Skip to content

Learning about Environmental Justice in Aotearoa/New Zealand

2012 April 26

By Carlton Eley

I had the experience of a lifetime in 2003 when I was selected for the Ian Axford (New Zealand) Fellowships in Public Policy.  I traveled to New Zealand to research how the nation’s policies encourage sustainable urban settlements, and I left the country enriched with broader knowledge about programs that are complementary to encouraging ‘environmental justice.’

The term environmental justice isn’t referenced verbatim in New Zealand’s environmental policies.  However, when you peel back the layers by talking to citizens, public officials, and Iwi (tribal) authorities, it is easy for an American researcher with a passion for the topic of environmental justice to become awestruck by the strides New Zealand has made in the areas of public involvement; social impact analysis; cultural preservation; heritage landscapes; and Māori approaches to community development.  As an urban planner, I took a key interest in the latter issues, heritage landscapes and community development.

In New Zealand, public discourse about heritage landscapes reveals there are many landscapes, which have heritage significance to communities, Iwi, and the nation. In the process, Kiwis have learned that preservation isn’t simply about protecting historic buildings, landmarks, and monuments. It is also about honoring the narratives, the institutions, and cultural assets that contribute to a sense of place. In the end, the built heritage and the institutional heritage are both treasures (or taonga in Māori) because they equally contribute to creating a sense of place.

Terry Puketapu inside the ‘Te Maori’ Cultural Centre.

As for community development, I was particularly impressed withthe efforts lead by Terry Puketapu within Lower Hutt.  As a local leader, Terry had a clear sense of the community’s pulse and the need for businesses, facilities, and jobs that would improve quality of life.  Following years of investment, Terry and the Iwi authority have built a community health center; fitness center; radio station; cultural center; as well as a pre-school which also serves as a language nest for teaching toddlers to speak Māori.  Further, the neighborhood services are for the benefit and enjoyment of all residents who live in the community.

My time with the people of New Zealand left quite an impression on me, and it reinforced my belief that environmental justice is a forward-thinking, sustainable approach.  New Zealand is often thought of as a breath-taking place because of its abundant natural amenities.  However, when I reflect on my fellowship experience, I am reminded of a country that has gone ‘beyond the green;’ that is improving communities holistically; yet tends to be modest about what it has accomplished.

Carlton Eley works for the Office of Policy.  He is an urban planner, sociologist, and lecturer.  Carlton interned with EPA’s Environmental Justice Program in Region 10 as an associate of the Environmental Careers Organization in 1994.  In recent years, he has become an accomplished and respected expert on the topic of equitable development in the public sector.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Vaughn Horn, AIA, NOMA, LEED permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Carlton, as usual, it is a pleasure reading your journal entries about environmental justice. It seems protecting narratives and the invaluable/non-tangible aspects of culture and history is unfathomable for many large-scale, revenue-thirsty global developments. In my opinion, city council members in Charlotte, for example, whose Brooklyn neighborhood adjacent to downtown was replaced with “urban renewal,” could have benefited from your experience in advance of razing a once vibrant neighborhood.

  2. Kristie King permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Great article, Carlton! I love it. Keep it up!


  3. April 26, 2012

    I have hope that, like New Zealand, we will one day go “beyond the green” and arrive at a place where equitable development is inherent in our policies and actions.

  4. Zunilda Rodriguez permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Excellent piece on your environmental justice experience as well as a wonderful insight into New Zealand. It can serve as a great example of how communities can strive to better protect the essence of “who they are.” In changing economies, cultures, development pressures, etc., it is sadly very easy for communities to cast away their heritage and community development opportunities. Your example, however, demonstrates why it is important for communities to embrace their sense of community and inspire the next generation of champions for sustainability.

  5. April 27, 2012

    Well done, Carlton. This is a lovely synopsis of your experience in New Zealand as an Axford Fellow. It is wonderful that all these years later you continue to write about and promote New Zealand and its policies encouraging sustainable environments.

    You and I know that whilst NZ can be held up positively in the area of environmental justice, there is still much room for improvement! The reality is certainly not the “100% Pure” NZ that is proactively promoted to the rest of the world.

    Anyone interested in the Ian Axford NZ Fellowships in public policy can find out more at

    Kia ora!

  6. April 27, 2012

    I second Carlton and Mele’s observations that the Axford Fellowship offers a phenomenal opportunity for Americans to connect with and learn from New Zealand regarding its environmental policies. As a 2011 Axford Fellow, I know the exposure broadens our perspective as Americans and offers new insights for the Kiwis. In our global marketplace, the work Carlton did and is doing is essential.

  7. Devona Williams permalink
    April 28, 2012

    Interesting piece on New Zealand and environmental justice. It something I must admit that I don’t come across too often.

  8. Emile Bruls permalink
    May 1, 2012

    Interesting, I have never been to New Zealand. After reading your article I want to go there someday to experience it myself. Thanks Carlton.

  9. Irayda Ruiz permalink
    May 3, 2012

    I think you are after something here. Environmental justice issues are global and at the same time local. Glad to hear that New Zeland is trying to address this issue. Thank you for sharing Carlton!

  10. Phil Gurnsey permalink
    May 4, 2012

    So great to see the memory of your time here in NZ as vivid as the day you left. I think you’ve captured it really well. Since you’ve left, more iwi have reached settlement of grievances with the Crown. Their resources have enabled them to achieve better co-governance of natural resources. From my recent experience of working with the Waikato River Authority, co-governance is providing for innovation and change, and a platform for enduring, effective relationships across the community.

  11. Erin Robertson permalink
    May 5, 2012

    thanks, carlton. new zealand is really ahead of the curve on the environment, urban planning, etc. there’s so much to learn from them. keep up the good work!

  12. May 8, 2012

    Thanks Carlton.

  13. May 8, 2012

    Thx Carlton for your research based work.

  14. P Fletcher permalink
    May 10, 2012

    Ironically, I was just wrestling with the sometimes opposing goals of preserving cultural heritage and retaining the built representation of that heritage. Your article gives me hope.

  15. Matthew Hardy permalink
    May 11, 2012

    Good to see some learning from Down Under!

  16. Alice Adams permalink
    May 14, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Carlton!

  17. RP Herisse permalink
    May 25, 2012

    Congratulations on the Fellowship Carlton and thanks for sharing this insight.

  18. Jimmy permalink
    March 14, 2013

    It’s great to see that there is a International component to the “Environmental Justice IN Action Blog”. Mr. Eley do you see similar EJ problems internationally in New Zeland?

    • Carlton Eley permalink
      March 15, 2013

      I noticed some commonalities during my fellowship in New Zealand. For example, Iwi (or tribes) are concerned about the condition of the Waiwhetu Stream in Lower Hutt. For context, this 2011 article may interest you — Terry Puketapu is referenced at the end of the article. I interviewed Terry in 2003. At the time, he shared that he reviewed the U.S. EPA website, including sections on environmental justice. Second, I was reminded about environmental justice when I read public health statistics in reports and local newspapers. As I recall, asthma in young children was a major concern.

  19. environmental education permalink
    July 8, 2014

    Always interesting to know what people overseas think of our environmental management in New Zealand. Thank you for your positive response. As someone intimately involved with environmental education I can find several areas for improvement, but good to know your main impression was positive.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS