This research project is funded by the Australian Research Council (DP160101674, 2016 to 2018), and the Chief Investigators are Professor Katherine Gibson and Dr Stephen Healy from Western Sydney University, and Associate Professor Jenny Cameron from University of Newcastle (Australia), with Dr Joanne McNeill contributing as a Research Fellow.
The case study research is investigating manufacturing firms in Australia that are going beyond the challenge of “simply” maintaining firm viability to also address social and/or environmental concerns by, for example, employing so-called difficult-to-employ groups (such as refugees; ex-prisoners; school dropouts; long-term unemployed); staying in-place in regional centres in order to contribute to regional viability; thinking of the longer-term by valuing the current workforce and creating a future workforce (and membership, in the case of co-operatives); innovating with ways to maximise recycling or reuse of product parts or entire products; and innovating with ways of minimising waste and harmful environmental by-products of the manufacturing process.
The case study manufacturers are diverse and include cooperatives, family firms, social enterprises, private businesses, and publicly listed companies. They range in scale from small to large firms, and include those that are globally-connected.
At its core, the research is concerned with the question of “What is manufacturing for?” and the related question of “What is an economy for?” The manufacturers in this study are demonstrating how an economy is for meeting material needs while also providing for social and environmental wellbeing. These manufacturers may be the harbingers of a new business model that is “fit for the 21st century”, that is, a business model that can meet the dual challenges of climate change, and growing social and economic inequality.