Researchers from across the university study different aspects of sustainability. Both academics and research degree candidates are engaged in sustainability-related research. There is no longer a formally active Sustainability Research Cluster promoting cross-University events, although consideration is being given to how researchers in Business and Law might come together to increase sustainability-related research activity, including on joint projects. One of the strengths is sustainability case-writing – and opportunities are sought for researching and writing up and promoting discussion around the successes and challenges good businesses wanting to work even better.
Sustainability as a legal and ethical principle has been embedded in New Zealand environmental legislation for over twenty years. Businesses are increasingly embracing the concept in vision and mission statements, responding not only to regulation, but also to rising consumer expectations for environmental credentials.
But scratch beneath the surface and more often than not, the traditional drivers for decision-making – jostling for position in competitive markets and the annual profit and loss statement - are seen to dominate, says Vernon Rive, Senior Lecturer in Law.
“As a nation, we’re rightly proud of innovation and leadership in environmental regulation and policy – New Zealand was one of the first countries to build its principal planning and environmental management statute on the cornerstone of sustainability. However the flexibility of the principle is also its biggest weakness. Sustainability means different things to different people, whether judges or CEOs. And so the scope for balancing environmental values against short term economic interests is not only high, but the expected outcome in all but the rarest of situations.”
Governmental climate change talks are another setting where environmental credentials are put to the test. “What do you get when you put everyone with their own agendas in the same room? You typically get small changes, watered-down compromise."
“We are looking at providing more opportunities for people to both network and present their work,” says Dr Helen Tregidga, Senior Lecturer in Accounting. That’s especially important in an area like sustainability that is so fast-moving. The standard pace of academic discourse can mean a lag between the immediacy of new ideas and their absorption into courses.
“Sustainability related issues are complex and diffuse and it’s important that academics can do some sense-making around what’s relevant and bring new ideas into their classrooms. Coming together provides both a focal point and helps accelerate dissemination of knowledge in these areas.”
Dr Tregidga, who joined AUT in 2007, has a Marsden grant investigating participation strategies in environmental contests. She has particular expertise in the area of social and environmental reporting. She has been a judge for the Sustainable Business Network National Awards. Vernon Rive has a particular interest in climate change law, having practised in that area before he joined AUT Law School in 2009. He is the author of three chapters of a textbook Climate Change Law and Policy in New Zealand published in July 2011.