Editorial: Sustainability: An Uncertain Agenda

M Daud Ahmed
Editor, August 2016

Sustainability is one of the most widely used 21st Century terminologies in science, technology, business, arts and culture and will most likely feature for many decades to come until another topic replaces this. So, what defines sustainability? Conceptually, is it an idea, a model, a vision, a practice, a political agenda, or simply a marketing propaganda? From a shallow functional viewpoint, is it about climate change and global warming, carbon emission, pollution prevention, conservation, long-term financial viability, inter-generational equity, philanthropic activities, corporate social responsibility, cultural preservation, animal rights and legal rights for nature, transparency or meeting stakeholders’ expectations? On the time horizon, is this a short term, long term or inter-generational frame of perspectives? Should the focus and practice of sustainability be individual, family, society, corporate, local or central government, or global stakeholders like the United Nations? Theorists and practitioners of sustainability have introduced many roadmaps, guidelines, principles, frameworks, models, ICT tools and technologies, sustainability scales and performance indicators, assessment and benchmark guidelines towards compliance management, the concept of sustainability leaders and followers, reporting structure, etc. Each researcher, practitioner, government, strategist, policy maker and global sustainability stakeholder possesses a different view, and accepts, suggests or prescribes one or a mix of these scopes and dimensions.

The 1987 Brundtland definition of sustainable development on ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ has been widely cited in the literature. Does this mean that yesterday’s world was better than today, and the worst is yet to come? What is the baseline? Are our activities making this world uninhabitable or worsening for future generations? Are not our research and practices noble? This definition could be termed weak ideological thinking in the current context. Are we aspiring towards a similar lifestyle that past generations had, or do future generations want the same status and resources that we now have? Should we use and add values to make a better world for them? How will the desire, need and want shift? Future is uncertain, and we do not know about it, but with our limited knowledge, ability and technological support, we try to predict or simulate for a shorter period of 100 years or its multiples. However, we are unable to predict beyond inter-generational time frames.

However, we talk about one step at a time towards incremental changes or step changes i.e. substantial change without breaking the bottom line, disruptive change i.e. break and re-make an entirely new model, and adaptability as being survival of the fittest. Should we be pro-active or reactive in achieving sustainability during our generation? While everything is uncertain, it is almost certain that all of us need to take responsibility for our actions. While businesses discuss corporate social responsibility, financial sustainability remains a key goal for them as it exhibits the ability to manage expected financing needs and risks, shocks over the long term, to continue to operate and to meet stakeholders’ expectation.

Volume 14 Issue 1 of the New Zealand Journal of Applied Business Research (NZJABR) features four research articles that are focused on the Activity Based Costing (ABC) as a contemporary costing system, financial sustainability of the New Zealand local authorities, crucibles as an effective way of developing business leadership capabilities, and the extraordinary growth of housing prices in Auckland and New Zealand.

The first article entitled ‘Contemporary costing in the health sector to provide contribution performance reporting for profitability’ by Adrian France and Jared Wilson identifies that the activity-based costing model is being used increasingly in the not-for-profit sector. It finds that New Zealand Health Boards have experienced significant changes, especially increased district health board and discusses profitability of the not-for-profit services.

The second article entitled ‘Financial sustainability of local authorities in New Zealand: performance analysis and coping strategies’ by Murugesh Arunachalam, Chen Chen and Haward Davey analyses financial sustainability of the New Zealand local authorities. The authors establish benchmarks for a set of financial and non-financial ratios for conducting trend analyses, and measuring, scoring and ranking financial sustainability for the period of 2001 - 2010. The authors find that 8 to 35 percent of local councils in New Zealand were confronted with unfavourable financial sustainability challenges in 2010. Liquidity and a high level of debt were major concerns for unfavourable financial sustainability. The coping strategies recommended in this study aim to assist local government officials in streamlining operations, setting budget priorities, and negotiating with the central government for financial assistance.

The third paper entitled ‘Can crucible led experiential learning effectively develop business leadership capabilities?’ by Dr Steve Hinge follows an iterative grounded theory research methodology using Open and Axial coding to discover relevant concepts and themes of effective leadership in two adventure related literature beset by crucibles. It identifies twenty-four relevant concepts, which have been categorised into five themes of crucibles that are triggered by an inspiring vision, pressuring leaders to exercise compelling leadership character, undertaking effective leadership praxis, facilitating effective teamwork, and monitoring leadership and team performance. This research finds that crucible led experiential learning can effectively develop business leadership capabilities.

The fourth article entitled ‘A study of the factors influencing residential house prices in Auckland and New Zealand’ by Will Chancellor, Malcolm Abbott and Chris Carson analyses various factors of house price and affordability in Auckland and New Zealand over a longer term. It identifies correlations between these factors and corresponding house price changes. They observe that factors e.g. migration level, interest rates, wage levels and building activity significantly contributed to the house price and affordability.