Environmental Sustainability


Australia is a developed country like the U.S., Japan and Germany that leaves a large 'footprint' on the environment, and as one of the largest harbours in the world, the Port of Brisbane certainly has a major impact on the environment. Like the U.S., Australia also failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocols and, despite considerable progress over the last 20-30 years, is still failing to make the transition to an environmentally sustainable economy. For two centuries, Australia had a frontier mentality in which the continent was assumed to be a bountiful place of limitless natural resources. Today, though, it is quite clear that the limits have been reached-and even exceeded-in air quality, water and natural resources. As shown in this paper and by interviews conducted with the Port of Brisbane local governments and corporations are well aware of this problem and have been taking steps towards sustainability, but more needs to be done.


According to the World Commission on Environment and Development (WECD) in 1987, sustainable development "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." Among Australian corporations, concepts of sustainability include improving long term economic performance while at the same time seeking positive outcomes for the environment and society and taking a holistic approach to the problem. Australia has about 80% of its population concentrated in coastal cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and as a result of nearly 200 years of poor environmental practices is now facing problems like droughts, floods and rising levels of salinity, greenhouse gases and drought. Like the U.S., its environmental attitudes inherited from the past were those of a supposedly limitless and boundless frontier, but now the limits have been reached.

Sustainable Economy

Brisbane has the largest local government in Australia, with a population of 900,000 in 2005 and a budget of $1.1 billion. It has been ranked as "one of the top 10 of the world's most liveable cities" and has a Standard and Poor's credit rating of AA+. Over the last twenty years, it has made a major effort to clean up the Brisbane River, improve urban design and planning, and improve its transportation system, airport and port facilities. The Port of Brisbane is one of the largest natural harbours in the world and on its website, the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd (PBPL) states that its environmental policy is "to limit the port's impact on the surrounding environment", which includes wetlands, mangrove swamps, inter-tidal flats, and sea grass areas that are habitats for fish and seabirds. This was confirmed in interviews conducted with the PBPL. The PBPL "describes itself as 'reasonably heavy-handed' in encouraging its industrial tenants to design buildings and processes that reduce their energy use and polluting (air and water) emissions." Australian Meat Holdings, which was once one of the heaviest polluters in the area, even received a Commerce Queensland Award in 2004 for cleaning up its operations. Nevertheless, industries in Brisbane like the counterparts all over the world are still subject to the usual pressures against sustainability, including "globalization, deregulation, political ideologies wedded to concepts of growth and expansion, the valorization of wealth creation."


There are a wide variety of pressure points today forcing corporations in the direction of sustainable development, including global poverty and unequal wealth distribution, environmental decay, negative effects of globalisation, and failures of international agreements like the Kyoto Accords. As of 2002, only $100 million people in the world had purchasing power greater than $20,000, while two billion had $2,000-20,000 and four billion less than $2,000. Since 1970, over 30% of known species have become extinct, while the human environmental footprint is now 30% greater than the world's capacity, with developed nations like the U.S. and Australia leaving the largest footprint of all. Levels of carbon dioxide are now higher than at any tome in the past 600,000 years and 30% of this is caused by human activity. In Australia, 80% of greenhouse gases are caused by business and governments and there are already "more than 500 Acts and regulations related to the environment" (CHS and Environment Guide).

Like the U.S., Australia refused to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions and remains one of the highest producers of these in the world, while 81% of its people never use public transportation (Robertson, pp. 219-20). About 26% of surface water areas are already being overused and 30% of groundwater, while 32% of rivers have "salinity levels above the guidelines." Many coastal environments also face "a loss of habitats as a consequence of poor land management and poor management of urban settlements." At Brisbane and other ports, there are many traditional issues to consider, such as water supply, agriculture, urban planning, enforcement policies, as well as sustainability issues like energy, non-renewable resources and unique natural feature. In recent years, indicators like the Australian SAM Sustainability Index (AuSSI) that measure not only economic growth but resource depletion, ozone depletion, pollution and loss of wetlands show that "Australia is failing to make the transition towards sustainable development."

The Port of Brisbane received its license to operate from the public, which is a moral licence granted to PBPL by stakeholders: community, government, tenants, fishermen, environmental groups of the migratory birds. "Licence to operate is fragile and can be ruined if you screw up." A tenant came to the port and wanted to build a new building on PBPL's land to a very high level of environmental performance criteria. This was an eye opener for a lot of people at PBPL, who realised that "there are actually other sectors who want to do this, this isn't just a government thing" This helped to foster what became PBPL's planning guidelines. They now have sustainability planning in guidelines: anyone who comes out to BUILD on port land must adhere to the sustainability guidelines.


A change towards eco-efficiency and sustainability requires learning to do more with less, while still delivering quality goods and services with reduced environmental impacts. This means redesigning products, re-engineering processes and rethinking customers and markets to minimize the use of energy, raw materials, water and time, using more recycled products, eliminating hazards and minimizing systemic risks. Creating sustainable products and systems is "a complex process that will take many years to perfect, if ever" (Grey). By law in Australia, local governments are now required to promote sustainability and leave less of a 'footprint' on the environment, which can be done in many ways "from protecting and enhancing biodiversity through to strategies for minimizing use of non-renewable resources and encouraging non-motorised forms of transport" (Gurran). An OECD study in 2000 stated that environmentally-related jobs were already 1-3% of total employment in the member states and that these numbers would increase in the future. In addition, environmental laws and regulations represented only a small cost of doing business in most industries and also led to the introduction of new technologies that actually improved efficiency, competitiveness and profitability. Since the 1990s, the use of Strategic Environment Assessments has become common in many countries, including Australia. These allow "consideration of environmental problems across a larger geographic area, and over a period of development."

The Environmental; Management System (EMS) at the Port of Brisbane was organically grown out of an environmental management perspective. The port is adjacent to Moreton Bay Marine Park, and to the RAMSAR-certified wetlands, an internationally important space for migratory birds. PBPL also has number of geographical constraints for it to be a good environmental performer, since it is located at the mouth of the river, on a "green filled" site. Therefore it has taken a very responsible approach to environmental management. Ten years ago, PBPL was the first port in Australasia that got ISO14001 certification (Environmental System Certification). It has audited its own Environmental Management System regularly to ensure compliance. At the Port of Brisbane, there is an environmental manager, planning manager, and a sustainability manager. "It has really helped having that systems support at the bottom" (EMS). The CEO is very committed, and there is also a very supportive finance group "who continually test that this isn't green for the sake of being green; that it has a business case. There is always tension there, which is good because it is good to make sure everything you do is still commercially viable." Planning requirements also apply to what PBPL construct here as well and it has a number of "greenstar buildings."


Any change process requires the leadership of a change agent, not simply management of the status quo. Leadership is the "process of influencing people towards achievement of organisational goals", and change agents act as catalysts who assume the responsibility for the process, such as Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets. Managers maintain the status quo and are imitative rather then original. They are focused of systems, structure and the bottom line, while leaders are innovative, risk-taking, focused on people, inspire trust and challenge the status quo. They are also flexible, politically aware, empathic, tolerant of ambiguities, persistent and resilient. They also realize that change cannot simply be a top-down process but must involve everyone in the organisation. Change can occur incrementally, on a step-by-step basis, or it can be dramatic, transformative and revolutionary. Incremental change may not seem as exciting and appealing, although it does have the advantage of lowering resistance and attracting more allies over time while deterring and defusing opponents as it gradually increases the skills, knowledge and capabilities of those involved in sustainability work. On an organisational level, sustainability has often been defined as the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) perspective: finding the right balance between people, planet and profit. Even so, most organisations still "tend to use definitions of sustainability that apply to the societal rather than to the organisational level" (Kiewiet and Vos). They often lack clear definitions of exactly what sustainability means in the context of their own job and workplace, although studies indicate that they relate it more to employee and customer satisfaction than profitability.

At the Port of Brisbane, change towards sustainability was a gradual, incremental process that has lasted over twenty years and is still developing. It has grown through the leadership of the environmental manager, planning manager and many other managers. It is continuing through the actions and beliefs of PBPL staff, and organisationally people are on board with the concept of sustainability. The Environmental Management System (EMS) is a certified system and is audited quite regularly to ensure compliance. The system requires staff to be trained, to be aware of the system and policies. It provides a baseline for doing a lot of other things, so that environmental sustainability invades the culture in this manner. Sustainability at the Port of Brisbane faced certain challenges and resistance, such as others wanting to see evidence of the business case and questioning how much sustainability was too much or too little. One challenge was to demonstrate the business case for sustainability actions. The values of the individual of an organisation and the values of the organisation in a corporate sustainability sense are not often the same, so there is the need to manage those differences by better demonstrating the business case for it. Continual improvement is necessary since it is not currently articulated how everyone plays a role in sustainability, i.e. in job descriptions. This is something that will happen over time with the sourcing contractors/suppliers who do business ethically and to the standards at PBPL.


Clearly the Port of Brisbane has taken some major initiatives over the last twenty years in the direction of sustainability and was far ahead of many other ports in the world in doing so. Even so, much work remains to be done. Carbon management is the next domain on the horizon for the Port of Brisbane, since the port is a very carbon intensive location, with ships, trucks, trains, a great deal cargo equipment. There is also more work to do "imbedding sustainability in job descriptions" while in the Key Result Areas there is "some progress there, but lots, lots more work to do" (Interview). Recent research indicates that local and community engagement is essential in promoting sustainable environmental policies, including Collaborative Regional Initiatives that mobilize stakeholders. These have considerable influence even though they usually lack formal power. Concerned groups that should become involved in this process include local government officials, educators, the media, the energy sector, other business sectors and interested community members. Sustainability is a complex process involving many actors and sectors of the community and economy, which must be continually monitored and developed in light of current events. Community and environmental watchdogs are a key part of the process given the pressures faced by the PBPL and all similar organizations towards purely economistic and instrumentalist values, especially in a global economy that is still in severe recession.


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