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Exporting with a lighter touch

By Robert Tighe  |

David Trubridge is one of New Zealand's leading designers who changed his method of exporting to lower his carbon footprint.

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New Zealand exports are a vital part of the economy but they’re also a significant contributor to our climate impact. New Zealand is a net exporter of greenhouse gases to the world which means producing and delivering our exports releases more greenhouse gas emissions than the foreign goods we consume here. In other words, what we sell offshore has a bigger impact on climate change than what we consume as a country.

Kiwi exporters need to be aware of the carbon footprint of their products. That includes the production process here but also what is involved in sending their product to foreign shores.

Efforts to make packaging more sustainable and reduce the size and mass of the products we export can contribute to a lower carbon footprint. It can also reduce exporting costs so there are upsides for business.

Lighting the way

David Turnbridge

David Trubridge is one of New Zealand’s most successful designers and a globally recognised leader in environmentally responsible design. Trubridge left the UK in 1981 with his young family and sailed to a new life in Hawkes Bay via the Pacific Islands.

“One of the things about living on a boat is you're part of a very self-sufficient microcosm,” he says. “You can't go to the shop and buy something. If you break something, you've got to fix it yourself. The only food and resources you have are on the boat, so you have to think carefully about how you use them.”

Reducing their carbon footprint

Trubridge’s award-winning furniture and lighting designs are made primarily from wood and renewable bamboo plywood. Two years ago, the company stopped using all oil-based plastics in favour of natural materials. Everything that can be recycled is recycled and every little detail, down to the way products are packaged and shipped, is done with an eye on sustainability.

 

Switching to kitsets

When David first started making his iconic lights, he was sending container loads overseas. It was costing as much to send one assembled light as it was to buy the light itself. Switching to kitset lights was a game changer.

“We did a Life Cycle Assessment of our manufacturing process to get a better understanding of our carbon footprint and it was obvious that freight was our carbon hotspot,” says David.

“Initially we designed the lights and found the best way to package them. Now, packaging is an integral part of the design process. If necessary we will adapt the design to make more efficient use of packaging.”

Offering kitset lighting reduced the company’s environmental impact significantly but apart from the environmental benefits, economically it was also much more efficient. On average, kitset lights are 1/40th the size of an assembled light. It used to cost $745 to airfreight one of Trubridge’s lights to Australia. The cost to send the same light as a kitset is $32.

“The cost of freighting assembled lights was prohibitive so the only way we could export efficiently turned out to be as kitsets,” says David. “I have to admit that economic considerations came first, but at the same time we were very aware of our carbon footprint and were trying to reduce it, so the two came together. Now, every kitset box we send is a messenger, containing a little bit of our story and our commitment to sustainability. By demonstrating we care, we encourage others to care.”

Change is good

Trubridge’s kitset lights are a great example of how environmental initiatives can also work out to be cheaper.

“We need to find solutions that are better for the planet and for our pockets,” he says. “People are scared of change. They think it will cost them and they don’t want to give up something they’ve always had. They don't want to switch from what they know, from their gas guzzling car or whatever, but actually electric cars are now cheaper over the lifetime of a car. There are enormous economic as well as environmental benefits to be had by switching to more sustainable options and they're increasing every day.”

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