Businessman and environmentalist Rob Fenwick is one of three finalists for Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year. He talks about his passion for wildlife and the natural heritage of New Zealand and Antarctica.
Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year finalist Rob Fenwick has dedicated his life to preserving the environment for current and future generations.
A former journalist and public relations consultant, Rob co-founded Living Earth Ltd, the country’s largest municipal composting business. Much of the focus of his career has been to encourage other businesspeople to place environmental responsibility at the centre of their decision-making process.
Once described as the busiest man in New Zealand, Rob chairs the Predator Free NZ Trust and Kiwis for Kiwi, which aims to reverse the decline in kiwi numbers. He also chairs the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge and the Fred Hollows Foundation, and was founding chairman of Ngati Whatua’s radio station, Mai FM.
Rob spearheaded the campaign to save the Antarctic huts built by Ernest Shackleton and Robert Scott, chaired Antarctica New Zealand and established the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute, which funds scientists to gain a greater understanding of climate change.
He puts his ability to influence change in so many areas down to his tactic of “starting with a bold idea and trying to persuade people to join you”.
Rob’s recent treatment for lung cancer prompted him to prioritise his commitments.
“You should never waste a good crisis. I’ve altered my workload and am focusing on the things I love,” he says.
“In particular, I am really determined to save the kiwi from extinction. We now know how to get the predator population down to a level that would allow our national icon to flourish. We could do it in our lifetime. There’s an army of volunteers out there - they just need support and strategic direction.”
Sir Bob Harvey, who has known Rob for 40 years, praises him for giving his time and wisdom to nurture the organisations he works with.
“Rob has a great deal of love for the community and is very proud to be a New Zealander,” says Sir Bob.
Economist and businessman Gareth Morgan says Rob has a rare ability to bring people in different parts of the conservation sector together. “Rob is genuinely committed to the belief that intergenerationally we have to protect and enhance our environment and not leave the planet any worse than we found it.”
The biggest challenge facing New Zealand, in Rob’s view, is climate change. He believes New Zealanders have no choice but to act to reduce the effects of climate change, even though the actions required will be inconvenient and will require lifestyle changes.
When asked who has inspired him, Rob says he has been fortunate to be involved in many organisations with inspirational founders. He is an admirer of Shackleton and Scott, and regards Sir Peter Blake and Fred Hollows as brilliant, exemplary Kiwi leaders.
However, many of Fenwick’s heroes are ordinary people doing amazing things for others.
“There are many New Zealanders who have made much greater sacrifices than I have who get out of bed in the morning and go out to do something wonderful for other people. I feel very humbled to be nominated for New Zealander of the Year because every day I see all around me people who are doing great things for others.”