Sustainability framework : Notes #1

I’m reinventing myself. Want to become a “sustainability expert” so I’m MOOC’ing, reading Malthus, Club of Rome, UN millennium Goals and engaging in discussions with friends on what “Sustainability” actually means.

So many people and organizations are busy with the term that it seems to be trodden flat. What I want to do on my blog, and starting with this blogpost, is create a simple and effective framework to discuss sustainability topics in a holistic and consistent way with as few as possible personal values. I would like to come to a sort of Universal deceleration of Human Rights, but than for “a sustainable world”. This is the first of a series of post to help me organize my brain, comments on the mess below are more than welcome!

“Sustainability” when discussed in my MOOC’s focusses on needs (essential vs. wants), People, Planet, profit, the triple bottomline : economic, social and environmental impact. I want to develop a narrative in which I can discus sustainability issues with companies, corporations and local or national government and focus groups without falling into entrenched viewpoints, because that doesn’t help the discussion further.

Key concepts

“What will exponential growth mean for my business model?”
Exponential growth in an environment with boundaries is silly. Ask yeast, duckweed or Facebook about the limits to the exponential growth function in our finite world. So key concept to my sustainability will be : contemplate the growth impact of what you are trying realize

“Does my business model leave as many resources for our children as we have now?”
This will also play a central role in my model, it is only looks at US, doesn’t look back to how we got where we are now, and forces us to think about what we leave as our heritage. Sustainability Concepts to be covered: bio-diversity, Atmospheric gasses (CO2 – Methane)

Does my way of doing business improve social inclusiveness?
This concept comes from the UN millennium goals, something I hadn’t given much thought before, but as I get older and see more and more effects of government policies that push people to the brink of existence, I start to realize that this is a very important concept in sustainability. If what you is only beneficial for a smaller and smaller subset of society (even be it a profitable subset) you are not on a sustainable track.
Especially governments are susceptible to this risk, with corporatism as a prima example of how NOT to organize a government.

Are people even prime?
Many models are very anthropocentric, and I dare to question that. The world as “Gaya” organism may be the other end of this scope, but I think that we human beings are not “entitled” to the riches of the earth. I of course go straight into many religions here, where holy manuscripts put humans on top and only ask them to be good stewards. I think that we need to take a step back and look at our role in a more natural, biological way : we are only one out of a million and more species, and have no “higher rights” to the riches of our world than say a rain worm. The fact that we can think does give us an even greater responsibility to contemplate the effects of our behavior than that rain worm!

Education and Training to become Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)
Typically, top executives, including chief sustainability officers, must possess at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university, although many positions also require a Master’s in Business Administration or a related degree. Desired coursework during college and graduate school might include public administration, environmental science, environmental management, environmental engineering, business administration, architecture and urban planning. Many positions require significant sustainability and managerial experience as well.


MOOC @ Bath : Sustainability for Professionals : Week 1&2 reflection

I’m trying to become a “Sustainability Expert”, whatever that may be, because I think that’s the person in me that is screaming to me to look for work that will truly fulfill me.

At the end 2013 I discovered MOOC’ing and searched for “Sustainability”. Currently I do “Sustainable Development” from prof. Sachs at Columbia. This course is very thorough on global sustainability issues and focusses on the 8 UN millennium goals. I discover (the course still runs) that this is not the type of sustainability that I want to become expert in. Because the other MOOC I was doing (Exeter, Climate Change) was finished (very interesting course it was), I did a narrower search and came across the University of Bath MOOC on Sustainability for Professionals. Because I am not yet working in the field I thought that it may be a bit to technical/abstract for me, but….. it isn’t!! I really enjoy it, so here are my reflections so far.

Week 1 : the triple bottom line
People, planet & profit were not new of course, the translation to the triple bottom line “economic, social and environmental IMPACT” was.
The rest of week one got me confused, because it was all about MY needs, interpretation of definitions and so forth. I was hoping so much that I would get concrete definitions and methods / heuristics to define sustainable or unsustainable behavior. Well that was of course to easy 🙂

Than I came across this blogpost (highly recommended) from Eleonora Nieuwjaar who is a PPP-philosopher I shall call here. She first proposes a set of moral values that together form a Moral Compass to guide you through your life. This way of thinking was WAY outside my world until recently but trying to create a holistic view of what sustainability actually means for ME this is exactly what I see in front of me: Sustainability is first of all a Moral Compass.

My actions are in line with my Moral Compass (“just”) when they are:

When looking at sustainability in this way (with a moral compass in hand) it suddenly becomes a lot easier to think about “needs” of companies and governments. OK, so that helped me get through week 1.

Than week 2.
“Choices, attitudes and social position” in relationship to sustainability. Without my insights of week 1 this would have been a tough one, but reading the other students comments got me in the flow again. And than we get to Dr Steve Cayzer (former HP, that is motivating!) who talks about drivers for sustainability in corporations:
– costs
– risks
– opportunities
And about
– constraints that stand in the way of sustainability changes

That was all very interesting, giving a basis for a framework to discuss sustainability issues. It’s also very interesting to see al the different viewpoints from people who are already active in the field, I have the feeling that I could have professional discussions with these kind of people, so I am right on track. Hope you all enjoy the weekend and meet you next week @ futurelearn,

Bye for now, Lars >