Sir Rob Fenwick (1951 – 2020)

BLAKE Medallist 2015

Businessman and Environmentalist.

2015 Blake Medallist, Sir Rob Fenwick, is a businessman and environmentalist who has devoted a lifetime to the conservation of natural and human heritage in New Zealand and Antarctica.

Sir Rob’s contribution to safeguarding our environment, through sustainability, wildlife protection and waste minimisation, will benefit New Zealanders for decades to come – and hopefully longer.

The list of roles and accomplishments in which Rob has made a difference is truly comprehensive. It’s a list that has taken him to all corners – from the ice to the forest, from marine reserve to compost heap, from radio waves to oyster beds.

A former journalist and public relations consultant, the environment has always been in Rob’s vision, whether it be in business or governance.

Over the past two decades, he has built a long, respecting relationship with Antarctica and the Deep South. As chairman of NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust, he launched an international campaign to preserve the historic buildings built by Antarctic explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott. The 20-year conservation programme of the huts and their thousands of artefacts is regarded as one of the globe’s most important polar heritage projects.

In 2008 Rob was appointed to chair Antarctica NZ – the government agency supporting New Zealand’s activities on the continent. While on the board, the Ross Island Wind Farm was completed to provide renewable energy for both the New Zealand and US research stations, reducing demand for fossil fuel at McMurdo by around half a million gallons a year.

He established the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute in 2012, partnering with research agencies to develop a global understanding of Antarctica’s impacts and vulnerability in a changing global climate. NZARI has since funded many scientific expeditions.

The Fenwick Ice Piedmont in the Ross Sea was named after Rob by the New Zealand Geographic Society for his contributions to Antarctica.

Rob has been deeply involved in the government’s National Science Challenges – as chairman of Sustainable Seas, a board member of The Deep South, and a stakeholder in the Biological Heritage challenge.

An experienced sailor, Rob has made expeditions into the Artic and Sub Antarctic; twice with round-the-world yachtsman Skip Novak. He has observed and written about evidence of global warming and declining indigenous biodiversity, which remains his consuming interest.

In 2012, he brought his knowledge of business and Antarctica and the Sub Antarctic to the Sir Peter Blake Trust, becoming a trustee on the board until a health issue caused him to resign, from this and several other governance roles, last year.

With a passion for New Zealand’s wildlife and natural heritage, Rob has been a key advisor to the Department of Conservation as it shifted to a new partnership model with iwi, conservation groups, business, farming communities and local government.

He helped to establish Predator Free NZ, and is chairman of Kiwis for Kiwi, a national trust committed to reversing the decline in kiwi populations of 2% per year to a +2% increase.

For all these organisations, Rob’s interest is in developing innovative ways to support the “army of volunteers” – the thousands of devoted New Zealanders who give their time to protect and conserve habitat across the country.

A sincere concern for the natural environment extends to Rob’s business interests. In 1994, he co-founded Living Earth Ltd – the country’s first municipal composting business, diverting thousands of tons of organic waste from landfills and creating high-quality compost for commercial growers, gardeners and farmers. With world-class operations in Christchurch and Auckland, Living Earth has converted nearly two million tons of waste into compost.

A tireless campaigner for waste legislation, Rob helped to get the Waste Minimisation Act passed in 2008, and chaired the Government’s Waste Advisory Board from its inception soon after.

Rob is on advisory panels for Westpac, Air New Zealand, NEXT Foundation and is patron of numerous conservation organisations. He has had a long association with Ngati Whatua and the Orakei marae and is a director of its commercial operations, Whai Rawa Ltd; he was founding chairman of Ngati Whatua’s radio station, Mai FM.

He was Chancellor of the Order of St John in New Zealand, chairing its national board from 2006 to 2009, and receiving a knighthood from the Order. During his time as chair of the Fred Hollows Foundation, eye clinics were set up in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to combat avoidable blindness.

He helped establish the Motutapu Island Restoration Trust; was chairman of Landcare Research for eight years and campaigned for the creation of Te Matuku Bay Marine Reserve.

The Fenwick family covenanted their 350ha forested property on Waiheke Island with DOC and gifted a 3km forest walkway to Auckland Council. Rob, his wife Jennie and their three daughters have their home at Te Matuku Bay, beside their oyster farm which supplies oysters for Auckland restaurants. The farm, within the marine reserve, is a model of sustainable aquaculture.

Rob was honoured as a Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) in 2008 for services to conservation. He also has an Honorary Doctorate in Natural Resources from Lincoln University.

The Sir Peter Blake Trust is privileged to honour a man who has upheld Sir Peter’s principals and carried on his legacy – as New Zealand’s foremost statesman of sustainability and the environment and an exceptional leader and motivator in business and governance.