Is it possible to build a more socially just and environmentally sustainable manufacturing culture in Australia while maintaining profitability and growth? Can you stay committed to valuing your workers during the time of an unexpected disaster or introduce automation in plants without it leading to mass unemployment? According to the 2020 report published by a research team at the Institute for Society and Culture (ICS), Western Sydney University, the answer is yes to all these questions!
To explore the transformative shifts taking place within the Australian manufacturing sector, Katherine Gibson, Stephen Healy, Joanne McNeill, and Jenny Cameron conducted a three-year-long case study on ten manufacturing enterprises across a wide range of sectors. The participants were recruited based on their documented reputation for efforts in tackling the environmental and social challenges of the 21st century. Over the course of the project, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews, site-visits and met with industry representatives to document how a business model can address the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. The findings were collected in the report, Beyond Business as Usual: A New Culture of Manufacturing in Australia.
Despite being one of the major contributors to the national economy, the manufacturing sector in Australia is currently facing numerous hurdles which stand in the way of its growth potential. Australia is often positioned as a ‘high cost’ operating environment due to its physical distance from mass global markets. In addition, the environmental degradation caused by manufacturing to supply the ever-evolving consumption demands of the world’s population is now under scrutiny. Most of all, the ‘business-as-usual approach’ widely adopted by high-profile manufacturers and retailers has become associated with greediness and disregard for the wellbeing of the communities. This attitude has eroded the public’s confidence in the industry.
Beyond Business as Usual: A New Culture of Manufacturing in Australia report studies such complications occurring within Australia’s manufacturing sector and documents the shifts taking place by featuring interviews conducted with company leaders committed to making a change.
It also illustrates real-life scenarios such as how Interface, a carpet tile and flooring manufacturer, retrained and redeployed its employees rather than laying them off when a fire destroyed its carpet manufacturing or how environmental sustainability lay at the foundation of the IT enterprise WorkVentures’ business model.
Such stories highlight the distinctive operation cultures of these manufacturers and the methods they employ to contribute broadly to wellbeing, purposeful work, ecological care, and (in some cases) wealth sharing.
The research proves that despite the claims that manufacturing in Australia is dead, there is still a possibility to create a vibrant and diverse sector that can create meaningful jobs, benefit communities, and rectify environmental harm.
Some of the recommendations made in the report and endorsed by the policy advocate Greens Senator Mehreen Faraqui include:
- The promotion of just and sustainable manufacturing through education and certification programs
- Providing employment opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds through partnerships with social enterprises
- Reassuring the production of durable and environmentally responsible goods through customer education and developing guiding principles and standards for product design and production processes.
- Incorporate new waste-management technologies and facilitate the tracking of products through their lifecycle.
The report makes a valuable contribution to the policy discussions regarding the future of manufacturing in Australia. It can also be used as a guide by individual manufacturers to identify and articulate problems in their area of business and develop innovative solutions.
To read the full report and discover how cultural research can contribute to understanding and transforming your sector, head to our website.
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