Reconfiguring the Enterprise: Shifting Manufacturing Culture in Australia

Project Summary

If the manufacturing sector is to genuinely contribute to ecological and social wellbeing, then the culture of business needs to shift. In Australia, there are innovative manufacturers that are doing this by reorienting their businesses towards social and environmental sustainability. This project explored how these enterprises are making this shift, and the negotiations and compromises involved in operationalising both social and environmental sustainability while remaining financially viable. In so doing, the project contributes to debates about the nature of the enterprise in the 21st century, particularly in the context of climate change and growing social and economic inequality.

Since the end of 2016, the research team has been working with ten case study enterprises: A.H. Beard (opens in a new window); Interface (opens in a new window); Norco (opens in a new window); Sebel Furniture (opens in a new window); Soft Landing (opens in a new window); The Social Outfit (opens in a new window); Varley Group (opens in a new window); WorkVentures (opens in a new window); and NCMC (opens in a new window)(Phase 1).

Together the case study group includes: cooperatives, family-owned firms, social enterprises and globally listed companies. They manufacture across a wide range of sectors including: dairy, fashion, mattresses, blueberries and packaging, mattress recycling, carpet tiles, furniture, electronics re-use and repair, and specialised vehicles. They service local, national and international markets and are also engaged with global supply chains in sourcing their material inputs.

Researchers (Chief Investigators):

Research Project Manager: Dr Joanne McNeill

Funding: ARC Discovery Project, DP160101674
Period: 2016-2019

Project Flyer (opens in a new window)(530KB)

Final Report

Business_as_Usual_Report_Cover

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.

The authors of this report argue that manufacturing also contributes to social inclusion through the creation of high skill, high wage jobs. Additionally, the authors identify the importance of manufacturing in addressing climate change and environmental degradation.

The importance of this report is that it explores the reinvention of manufacturing in Australia from the viewpoint of developing a ‘manufacturing culture’. Only by doing so will we be able to build competitive advantage in global markets, and achieve the combined objectives of long-term economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Read the full text here (opens in a new window)(5.8MB PDF)


Video Resources

Manufacturing Futures: Beyond Business as Usual from Institute for Culture and Society on Vimeo.

Hands at Work from Institute for Culture and Society on Vimeo.

Using images sourced at the sites of the case study enterprises involved in the project, this short video clip brings to life some of the diversity that exists within manufacturing sectors.

Fieldwork Activity

The research  team conducted 78 interviews with representatives of the participating enterprises; nine enterprise-specific workshops; ‘whole group’ workshops; and multiple site visits to each enterprise. Meetings have also been held with representatives of 15 other ‘informant’ organisations.

The team has also visited a number of overseas manufacturing enterprises, who have also made valuable contributions to the project: Interface’s plant in the Netherlands; Pocheco (opens in a new window), France; KOMOSIE (opens in a new window), Belgium; Innesto Coop (opens in a new window), Italy;  Altus Enterprises (opens in a new window), NZ; Zero Waste Network (opens in a new window), NZ; and Goods that Matter (opens in a new window), USA.

Outputs to Date

Following a ‘whole group’ enterprise workshop held in December 2019, a Public Declaration on Just & Sustainable Manufacturing in Australia (PDF, 52.34 KB) was developed in conjunction with the enterprise representatives. This was disseminated widely to industry associations and representatives, NSW State and Commonwealth politicians, unions, researchers, and other interested stakeholders.

Images of hands engaged in the wide variety of workday tasks undertaken across the enterprises were collected during the site visits, and have been compiled into a short video clip (opens in a new window).

Papers published to date:

Team members have delivered papers on various aspects of the research at the following: Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2018, New Orleans – including the invited Roepke Lecture; Alternative Futures Symposium 2018, Sydney; New Zealand Geographical Society and Institute of Australian Geographers 2018 conference, Auckland; International Social Innovation Research Network conference 2017, Melbourne; EMES’ International Social Enterprise Research conference 2017, Belgium; EcoCity Conference 2017, Melbourne; Wheelwright Lecture 2017, Sydney; Institute for Australian Geographers 2017 conference; and the New Economy Network Australia conference 2016 Sydney, 2017 Brisbane and 2018 Melbourne.

Team members have delivered 30 presentations on various aspects of the research. Some of these were at forums where feedback was sought to inform publications in development, including: Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2019 in Washington DC, and 2018 in New Orleans – including the invited Roepke Lecture; Alternative Futures Symposium 2018, Sydney; New Zealand Geographical Society and Institute of Australian Geographers 2018 conference, Auckland; International Social Innovation Research Network conference 2017, Melbourne; EMES’ International Social Enterprise Research conference 2017, Belgium; EcoCity Conference 2017, Melbourne; Wheelwright Lecture 2017, Sydney; Institute for Australian Geographers 2017 conference; and the New Economy Network Australia conference 2016 Sydney, 2017 Brisbane and 2018 Melbourne.

In early 2018, a submission (opens in a new window)(#48) to the Senate’s Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers resulted in an invitation to present evidence at the Public Hearing in Sydney on 21 February.

In 2017, the project was awarded Affiliated Researcher status with Seed Box: A Mistra-Formas Environmental Humanities Collaboratory based at Link√∂ping University, Sweden.

Further Information

For further information about the REMaC project and other research by this team you can visit their website (opens in a new window).