With the appointment of Sarah Hull as Director of Sustainability and Brand, Cooper and Company is making sustainable action broader-reaching and more deeply integrated across its wide range of businesses, including at Britomart.

MELINDA WILLIAMS How did the role of Director of Sustainability and Brand at Cooper and Company come into being? 

SARAH HULL As I've worked in various roles across The Landing, Britomart, The Hotel Britomart and Ata Rangi, sustainability was always a part of what I was aiming to implement − which has been a process of learning as we go for all of us − but I felt like it didn't get enough of my attention. The Cooper and Company approach to sustainability rests on three pillars – economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social sustainability – and all are important in making a business work well over the long term. We like to do things in a considered way, continually improving without getting ahead of ourselves, as that’s unsustainable in itself.

After we did our first sustainability report for Britomart a number of years ago, we then did them for all the companies under the Cooper and Company umbrella. By the time we got all those written with a set of goals attached to each one, there was a lot to achieve. And while the teams within the individual companies do most of the actual work, I felt their efforts could be coordinated and given support to make sure we achieved all the goals.

I also felt there were quite a lot of synergies across the companies and that there was potential to do a piece of work for one company – like establishing an emissions reduction programme alongside Toitū Envirocare – and then recycle the learnings from that across to another company, and then another. We already worked in a cross-company way for branding, so I could see that gathering all our sustainability strategies under one remit would mean Cooper and Company’s top-level sustainability goals were reflected in a consistent way across all our businesses. Sustainability is a brand value for each company so combining the two roles was a natural fit.

MW What has the role’s central remit been since you started in February? 

SH It's really been about understanding the sustainability landscape within each of our companies and how they can all work together better. While I've worked with various teams within the individual companies in different ways in the past, my work since February has really been about digging into what the detailed sustainability picture looks like for every company and working out how to draw it all together. There are very few parts of any company that sustainability doesn't touch in some way because it covers the people, the economic side, the culture, as well as the environmental aspect. Moving forward, we’ll be aiming to get our annual practices like certifications, annual reports, goal-setting and strategising all aligned and in a standardised way, so we make the process more efficient and free up time to stretch into other projects that add sustainable value to our places, people and the environment. 

MW Where did your engagement with sustainability first begin, and why did it become an important value to you? 

SH I grew up on a farm, where we lived sustainably off the land because we were in a remote location. You look after the land, grow and produce as much as possible yourself to sustain you through the seasons. Of course, when we talk about sustainability in farming today, we’re thinking about broader impacts on waterways and soils and carbon emissions, rather than self-sufficiency, but I think that was first and foremost what sparked my interest of living in a sustainable way.

After my tertiary studies, I travelled for four years, going to countries where I could see the natural environment was being decimated by pollution, and you could really see people’s impact on the planet. Returning to New Zealand felt so different in terms of how in comparison we looked after our natural environment and resources. I think also having lived on Waiheke Island for 20 years brings another perspective around our personal impact on the environment you live in; it's a very environmentally aware community to be a part of. When you're out experiencing the climate every day on a ferry, you notice the tides, and the weather and you can actually see and experience the impacts of climate change. I think all those things as well as what we have been doing within the Cooper and Company businesses have given me a connection to the concept of sustainability and our personal impact on the environment and other people. 

MW Looking to a bigger picture, what do you think will be the biggest sustainability challenges and opportunities for Cooper and Company, over, say, the next decade? Obviously climate change is going to be the big one. But what are the others you see as being important?

SH Managing carbon emissions is a big priority across our businesses, and particularly so for Britomart, as buildings account for a significant share of the country’s carbon emissions through their construction and operation. We’re approaching that through, firstly, our refurbishment of heritage buildings which not only preserves the architectural and cultural character of the city but avoids creating the embodied carbon emissions associated with new construction. Secondly, when we refurbish or build new, we target high Green Star ratings that have carbon reduction practices integrated within them. And through our Toitū Carbonreduce programmes, NABERSNZ ratings and other certifications, we keep a close eye on our operational efficiencies, which allows us to minimise those emissions.

In the more immediate future, a pressing issue is social sustainability. Covid has been a huge disruptor and has made everyone more aware of the importance of looking after the wellbeing of workers and communities. Like many workplaces, we have a real focus on looking after our people and have been implementing new mental health and financial advice support programmes as we come out of the pandemic. We are also continuing our strong programme of social and cultural activations that increase the sense of community at Britomart, which can be as simple as putting out bean bags and umbrellas on the lawn in Takutai Square so people can enjoy sitting in the sun, to bringing the community together for celebrations like Matariki. 

MW Could you share a couple of examples of ways that implementing sustainable practices have measurably added value to Cooper and Company businesses? 

SH With certifications like Toitū, there's a very direct correlation between those certifications and managing building efficiencies. The certifications narrow down your focus onto every electricity meter, for example, the use of refrigerants and so on. It becomes pretty hard to have any irregularities that could signal a spike in use or a problem like a leak flow through and not be noticed. There's a direct correlation between what you're tracking for the submissions and the management decisions the team make.

MW Finally, looking to the next year, what are the top sustainability priorities for you? 

SH I would like to continue refining our sustainability strategy by drilling deeper into the details of our practices, particularly in regard to how we’re managing emissions and waste on the environmental side, and wellbeing on the people side. At the moment, we set goals for 12-month periods − while keeping an eye on the big picture, and the long-term view − but it'll be good to extend that out further and engage with the team to create some even longer-term visions of what we want to achieve.

NEXT / Learn what we've been doing to reduce our carbon emissions, make our buildings more energy-efficient and manage waste well at Britomart.