The New Zealand Chapter of the EIANZ: how did it all begin?

Published 2 November 2016 by Emeritus Professor ‚ÄčIan Spellerberg HFEIANZ


In 1994, when Ian Spellerberg moved from the University of Southampton (where he was Director of Environmental Sciences) to take up the position of the Director for the Centre for Resource Management (CRM) at Lincoln University, he found a problem for graduates that he had already dealt with in the UK. There was no professional institute for graduates in Resource Management nor in Ecology and thus no pathway for professional development and support.

In the late 1980s, Ian Spellerberg was the Secretary of the Ecological Affairs Committee (EAC) of the British Ecological Society. That Committee was well aware that there were increasing numbers of students graduating as ecologists from UK Universities. Many were going on to be practising ecologists. However, at that time there was no professional institute to provide those students with professional development, nor was there an institute to develop and uphold standards of good environmental practice.

The EAC initiated discussions with several other organisations (including the Institute of Biology and the Royal Geographical Society) with the aim of resolving these issues. In brief, a major milestone was achieved when the Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management (IEEM) was formally established in the early 1990s. Ian was one of the founding members.

Recognising the ‘gap’

In New Zealand, Ian was no stranger to the CRM having been a visitor on two previous occasions. The previous Director, the late John Hayward, had already raised the possibility of a new professional institute to meet the needs of MSc Resource Management graduates. The CRM ‘flagship’ course was the Master of Science in Resource Management. This was a highly respected degree and today many of the graduates hold senior positions in government and in private organisations.

It was perceived at that time that there was a ‘gap’ amongst the existing professional institutes in that none catered for environmental practitioners, resource management practitioners, and ecology practitioners. At that time there was also a period of change in the structure and environmental responsibilities of many central and local government organisations.

In the mid to late 1990s, Ian took it upon himself to promote widespread discussion about how the ‘gap’ could be addressed. At his own expense he conducted informal meetings throughout the country. He met with senior people who represented other relevant  organisations including The New Zealand Planning Institute, The Resource Management Law Association, The New Zealand Water and Waste Association, The Royal Society, The Institute of Professional Engineers, and The New Zealand Association for Impact Assessment. He also met with senior officials within some government departments.

Ian is an ecologist and for a while was a member of the Council for the New Zealand Ecological Society. In 1998 he and Judith Roper-Lindsay made some attempts to promote discussion amongst the New Zealand Ecological Society for the establishment of a professional organisation for ecologists. They were not successful in persuading the Society that a professional institute (as opposed to an academic society) would be of benefit and indeed was necessary, given the growing number of practising ecologists. The Council of the NZ Ecological Society at that time was not feeling the pressure for a professional body. In March 1999, a meeting about professional bodies was held with the Ecological Society in which benefits, options and other issues were discussed. Those attending were Caroline Mason, Janet Wilmshurst and Ian Spellerberg.

The New Zealand Planning Institute had by this time looked at several options to try and accommodate resource management graduates but nothing became of that. Other organisations tentatively offered a ‘home’ but overall there was some opposition at that time to the establishment of what many individuals saw as 'yet another environmental organization’ and one that a small population could ill afford”.

In 1999, Ian approached the IEEM to enquire if a New Zealand Chapter could be established and whether or not IEEM would accept resource management graduates. He met with the then Executive Director of IEEM in 2001, in Winchester, England.  

By 2000, Ian had started a database of individuals and organisations that agreed in principle to identify how ‘the gap’ could be filled for those environmental practitioners who did not qualify for membership of existing professional institutes (defined as those institutes that offered continuing and structured ongoing professional development and certification).

Progress was slow and in the following year, Ian and Ton Bührs joined forces with the aim of establishing a ‘committee for a new national organisation of environmental professionals’ in New Zealand. A formal written proposal was prepared with the purpose: ‘To establish a process to address the professional needs of environmental practitioners in New Zealand’. Meetings with various groups followed and subsequently the discussion started to attract the attention of staff in some government agencies, private environmental agencies and some NGOs.

The Key Milestones

A major step followed when, in January 2002, a three-page position paper was prepared ‘Towards the Establishment of an Organisation of Environmental (Management) Professionals in New Zealand. Those present and in agreement were Ton Bührs (Lincoln University), Leo Fietje (Environment Canterbury), Alisdair Hutchison (Ministry for the Environment), Laurie Jackson (Victoria University) , Zefanja Potgieter (Christchurch City Council), Margaret Kilvington (Landcare Research) , Peter Skelton (Lincoln University) and Ian Spellerberg (Lincoln University). That position paper was distributed to 177 environmental people. There were 26 replies and most were positive and supportive.

Meanwhile all avenues were being explored with regard to how best to ‘fill the gap’. In February 2002, Ton Bührs was in correspondence with Simon Molesworth Q.C., the then National President of the Environment Institute of Australia (EIA). In an email, Simon’s response was exceedingly positive with the suggestion that “one of the very best ways to proceed might be for our EIA to change its name to the Environment Institute of Australasia and then actively support the establishment of a new Division in New Zealand” (email from Simon Molesworth to Tom Bührs). Later that month, Simon reported that the EIA’s National executive firmly endorsed the concept of an EIA Division in New Zealand.

On 1 March 2002, a meeting Initiating Group towards a New Zealand association for environmental professionals was held at Environment Canterbury. Present were Tom Bührs (convenor), Zefanja Potgieter, Laurie Jackson, Peter Skelton, Alisdair Hutchison, Ian Spellerberg, Dave Clendon, Leo Fietje, Warwick Pascoe and the Executive Director of the Environment Institute of Australia (Slawka Bell). It was agreed to establish a steering group to explore how a New Zealand Division of the EIA could be established. A meeting of the steering group followed on 15 March in Christchurch.

Meanwhile and on behalf of the steering group, Ian wrote to 13 environmental organisations informing them of the progress that was taking place in pursuit of an organisation of environmental professionals. Much discussion followed over the next several months between members of the steering group and the environmental organisations. Although there seemed to be overall support for a new organisation there was also the view that “we see little merit in the initiative.”

On 13 March 2002, Peter Skelton wrote that he had completed some research into the constitutional arrangements of the EIA, RMLA and the NZPI. He also reported that he had had some very useful email discussions with Simon Molesworth Q.C. In conclusion, Peter Skelton said “We all accept that there is a gap and there is a need to fill it. A merger with EIA to become EIANZ is the way to fill this gap and give the NZ members the benefit of 12 years of development at the same time.” This was followed by an email from Simon Molesworth Q.C. (14 March)  to say that “The EIA National Council met yesterday morning and unanimously resolved to welcome the New Zealand colleagues into the fold.” The favoured option was to set up a single New Zealand Division and so create the EIANZ.

In April 2002, a questionnaire was prepared, Towards the establishment of a new, inter-disciplinary organisation of environmental professionals – a survey. The main aims were to see if there was support for a new organisation and if there was support for a formal alliance with the EIA. There were 68 respondents of which 68 agreed that there was a need for a new organisation. The majority preferred a formal alliance with the EIA.

Meanwhile in Australia, at the AGM of the EIA held in Melbourne in November 2002, attended by Peter Skelton on behalf of the New Zealand Steering Group, the following was approved:

  • “To change the name of the Institute to that of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ);
  • To establish an Australian and a New Zealand Chapter;
  • To create two Vice-president positions;
  • To establish an office of the Institute in New Zealand.”

In the months that followed, many meetings took place at which inter alia there were discussions about the goals of such a Chapter and discussions about a corporate plan and strategic direction for the Chapter.

The inaugural meeting of the New Zealand Chapter of the EIANZ was held in Christchurch on 28 February 2003.  This was followed by a formal launch of the Chapter in Wellington on 9 May 2003 (about ten years after Ian commenced discussions (initially within the CRM) about a ‘new environment organisation’ to meet the needs pf professional Resource Managers). 

The New Zealand Chapter of the EIANZ 'came of age' (quote by Simon Molesworth Q.C.) when the annual conference of the EIANZ was held in Christchurch, New Zealand for the first time in 2005 (29 March – 1 April).


Read the full article here →