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Beyond business as usual

Dr Belinda Gibbons
Sydney Business School

Integrating the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in business and industry research and education, locally and globally

Headlines continue to show that sustainable and socially responsible decision making is not yet a widely accepted practice among national and multinational companies.

However change is achievable and necessary, according to Dr Belinda Gibbons, who is building greater awareness of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in industry and business education, and is helping future business leaders understand that success requires consideration of decision impacts on the environment and society.

In 2016, Dr Gibbons became the sole academic representative for Australia and New Zealand on the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education Advisory Committee. She represents business higher education institutions in Southern Asia and the Pacific, and collaborates with other country committee members to direct responsible management education internationally.

The Advisory Committee’s strategy for integrating the UN’s principles for responsible and sustainable business practices (outlined by the UN Global Compact) has been rolled out in more than 650 business education institutions across 85 countries.

Dr Gibbons’ involvement with the Advisory Committee allows her to collaborate with institutions in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Her involvement is also having an impact on home turf.

“UOW was the first higher education institution in NSW to receive United Nations Global Compact membership,” Dr Gibbons explains.

The senior lecturer has been interested in advancing business education for a while now. Her doctoral research examined alternative approaches to responsible decision-making in business education. The approach her PhD outlined has been ingrained in UOW’s undergraduate capstone business curriculum.

Dr Gibbons believes that partnerships are the key to transforming our world and her continued interest in promoting responsible business practices and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals has led her to get involved in projects close to home and where her expertise is likely to be an asset.

She is, for example, involved in a Global Challenges Seed project that is investigating sustainable economic practices within a NSW central coast ecovillage (the Narara Ecovillage Co-operative). Dr Gibbons also partners with Healthy Cities Illawarra (HCI), an initiative to promote health and wellbeing locally underpinned by the World Health Organisation Healthy Cities movement.

“Working with HCI enables [me] to take a leadership position in the local community pursuing action and providing evidence of what works, in which contexts and why, creating environments where conversations can be instigated to change the places in which we live, study and play,” she says.

The partnership also allows her to advocate for including these global goals into local planning, as Wollongong City Council has done in its most recent community strategic plan, Our Wollongong 2028.

Dr Gibbons is well placed, therefore, to see how business and sustainability can be positively connected and will continue to work towards ensuring this in future.

“I’m motivated to take these issues to corporate decision-making tables, to make inter-sectoral change and to bring our students closer to the decisions they are and will be making.”

Dr Gibbons acknowledges that all research and teaching she does takes place on Aboriginal land and she pays respect to Elders past and present and give gratitude for being able to be on land, under beautiful sky and near crystal oceans.