Dr Ed Hearnshaw Prize for Economics and the Environment

Dr Ed Hearnshaw Prize for Economics, Environment, Climate Change, Sustainability from Government Economics Network GEN student prize and professional award

About Dr Ed Hearnshaw and his work

Dr Ed Hearnshaw was a highly regarded public sector economist who spent many years working within the Ministry for the Environment offering insightful and rigorous economic analysis across environmental economics topics, most recently co-leading the economic evidence base to support the Zero Carbon Act. His more recent role was as Chief Economics Advisor to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Ed died at 43 in a tramping accident, in June 2020. Ed is remembered with appreciation and admiration for the pioneering approach he took to applying economics to the biggest environmental challenges of our time, across his work at the PCE, MfE, and prior to that at Lincoln University.

He had a thirst for knowledge and a passion for applying economics to lift the effectiveness of environmental policy. Softly spoken, but with a formidable brain and staunch in his convictions, Ed was also generous with his time and attention, mentoring many more junior colleagues. Ed had joined the GEN Board early in 2020 and was closely involved in designing the upcoming GEN2021 conference. Ed was a dear friend to many across the economics and policy community here in New Zealand.

Read more about Ed on the PCE website

A prize to reward innovative thinking in environmental or ecological economics

In 2020, GEN launched a new $2,000 economics writing prize to commemorate Dr Ed Hearnshaw’s significant contribution to the fields of applied economics and environmental policy in New Zealand.

Open to young New Zealanders – tertiary students, recent graduates, junior-level professionals – entry is via a short essay proposing a policy intervention supported by sound economics. The inaugural prize was awarded in February 2021 – see below.

The 2021 prize:  Nudging consumers towards lower emissions choices

The question posed was: Nudging us: How can government policy interventions encourage Kiwi consumers to make choices that result in lower greenhouse gas emissions? 

GEN and the Hearnshaw family were delighted to present the inaugural $2,000 award to Rosie Collins, for a superb essay ‘Flexiwork’:  a nudge proposal.

Rosie’s winning entry and the 4 shortlisted entries are :

Winning Entry:  Rosie Collins, ‘FlexiWork’:  a nudge proposal

Around 75% of Kiwis drive to work every day.  Transport accounts for about 90% of direct household emissions, or 8,700kt CO2 per year.

Emissions would fall if more people worked from home more often.  The OECD estimates 4 in 10 New Zealand jobs could be done remotely without a loss of productivity.  But only 10% actually work from home.

So why aren’t more people remote working?

Workers currently have the right to request remote work.  But few do.  Behavioural barriers – fear of stigma, ruffling feathers and status quo bias – make it difficult for workers to ask their employers to remote work.  And employers don’t have to agree to any requests.

Rosie (centre, holding her prize certificate) with members of the Hearnshaw family.

‘FlexiWork’ is a nudge proposal to tackle this problem.  It shifts onto employers the responsibility of formally justifying when work cannot be achieved remotely.

This nudge would not mandate remote work, but slows down the process of defaulting to office-based arrangements.  It changes power dynamics in workers’ favour.

It could save about 96 million car trips each year, assuming a quarter of those who ordinarily travel by car switch to remote work at least two days a week.  This could reduce New Zealand households’ carbon toll by about 2% per year, or 192 CO2kt.

In this context, it is a striking policy opportunity.

To read the essay in full, click here

Shortlisted: Cameron Haworth, Behavioural nudges for climate change:  two nudge packages

This essay examines why and how nudges work, ultimately addressing three socio-economic causes of climate change: (1) externalities from carbon-emitting activities; (2) imperfect access to carbon emission information; and (3) social stigma relating to climate-friendly behaviour.

It proposes two ‘nudge’ packages that can be implemented independently to address these issues:

  • Easy Mode: simple, low-cost nudges that are likely to provide a net benefit for society:
    • aviation: mandate that the default option for domestic flights to be for passengers to offset the carbon costs
    • car parks at public transport hubs: make the most advantageous parking spots EV Only, increasing the status of EVs and nudging people towards an EV purchase.
  • The Big Kahuna: aggressive, harder-to-implement nudges that can generate a significant impact if coordinated with wider policy adjustments.
    • a Green Price to be listed alongside retail price on supermarkets products, reflecting the true, carbon-neutral cost of the product – showing consumers the true cost of products and nudging them towards items with lower carbon costs
    • an opt-out corporate carbon tax, where carbon-positive companies pay for carbon-offsetting – or choose not to pay the tax, and publicly explain how they plan to better spend the same funds – nudging companies towards carbon-neutrality.

To read the essay in full, click here


Shortlisted: Lennox Crowe, A case for including deep-water marine permaculture in agricultural emissions pricing negotiations

To mitigate agricultural emissions, deep-water seaweed farms (marine permaculture arrays, MPAs) offer a ‘double benefit’ approach to emissions reduction.  MPAs have the ability to permanently sequester vast amounts of carbon offshore within our exclusive economic zone, in waters that were previously contributing little to the economy.  MPAs produce detritus which, in the right conditions, falls to the bottom of the ocean building a carbon sink.  MPAs continuously sequester carbon year on year, in contrast with forestry in which additional carbon sequestration ceases after roughly 20 years under the government’s new ‘averaging’ accounting system.  In addition, MPAs and seaweed products contribute further benefits, including a carbon positive fertiliser for farmers, increased local biodiversity, reduced ocean acidification, higher GDP output, and potentially cattle feed capable of vastly reducing biogenic methane emissions from cows.

By including MPAs as an option for carbon credit generation within an agriculture ETS deal (currently being negotiated by MPI & farmers) this industry could be kickstarted in New Zealand waters, making New Zealand a global leader in deep-water marine permaculture.  Under the agriculture ETS deal, ETS payments from farmers would become incentivised as they subsidise a carbon positive fertiliser which in turn, reduces on farm emissions.

To read the essay in full, click here

Shortlisted: Neil Lindsay, ‘Gamifying the commute’:  nudge interventions and their applicability in managing public transport demand to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

In recent years, policy interventions designed to increase public transport usage in Aotearoa New Zealand have proliferated in transport planning and environmental policy.  Using this idea, a burgeoning field within behavioural science has begun to examine and recommend ways to encourage rational decision-making using specific policy interventions.  Policymakers have begun to use these insights to influence the actions of individuals, groups, and broader populations using nudges – a term popularised by Thaler and Sunstein (2008).

This essay proposes the use of nudge interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, specifically examining the use of nudges to promote particular patterns of public transport usage.  Following the use of a policy intervention first used in Singapore and expanded on in a report by Alta Planning and the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) for Translink Canada, the essay explores the gamification of public transport use to ‘nudge’ passengers and reward them for making desirable travel choices.  This policy intervention explores incentivising off-peak and underutilised public transport routes to reduce demand on peak-travel and create more comfortable conditions for encouraging new patrons.

To read the essay in full, click here

Shortlisted: Robin Kunwar, Implementing Smart Road Tolling to reduce transport-based carbon emissions in New Zealand

This essay focuses on private travel, which is one of the leading causes of consumer-based carbon emissions according to Statistics New Zealand.  Congestion in urban areas such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch has resulted in unwarranted carbon emissions.  Congestion on public roads has led to a “tragedy of the commons”, as the common roading resources are over-used by individuals acting in their self-interest.

The solution discussed in the essay is to implement a Smart Road Tolling system that would model travel times through sections of busy roads.  When travel times exceeded a set limit, consumers would be charged a fee, thus ensuring that only travellers who see appropriate value from using the road would travel on it.  “Toll credits” would be given to low income-earners to ensure the system would be equitable.  Users with electric or hybrid vehicles would also be charged at a lower rate to incentivise lower carbon emissions.

To read the essay in full, click here

These entries have been shared with the Ministry for the Environment, the Climate Change Commission and NZ Treasury. Rosie’s Flexiwork essay also went to MBIE’s Labour Markets team.

The 2022 prize:  To be announced mid-2021

The 2022 prize topic will be announced in mid-2021, with entries due in February 2022 for an award in April 2022.

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Eligibility, entries and judges

Eligibility, entry, judging and a winner’s presentation

Entry is open to:

  • all under and post-graduate university students engaged in tertiary study (diploma, bachelors, masters or PhD level) at a NZ tertiary education institution
  • all tertiary education graduates (NZ or overseas) who were enrolled between Jan 2018 – Jan 2020, and
  • all employees in, or contractors to, NZ public sector agencies, research agencies, consultancies and businesses in the first 3 years of their professional working career.

Entry is via a written essay to be submitted by email to GEN. A specially-appointed panel of 3 people will judge entries against strict criteria (contained in the Prize regulations).  Entries will be assessed for sound economics, and practicality, innovation and clarity.

The winner will be invited to present their essay at a GEN event.  Support will be offered to prepare the presentation.

Read the full prize regulations for more detailed information: prize regulations.

Sponsors of this award

This award is co-sponsored by John and Vickie Hearnshaw and by GEN, and is supported by the Ministry for the Environment.

Tell your friends and colleagues

The value in the prize for GEN, and New Zealand, is in the strength and range of ideas presented and debated.  GEN will be asking all members and contacts to help spread word of the 2022 prize once the prize topic is announced.