RM Journal

What is ‘quality’? Zen and the art of resource management reform


Author: Dr Steve Urlich, Department of Environmental Management, Lincoln University 

In the 1974 best-seller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the narrator tied himself up in philosophical and existential knots trying to define ‘quality’.  

The proposed Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) offers the opportunity for resource practitioners to promote environmental ‘quality’, presumably with less angst and more clarity. 

This is because the 2020 report of the Resource Management Review Panel (Review Panel) on new directions for resource management in New Zealand (the Randerson Report) advanced ‘quality’ in its draft purpose for the NBA (at 483): 

  1. The purpose of this Act is to enhance the quality of the environment to support the wellbeing of present and future generations and to recognise the concept of Te Mana o te Taiao. 

However, the key word ‘quality’ was left undefined in the proposed NBA definitions of the Randerson Report (at 485–489). Given its central importance and need for clarity for practitioners, this void may only be welcomed by Zen philosophers. 

Arguably, the Review Panel envisaged ‘quality’ to be associated with ensuring that “positive outcomes for the environment are identified and promoted” (proposed s 5(2)(a) of the NBA at 483). These outcomes are related to setting biophysical limits through national direction, despite the inadequacies of existing instruments to remedy the state of freshwater and coastal ecosystems, and the capacity of regional councils to implement them effectively. 

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