Lessons from Down Under

Peter Davies suppresses the guilt of piling up airmiles with some Australian ideas on sustainable development

As a Sustainable Development Commissioner I have always had a sense of guilt for swapping Wales for New South Wales every January, with its obvious impact on my carbon footprint. However, with three small grandchildren growing up in Australia, it means that we are pretty locked into travelling the 20,000 ‘love miles’ each year.

I am fortunate, though, that I can offset some of that guilt through supporting an important sustainable business initiative sponsored by the Australian Federal Government. My experiences down under have provided plenty of inspiration for what might be possible in Wales. Promoting sustainable business means combining prosperity with environmental and social benefits.

This is the third year of the project down under, which aims to support the development of responsible business practices throughout the Australian economy. It was launched before the global financial crisis and is seen as one part of securing a responsible, trusted business and financial community, which can gain long term competitive advantage.The initiative has been hosted by the St James Ethics Centre. Its activities have included:

· Establishing a ‘hub’ for responsible business practice – a website designed to help build communities of responsible business practice.

· Introduced a ‘product road mapping’ process to improve the sustainability of specific products – based on the SDC’s work with DEFRA.

· Developed a Good Business Register – designed to provide an on line register for SMEs.

One highlight of my visit this year was chairing a Sustainable Garment Sector round table, focused on the textile road map report and involving major retailers, manufacturers and government to identify ways in which they could collaborate to increase the sustainability of the industry in Australia.

The Good Business Register is the most ambitious of the projects. It provides SMEs with the opportunity to generate their own sustainability report which can then be used as part of their communications and as a ‘passport’ into the sustainable procurement practice of large companies and the public sector. It is early days but there is significant support from major small business networks, large companies and government.

Of course the challenges in Australia are different – with much greater concerns about water supplies, for example – but despite this my key learning points to take back into the cold Welsh winter include:

· The potential to align the brand values of a country and brand values of companies – the ‘Made in Australia’ brand has seen a 26 per cent increase in sales values in the last year

· The key role of Government in enabling this process and investing in supporting the development of responsible business practice.

· The importance of the partnership between government and industry on innovation to create more sustainable products and services.

They say the further away from home you are the more of an expert you are seen to be. However, I know I return having learnt much more than I was able to share and with a clearer perspective on how we might move to a more resilient sustainable economy.

Peter Davies is the Sustainable Development Commissioner for Wales and Chair of the IWA’s West Wales Branch

One thought on “Lessons from Down Under

  1. Hi Peter,

    You will be aware of similar intiatives in the UK such as Social Accounting & Social Return on Investment. I would be interested to know how these lessons from Oz could be applied in providing a bridge between the social enterprise sector in Wales and the Business Community as currently much of this appears to be very much left to individual organisations to develop those relationship. Is there scope for some form of match making and is this not the role of Business in the Community here in the UK?

    Regards – Ken

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