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Beyond business buzz words: Sustainability changes the world needs

This article appears in: Business and Accounting
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Sustainability is a business buzz word. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s not easily achieved. And so, researchers at CDU are finding new ways to improve.

The key is to give the environment, economy and society equal attention, says Professor Steven Greenland. He is one of CDU’s lead researchers in sustainable business and enterprise.

There has long been a push for more responsible business practices, but businesses really had to step up in 2015. This is when the United Nations introduced its Sustainable Development Goals.

“193 governments committed to achieving these goals by 2030”, explains Professor Greenland. “New programs and policies were introduced, with a focus on sustainability that went far beyond the environment,” explains Professor Greenland.

Equal attention in three directions

“When you talk about sustainability in business, a lot of people just think of environmental responsibility.

“But, sustainability is a much bigger issue. We must pay equal attention to the three drivers of sustainability: environmental, social and economic,” says Professor Greenland.

Don’t get me wrong. Environmental sustainability is really important. But there’s no point in just talking about environmental solutions.

“We must also have economic and social solutions. Businesses must turn their focus from being purely profit driven, and on genuine responsibility for creating positive social and environmental outcomes.”

Professor Greenland explains that pre-2015, most big businesses had corporate social responsibility programs. These were a step in the right direction, but many were, in essence, just a public relations effort.

“They were often a way for businesses to ‘green wash’ their activities to win the support of consumers and government decision makers," says Professor Greenland.

To meet the UN’s 2030 sustainability targets, governments are now expecting a lot more from businesses.

The secret is to change behaviour

Education is key to getting businesses and consumers on board and helping them understand how to embrace sustainability, says Professor Greenland.

He says that if we can generate more sustainable attitudes and behaviour, it can help encourage more sustainable behaviour and outcomes – a win, win for businesses, the planet and the global economy.

And that’s precisely what Professor Greenland’s team is researching at CDU’s Asia Pacific College of Business and Law.

The ‘why’

“Undertaking research in the field of business and law often means doing organisation and people-focused research," explains Professor Greenland. "We aim to understand why stakeholders behave the way they do; what motivates and drives them.

Motivational and behavioural research is important because when you understand the ‘why’, you’re in a better position to change behaviour.

Professor Greenland leads the Sustainable Enterprise Research Group and is currently engaged in a variety of sustainability-focused research projects to help consumers and businesses create a more sustainable world.

For example, he is supervising with a technology-focused PhD candidate researching barriers to the take-up of 3D metal printing.

3D printing is ground-breaking, but we’re seeing barriers to uptake. Applying a behavioural and motivational lens to this problem helps us to understand the ‘why’.

"And this allow us to find ways to make sure this incredible technology will used more widely and in a sustainable manner," he says. 

The untapped opportunity in Asia

Professor Greenland says that the Asia-Pacific provides a great opportunity to shift the sustainability dial.

“Big corporates in the Asia Pacific are far less regulated than in Australia, which means they have the power to sway a sizeable population.

These big corporates can use their financial clout to influence regulation and legislation that favours selfish business objectives and creates unsustainable outcomes.

Research into business and consumer behaviour in these markets can provide the evidence that governments in these countries need to shift their regulatory and educational focus, and create a more sustainable future” he says.

And the future is certainly bright. Professor Greenland and his team are on the hunt for PhD candidates to  help his team explore how to change the marketing of harmful products to improve public health outcomes; improve water conservation by changing the way people use water in their home; and encourage more sustainable transport.

CDU is actively seeking Higher Degree by Research students to take part in research projects like these. Scholarships are available. Learn more.

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