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Title: Greening the Wharfies: organisational learning for sustainability at Sydney Theatre Company
Contributor(s): Dalton, Valerie Anne (author); Cooksey, Ray W  (supervisor); Hunter, James  (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2019-02-11
Copyright Date: 2018-09
Open Access: Yes
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Abstract: This thesis is an exploratory and explanatory study of organisational learning for sustainability at Sydney Theatre Company. The complex problem of sustainability relates to humankind's capacity to respond to the various environmental and social problems that we have created so that we can continue to live within the carrying capacity of the planet.
Sustainability in organisations is often couched in terms of the triple bottom line, wherein an organisation must sustain itself financially while minimising environmental impacts and ensuring the sustainability of staff and other human stakeholders. To achieve this requires an organisation to undertake learning processes that shift it towards embracing sustainable practices. That shift should be evident in changes in policies and procedures as well as the work practices of staff. However, the sustainability imperative affects all of the contexts we occupy and learning in the workplace could be relevant to those other contexts. This raises the possibility that learnings from an organisational setting might translate to the non-work contexts occupied by staff.
An examination of the literature revealed that organisational learning for sustainability is usually studied only at the level of the organisation. The nexus between personal and organisational learning had not been examined except in terms of drawing on theories of how people learn. This seemed to be an area worthy of exploration because it offered the possibility that an organisation could potentially influence the behaviour of staff in relation to sustainability in their non-work contexts.
Greening the Wharf at Sydney Theatre Company (STC) was an environmental sustainability project that appeared to be an example of successful organisational learning for sustainability as showcased on their greeningthewharf. com website. I undertook a single in-depth case study to explore if organisational learning for sustainability was evident; how that learning had unfolded over time; what organisational learning features were evident and how the personal and organisational learning intersected with each other.
I used the lens of complexity theory to explore the array of potential influences on the process and its impacts on staff. Using this conceptual framework, an organisation is a complex adaptive system that responds and adapt to its environment in ways that are difficult to predict due to the many sources of dynamic influence at play. Cause and effect relationships can be circular and difficult to identify. In such systems, small changes can lead to large outcomes or large changes may lead to outcomes that do not take hold. The individuals who work for an organisation come with their own complex backgrounds that inform the way they interact with the organisation and each other. They hold their perspectives cognitively and express them verbally and non-verbally as they communicate. To appreciate the differences in individual perspectives, I was attentive to the language used during interviews, particularly what participant utterances revealed about the way they framed their experiences and the metaphors they used in describing their experiences.
In order to attain a deep and contextual understanding of the complexity of the Greening the Wharf project and its impacts beyond at STC, including its cognitive impacts on staff, I adopted an interpretivist/constructivist perspective with a grounded theory approach. I collected qualitative data from five sources – semi-structured interviews with staff, company documentation, press reports about STC, Greening the Wharf and relevant players over the period studied, photographs of STC and my own observations during site visits that I recorded in my research diary. I used MAXQDA 11.1.2 to support my data analysis and subsequent theorising.
The research found that organisational learning for sustainability had taken place at STC by applying the Sustainability Phase Model to the organisation and determining that it had attained the status of a sustaining organisation (Benn et al., 2014). The learning emerged through a process with multiple dynamic influences, some of which created key enabling conditions that contributed to the success of the project. This included the personal environmental commitments of key staff, a collaborative organisational culture, an inclusive leadership team and a fertile socio-political climate at the time the project began. The organisation's ongoing commitments to making environmental sustainability part of business as usual ensured the learning became part of the each staff member's work practices and that facilitated the emergence of organisational learning for sustainability.
The organisational learning that took place was characterised by a combination of double and single loop learning, underpinned by leadership that fostered learning that was distributed across the organisation to staff empowered to lead in their own learning at the team and individual level. The double loop learning occurred in response to the disruptive idea of greening theatre, something that STC had not considered previously. Once staff were convinced that it was an important thing to do, the first part of the project was characterised by the transformational metaphor of Greening the Wharf as theatre production and this allowed staff to engage in the project using skills and processes that were already familiar to them. Once the initial production of Greening the Wharf ended, STC continued its ecological sustainability journey, embedding behaviour change and continuing to seek improvements in organisational practices and processes. However, the success within the workplace did not automatically impact of the behaviour of staff in other contexts such as their homes. That is, despite it being relevant to multiple contexts, the staff did not make the connection between the sustainability behaviours in the workplace and sustainability behaviours outside the workplace for the most part.
This exploratory and explanatory research has shown that taking a complexity theory perspective illuminated key sources of influence that were critical to the organisational learning for sustainability at STC which may have been missed had other conceptual approaches been used. It suggests that organisations attempting to become more ecologically sustainable may do well to attend to the human sustainability of their staff first, creating the right cultural conditions for such a change. It also suggests that an organisation might achieve learning that is more powerful if it finds ways to relate the new objective or vision for the organisation to existing work practices rather than trying to invent new practices. It also suggests that we cannot assume that learning in one context automatically transfers to other contexts.
Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Field of Research Codes: 130309 Learning Sciences
150311 Organisational Behaviour
170107 Industrial and Organisational Psychology
Socio-Economic Outcome Codes: 910406 Technological and Organisational Innovation
970115 Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Appears in Collections:Thesis Doctoral
UNE Business School

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