Cleaning up NZ's act

13 June 2014

13 Jun 2014  The Sustainable 60 is an annual award programme celebrating companies that are leading the way in developing sustainable business practices. Unlimited Magazine has profiled several of the winners and will be showcasing them one-by-one over the coming days.

Mike Hannah and his business partner Greg Yeoman started their storm water management company by peering down drains.

It was 1996 and they thought “holy heck” at the amount of rubbish and muck sitting in them, recalls Hannah. 

Back then, people thought storm water was a nuisance but harmless.

"But then people discovered it was not clean - it was polluted."

So Hannah, an engineer, and Yeoman, an architect, set about finding solutions.

Now they have a staff of eight and are looking at turning over $4 million this year with a sustainability record they are proud of. 

By trapping the muck in drains the pair suddenly got a perspective on how huge the problem was, says Hannah.

"There’s all the gross pollutants which are all the obvious things, from a coke can to cigarette butts and needles, but then there’s a lot of black, sludgy stuff we catch - the finer sediments.

"In that are heavy metals - copper, lead and zinc - (and) there are often a lot of nasty hydro carbons."

They have since developed a range of products, from their first, the EnviroPod, which collects the rubbish and sludge from drains preventing it from getting into streams and the sea, through to living roofs where landscaped vegetation soaks up 80 per cent of the water.

The living roofs, or green roofs, are "pretty cool", Hannah says.

They not only look good but they also insulate so buildings are cooler and consume less energy.

The company has just taken order number twelve. So far, customers are mainly millionaires who want to prove they are environmentally sound or large corporates interested in doing the right thing.

But demand for the company’s sustainable products is growing, he says.

The annual spend in America just on living roofs is about $150 million. "There’s a real awareness now that storm water is a nasty thing."

The business itself also has a sustainable ethos with everything it uses, so cleaning products are low impact, the company recycles and it has lean processes in place.

The aim is to be the first carbon neutral storm water company in New Zealand.

The firm already exports to Australia and is looking to increase that market, and is in talks with Christchurch City Council about how it can implement sustainable infrastructure during the rebuild of the CBD.

"It is exciting," Hannah says.

"We kind of feel we're at the forefront of environmental solutions in a way, because storm water is a massive problem in New Zealand and most of the world."

Sustainable 60 judge Kate Frykberg, executive director of the Todd Foundation, says Stormwater360 has made a great business around an important environmental issue. 

"It was a real win-win – creating a strong business that was actually making our world a cleaner place. They seemed very innovative and smart."

- Unlimited