Improving Earth Systems Governance through “Purpose Ecosystems”

Business is pushing the planet to the brink of environmental disaster: biodiversity is being lost at mass-extinction rates, agricultural systems are under strain and pollution of the air and sea has become an increasingly pressing threat to human health. Coupled with climate change, rising inequality and entrenched poverty, these interconnected sustainability issues – referred to as ‘wicked’ problems or grand societal challenges – are triggering social instability and conflict.

Earth Systems Governance (ESG) provides a framework for developing new insights into governing the coupled socio-ecological system. An important area of research is identifying and understanding the role and impact of different actors and agents in defining who governs the earth system and how. Incremental approaches to pursuing sustainability by individual businesses are insufficient for delivering change at the speed and scale necessary to solve the pressing sustainability risks identified by the World Economic Forum and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Beyond the role of individual businesses, we witness the emergence of a range of private-actor networks and initiatives designed to transform companies’ underlying business models. Many of these private actor networks are founded on key philosophies, codes and principles, and offer concrete action frameworks, business templates and other practical guidance. We define these networks as ‘purpose ecosystems’, which share the focus on a broader ‘purpose’ as a key characteristic.

Led by Associate Professor Stubbs and Associate Professor Dahlmann, this project will engage with a range of small-large businesses and industry bodies and movements to understand how they are mobilising purpose ecosystems for competitive and sustainable outcomes, in order to activate a more coordinated business approach to address ‘wicked’ sustainability problems. The project draws on the synergies between the PIs’ and CAs’ research strengths across the fields of business and management, governance, and sustainable development. It will leverage Monash’s and Warwick’s collective research capacity in ESG and purpose ecosystems to establish a collaborative research hub, involving both university and industry partners, and develop external grant applications.

Principle applicants

Wendy Stubbs

Dr Wendy Stubbs

Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

Dr Frederik Dahlmann

Dr Frederik Dahlmann

Associate Professor, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick

Co-applicants

Dr Megan Farrelly, Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

Professor Rob Raven, Professor, Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

Dr Keith Hyams, Reader, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick 

Professor Dave Griggs, Honorary Professor, School of Cross-Faculty Studies, University of Warwick