The end of April is a tragic time for many people who were affected by the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy in 1986. Unfortunately, this ongoing crisis is often lost among today’s challenges. Therefore, 27 years later, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has reminded the world: “The countless women, men and children affected by radioactive contamination must never be forgotten”.
The UN remembers Chernobyl.
What about the ordinary people on the streets? I had the unique opportunity to learn more on April 26 in downtown Toronto, Canada. As a member of the Advisory Board of the international non-profit organization, Chernobyl Foundation, I joined an annual fundraising event at Dundas Square.
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness about Chernobyl issues and to fund-raise for a blood donation network in Ukraine that serves sick children. The organizers increased attendance by bringing a “replica” of the nuclear reactor’s shelter, Sarcophagus, to the square and by giving a chance to win a trip to Chernobyl for those whom donated online through the Foundation’s web-site.
With average daily traffic of 62,100 pedestrians and 55,500 vehicles, Dundas Square offers interesting opportunities to learn more about public opinion and fundraising support of Torontonians. Toronto is the financial heart of Canada with many banks and other wealthy organizations. Nevertheless, a major interest in the Foundation’s event came from ordinary people.
The most touching experience for me was with the donations from a Japanese street-musician, youth and the homeless donors. People in need were offering help, but the affluent and wealthy preferred to ignore the fundraising efforts.
Is the Chernobyl crisis really forgotten? Was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster’s reminder not enough to learn more from the Chernobyl consequences?
Going back to the UN Secretary-General’s commitment of the UN system to stand by those affected by the Chernobyl disaster, and to work for greater nuclear safety and sustainable energy worldwide, I consider everyone’s involvement in this process.
In the framework of sustainability thinking we also pay attention to inclusiveness. The global nuclear disasters should not leave us indifferent to challenges of history. After all, there is no future without a past.
Greetings from a warm spring day in Berkeley. This email concerns my continuing and increasing work on a topic important to many of you, namely, how will the major demographic trends over the next fifty years impact our quality of life, and what are the policy issues we can address to reduce negative impacts, especially for low income and vulnerable communities, and women and girls.
How many of you have surprised a person you are talking to by describing yourself as an expert in sustainability? Great, if you’re talking to a professional environmentalist or project manager who knows this stuff. What if this conversation is taking place ata party? Not everybody understands the term “sustainability”. A few are even too confused to ask for the further explanation. Many even have misconceptions about this term “sustainability”.
Some of my friends have visited my website, read everything about my activities, checked the links and then asked “why should I care about sustainability” or “Why should my company care about sustainability?” What can I tell someone who is in doubt?
Sustainable development philosophy is a part of my life. I believe that creating harmony, consensus and helping society to sustain is the root of all true meaning in life, but it is not easy to achieve. I hope that I can be a part of the process that improves the quality of life everywhere. I believe in making a living by making a difference. I enjoy working with people and helping them learn something new that makes not only transitional, but mostly transformational change in their life. My passion is about future generations and positive changes in this world. Share your passion with your friends and colleagues, write a blog, become the ”go to” sustainability consultant in your local area, take it to communities as much as you can.
How to convince not only your friends, but their bosses to do more for sustainable business? Does your boss understand not only about environmental, but also about the social and economic dimensions of sustainability and what exactly he or she does for employees? What can employees do? What can we say about employees themselves, their needs and views? Why are they motivated to act, if motivated at all? Why do businesses care about sustainability after all?
Let me share with you some experts’ opinions and survey results. It was a pleasure for me to attend a few events with Bob Willard, sustainability guru. He is also occasionally teaching at Ryerson University, in Toronto, where I am an instructor. Bob confirmed after his meetings with the business world that interest in this topic is growing. At the same time, top management recognizes that sustainability is more often about branding than about anything else.
Brand, trust, and reputation are the top driver of CEO’s action on sustainability issues according to a survey of 766 CEO’s (Willard, 2012, p. 5). The expert’s testimony: “Owing to changes in the macro and micro environments, corporate sustainability branding has become more important in recent years” (Belz & Peattie, 2012, p. 186).
Brand differentiation is recognized as one of the greatest challenges among marketing experts. At the same time, benefits of a strong brand differentiator related to sustainability are increasing. Even a prospective job applicant is looking for brand and reputation because he or she identifies with companies as an employer.
There are tendencies that a sustainability-driven brand may influence the student’s college choice. Furthermore, nearly 7 out of 10 (68 percent) among 7,445 college applicants in the US already claim to prefer colleges or universities with a commitment to sustainability (according to a survey done by Princeton Review). “College-bound students are increasingly interested in sustainability issues,” added Robert Franek, Senior VP/Publisher, The Princeton Review. Another survey discovered that 92% of students and entry-level job-seekers are looking for an environmentally friendly company (Willard, 2012, p.121).
However, you should care not only about environmentally friendly operations. I recommend we more often emphasize the “Triple-Bottom-Line” and explain that sustainability is not “just” a green business. Some common myths about sustainability, including what green means in our context, are revealed by Demonic (2009). Sustainability should be presented differently. Read more on my site.
Feel comfortable to review some sources I already mentioned. Please read:
Belz F-M., Peattie K. (2012). Sustainability Marketing: A Global Perspective. John Wiley & Sons, 2nd edition.
Demonic, Michael D. (2009). “Top 10 Myths about Sustainability.” Scientific American, Earth 3.0: Solutions for Sustainable Progress. New York, NY, USA: Scientific American, Inc.
Iovin J. The Princeton Review Releases Free “Guide To 322 Green Colleges”. Retrieved from http://www.princetonreview.
Willard B. (2012). The New Sustainability Advantage. New Society Publishers.
With warm regards,
Re-posted from The Berkeley Blog
Our new program, the Master of Development Practice, emphasizes ‘sustainability’ — but what exactly is it?
Last week, we hosted a panel of 5 faculty experts to address this question. It was agreed that sustainability means that all humans are able to maintain a decent standard of living, akin to say, Costa Rica (neither Switzerland nor Bangladesh), without destroying the environment
However, physical science tells us that at the current state of affairs, this is highly unlikely. We rely too much on fossil fuels, climate change is a real threat and there are simply too many people. The challenge of sustainability is to introduce policies that will dramatically avert climate change and slow (or even reverse) population growth.
The social scientists agreed that climate change is a big threat, and suggested that current political reality and distribution of powers were the main obstacles for change. There are policies that can address climate change, e.g. the carbon tax, investment in alternative technologies, various regulations designed to reduce pollution without hurting the poor, but the political system would not sustain these. Any climate-change policies have gainers and losers, different groups may lose from adjustment while in the meantime, we remain stuck in the status quo. Developing countries want to grow and are investing in coal plants; in the developed world, we have some notable successes such as the AB32 but they are exception, not the rule.
For a business, sustainability is not a global concept, rather a day-to-day challenge of how to stay afloat. For them, the key to sustainability is profitability. However, the business world is starting to recognize that it would not do them a lot of good to be profitable in a world that is falling apart. Furthermore, they recognize that some consumers may pay extra for products produced in a more sustainable manner, thus being ‘sustainable’ makes good business sense. With the right policy environment, the business world can be used as a tool to introduce more sustainable policies but of course many businesses may oppose such policies as they may negatively affect their bottom line.
From a life-science perspective, the notion of sustainability is complex because evolution is a driving force and there is also inter-dependency among species; humans eat fish, and fish depends on kelp, etc. So pollution that affects water quality may harm humans indirectly through the food web. It is clear that uncontrolled applications of technology can be devastating to ecosystems and eventually to humans as well.
Thus enlightened regulations on harvesting of resources are essential. But figuring such policies and enforcing them, are major challenge, both because we operate under uncertainty and again, due to the political environment. Yet there have been some examples where things have improved for the better. While many fisheries have been depleted, there are many success stories; so it can be done.
The overall perspectives of all sciences were quite pessimistic. But when I look at it, things are not that bad. Average quality of life is better than ever, life expectancy has increased throughout the world and there has been no world war for a long time and for many people, sustainability simply means making sure that their pension funds last as they reach their 80th birthday. Even in many parts of the developing world, obesity is an issue more than hunger.
Thus I think the pessimism of scientists can be a base for optimism. Awareness of risk can convince society to take steps to create change. If there is one thing we know, humans have the capacity to adapt. We may not be able to mitigate or reverse climate change, but once we realize that something needs to be done, we come to the table with innovations that will allow adjusting easier. Of course, the sooner we adjust, the more we can prevent – but the role of the University is to raise awareness and I believe that we are doing our job and in this sense, pessimism is essential. Of course, too much pessimism may be counter-productive.
We have to rely on science and expand knowledge and this may require taking some risk. We may need to make changes to how we produce our food, the way we live, get our energy, etc. and this may be inconvenient to many and may entail risk. For example, living in denser cities and giving up urban sprawl, may not be convenient but it may reduce GHG emissions and environmental footprint… the price we need to pay for a more sustainable future. But I am afraid that drastic changes will require the risks be more apparent so people will be ready to make the necessary sacrifices. If there is one lesson of political economic research, crisis leads to change. I hope in the case of climate change, awareness of crisis will be enough to escape from the major threats.
While we are aware of climate change and start thinking about solutions, I’m more afraid of the population problem. While in some parts of the world, the population picture gets brighter, in other parts (i.e. sub-Saharan Africa), we are observing population explosion. More importantly, there are conflicts of values and beliefs that has prevented meaningful dialogue that could lead to effective policy. We should continue and enhance our research and efforts to address climate change, but we must also develop the intellectual foundation and a basic consensus to address the population problem. A key element of sustainability is sustaining the number of people and as long as we don’t know how to think about it, we have a long way to go.