Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari

The Chamber of Commerce is sitting down with each of the winners from the recent Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction Group, to find out what they did to stand out from the crowd. This week's Winners’ Insight is with Phil Lyons, CEO of Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, the winner of the 2021 Social & Environmental Sustainability award.

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is one of New Zealand’s most ambitious and inspirational ecological restoration stories. At 3,363 hectares, Sanctuary Mountain encircles a major tract of scarce remnant indigenous forest in the centre of the Waikato basin and is a viable home for self-sustaining populations of many of our most endangered taonga species – from native birds to bats, frogs to reptiles, tuatara to giant weta. Maungatautari is an important refuge for biodiversity being one of only two remaining extensive areas of indigenous forest in the central Waikato basin.
The ambitious dream of the local Maungatautari community to free their maunga of pests and predators has grown into something far greater. The vision and scope of Sanctuary Mountain make the organisation a deserving winner of the 2021 Social & Environmental Sustainability award. 
“We have the largest mainland predator-proof fenced sanctuary in the world, with 47km of it circling the mountain, and our team takes great pride in protecting this ecological sanctuary for the rest of the country to enjoy,” said CEO Phil Lyons. 
“This has enabled several native species to be reintroduced to Maungatautari. The reintroduction of these species restores biodiversity to the mountain ecosystem, while also providing a safe habitat for populations of threatened species.  "Fourteen native species have been reintroduced to the maunga, including North Island brown kiwi, Takahe, Tuatara, and Hihi."
Sanctuary Mountain encourages all New Zealanders to visit to learn more about native species or participate in specially designed wellbeing experiences such as Rongoā Rākau – an introduction to traditional Māori medicine. Or people can immerse themselves in the ancient mountain forest through the Forest Serenity experience, or for corporate groups, the tailored Nature of Work experience is designed to stimulate creative thinking and reduce stress levels. 
“Our vision is to share the mauri and the mana of the maunga, the lifeforce of the mountain and of everything we do. We are a community organisation with a strong partnership with Iwi. Our co-governance organisation consists of representatives from mana whenua, landowners and the community. Together with our partners, we are working on continuing the restoration of the mountain and educating Kiwis on the importance of environmental and social sustainability.”

Sanctuary Mountain’s commitment to sustainability has the organisation publicly reporting their progress on various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), laid down by the United Nations to set a path to a more sustainable world. Sanctuary Mountain adheres to and follows the benchmarks for Good Health & Wellbeing, Quality Education, Economic Growth, Partnership for Goals, Reduced Inequality, Life on Land, Life below Water and Climate Action. 

“We’re committed to strengthening our ecological foundation, which we then use to promote social wellbeing. The SDGs help guide us in our operational decision-making and keep us accountable. As part of our focus on social wellbeing we provide quality education and wellbeing programmes to our community and create jobs and attract tourists to our region,” Phil said. 
It was Sanctuary Mountain’s first time entering the Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction Group. The application process enabled Sanctuary Mountain to reflect on and evaluate its strategy and provided the organisation with invaluable judges’ feedback. 
“It’s an essential process for any organisation to undertake, and it enables you to take an honest look at how you’re operating while encouraging good improvement ideas. We enjoyed our interactions with the judges and look forward to implementing their advice.
“Winning the award is an opportunity to acknowledge and reinforce all the amazing mahi our past and present team have achieved over many years, and I want to thank all of our stakeholders for their support. It was also inspiring to receive all this positive feedback and encouragement. It’s certainly a sign we are moving in the right direction.” 
The community will continue to be a focus for Sanctuary Mountain, particularly researching the value of nature and the community’s relationship with nature and how they are intertwined and interconnected. A research project in conjunction with Waikato Impact Hub has already discovered that Sanctuary Mountain’s team of volunteers has a 20 per cent higher sense of wellbeing than non-volunteers.
“The ability to have long associations with the maunga and be out in nature has tangible effects on people’s health. We’ve discovered that developing the community’s relationship with the maunga, in turn, increases the community’s sense of wellbeing,” Phil said. 
Embracing technology to support its initiatives is a priority for Sanctuary Mountain. Capturing real-time data, will improve and support decision-making for the organisation and enable Sanctuary Mountain to react swiftly and accurately to any environmental changes. Phil sees this as an opportunity to improve their social sustainability programmes also. 
“We also want to bring this approach into the wellbeing of people. Using our research and our understanding of people’s interactions and the impact nature can have on them for the benefit of our community. We believe this smart technology can help aid people, through lowering blood pressure, improving mental wellbeing, or simply showing them why it is good to be out in nature more.” 
This innovative spirit is right at home in the Waikato, and the willingness to be bold and collaborate are some of Phil’s favourite things about living and working in the Waikato.
“What I love the most about the Waikato is the innovation and the importance of wellbeing within the business community. Many of our partners have seen how important it is to focus on employee wellbeing. The willingness to collaborate, work together or in partnership and share that sense of purpose and vision is inspiring.”
“I also have the privilege of leading an amazing team. It’s the first business I’ve ever been in with this level of passion for our vision. We have a team of experts dedicated to helping our community, and they thrive in our decentralised model. It’s pretty special,” he said. 
It’s clear that Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari will continue to be an inspiring beacon of success and sustainability for years to come. The organisation is not ready to rest on its laurels however; improving the community's wellbeing is a never-ending process. 

“We are constantly restoring the maunga and using that as a platform to have a positive impact. In doing so, we are hopeful that the positive impacts of our programmes will flow through to all sectors of the community and successfully reduce the social inequality,” said Phil Lyons. 
“If every business could really think about putting the planet at the centre of their decision-making framework and do it with integrity, it would make a massive difference. We have a long way to go, with a small window of opportunity remaining.”


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