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Beahrs ELP Blog

Changes in ELP

Prof. David Zilberman, Beahrs ELP Co-Director

Dear Alumni:

David Zilberman

You have received Dean Gilless’s e-mail, which I view as part of a broader reform that the College is taking to enhance and develop its international programs. The CNR has always had a strong research program in development and, through the ELP, we have developed a strong outreach. Building upon these accomplishments, the recent Master of Development Practice Program has helped meet the high demand for professional education. These initiatives all serve to illustrate the College’s continued and deepening commitment to international development at the college level. The ELP is the key component of professional outreach programs and will continue to prosper and grow. We are very proud of our past, the ELP Alumni Network, and the many relationships that it has built and activities generated. I intend to stay with the ELP and am convinced that it will be a sustainable and effective program and that the Alumni Network and Small Grant Initiative Program will be stronger than ever.
I want to thank Robin for her 12 years of leadership, vision, and passion, which really helped the Program grow to its present state. I am sure that she will continue to make major contributions. We are really fortunate to have had a wonderful team over the years that included Leslie, Elna, Marcia, Andy, Joyce, Jade, Sarah, and Anita.  Anita, Andy, and various student assistants continue working in close coordination with the MDP and are looking forward to the summer course as well as the new initiative that will be taken by CNR to make a world-class international program with the ELP as its key component.
We look forward to your input and continued interaction through our blog, Facebook, and hopefully soon in person.

Does Sustainability Need A No-brainer Branding?

Alexander Belyakov Portrait Photo Toronto Canada

Dr. Alexander Belyakov (ELP 2001)

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

Willard B. (2012). The New Sustainability Advantage. New Society Publishers.
With warm regards,


Is “Sustainable” Attainable?

David ZilbermanProf. David Zilberman

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.


Why I Like Blogging and why it is Good for the ELP

David Zilberman

Prof. David Zilberman

Several years ago, my son suggested I start a blog on the website he designed for me ( I was suspicious of blogging and tweeting, and it took me a long time to accept and enjoy Facebook (now I don’t need to buy People magazine and I know what is going on with my family and friends). I decided to start my own personal blog, and later on I joined the Berkeley blog community. I’ve come to realize what an incredibly powerful tool blogging can be. As a professor, I am producing ideas constantly, and I update myself by reading and interacting with people. My challenge is to be current and to contribute to knowledge. Of course, I enjoy writing journal articles, especially when they are accepted, and if I am lucky and have a piece printed in the newspaper or popular media it is great, but it is constricting in terms of style, content, and most importantly, there is a delay between what is said and when people see it. Blogs, on the other hand, allow the freedom of expression. Of course, you are unsure about how many (or if any) followers you may have, but even the act of expressing oneself is satisfying, and after a while the comments reflect that some people are actually reading the blog and some of them strongly disagree.

Writing for the Berkeley blog is a great experience as it allows me to express ideas about sustainability, sell the Masters of Development Practice, argue in favor of GMOs, and write about people that I appreciate, and it has been rewarding. I found a way to reach people and exchange ideas. But viewing the Berkeley blog once in a while, I learn about some of the most exciting ideas my colleagues have, what they are thinking about, and the directions of their research. Actually some ideas that started with a blog entry end up in presentations and papers, and even in business relationships. Blogging doesn’t mean you have to write long essays. You can present graphics, music, pictures, etc. My wife has a great blog on knitting and other crafts ( which I love.

The ELP has an alumni network of friends and people that share common interests. The blog provides a place where one can let his or her ideas fly. The challenge is to make it appealing in order to attract responses, and I believe that over time, once in a while we will have the pieces to start a dialogue that may lead to collaborations and partnerships. Now we have several vehicles of communication among ELP members: a Facebook page, a blog, and the “old” email connection. Lets use them, and that will allow us to grow together.

Check out my latest post, “Is ‘sustainable’ attainable?” on the Berkeley blog here.

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