Attributes of a sustainable transition for the traditional manufacturing sector in regions of Australia
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 18:32 authored by Katrina Skellern
Although there is a great body of knowledge regarding the status of and threats to extant mammal populations in Australia there remains limited comparable information on reptiles. One in five reptilian species are threatened with extinction globally, with one in four species of Australian reptile considered to be in decline. Several prominent threatening processes have been identified as being the likely cause of reptile population declines and local extinctions including: 1. grazing history; 2. human induced habitat loss and fragmentation; 3. habitat homogenisation caused by changes in recent fire regimes; 4. increased predation pressure caused by the introduction of cats and foxes; 5. harvesting, and more recently; 6. climate warming. Since European settlement within Australia only a single record exists of an Australian reptile becoming extinct—Christmas Island forest skink (Emoia nativitatis) in 2014 however, ten reptile species are listed under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 as Critically Endangered, 20 as Endangered and 33 as Vulnerable. Of these, at least six species are arid zone specialists, including the great desert skink Liopholis kintorei, which is nationally listed as Vulnerable. In the context of general accelerating change, the World Environment and Development Commission defined ‘sustainable development’ as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (World Environment Development Commission 1987). As a consequence, sustainable transitions research has been undertaken since the early 1990s. Studies have investigated fundamental changes (such as technology, organisations, socio-economic) in systems (products, services, structures) towards more sustainable, social and environmental alternatives. Such a rich body of work focuses on long-term, multi-dimensional and fundamental transformation processes through which established socio-technical systems shift to more sustainable modes of production and consumption. This form of enquiry has increased rapidly and constitutes a field of research that is of high societal relevance, given the sustainability challenges the world is facing today. Although broadening its scope over the last decade, much of the sustainable transition research currently has limited relevance outside Europe or energy and urban centred domains and has not, to date, considered the elements of a transition within traditional manufacturing in Australian regions. This study aims to develop an innovative integrated model to enable the identification of sustainable transition attributes across the traditional manufacturing sector in regions of Australia. The interdisciplinary theoretical framework ‘Attributes of a Sustainable Transition’ integrates four existing conceptual approaches (i.e. Advanced Manufacturing, Sustainable Transitions, Regions are Spatial and Transition Regions) in order to generate new ways of identifying the characteristics of transitions. Empirical analyses of the first two concepts of the Attributes of a Sustainable Transition identified, across 24 traditional manufacturing firms in regional Australia, that where the manufacturing regime is secure and stable, firms struggle to reshape existing systems. Where destabilisation has commenced through business model innovation, collaboration, knowledge absorption and strategic visioning, a reconfiguration towards sustainability is more likely to be underway. To address the general lack of empirical evidence as to how and where specific transitions take place in particular city regions, an Evolutionary Economic Geography approach has been used to explore the uneven spatial landscape of transition example. This approach looks at why industries concentrate in space, how networks evolve in space, why some regions grow more than others and how institutions co-evolve with industrial dynamics in regions. Comparative case study analyses of three city regions, demonstrated that a Replication Strategy (e.g. replicating existing capabilities based in related activities, duplicating existing knowledge or experience) exists in each region as a result of cognitive, functional and political influences. In addition, an Exaptation Strategy (e.g. promoting manufacturing knowledge and technology to create new sustainable niche-innovations in related sectors) existed in two city regions and a Transplantation Strategy (e.g. developing an industry, unrelated to its knowledge base and institutions) exists in one city region. Finally, to examine the interfirm customer-supplier relations that influence sustainable transitions within the manufacturing sector, a ‘systems’ oriented socio-technical assessment was completed. Four sustainable-technology customers with headquarters in Australia demonstrate a range of attributes that are essential for stimulating a manufacturing supply chain shift towards sustainable market-niche innovation and collaboration. Significant findings include the range of dynamics that trigger and challenge a transition of the firm, reinforcement that the concept of sustainability remains a singular compartmentalised feature of change, rather than a component of a systematic sustainable and innovative transition. Taken together, the results of the empirical analyses demonstrate that the ‘Attributes of a Sustainable Transition’ hypothesis makes a valuable contribution in identifying the sustainable transition attributes of the traditional manufacturing sector in regions of Australia. An overall implication of the thesis is that while each empirical investigation contributes to the attribute identification process, each inquiry also highlights the complexities inherent in system structures that cannot be solved with ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Solving this problem requires a transition towards adopting systems thinking and action. The process of transition, within each firm, has significant implications in terms of the creation of new value chains, niche innovation and global production networks.