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A “Green Wave” for Fiji and the Pacific

April 19, 2023

By Krystelle Lavaki

They’re blessed with natural beauty and abundance, but it’s time for the Pacific Islands to go green.

Imagine you’re a child again: what’s your favorite thing to do outdoors? In the Pacific Islands, it might be running through a mangrove forest leaping from one stilt root to another, exploring the stream near your house to catch prawns, watching small fish swim on a tidal flat, or spending a hot day at the river near your home.

Fast forward to today: Is the stream still there? Is the forest?

Rivers drying up, forests cleared, and coral reefs barren of life: changes like these are happening around the globe. Each day, an estimated 150 species disappear. In the Pacific Islands, blessed with natural beauty and abundance, these losses can feel particularly bitter.

It’s time for the Pacific Islands to go green. But what does that actually mean, and how can we best move forward? For families already struggling to put food on the table, just thinking about going green can be quite difficult, and for small businesses in the Pacific it can be unsustainably expensive. While most Fijian businesses express a willingness to go green, there is no guidebook, no strategic framework, to help them make the right decisions for their own operations or lobby for greener public policies.

In 2020, as Covid-19 was upending daily life and disrupting global supply chains, Fiji experienced a transformation of the small-business environment. Some 115,000 Fijians lost full-time work, but drawing on their strong traditional culture, they responded with a surge in cottage industries. Family kitchens became factories. Health and beauty products and a newly emerging fusion cuisine helped households support their livelihoods.

With employment and the general state of the economy in limbo, some businesses staked new claims to niche spaces or specialties. Small businesses began to look inside the country for alternative supply chains, while larger companies refocused their strategies from exports to local markets. New entrepreneurs combined traditional knowledge with e-commerce savvy to do business in new ways.

Many also saw an opportunity to explore greener ways of working. In 2020, in partnership with The Asia Foundation–Pacific Islands, the Women Entrepreneurs Business Council of Fiji (WEBC) embarked on an ambitious project called Green Wave: Advancing Women’s Green Entrepreneurship in Fiji.

In 2020, as Covid-19 was upending daily life and disrupting global supply chains, Fiji experienced a transformation of the small-business environment. New entrepreneurs combined traditional knowledge with e-commerce savvy to do business in new ways. Many also saw an opportunity to go green. (Montage by Krystelle Lavaki / The Asia Foundation)

The Green Wave project first set out to build profiles of the 250 member businesses of the WEBC. What sector of the economy did they work in, what was their stage of development, and how did they feel about green practices that they had already considered or adopted?

Next, the project developed a comprehensive guide to greener business practices, known as the Green Policy, which addressed the pillars of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. WEBC members and other stakeholders actively participated in the development process through a series of webinars, which also provided networking opportunities and new business contacts among the membership.

Green Wave recognized the work that women entrepreneurs were already doing to create green business solutions, and proposed a set of minimum operating standards and an easy-to-follow “green events checklist,” which included avoiding single-use plastics, reducing packaging waste, and committing their businesses to follow these standards, which slowly entered their first trials at weekend markets, music festivals, and other large events.

(Photo: Krystelle Lavaki / The Asia Foundation)

Three years later, as island economies were finally recovering from the pandemic, the WEBC introduced the Green Policy to the world at a conference in Suva, Fiji, called Women Invigorating the Nation (WIN). The two-day event, in late March of this year, brought together 250 thought leaders to discuss the gender gap in income, corporate governance, and education, and to consider sustainable solutions for greener futures.

The WIN conference itself was the first major event to be guided by the Green Policy’s green events checklist, and included measures such as recycled corporate lanyards for participant IDs and a no-plastics rule wherever possible. Welcome packs included travel mugs that participants were encouraged to use instead of disposable cups. QR codes were used for programs, background information, and other publications, making the Green Policy launch a paperless event.

The Asia Foundation sponsored the attendance of three partner organizations at the WIN convention—the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, the Fiji Council of Social Services, and the National Council for People with Disabilities—to fuel a larger conversation about women’s leadership, rights, and economic empowerment and the lack of opportunities for people with disabilities in the Pacific Islands labor force.

A priority of the WEBC in developing the Green Policy was to support the exchange of information among its diverse membership. More than 40 percent of members said they had wanted to make their businesses more sustainable but hadn’t known where to start or had tried and found it difficult. While many had taken some measures for sustainability, 93 percent did not have a written sustainability policy.

The Green Policy now offers these businesses a robust framework for greener practices that addresses environmental, social, and economic issues and identifies partners and suppliers that align with the policy standards. The massive achievement of the Green Policy exemplifies what a locally empowered women’s group can do to create real change for sustainability.

Krystelle Lavaki is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in the Pacific Islands. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Pacific Islands
Related programs: Environment and Climate Action


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