The power of ‘sustainability’

BUZZ word ‘sustainability’, used to describe environmental actions and attitudes, has been found vague to Latrobe Valley businesses, according to an academic study.

Local business researchers Leo Billington and Robyn Neeson, with support from Edith Cowan University Professor Rowena Barrett, will travel to the International Council of Small Business in Dublin next week to present their paper ‘Entrepreneurs’ Sustainability Attitudes: What is the Effect of Proximity to Carbon Emitters?’, following a survey of 30 Latrobe Valley entrepreneurs.

The paper is among 200 selected from 600 submissions from 58 countries across six themes – gender, sustainability, policy, internationalisation, innovation, and family issues in small to medium sized enterprises.

The research found despite proximity to the region’s ‘carbon emitting’ brown coal industry, small and medium sized entrepreneurs often understood ‘sustainability’ in economic or social terms, rather than environmental concepts.

“The word sustainability is used so much by politicians and people interested in the environment… everybody, (but) do we really know what it means? That was the inspiration,” Mr Billington said.

The report found that while managers of large companies might acknowledge and act on sustainability matters, when it comes to smaller firms, this was not always the case.

Mr Billington said the survey results highlighted the “need to just get on with it and do business”.

He said proximity to carbon emitters, a negative environmental feature, played some part in their decision-making about sustainability, but not significantly so.

When asked to describe what sustainability meant to them personally and their business, Latrobe Valley small and medium sized enterprises’ suggestions included, maintaining business over a long period of time, adapting to ensure business continuity and providing employment security.

“I think that raises the issue of the meaning of the word sustainability and whether if it’s a word that has become over-used that now it’s a ‘buzz word’,” Mr Billington said.

He said it was also apparent from the research the importance of larger firms in the region to lead by example.

“The sustainability efforts of the power generators affect the efforts of the small and medium sized enterprises around them,” Mr Billington said.