Meeting the Challenges of Sustainable Enterprise

Written by: Professor Elizabeth Crawford Spencer, Acting Dean the College of Business, Law and Governance | JCU | December 3, 2018

In a dynamic and competitive business environment the task of preparing future leaders raises new challenges for educators. With this in mind James Cook University is currently in the process of revising its program in business and law to meet real world concerns and opportunities. We continue to build on our successes, such as business education programs for Indigenous small business, economic impact studies in defence and education, and programs in rural leadership, sustainable tourism and Work Integrated Learning. We are committed to finding new ways to work with local communities in preparing graduates to create a better future locally and globally. 

Because the challenge of sustainable development in the tropics is one of the most important global issues of our time, we believe our College has a duty to focus on sustainability. We often hear the word sustainability, but what does it mean? Sustainability has been defined as the ability to maintain healthy environmental, social and economic systems in balance, indefinitely, on a global and local scale. (For more on this see It is also helpful to think of what sustainability means in terms of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (see blue box on opposite page). Note that these goals are not only environmental but are also directed toward the advancement of peace and social justice, equity, human dignity, economic practices, partnerships and governance.

Dramatic facts underlie the importance of sustainability for the tropical world:

• Around 40% of the world’s population lives in the tropics; at current rates of population growth, by 2050 more than half of the world’s people will live in the region. They include many of the world’s poorest people, as well as some of its richest. In addition, these regions are home to over half of the world’s children under 15 years old, for whom social sustainability requires equity and opportunity.

• The tropics are economically important. Growth in the value of trade in the tropics is more than twice that of the rest of the world. While this growth provides great opportunities for business and investment due to increasing consumption and the innovative potential of a diverse workforce, it also puts unprecedented pressure on the world’s environment and natural resources. Understanding the nature of growth, the demographics of tropical populations and the needs and aspirations of tropical people is fundamental to balancing development and sustainability in the region.

• The tropics hosts about 80% of the planet’s terrestrial species and over 95% of its corals and mangroves. Biological diversity as well as the diversity of human language and culture in the tropics hold secrets to sustainability in ecological, social and economic contexts.

• Though the tropics is a zone of natural abundance, it is under threat. For more than two centuries humans have progressively increased consumption, causing disequilibrium. The recent UN experts’ report on warming states that without immediate concerted action, the world will in the near future experience very serious effects relating to water supply, agriculture, habitat, pollination, melting, sea encroachment etc. that require appropriate responses in both the developed and developing worlds.

The role of human activity in climate change is a matter of debate, but it is clear that the effects of global warming are starting to disrupt economies and societies in ways that will require a new generation of professionals to lead change. The JCU sustainable business program teaches students to think beyond disequilibrium, and to be leaders in reconceptualising success in human enterprise. 


“Growth in the value of trade in the tropics is more than twice that of the rest of the world.”


As a leading educator in sustainability in the Asia-Pacific region, JCU aims to create new knowledge, solutions and the professional workforce to realise economic, environmental and social opportunities for the tropics. Business graduates gain the knowledge and skills to successfully implement sustainable business practices through study and practical experience with environmental issues, biodiversity, conservation, sustainable economies, business, accounting and finance. They will understand ways in which principles and praxis can help enterprise of all kinds in the tropics to flourish. 

Similarly, JCU Law takes a project-oriented approach to sustainability, as students undertake all the substantive learning and skills of a traditional law degree, but also acquire knowledge of regulatory processes, legal institutions and infrastructure. Our law curriculum teaches students to think beyond disequilibrium as they engage in processes of design and implementation of projects that combine law and sustainability. In this way JCU law graduates are educated and trained to become practical lawyers able to serve their communities as well as the goals of sustainability.  


United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals

No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health & Well-Being; Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Production and Consumption; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life On Land; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions; Partnership for the Goals.


The College of Business Law and Governance plays an important role as an active community leader, growing the capacity and making the connections to support local enterprise in sustainable practice in all our locations (Townsville, Cairns, Singapore and Brisbane) and as a global leader across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We believe sustainability is a universal message. From our campus in Singapore as well as campuses in Townsville, Cairns and Brisbane and our city campuses, students can participate in exchanges and partnership programs with industry and the non-profit sector and our message can disseminate widely and clearly. 

Of course, the Indigenous community is an important part of JCU’s DNA and integral to all that we do. The knowledge and wisdom of ancient cultures hold valuable lessons for sustainable practice, environmentally and spiritually, and our College seeks to build relationships that deepen our learning and create partnerships that enhance our ability to improve lives across all our regions.

Fundamentally, it’s about empowering our graduates to design the business, governance and legal frameworks that enable and support sustainable human enterprise into the future. And it’s about

connection, partnering with the community, providing educational initiatives and research in alignment with the James Cook University Strategic Intent and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We invite all our local communities to join with us in building and supporting successful, vibrant and resilient local economies. 

Please contact Elizabeth Spencer at to learn more about our programs, to share ideas and/or to partner with us.

Success North Queensland | Connecting Cairns and Townsville