video message from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales who remarked on the important role businesses play in creating a more sustainable future for their communities. Further encouraging the delegates to consider the impacts of climate change and to become more aware of the changes that need to be made to offset the rapid decline of the Earth’s resources.

“Our main street runs straight into the Harbour,” said Karamea. We have shops sitting less than 50 footsteps away from the water… the water is polluted enough, the least we can do is encourage sustainable changes, in hopes of creating a more economically stable and sustainable future.”

“It was an invaluable opportunity,” said of the presentation. “We are one of the smallest Chambers in the world by way of members, if not the smallest. But our community seems to be leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to even exploring sustainable business practices.”

The Raglan Chamber is looking forward to sharing PBFR with the wider network of Chambers and will continue to support the project in its efforts locally, as Raglan moves towards becoming a single-use plastic bag free community.

S.K.

To find out more about Plastic Bag Free Raglan, the Raglan Chamber of Commerce or the World Chambers Congress, contact info@raglanchamber.co.nz.