Unitec students and staff have embarked on an innovative programme focussed on helping medium and small enterprise owners advance their journey towards ‘greening the business’. Every two weeks from August, business owners from Rosebank Business Association are invited to participate in an Enterprise GreenWorks™ (EGW) session focussed exclusively on developing promising pathways to guide a ‘guest’ business towards environmentally sustainable business processes and products. During the half-day Enterprise GreenWorks session, a new venture project team is established involving staff from the business and members from Unitec. Think of the reality TV show ‘The Apprentice’ adapted so that no one gets fired, but the earth gets saved … and a better profit is made compared with ‘business-as-usual’!
Source: Frederick & Chittock, 2008.
Several years ago a Unitec survey of Rosebank Business Association (RBA) members established that 22 per cent of respondents sought education and training support for ‘greening the business’ (Frederick & Chittock, 2008). A more recent national survey has found that despite the economic downturn certain types of businesses have continued to deepen their deployment of green business practices. For example, between 2003 and 2010 medium and especially larger companies have doubled their focus on being more selective about their suppliers (Collins et al, 2010). Despite the recession, this trend has continued to strengthen since 2006 so that by 2010 more than 30 per cent of firms larger than 99 employees use environmental criteria as part of their selection of suppliers.
Source: Collins et al, 2010
However, in contrast to these ‘greening’ trends, most small businesses have retreated from their earlier commitments to environmentally sustainable business practices. Also, their practices are typically very narrowly limited to recycling and environmental impact analysis. Professor Collins and her colleagues at Waikato Management School argue that a ‘sustainability divide’ is now growing between between most small businesses (less than 10 employees) and other businesses that have recognised the value and strategic imperative for ‘greening their business’.
Source: Collins et al, 2010.
Since 2008, teachers at Unitec Institute of Technology have begun to respond to Rosebank business’ call for graduates who understand that ‘greening the business’ is much more than reducing waste and recycling. For example, students in Unitec introductory business course BSNS 5391 Innovation and Entrepreneurship learn from New Zealand and world-class examples of eco-innovation and eco-enterprise.
In a recent class exercise, students learned how a three-year systematic programme of design-led ‘cradle-to-cradle’ thinking applied in Wellington-based Formway Furniture lead to the creation of the Life office chair. The chair has gained remarkable success in world markets for its innovative functional features and green credentials. Amongst its many new-to-market features, the Life Chair was constructed from both recycled and natural materials and designed for ease of refurbishing in the event of an office interior decor redesign. Licensed to Knoll, a leading US furniture company, the Life chair has generated sales of $500 million (Macfie, 2011; McClaren, 2008; Ministry for the Environment, 2007).
In early May this year, Unitec business students interviewed Robb Donzé, Managing Director for InteraceNZ, the New Zealand distributor for modular carpet tile systems manufactured by US-based multinational Interface Global. Under the helm of industrial engineer and founding entrepreneur Ray Anderson, Interface has achieved ‘legendary’ status in terms of its ingenious innovations in environmental practice and products. Remarkably, the company began as a typical 20th century industrial manufacturing company with no special interest in taking care of the natural environment apart from complying with environmental legislation. In the words of Ray Anderson, the company is on a mission to climb ‘Mount Sustainability’ achieving a zero ecological footprint by 2020. Coincidentally, the Unitec students saw practical proof of this type of product in their new student common room in the business studies building.
Green thinking in the business curriculum at Unitec is regarded increasingly as a core component, rather than something ‘added on’ as an optional extra. Developing from their studies in the introductory Innovation and Entrepreneurship course, final year studies require each student to examine critically the competitive strategies of a business to assess the risks and opportunities faced from market, technological, legal, and other factors including emerging green issues. Students then proceed to develop risk mitigation and/or opportunity development strategies for the business within the overall context of its competitive position and strategic ambitions. Rosebank businesses are especially welcome to invite Unitec students to engage in this student project work.
Unitec industrial technologist Peter Mellalieu notes that “Our students enter our courses expecting that ‘greening the business’ is hard work and reduces profit. Through exposure to real business examples, my students are surprised and delighted that there are both new start-up and long-established companies using ‘green thinking’ as a core process for stimulating creativity. The creative thinking inspired by ‘green thinking’ leads to win-win outcomes for the business and the environment. The new Enterprise GreenWorks program integrates these - and other Unitec green initiatives - in an exciting learning adventure beneficial to Rosebank Business Association members and their future employees and entrepreneurs from Unitec”.
Example of an Enterprise GreenWorks episode (Video: Massey University, 1997)
Enterprise GreenWorks™ is a trade mark of MyndSurfers Ltd.
An abridged version first published as:
Mellalieu, P. J. (2011, May). Greening your business with Unitec. Roundabout - Newsletter of the Rosebank Business Association, (61), 7.
Anderson, R. C., & White, R. (2011). Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist. St. Martin’s Griffin.
Collins, E., Lawrence, S., Roper, J., & Haar, J. (2010). Business sustainability practices during the recession: The Growing Sustainability Divide. Hamilton, NZ: Waikato Management School, University of Waikato. Retrieved from http://www.management.ac.nz/sustainabilitydivide
Elements of an Enterprise MasterWorks (EMW) learning adventure. (1997). . Palmerston North, NZ: Massey University Television Production Centre. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYya4gfcxs4&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Enterprise GreenWorks - 2011-1 Part 1: Overture and Interview [video]. (2011). . Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NiB20ERj9c&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Frederick, H., & Chittock, G. (2008). Human resource strategies for training and education in the Rosebank business precinct. Auckland, NZ: Unitec Institute of Technology.
McLaren, J. (2008). Life Cycle Management - Sustainability and society bridging piece [Case study of Formway Furniture]. Wellington, New Zealand: Landcare Research. Retrieved from http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/publications/researchpubs/LCM_Briefing.pdf#search=%22mclaren%22
Mellalieu, P. J. (2011a, May 7). The Master’s Challenge: Ecotec’s “Green Op” fund. Innovation & chaos … in search of optimality. Retrieved April 7, 2011, from http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/4411593536/the-masters-challenge-ecotecs-green-op-fund
Mellalieu, P. J. (2011b, April 7). Enterprise GreenWorks - 2011-1 Part 1: Overture and Interview. Innovation & chaos … in search of optimality. Retrieved April 7, 2011, from http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/4411050625/enterprise-greenworks-2011-1-part-1-overture
Ministry for the Environment. (2007). Sustainable Design at Formway Furniture (INFO 182). Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved from http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/sus-dev/case-study-sustainable-design-at-formway-furniture-feb07/
- Announcing Unitec’s Environmental Sustainability Fund (pogus.tumblr.com)
- The Master’s Challenge: Ecotec’s ‘Green Op’ fund (pogus.tumblr.com)
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