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Vets leading by example

There’s something special, and definitely genuine, when a local company makes a real commitment to combat climate change.

Of course, it’s good news that international companies – like Unilever, Panasonic and IBM – make commitments too. But there is the lingering feeling that these good intentions have been written into corporate plans by their PR people.

There is no doubting the sincerity, and concrete action, of South Wairarapa Veterinary Services [SWVS] and its 65-strong staff throughout Wairarapa Valley.

Headed by veterinarians Richard Kirton and Jane Ough, who lead the Climate Action Group at the practice headquartered on Carterton’s outskirts, the initiatives in their climate action plan includes, importantly, the planting of 620 natives at an inaugural tree planting day last year.

After the trees were planted by staff and some suppliers on nearby QEII covenanted land part-owned by Jane Ough, who is also the Climate Change Ambassador for the New Zealand Veterinary Association, staff members were so enthusiastic they planted another 380 trees a month later. There are plans to plant another 5,000 trees this autumn.

Richard Kirton, one of SWVS’s shareholders, says: “In August 2021 the board unanimously agreed to measuring our carbon footprint, and this was a massive first step in reducing our emissions. Our shareholders all have young families and are concerned about climate change and its effects. By taking action, we are dealing with climate change hopelessness.”

Results from SWVS’s first carbon footprint audit showed the number of trees they planted would offset almost 20 per cent of the practice’s total carbon emissions for the 2020-21 year.

But, of course, planting trees to offset carbon emissions is far from the complete solution.

An important part of the practice’s planning is the transition to lower-emission transport, starting with the first plug-in hybrid vehicle that arrived for their equine team in January this year.

Two more are expected in April. Each ute will emit 84 per cent less carbon than the vehicles being replaced.

Also, says Richard Kirton, there has been an emphasis on commuting emissions, and SWVS has petitioned local and central government to improve cycleways for commuting. “We ran a fun summer challenge for reduced carbon miles, encouraging alternate modes of transport – biking, ridesharing, walking. And there’s no question that development of safe cycle lanes in Wairarapa would make a big difference to us as a business reducing our emissions.”

The practice wants to promote locally and sustainably made products to their clients, but they have been difficult to find. “But,” says Jane Ough, “one of our nurses has started up a new line of pet toys made here in Carterton from upcycled New Zealand wool blankets, stuffed with wool and trimmed with possum – so totally compostable .” These pet toys are selling 1.5 times faster than synthetic toys from China.

Aspirational goals include the installation of solar panels and batteries and water storage from roof collection to reduce running costs and provide resilience during extreme weather events.

As Jane Ough says: “The science around climate change has been unequivocal for decades, and yet year on year, we are pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We’re seeing extreme weather events far earlier than modelling predicted. I have two daughters and three stepchildren, and I simply can’t sit back and do nothing.”

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