Setting a sustainable course

When the State Government’s sustainability strategy was launched recently, WA Business News suggested it appeared “prescriptive” rather than “visionary”. Professor Peter Newman, director of Sustainability Policy Unit at Department of the Premier and Cabinet, responds with a business-related take on the policy.


SUSTAINABILITY is a global process that tries to redirect how we do development. It is pro-development but it is also pro-environment and pro-community. It is a concept for the 21st century that encourages businesses to make money but to do so in a way that leaves a positive social and environmental legacy.

Western Australia has many large companies that have been grappling with this idea for a decade. When the Gallop Government was elected, a Rio Tinto survey of WA ‘movers and shakers’ found the biggest missing factor in the State was the need for ‘vision’. The Sustainability Strategy was created to help fill that gap.

An intensive two-year process of consultation was begun with public seminars, internal discussions and workshops. A team of 50 university students researched and wrote background papers on innovations in sustainability across the world, and 42 case studies were written showing how we were approaching sustainability already in many early demonstrations.

In all, 150 seminars were given in four months after the release of the draft strategy.

In the two years of public discussion the 11 principles of sustainability and six vision statements have hardly changed; despite the many debates we have a great deal in common when it comes to sustainability.

These principles and visions will now be the basis of a new ‘Sustainability Act’ that will help define who we are in WA in terms of sustainability and a vision for WA.

The strategy examines 42 areas of government activity and tries to help set a vision for each area, showing where we can be in the long term. The visions are all set in the context of a global economy. It suggests constantly that what we are beginning here could become the basis of new economic enterprises that can contribute globally.

Following are six examples based on the six sections of the strategy.



The strategy envisages a time when the deep silos of government are much harder to recognise – when economic departments are important agencies of environmental and social gain, when environmental agencies are helping create wealth and better communities, and social agencies advance the economy and the environment. To begin this transition each agency needs a ‘sustainability action plan’. Assessment of projects needs to be integrated around sustainability and the planning system in cities and regions needs to reflect sustainability.

As this is a new global profession, the sustainability services industry can be promoted and facilitated in WA, just as the environmental services industry was in the 1980s. The new DOLA building and its successful energy saving program are an example of such leadership, as is the eco-design for the new Harvest Lakes school. WA can be a world leader in this transition.



Directly relating to the global issues of population, greenhouse, biodiversity and oil vulnerability are all real opportunities for WA businesses. (Rice researcher) Harry Nesbit, WA technologies such as Ecomax and the Orbital engine technology, and the new bio-industries based on WA’s unique flora, are all examples of this kind of future.

Perhaps our biggest global contribution to sustainability is the development of gas that can replace coal in places such as China, and that can in future run a global transport system currently far too dependent on vulnerable oil supplies.

The vision is that WA firms can provide technology, services and resources that make a genuine global contribution to sustainability. The recent International Sustainability Conference in Fremantle confirmed that WA is providing such leadership and there is much to build on from our strategy.


Natural resources

The strategy envisages a time when all the natural resources of the State are accredited internationally as being managed in a sustainable way (such as the rock lobster industry – the first fishery in the world accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council).

It includes much more involvement of local planning schemes in these issues so that local people are more responsible for their regional issues. And it envisages far more self-sufficient regions through Indigenous employment in major resource projects and land management.

There are many case studies but Argyle Diamonds has shown dramatically that WA can be socially and environmentally responsible on a global scale. It has created a future (after almost closing) and has moved from 2 per cent to 14 per cent to 40 per cent Indigenous employment in little more than a decade.



Reducing car dependency and creating communities where there is far less need for energy and water are features of the future settlements in WA envisaged by the Sustainability Strategy.

It builds on the visionary rail project started in the 1980s, and about to be completed in the southern suburbs, that provides all corridors with a real alternative to the car.

Already carrying the equivalent of six lanes of freeway traffic, the northern line (and the other lines) now need Subi Centro-like urban villages around stations.

Building houses and offices with half the water and energy we now use is relatively easy for the innovative developers and builders who can position themselves for this quite obvious market trend. The vision is that of the ‘Dialogue for the City’, that Perth becomes the most livable city in the world.



Creating social capital is the next big agenda for innovative sustainability proponents.

The link to developing each region’s ‘sense of place’ requires new techniques and partnerships between business, community and government. Kodja Place has done this for Kojonup, at the same time creating a series of new businesses.

And who knows what more can now happen as the different parts of the community begin to trust each other more and work together?

WA can become the first place to show how to integrate this important social element into future development processes.



The long-term goal of ‘Factor 4’ – double the wealth and double resource efficiency – is one of the goals set for WA businesses. Many firms have already shown this is possible as L Hunter Lovins (director of the US-based Natural Capitalism Group) demonstrated at our recent International Sustain-ability Conference. How can this be facilitated?

The new Sustainability Round-table will be looking for help to begin this process.

It will begin by documenting the story of the Kwinana Synergies Project, a CCI venture that has saved millions of dollars and reduced waste flows through some 120 ‘industry ecology’ projects. Global leadership in this transition can now be pursued.

Like many of the examples in this article, cases providing the best evidence of sustainability in WA are not well known.

But the State Sustainability Strategy believes there is hope for Western Australia because we are innovative in this area of sustainability and we are the first State anywhere to document what it means for our future.

Vision and partnerships are what sustainability is all about. And we do pretty well at both.

I urge all Western Australians to find a copy of the strategy and judge for themselves –

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