Interview with John Mauro, Chief Sustainability Officer

Last Updated : 29 Sep 2015
John Mauro

At Auckland Council, our goal is to make Auckland the world’s most liveable city. To do that, we must also become one of the most sustainable. But sustainability is about more than just getting your recycling right – at its heart, sustainability is about people, the world we want to live in, and the future we’re creating for our children.

OurAuckland spoke to Auckland Council’s Chief Sustainability Officer John Mauro who explains more about Auckland’s sustainability goals.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean?

Sustainability is about creating a vibrant, clean economy that works for people, profit and the planet. It’s about restoration, resilience and revitalisation of the natural systems we love and rely on, and of the social fabric that binds us all together.

Tell us about some of Auckland Council’s in-house sustainability initiatives

Some of our most important sustainability work of all is relevant to each and every one of us every day; it’s about how we get around and where we live. Work to dramatically improve and provide better transport and housing choice is fundamental to becoming a more sustainable city.

Auckland Council has embraced smart sustainability and innovation. We’ve got electric cars in our fleet, solar power on council rooftops and tens of thousands of LED lights – with more on the way.

Our Albert Street building is a great example of sustainability in action with a raft of sustainability features – from remanufactured LED lights to worms in the basement to chew through all our food waste and provide great soil for the council rooftop garden. We’ve created a building that is projected to save enormous amounts of energy and water and to rake in $2.7 million in overall savings to ratepayers each year for the next 10 years.

But we’re only just getting started – so much more opportunity lies ahead.

What is Auckland’s biggest challenge in terms of sustainability?

Not everyone understands what sustainability really means – some think it’s just a greeny, tree-hugging, shower-once-a-month kind of thing – and we’d like to show them the remarkable possibilities of what getting sustainability right can do for us, our families and for this place we call home. Sustainability can be about our natural environment, but it’s also about people. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!

Are there any innovative sustainability initiatives under way in other countries that you admire or find inspirational?

I’m inspired when innovation meets simplicity. Planning for the humble bicycle has literally transformed places like Copenhagen. New York City is the most walkable city in the US.

It’s amazing what opening streets for people can do to the morale of a city, to its local economy, let alone to sustainability outcomes.

And food initiatives like those in Melbourne, Seattle, Detroit and Vancouver are weaving together local and sustainable food production and community gardens, farmers markets, eradicating “food deserts,” aiming for zero waste, and reclaiming public space.

What are the council’s sustainability goals for Auckland?

Among other things, we’re going to reduce our carbon emissions 40 per cent by 2040. We’re going to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2040. We’re going to double public transport trips from 70 million to 140 million by 2022.

We’re going to retrofit 40 per cent of our housing stock in need of retrofitting by 2030. We’re going to realise quality compact urban form. We’re going to grow our GDP growth from three to five per cent. And we’re going to enable tangata whenua to co-manage natural resources.

What is your personal vision for Auckland in 50 years’ time?

I probably won’t be here, but my little girl will be 51. My vision is that she’ll be living in an Auckland that cares deeply about fairness for its people, where quality living is affordable, and where there’s barely any difference in the dreams and opportunities of kids who live in Manurewa, Massey, Mount Eden, or Matakana.

She’ll take pride in her surroundings, with our natural systems restored to exceptional ecological health, without carbon pollution, where the air tastes good and we can swim anywhere.

She’ll enjoy an Auckland that attracts people from around the world with our flourishing art and culture and strong Māori identity. She’ll be part of a creative and highly skilled workforce, in an Auckland renowned for its vibrant green economy.

She’ll enjoy an Auckland that is fun, where transport is a pleasure, where our urban spaces are as inviting as our beaches and bush, and where Aucklanders are some of the happiest people on the planet.

What is one simple thing you’d like to see all Aucklanders do that will help us reach our goals?

The one simple thing I’d like to see is that we all get involved in the things we care about. While this could mean specific actions or behaviour change in transport or energy use or what we buy, it’s basically about:

  1. Dreaming big: imagine what a sustainable, equitable, wonderful Auckland looks like to you.
  2. Starting small: think of how you can get more involved in your local community.
  3. Connecting things up: use your voice - don’t be shy to bring people together and advocate for what you believe in, connecting up people and the first small steps to the larger vision.

We’re all collectively responsible for our future and if we all dig in and make a difference, it’ll be unimaginably cool.

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