In the decade ahead, Australia and the world will face environmental, social and financial challenges of an unprecedented scale. These include tensions between economic growth and environmental degradation, a need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change, and pressure to improve social inclusion and equity in a world of significant poverty and inequity. Businesses are clearly key players when it comes to responding to these challenges, but can businesses look beyond their short-term bottom line and better balance their economic needs with social and environmental priorities?
In focusing on these issues, recently the University of Sydney Business School launched its Balanced Enterprise Research Network (BERN) which explores how business in particular, can better balance economic, environmental and social concerns and improve the well-being of a wide range of stakeholders, including employees, communities and society more generally.
As the inaugural leader of BERN, I am interested in exploring how businesses can meaningfully contribute to these pressing social and environmental concerns. Speakers at the launch included Greg Bourne, Chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) company director Sam Mostyn, and Dr. Matthew Bell, leader of climate change and sustainability services at Ernst & Young. Discussion focused on the role of business leadership across a range of sustainability issues. In particular, discussion focussed on the need for longer-term strategic thinking within business, the problems of valuing ‘externalities’ in business activities, and the challenges faced by sustainability professionals in justifying the creation of ‘shared value’.
Business School researchers in BERN are already undertaking innovative research into a range of sustainability issues and BERN has established links with other research groups, including the newly formed Sydney Environment Institute. Plans for future symposia and research include measuring ‘shared value’ creation, new developments in corporate social responsibility, indigenous communities and business sustainability, and the challenges for business of valuing nature and biodiversity. We look forward to broadening our network and building the research conversation in these areas of critical social concern.