Just and Sustainable Manufacturing

Beyond Business as Usual

A research report on just and sustainable manufacturing in Australia, Beyond Business as Usual: A 21st Century Culture of Manufacturing in Australia, by Katherine Gibson, Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy and Joanne McNeill was launched on Thursday 23 February.

The report was launched by Senator for New South Wales (NSW), Dr Mahreen Faruqi (The Australian Greens Industry Spokesperson) followed by a discussion with Senator for South Australia, Rex Patrick (Centre Alliance), Federal Member for Parramatta, Ms Julie Owens MP (Australian Labor Party), and NSW Member for Coffs Harbour, Mr Gurmesh Singh MP (The Nationals). There were also panel discussions with representatives of the manufacturers involved in the study.

Conducted over three years and funded by the Australian Research Council, the report is based on in-depth research with ten manufacturers and it finds that along with operating dynamic and viable businesses these manufacturers are fostering a culture of just and sustainable manufacturing that is helping to tackle the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

The manufacturers range from the privately-owned engineering firm, Varley Group, which is headquartered in the Hunter region and has been operating since 1886 to the not-for-profit social enterprise and clothing manufacturer, The Social Outfit, which was established in Newtown in Sydney in 2014.

Other firms in the study were A.H. Beard, Interface, NCMC (Northern Co-operative Meat Company Ltd), Norco, OzGroup, Sebel Furniture, Soft Landing, and WorkVentures. The mix of firms included public, private and family-owned companies, producer cooperatives with manufacturing operations and social enterprises.

Out of this diversity, a common story emerged of manufacturers that are putting in place more environmentally sustainable forms of manufacturing while also providing decent jobs that help to contribute to a more inclusive society.

Sustainability strategies include the use of lean manufacturing as the foundation for a greener and less wasteful approach, producing high quality and durable products that need to be replaced less often and innovations to keep products and their components in use for a long as possible before responsible recycling.

A just approach to manufacturing is achieved by prioritising workers’ wellbeing when introducing technologies, valuing workers and their contributions and finding opportunities for employing those who face barriers in the labour market.

One theme from the discussions at the launch was an acknowledgement that the value attributed to manufacturing needs to move beyond a monetary focus to recognise the multiple contributions that a just and sustainable manufacturing sector can make, including to a socially-enriched society and to environmental restoration.

The report highlights how manufacturers are taking practical steps to build a manufacturing sector that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 9 (Industry Innovation and Infrastructure), Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).

Policy recommendations include:

  • support for manufacturing sub-sectors to collaboratively develop robust environmental standards for product design, production processes and responsible care for the product and its components at end-of-life
  • designing methods to appropriately account for the full cost of manufacturing high-quality and durable products in an environmentally responsible way (and the costs of not manufacturing this way)
  • acting on procurement policies that are based on full-cost accounting that require robust environmental standards to be met
  • engaging with customers to educate them on the benefits of durable, high-quality and responsible products, and to explain the basis of price differences
  • support for commercial partnerships with not-for-profit social enterprises that focus on appropriate training and employment of people who face barriers in the labour market.

Jenny Cameron