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Contesting the Business Case for Sustainable Development: A New Zealand Perspective
Delyse Springett, Massey University, New Zealand
The contestation that characterises the concept of sustainable development hinges largely on the 'dangerous liaison' at the heart of the concept. The compromise that the Brundtland Report constructed between sustainable development and economic growth posited a compatibility between equity, ecological sustainability and growth that is strongly disputed. The opposing radical critique of sustainable development calls for a competing paradigm that breaks with the linear model of growth and accumulation. A 'weak-strong' heuristic employed to tease out this paradox underlines the 'weak' conception of sustainable development promoted by 'the business case': it reveals a narrative of management wherein 'political sustainability' is substituted for any more radical shift, with the consequent risk that the agenda of ecological responsibility and social justice may be appropriated by economists and business. The 'business case' substitutes 'eco-modernism' and 'business-as-usual' for sustainable development. However, sustainable development also represents a 'site of political contest' and a vehicle for deliberative democracy whereby the legitimacy of the business case is contested. This contestation is strongly represented in the literature and is beginning to emerge from the business context. The paper positions this debate within the outcomes of empirical research carried out with senior corporate managers who had worked in a research relationship with the researcher prior to this investigation; and key informants from the broader social context of business in New Zealand. An important emergent theme of the research is the need for education for sustainability for corporate managers to be provided in the formal and informal sectors of education.
 
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