Managers' sustainable development perceptions and practices : an investigation in the Australian building and construction sector

  • Gesa Ruge

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis addresses a research gap in the areas of managerial perception and practice of sustainable development (hereafter SD) in the context of the Australian building and construction industry. The management literature has highlighted the importance of more in-depth inquiries into industry-specific contexts to advance management knowledge and contribute to academic theory (Barnett, 2007; Costa & Menichini, 2013). Over the last decade industry practice for a sustainable built environment has increased managers’ skills and capabilities. This occurred on predominantly individual project or business basis rather than as industry wide approach. With the increasing economic, environmental and social impact of building and construction activities that are globally evident, there is now a growing need for this sector to develop a deeper understanding of sustainable development perceptions and practices (Chang et al., 2018; Pearce, 2008; Revell & Blackburn, 2007). The academic literature offers theoretical constructs that resonate with the culture of the building and construction industry, as well as knowledge and skills transfer from research to industry practice. This research applies stakeholder management theory as the primary theoretical lens, with a consideration of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development (SD) frameworks. These support the investigation of the research questions: How is sustainable development understood and perceived by managers in the construction industry? How are stakeholder relationships developed and managed in the construction industry? How do construction industry-specific contexts shape sustainable development management? Utilising a qualitative methodology with a case study design, this study collected and analysed data from in-depth interviews with twenty seven business directors, project managers and site managers across three small and medium-sized Australian construction businesses. The iterative and reflective qualitative data analysis identified five key themes, which connect the perceptions and practices of all managers interviewed across a management life-cycle spectrum not identified before. This research found that construction managers have distinct SD values, which are expressed through their own experiences and expertise engaging with diverse stakeholders to deliver project outcomes. These perceptions and practices, whilst individually constructed over time and with experience, are grounded in common industry values and include a clear concern for the long-term sustainability and futures of their stakeholder communities locally and the construction industry professionally. This qualitative and in-depth research analysis – which has not been undertaken in the Australian construction sector before- was able to capture the shift that has taken place from the traditional linear stakeholder management models based around the entity of the firm to the multi-dimensional stakeholder relationship networks actively facilitated by managers in industry practice. The thesis asserts that these findings have critical implications for advancing stakeholder management theory and sustainable development in industry-specific contexts. In addition, these findings offer a practice-focused contribution to the construction industry and propose increased educational emphasis on: firstly, making SD management more explicit; and secondly, supporting managers in their knowledge and skills development to navigate the complex contexts of their professional roles.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAli Quazi (Supervisor), Chris Sadleir (Supervisor) & Petra Bouvain (Supervisor)

Cite this