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"It’s a privilege, not a right, that people chose to work for us. Its our duty to serve them well."

Trevelyan's

sarahlei
"We’re making many little changes every day. It’s rewarding to look back six months and see our progress."

NAME: Sarah Lei

ROLE: Head of Sustainability

REGION: Bay of Plenty

SECTOR: Horticulture

TEAM SIZE: 240

Trevelyan’s is the largest packing and fruit storage facility on a single site in Australasia for kiwifruit and avocado growers. The family-run business was a Supreme Award Finalist in the 2021 Primary Industries Good Employer Awards. Based in Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty, Sarah Lei is Head of Sustainability. She shares how sustainability has been embedded in the business since day one, how it helps them attract and retain their staff, protect the environment, and save money.

Tell us a bit about the business

Trevelyan’s was founded 1965 by John and Elizabeth Trevelyan. We pack ten percent of New Zealand’s export kiwifruit harvest and avocadoes.

We operate like a big family with around 240 permanent staff and approximately 1,500 seasonal staff at our peak.

Everyone in our team is encouraged to have a dream, believe in themselves and be the best people they can be. We invest in people’s physical and emotional wellbeing so they can take care of themselves and each other. We offer healthy food and drinks in our café. The campsite (alongside the packing and cooling facilities) provides accommodation for our seasonal staff.

We’ve been measuring our carbon emissions since 2010 and reporting on them since 2014. I joined Trevelyan’s as Head of Sustainability in 2020.

Why do you invest in being an environmentally sustainable workplace?

It’s well recognised that businesses who take care of their environment, and who are accountable for their environment impact, are more likely to be successful. In 2010, the PSA crisis affected kiwifruit growers all over New Zealand and saw sustainability take a back seat for some businesses. But not Trevelyan’s.

The Trevelyan family’s commitment to looking after everyone, and our environment, has made it easier for us to take extra steps every year towards sustainability. After many years of groundwork, we’re starting to see the financial benefits.

Which initiatives have helped you reach your sustainability goals?

As the cost of transport and government levies increase, so too does the cost of waste disposal. We’ve reduced the amount of waste we send to landfill to less than ten percent of the waste we generate. This significantly reduces our costs.

We are paid for some of our recycling. There is a cost associated with the time it takes our team to separate recyclable materials from waste, but we’re saving tens of thousands of dollars every year.

Looking after our people is even more important now that we’re operating in the COVID pandemic with a tight labour market. Many of our seasonal staff come back to work for us year after year because they know we really care about them. Many staff are friends and family of other staff – cousins, brothers, and sisters.

Who and what is involved in sustainability across the business?

I think of sustainability as a bit like a bus. Some people are already on the bus, some people are waiting for the bus, some people don’t know even know there is a bus, and some are running away from the bus!

Different people have different levels of awareness of sustainability – based on their experience and culture.  You have to meet them where they’re at and help them understand what you’re trying to do.

We’ve developed three pillars to help our staff understand our kaupapa (purpose). Work Smart – ensure good returns for our growers, a circular economy approach and a safe and healthy workplace; Respect our People – our staff, growers and wider community; and Tread Lightly – minimise our carbon footprint, and protect biosecurity and biodiversity.

Our Sustainability Group brings staff from different parts of the business together once a week. Our list of things we’d like to do to improve our sustainability is always long. There is often 20 – 30 things on the list! We’re making many little changes every day. It’s rewarding to look back six months and see our progress; to see how many things we once sent to landfill that are now being recycled.

Our Wellness Committee meets fortnightly with a focus on improving the health and wellbeing of our staff. We need to help people care for themselves and others.

Which initiatives and networks have been most valuable?

Workwell is a government-funded wellbeing programme for workplaces. It provides us with surveys for our staff and a framework to support improvement. It helps us set priorities and reach our goals.

Joining national networks like the Sustainable Business Network and WasteMinz keeps us connected to other businesses with similar goals. Locally, we connect with other like-minded businesses through Sustainable BOP.  They also give us opportunities to learn through their workshops.

How do you measure the impact of your sustainability goals?

In 2021, we diverted 10 tonnes of strapping and label backing out of the landfill and into recycling, but we shouldn’t only talk about volumes. There are financial benefits of reducing waste. For example, composting our organic waste in 2021 saved us $40,000 in landfill fees.

As a private company we’re not required to produce an annual report, but every year we review our sustainability targets and create a sustainability report. We’ve done this since 2014. We use the world’s most widely used Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards (core option). It’s satisfying to see how far we’ve come. The reporting process helps us plan where we want to go next.

What is the easiest way to get started for someone wanting to improve their workplace?

Sustainability is seen by some people as ‘something that can wait for another day’. But you can start today, in a small way, by picking one thing to change. It helps to make that one thing very visible. For example, separate your cardboard from your waste and start recycling it.

One of my favourite proverbs says it all is: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.’ If you face a challenge —something that feels hard — look at people who are already doing well. Find role models who can support you. Find people who can help you reach your goals.

Showing other people and businesses around our packing and cooling site is a win-win. It allows others to learn from us, and us to learn from them.

What next?

We plan to keep doing what we’re doing: turning challenges into opportunities; taking care of our staff; and reducing our carbon emissions. If everybody in every business did one thing to make a difference, the impact on people’s wellbeing and our planet would be huge.

Top tips

Everyone from the top-down needs to be committed to what you’re doing – take them with you on your journey.

Whatever changes you make, they’ve got to come from the heart and be embedded in your culture.

Collaborate don’t compete. Look at what other people are doing and learn from them.

Report on what you’re doing to make a difference, so everyone can see how far you’ve come.

Next steps