The granting of legal personhood to Te Urewera, the Whanganui River and Taranaki Maunga in Aotearoa, New Zealand, is world-leading and has opened up new horizons for business ethics and corporate governance.
As a purpose-driven organisation, we want to embrace the potential this offers for innovation and in doing so, we've grappled with several pātai (questions) surrounding this groundbreaking legal paradigm. Do companies have obligations to ecosystems? Would the same director duties apply to a human representative of an ecosystem or beyond-human organism compared with other directors?
Given these unique legal statuses, we're exploring how a Tau Iwi company might owe ethical and legal obligations to Papatūānuku while honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its partnership, protection, and participation principles. While no universal answer exists, we seek ways to align our kaupapa (policies) with these ecosystems' intrinsic mana (rights).
We strive for a co-constitutive kāwanatanga (governance) and mahi (operation) model. We believe that relying on an Act of Parliament to give these entities a voice is costly and complicated when a purpose-driven venture could choose to do this itself.
How could we give Nature a voice at the boardroom table, and could Nature own shares in our company? From the perspective of understanding whakapapa, to investigate how to prioritise ecosystem health over profits.
Alimentary was awarded a grant from the Akina Foundation to explore legal mechanisms for these entities to be represented on our board to enshrine Nature’s voice in the decision-making process. Through human proxies, we aim to give Nature rights on our board by representing the voices of wai (water), hiko (energy), and oneone (soil) —the critical elements to sustaining life.
But how might this look in practice?
We started from a simple premise but one that is currently revolutionary: This company exists to serve Nature.
How does this paradigm shift in thinking about the role of a company work? Two principles guide us, like the sun in the day and the moon at night.
First, purpose is enshrined as the beating heart of this company
Second, it ensures that Nature's voice is heard and actioned, and the purpose is protected.
But how do we preserve these foundational principles legally? We’ve worked with lawyer Steven Moe to ensure these two principles stay woven into the fabric of the company in two ways:
by ensuring the Company will operate in a way that advances its purpose through its actions and the way it carries them out, through clear definitions and guidelines on its purpose in the Constitution, and
setting up the Earth Equity Trust, a registered charity shareholder with entrenched rights to approve key decisions and preserve the purpose.
These steps ensure that this is more than talk. Let’s unpack what this will look like in more detail.
Global Standards, Local Mana: Giving a Voice to Papatūānuku
The Earth Equity Trust holds a special class of shares with voting rights specifically focused on ensuring the company's mission stays aligned with planetary boundaries, the critical limits defining a safe environment for humanity on Earth.
Overstepping these boundaries could result in irreversible environmental damage, posing threats to long-term resource availability, supply chain stability, and stakeholder value. We partner with the Planetary Accounting Network. The PAN open-source framework translates global environmental challenges into actionable targets at all scales and provides metrics by which the Trust can measure the company's commitment to Nature. By doing so, we take a holistic, data-driven approach to ethical governance.
Operating within Earth's Safe Operating Limited Through Data-Driven Governance
Our commitment to purpose-driven business is outlined in three strategic impact objectives outlined in the company constitution. Our purpose venture focuses on water, energy, and soil. We adhere to stringent guidelines from the IPCC to monitor and minimise ecological harm. We are not just focused on carbon metrics; we take a holistic approach encompassing broader planetary boundaries. Our comprehensive metrics touch on everything from biodiversity to energy production, ensuring that every business decision aligns with our fundamental purpose of creating a resilient, circular economy.
He Wai Tapu: Sacred Water and Our Ethical Duty in Aotearoa
At the heart of our mission is the belief that water is more than a commodity—it's a life-sustaining resource with tangible and spiritual significance. This ethos, deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of Aotearoa, New Zealand, obliges us to steward this invaluable resource responsibly for the common good and future generations.
Through First Principles decision-making, we redefine what success means in the modern business landscape. It's not solely about fiscal growth but about creating enduring value for all stakeholders—employees, investors, communities, and the natural environment. Every decision we make serves dual purposes: reducing our environmental impact while increasing social and financial returns. This way, we set a new benchmark for being a purpose-driven organisation focused on environmental stewardship.