It’s time to make sustainable economic ideas matter

Why a Sustainable Economy Research Program is needed

Today’s economic policy makers are too strongly influenced by what they see in the rear-view mirror, often failing to anticipate the potholes and opportunities ahead. Not only are we failing to prepare for rapidly approaching environmental and resource limits, but we are also failing to respond to the clear evidence that a narrow approach to GDP growth is not going to deliver the kind of society that Australians want.

With the fate of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme uncertain our economy is operating in the absence of a clear policy framework and timetable for overcoming the ‘biggest market failure of all time’. We urgently need to put a coherent and sustainable economic policy framework in place.

Filling the policy vacuum – CPD is stepping in.

That’s why the CPD is stepping in to fill the vacuum – with credible, well-researched and well-communicated ideas that can cut through the misinformation and provide politically viable pathways for sustainable economic reform. As an independent, agile research centre, CPD can play a vital role in filling some of the gaps that exist in Australia’s economic debate. 

Sustainable Economy Program | Research Agenda                 

Our new Sustainable Economy Research Program will develop and promote options for Australia to transition to an economy that operates within environmental limits and is socially just. As we keep an eye on the broader economic policy debate and opportunities to intervene, CPD has identified two core areas in which our intervention could make a real difference: Sustainable Industry Policy and Valuing What Matters.

Research Area: Sustainable Industry Policy

Years of political manoeuvring based on false either-or equations (either the environment or the economy; either jobs growth or fair wages and conditions) have left Australia without a coherent, long-term set of industry policies. We still have a long way to go before Australia’s economy is in a position to thrive in a carbon-constrained world.

We need to consider the potential of particular industries and activities to contribute not only to the competitiveness and productivity of Australia’s economy, but also our carbon competitiveness and carbon productivity. As awareness spreads that headline GDP growth is an insufficient measure of economic progress, we also need to incorporate considerations of the work-life quality and distributive impacts into a vision for sustainable development.

All of this means that we need to put our traditional conception of industry policy in a broader framework – a vision for using the whole economic policy toolkit more effectively to ensure the social and environmental outcomes that Australians value. We need public policies that consistently reward the kind of corporate behaviour and outcomes that society values, without devolving into politicized corporate welfare programs. As a country, we need to reward innovators who are ahead of the market on emissions cuts, family-friendly work practices, and high governance standards. And we need to recognise the role not only of for-profit businesses but also the public sector, mutuals, trusts, NGOs and the new breed of social enterprises in creating sustainable development.

Sustainable Industry Policy: research projects

Here are some of the projects that will contribute to our Sustainable Industry Policy Development:

— More than Luck: a sustainable 21st century economy —

This scoping project will provide a framework for other Sustainable Industry Policy research projects. The project will comprise a) a roundtable of civil society, policy makers, researchers and business leaders and b) a published report rounding up evidence on the vulnerability of Australia’s ’quarry economy’ and the policy options to ensure that Australia does not lock itself into dependence on unsustainable export earnings.

— A country that makes things — 

testing the hypothesis that the best way for Australia to be a ‘country that makes things’ is to be a country that remakes things. Case studies will include the recycling industry and closed-loop manufacturing

— Greening the recovery: lessons from Asia and Europe —

applying the lessons from EU member countries and countries from our own region including China and South Korea that have adopted sustainability as the principle underpinning their strategies for economic recovery. 

— Clean-tech exiles —

interviews with Australian sustainable technology innovators who have been forced to move overseas to pursue commercial opportunities overseas will be used to inform Australia’s clean-tech industry policy. 

— The Future of Regulation —

outlining through case studies the three key areas in which good regulation contributes to sustainable industries: regulation as a competitive advantage, regulation as a generator of sunrise industries, and regulation as a source of business confidence and economic stability. 

Research Area: Valuing What Matters

This area of CPD’s research is based on the simple idea that what we measure affects what we do.

Valuing What Matters: Research Projects

— Australia’s shared wealth: a better budget balance sheet —

One of the key recommendations made by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress led by Joseph Stiglitz and commissioned by French President Nicholas Sarkozy was that progress should not only be considered in light of income and consumption but also net wealth:
‘A household that spends its wealth on consumption goods increases its current well-being but at the expense of its future well-being. The consequences of such behaviour would be captured in a household’s balance sheet, and the same holds for other sectors of the economy, and for the economy as a whole.’
The development of a basic set of indicators of national wealth will be used to draw attention to the state of our stocks of natural, human, social, and physical capital and the need to base economic policy on a more holistic picture of Australia’s shared assets and liabilities.

— How Green is your Job?  A carbon footprint comparison of Australian employment —

This project would develop a metric for the ratio of CO2 emissions to employment numbers by industry sector, based on relevant government and industry datasets – providing an essential benchmark for measuring the progress of Australian ‘Green Jobs’ policies.

— Who takes the high road? Measuring quality of working life in low-impact industries —

Using the metric developed through the ‘How Green is your Job?’ project, a small number of industries with low emissions-to-employment ratios will be selected and audited against a number of established Quality of Work Life measures. The results of this research will be of invaluable assistance in the assessment and revision of ‘Green Jobs’ policies.                          

What CPD is already doing to make sustainable ideas matter

Here are two projects in the Sustainable Economy Project that are already underway.


The CPD’s Sustainable Economy Fellowship represents an investment in progressive economic ideas and in new voices capable of promoting those ideas to a broad audience. Right now we are selecting a new Sustainable Economy Fellow from dozens of bright, creative applicants. The Fellow will be someone who is keen to connect their research to media, decision-makers and concerned citizens and will work with us to develop their capacity for contributing to public debate. The successful applicant will be linked to CPD thinkers, receive in-kind support and a $10,000 Fellowship provided by Slater & Gordon. Stay tuned as we announce the successful Fellow in 2010.


To avert the climate, resource and economic crises we are heading towards we need to urgently develop good ideas that explore all the policy tools at our disposable. We need to rescue good ideas from the obscurity of inquiry submissions, academic journals and long reports and place them on the front page of relevant google search results – and into public policy debates. The Green Economy Toolkit is an online collaborative research project that will make progressive green policy ideas easier to find, share and understand by harnessing the power of crowds. The Toolkit will put the best policy ideas for solving the challenges Australia faces in transitioning to a sustainable economy together in the one website. It will allow students, academics, policy analysts, unions, sustainable businesses and other concerned citizens to capture policy ideas from Australia and around the world and to collaborate on making those ideas as compelling and easy to understand as possible. See an early mock-up of the Index here.

Here’s how you can support sustainable ideas

Panic won’t help!

Neither will a quick political fix. The same ideas that got us in this mess won’t get us out of it. It will take clever, consistent communication of well-researched alternatives to the status quo to shift Australian public debate in a more sustainable direction.

Become a CPD Sustainer and add your voice to ours!

We need your support to help make good ideas matter and by implementing the Sustainable Economy Program.

Let’s make progressive voices louder than the voices for the status quo.

Ideas can change Australia – we need 100 CPD Sustainers to join us in 2010 so we can inject great green ideas into the debates
that will decide the future of our environment, society and economy.

At the CPD, we know there are alternative responses to the
challenges posed to our environment, society and economy. We urgently
need to shift the debate beyond scepticism to constructive discussion
of a broad range of viable solutions.

2010 will be a critical year for Australia. The challenges
before us and the projects we are developing promise that 2010 (with an
election looming!) will therefore be an important year for CPD – and
for the development of ideas that will get us out of this mess.

We need you to add your voice to ours: become a CPD Sustainer now!

Your donations are tax deductible.

As CPD supporters you know that it will take creative and credible
ideas – not more of the same thinking – to get us out of this mess.

Leave a Comment