Renewable Matter # 28 / July-August

What the World Can Learn From Māori Thinking

by Joe Iles

Te Puia in Rotorua was the location of the first ever Ōhanga Āmiomio Pacific Summit, on the topic of the circular economy, hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and New Zealand Ministry for the Environment. 

 

Since 2010, the circular economy has moved beyond a niche topic, to an area of research and practice, and an undeniable trend around the world. Faced with the current stalling take-make-waste model, with its chronic pollution, diminishing returns, and unhealthy outcomes, people are looking for a new vision for an economy that works, now and in the future. In response, the core principles of a circular economy – to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems – are seen as an opportunity, and a new narrative for innovation and progress. 

New Zealand is a hotspot of activity. Startups, large businesses, governments, and universities are embracing the term as an inspiring vision and toolkit for innovation. 

The Pacific Summit explored the connections between these indigenous worldviews and the circular economy, with a prominent theme on mātauranga Māori. 

There is much western organisations can learn from Māori businesses and communities, such as how to support relationships with living systems, transmit knowledge across generations, and think in systems for the long-term. 

Against the backdrop of our linear economy, with its mounting waste, stagnant growth, limited opportunity, and rising inequality emerges an invitation to shape the global economy. But our current economy was not created by one people or by decree. The economic shift that comes next will also be the result of a co-creation process. The people of the Pacific have the cultural, political, and scientific capacity to be a crucial voice in this process. 

Of course, this international, intercultural collaboration is not mandatory. At the event in Rotorua, we heard from successful Māori businesses that are built on a mindset and values that should make their leaders optimistic about the future. But the global context matters. Whether through trade, supply chains, or regulation, practically every organisation today interacts with the global economic system. What’s more, many economic and environmental challenges, such as ocean pollution and climate change, have little respect for international boundaries, nor whether you are Māori or Pākehā. 

It is in all of our interests, therefore, to facilitate the sharing of this knowledge. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but offering inspiration and insight from mātauraga Māori and Pasifika success stories, alongside circular economy innovations that scale, could lead to change that is global in reach and local in character. 

Milk company Miraka is an example of how mātauranga Māori makes good business sense. When making milk powder organic waste created during the drying process is composted at the Tuaropaki Trust worm farm nearby. The worm castings then go to a local nursery for native plants, which are used for waterway planting. 

Wakatū incorporation, a group of businesses producing wine, seafood, fruit and natural fruit bars, has also built success on the tenets of mātaguranga Māori. While the group understands the need for growth, and has a current value of over $300 million, Chief Executive Kerensa Johnston says that the notion of kaitiakitanga (guardianship or stewardship), as well as whakapapa (genealogy) embed long-term thinking. After all, if you’re passing knowledge, ideas, prestige, or resources from one generation to the next, you work to leave them in a better state than you received them. 

Speaking from the stage, Chris Kutarna, a fellow of the Oxford Martin School, delivered his theory on how European and Māori worldviews became distant from one another. Today, Rotorua-based research company Scion has been bridging that gap. One example of Scion’s approach involved designers creating a woven basket in the traditional Māori way, before repeating the exercise using cutting-edge manufacturing techniques and materials, such as 3D printing and bioplastics. Hemi Rolleston, General Manager Māori Forest Futures at Scion, sees the opportunity within this knowledge exchange. “For too long mātauranga Māori sat as the poor cousin to modern science,” Hemi says. “But when they sit side by side, that’s when the magic happens.” 

 

Pacific Summit, www.ellenmacarthur foundation.org/pacific-summit

MÄ�ori Dictionary, “MÄ�tauranga”, https://maoridictionary.co.nz/search?idiom=&phrase=&proverb=&loan=&histLoanWords=&keywords=matauranga

MÄ�ori Dictionary, “PÄ�kehÄ�”, https://maoridictionary.co.nz/search?idiom=&phrase=&proverb=&loan=&keywords=pakeha

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