New Zealand: it’s a country that conjures up images of awe-inspiring landscapes and incredible wildlife. Its natural wonders are often in lists of things to see before you die, and fill online galleries designed to give the reader wanderlust. The beauty of the country is so unbelievable and wide-ranging that Peter Jackson chose it to be the setting of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

The Department of Conservation New Zealand is tasked with looking after the natural and historical heritage of the country. Director-General of the department Lou Sanson has worked for environmental organisations and the government for his entire career, and helped establish the department in 1987.

He spoke to The CEO Magazine about the importance of the environment to New Zealand’s economy, the challenge of increasing tourism, and the threat of climate change.

The CEO Magazine: What is the mission of the Department of Conservation, and what does it aim to do?

Lou: The department is charged with looking after a third of New Zealand, an area as big as Switzerland and Denmark. Very few countries in the world have set aside more than 20% of their land for conservation, and New Zealand has set aside 30%.

We were created in 1987 during a major restructuring of government agencies, and we are one of the few countries in the world which has a totally integrated approach to conservation management. So we have marine mammals, marine reserves, national parks, rivers, mountains, lakes and historical places all taken care of by one agency.