Beyond Business as Usual: A 21st Century Culture of Manufacturing in Australia

Western Sydney University; University of Newcastle Australia

Author +
Katherine Gibson, Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy, Joanne McNeill

Year: 2020

There is a culture of manufacturing that is beyond business as usual in Australia.

This report shows that there is a viable future for manufacturing in Australia in the 21st century that is being shaped by a culture that is beyond business as usual. This report counters ill-founded fears that manufacturing in Australia is not viable by presenting convincing evidence of dynamic firms that are committed to just and sustainable manufacturing.

In-depth qualitative research with 10 manufacturers based in NSW documents evidence of commitments to:
1. Maintaining firm viability and thereby safeguarding manufacturing in Australia
2. Providing decent jobs in an inclusive society and thereby building a more just manufacturing sector
3. Producing with a smaller ecological footprint and thereby building a more environmentally sustainable manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing matters but it faces major challenges.

Manufacturing supports 1.27 million jobs in Australia. It plays a major role in the social inclusion of people from many different backgrounds and experiences. It is where the productive capacity of the society is nurtured. It is a point of concentration for innovation and investment in R&D.

But the business as usual model is no longer viable. Growth without regard for a social licence to produce is no longer acceptable. Nor is growth with disregard for the environmental impacts of production and consumption. The new culture of manufacturing identified in this report is robust enough to meet the joint challenges of increasing inequality and environmental degradation.

A beyond business as usual manufacturing culture is more than smart and more than green.

This culture of manufacturing is ‘more than smart’. It situates the technological advancements associated with Industry 4.0 in the wider social context where concerns for good jobs are placed alongside the demand for greater productivity and financial returns.

This culture of manufacturing is ‘more than green’. It focuses on environmental sustainability at all stages of the production process and supply chain, as well as looking to the greenfield renewable energy sector and its associated new business opportunities.

This culture of manufacturing combines production of material goods in a just and equitable manner with a contribution to social cohesion and with the minimisation of damage to supporting ecosystems.

It is building viable firms with the capacity to withstand threats that might undermine the sector as a whole.

In this culture of manufacturing, firms have a clear purpose and a long-term business horizon. This builds the capacity to withstand undermining forces such as corporate raiding and the financialisation of the economy.

It is helping Australia make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The firms that are adopting a beyond business as usual approach demonstrate how manufacturers can lead the
way in addressing:

  • SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
  • SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production.

Download the report