Sustainability – Innovation or extinction

19-Oct-2018

CDU’s Professor Steven Greenland asks how we can put the planet on a sustainable footing

CDU’s Professor Steven Greenland asks how we can put the planet on a sustainable footing


Is future sustainability for the planet desirable? Is it even feasible? If it is, how can it be achieved?

These are questions Professor Steven Greenland will pose during his Professorial Lecture on Tuesday (23 October).

Professor Greenland said there was no doubt that Australia and the world were heading in an unsustainable direction with climate change, population growth, irresponsible businesses and unsustainable consumption.

“There is escalating demand for everything from energy, to food, to water, to healthcare. It’s hard to imagine these needs being met unless we do things differently; unless we become more innovative and more sustainable in our behaviour,” Professor Greenland said.

Sustainable innovation encompasses products, processes and ideas that serve social and environmental purposes. Professor Greenland said he believed that such innovation was the key to future sustainability.

“But it’s a slow process and unless we understand how to speed up sustainable innovation we can’t realise the full potential of innovations that could really make a difference to the world,” he said.

“There are a whole range of barriers to innovation from political will, to economic and social factors. If we want innovation to occur more quickly we must understand these barriers in order to reduce them.”

Professor Greenland pointed to drip irrigation in agriculture as an example.

“Australia is a largely arid country and currently huge areas are in drought. Water for agricultural use is often scarce, yet we have a low usage of the most water efficient irrigation method - drip irrigation,” he said.

“How is it that our well developed and sophisticated agricultural enterprises have not embraced more water-efficient forms of irrigation? To address this, we need to understand the innovation barriers and devise strategies to overcome them,” Professor Greenland said.

Professor Greenland also will highlight in his lecture that while it’s vital for the sustainability of the planet, innovation also has a darker side and can result in unintended consequences.

“Take tobacco and cigarettes where there is an ongoing battle between responsible and irresponsible innovation,” he said. 

“On one hand, responsible regulatory innovation is reducing the burden of smoking on the health system by restricting the tobacco company tactics that make smoking seem attractive.

“But on the other hand, tobacco companies are employing their own innovations to minimise the impact of these regulations on their sales. Examples include reducing the price of some brands and promoting cigarettes with particular colour names such as Dunhill White, which hoodwink smokers into thinking these are healthier options,” Professor Greenland said.

With marketing and market research becoming much more sophisticated and innovative, companies now identify the personality of their customers through researching their online habits and target them with highly effective messages.

Professor Greenland said unfortunately this is also evident with harmful products.

“We need to ask ourselves as a society: is it acceptable for marketers to promote greater consumption in product categories that have clear links to detrimental health, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity,” he said.

“On one hand innovation presents the solution to future sustainability. But on the other, if it’s let run unchecked or deployed irresponsibly, it could end up only making sustainability even more difficult to achieve.”

The Professorial Lecture will be held from 5pm to 7pm on Tuesday 23 October 2018 at the CDU Theatre, Casuarina campus. All welcome, but bookings are essential. RSVP to E: cduevents@cdu.edu.au or T: 08 8946 6554.