Building sustainable partnerships between New Zealand and China

Dr Michelle Sitong Chen

Dr Michelle Sitong Chen at the Auckland campus.

A paper in business and sustainability studies at Massey University inspired Dr Michelle Sitong Chen to complete a doctorate in Management, focusing on the issue of sustainability in partnerships between Chinese and New Zealand businesses.

Dr Chen moved to New Zealand from China to study her Master of Business Studies with First Class Honours. During her studies, she developed a great interest in the area of sustainability. “It was my main supervisor, Associate Professor Gabriel Eweje, who taught the course Business and Sustainability. His insights and thoughts about sustainability inspired and guided me to consider doing my PhD in this field.” 

In her PhD project Achieving Holistic Sustainability in Chinese and New Zealand Business Partnerships: An Integrative Approach, Dr Chen conducted interviews with businesses to examine how tensions arise and are managed when Chinese and NZ companies in business partnerships have opposing ideas in addressing economic, social and environmental issues.

Her research identified multiple tensions in four main areas: triple bottom line (environmental protection, economic prosperity and social justice), temporal, commercial vs. moral, and spatial (the challenge of meeting either China or New Zealand’s sustainability standards) tensions. 

These tensions are caused by various reasons, including individual values and norms towards sustainability demands, different organisational sustainability regulations or standards as well as national sustainability regulations and government interference between China and New Zealand.

“The companies I interviewed lacked awareness of the importance of these tensions by mainly setting financial goals, thus putting sustainability tensions into an unimportant position. In particular, the findings suggested that not all New Zealand companies address financial and non-financial sustainability performance simultaneously, while some Chinese companies have started to realise the importance of sustainability implementations and made efforts to achieve both at the same time.”

Dr Chen’s recommendation to resolve the tensions includes engaging in open-minded conversations with business partners to identify existing tensions; generating an atmosphere of creativity and innovation for better decision-making; making joint efforts in managing each side of the competing sustainability demands; and looking for synergies between these demands in order to reach consensus/shared values. “This not only can sustain business partnerships, but also enhance the firms’ organisational ambidexterity, consequently helping them to achieve holistic sustainability.”

“I hope that the present study contributes to scholarly understanding of tensions in sustainability between firms in collaborative business partnerships in relation to the nature of the tensions, reasons causing the tensions, managerial sensemaking of tensions and the strategies for managing the tensions.”

Dr Chen was the recipient of Massey University PhD scholarship and Massey University Dean's Graduation Award. She graduated in absentia with a PhD in Management and is currently working as a lecturer at Wellington Institute of Technology & Whitireia New Zealand polytechnics.


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