Can you provide an overview of your role at NZ Carbon Farming and how it supports the work of the organisation?

At the end of October 2021, I came onboard as NZCF’s Head of Climate, Sustainability and Legal. My role spans two business areas – I’m lucky enough to lead the legal team, and also have responsibility for a climate and sustainability function focussed on further reducing emissions and increasing our sustainable practices. 

NZCF is the largest carbon forestry participant in the New Zealand emissions trading scheme. Day-to-day our legal team spans a wide range of legal work. A common day could bring the negotiation or management of carbon leases, advising on climate change regulatory issues associated with being an NZ ETS participant, dealing with property law issues such as access easements, subdivision and selldown of productive land to local communities to use as farm land (we only plant the least-productive land in LUC 6, 7 and 8), acquiring existing forests or bare (least-productive) land to plant, managing our company portfolio, entering into commercial agreements with our service providers and circular economy/complementary land-use partners, trading agreements, banking and finance arrangements and of course, the common general commercial matters that all businesses need to be abreast of, such as privacy, marketing and health and safety matters.

Our business is made up of a range of technical teams, some based in the corporate head office in Auckland, others like me working primarily from home in other centres and regions, and several based in the field working in ecology, land management, health and safety and planning around our forest estate. In our areas – legal, and climate and sustainability – there is a great opportunity to weave our support through the business, building the connection of people and ideas to create strong commercial, legal, operational, and environmentally-focused solutions.

What do you love about your job?

For a person who enjoys making connections (people, ideas, systems) and making a difference, NZCF ticks both boxes. Like all of my colleagues, I love that I am working for an organisation that is focused on making a real difference in terms of climate change. The NZCF group is now one of the largest contributors to New Zealand’s climate change initiatives. NZCF has already removed 25+ million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere (which is equivalent to more than a year of New Zealand’s transport emissions), with more than 4.5 tonnes of CO2 removed from the atmosphere every minute of every day. That’s really important because CO2 in the atmosphere is now at the highest level ever in recorded human history. Every day I get to work on matters that continue to grow NZCF’s climate change contribution, and on matters aimed at growing biodiversity (we are regenerating our continuous canopy forests into indigenous forests) and our sustainability practices.

It’s also great to be part of a very clever team of people, all from a wide range of backgrounds – commercial, financial, geospatial, climate scientists, fellow lawyers, foresters, ecologists, police – who bring their experience and technical expertise to the challenges and opportunities we face as a business, resulting in highly innovative, robust, and prudent solutions. I am constantly learning from others, learning about the business, and even getting to spend time in the forest so that I am leading teams and advising within the context of the business and not in a vacuum.

What has been a recent challenge in your role and how did you address it?

When I started at NZCF, the existing legal team was just one person juggling a huge amount of work. She was also heading into a parental leave period a few months later. The first few months were hectic. They involved getting quickly up to speed, getting a business case for in-house growth in place and signed off, recruiting the first two new team members, and finding a solution to bridge the gap between the existing legal super star heading on parental leave, and my two new legal superstars arriving to start their new roles over a month later.

I was conscious our business comprises a small team and a big workload, in a highly complex regulated carbon forestry environment (that very few lawyers understand well at a detailed level). We pulled together a solution that married an experienced senior associate from Simpson Grierson who was very familiar with our business and property work, and Nick Cross, a Juno lawyer, who is a very experienced property lawyer, but with no prior carbon forestry experience. Nick worked mornings, Will afternoons, and I hovered over the top – the three of us kept tight, and communicated constantly, using a Kanban board style management approach to make sure the business continued to receive robust and value-adding legal advice, with continuity throughout the day and week and no disruption to the pace at which the business was moving. I can’t thank Nick and Will enough for how much they leaned in and collaborated strongly to make it a success. Through clear communication to the business, we set up a process to ensure no emails would fall through the gaps in this knitted, flexi, transitory arrangement, and ensured there was strong handover to Nick and Will as secondees – who, in turn, were handing over to my new team members just over a month later.

I have to say, I had some worries as to whether it would work given the speed at which the business was moving, and the knitted, flexi model. But, I was upfront with everyone that we all needed to work together – legal team, business and external law firms – to make it work. In reality, because everyone bought into it and played their part, the team (legal team, business and external law firms) flew through the transitory period. This experience was a real testament to the power of clarity, communication, collaboration, and new ways of working!