Intro: A traveller in search of a sustainable, impactful future.

Hello everybody!

I am Pietro, a final year Italian management student at Lancaster University.

This is me, with a heart-shaped potato.

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With a study abroad experience in Montreal and a placement year at IBM in my back pocket, I’m edging ever closer to the final stages of my student career, before taking the big step into the ‘real world’.

It’s around this time that I’ve began to consider what I’ll do to leave a lasting, positive impact on this ever-changing planet. But, I’m just not yet sure how to go about it.

One the thing I do know is that one day I want to found my own sustainable enterprise, and with that goal in mind, it blows my mind to think I am one of the few selected students to attend the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Liaison Delegate meeting in Montreux, Switzerland, and learn about what the most important players in the business world are currently doing to reduce their impact on the environment, striving to shift the conversation from profitability in the short-term to sustainability in the long-term.

I am a passionate traveller, and having covered four continents (hopefully, South America next!) I’ve had the chance to appreciate and fall in love with our planet in many of its shapes and sizes (ie. a wierdly shaped potato). However, this has led me to fear what is going to happen to it and its future inhabitants if we continue exploiting its resources, negatively impacting the most whilst benefitting the few. And it’s why now I invite all of you readers to join me and my fellow companions attending the WBSCD to engage in the conversation on sustainability.

The organizations of the WBSCD community have created an ambitious roadmap called Action 2020, which outlines a set of priority areas member businesses will focus on to slowly get closer to the overarching Vision of “having 9 billion people all living well and within the boundaries of our planet by 2050”.

With a year spent in the vibrant technology consultancy business, I am keen to understand how technological advances are going to be discussed to help us become smarter in our business processes, getting us closer to Vision 2050.

However, I believe the spirit of the event is what I look most forward to. A community of delegates from all over the world, representing their businesses in the name of a sustainable future, discussing hands-on what they’re going to do about it. Gives me the chills just to think I’ll be part of it!

Stay tuned for more updates.

Ciao,

Pietro

Sustainable Cities: Rediscovering the Concept

It’s been sometime since I came back from the trip to Chennai, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the experience obtained during the WBCSD’s meetings and sightseeing in Chennai area. Over the last weeks I was brought back to India many times in my dreams, recollecting the numerous moments and episodes I encountered there. It is very surprising how we are processing information – after some time we are able to re-discover in our mind numerous curious details about the events and processes we were previously observing or involved in, with numerous discrete ideas being formed into a solid opinion overtime. Moreover, after a certain period of time we might be able to recognize something important, which seemed to be out of our sight earlier. Following the trip I often asked myself what was the most significant discovery I had made for myself, what was that important idea I managed to identify.

Being very interested in sustainable cities topic and thus having a goal to learn as much as possible about the issues impacting sustainability of cities and existing ways to tackle them, at the conference I was in constant search for new information and solutions to address the above. What is more, following the WDCSD sessions I had a chance to attend I was contemplating potential implementation of the mentioned solutions in Indian cities like Chennai. Overall, I was very focused on the topic and considered it to be almost a panacea for the 21st century world.

On my way back to Lancaster I was quite satisfied with the knowledge obtained and information gathered on the actions being undertaken. This, being enhanced with positive emotions and amazing experiences accumulated, was making me very energetic and enthusiastic about upcoming final year at the university.

However, the more bright emotions were fading away, the more critical I was becoming about my experience and thoughts. I started to realize there was something missing from my understanding of sustainability and sustainable cities solutions in particular. My perception of the idea started to seem incomplete to me… Looking back at my time in Chennai, additional questions started to come to my mind. Are the sustainable cities solutions relevant and applicable to every city? If they are, are they the top priority matters for those cities?..

Based on the information I recently discovered, “the emissions per head drop as city size grows in the developed world, where a doubling in size typically leads to an increase in emissions of only about 80 per cent” due to the higher efficiency achieved in the developed cities (MIT Technology Review, 2014). In the developing countries “the doubling of city size leads to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions of about 115 per cent” (MIT Technology Review, 2014). It made me think what is the contribution to, for example, CO2 emissions by the rich and poor city? Which one of them allows its citizens to live more sustainable life?

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In the developed rich cities there are numerous state-of-the-art sustainable technologies and solutions such as hybrid cars, solar panels and smart buildings. What is more, it is considered that rich cities of the developed world becoming more and more specialized in services provision. Conversely, the poor cities do not possess majority of the progressive technologies and are mainly production–oriented. And still, developed world produces significantly more emissions per capita than the developing world (Rapier, 2012).

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Is it consumerism that triggers this? According to the recent statistics, 12 percent of the world’s population living in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent (Worldwatch Institute, 2013). People who live in affluent countries consume significantly more, which enhances negative impact on sustainability overall and adds to the carbon emissions level in particular. In developing countries, on the contrary, there is a far lower scale of consumption, which partially compensates for the insufficient level of sustainable practices.

Nevertheless, my point here is not to determine who should be responsible for the sustainability issues, the rich or the poor cities, but rather to highlight the limitation of the sustainable cities solution I had a perception of before and emphasize the importance of the complex measures necessary to be undertaken as part of the sustainable cities solution. To improve sustainability, it is essential to tackle low education level in the developing countries allowing them not only to improve their standards of life, but also to make them aware of the sustainability problems and necessity to tackle them. The same applies to the developed world, where it is essential to make people more conscious about their personal actions towards environment and their enormous consumption leading to the increasing ecological footprint. What is more, actions towards high-priority problems such as hunger, poor health, water pollution and inadequate sanitation should also be incorporated into the sustainable cities practices.

My view on the sustainable cities approach changed significantly since I came back from the very inspiring trip to India. Initially considering sustainable cities solution as an isolated topic, my perception of it gradually moved toward seeing this as a very complex, integrated set of actions aiming not just to tackle carbon emissions and minimize the resources input, but also to improve other essential aspects of human life without which it will not be possible to achieve significant change and maintain long-term success in environmental sustainability. What is now left to understand, therefore, is how we can best influence the society, both in rich and poor cities, to be more sustainable…

By Palina Malash

MIT Technology Review, 2014. Are Big, Rich Cities Greener Than Poor Ones? Available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/525571/are-big-rich-cities-greener-than-poor-ones/

Rapier, R., 2012. Climate Change and Developing Countries. Available at: http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2012/08/09/climate-change-and-developing-countries/

Worldwatch Institute, 2013. The State of Consumption Today. Available at: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810

Business Motives for Sustainability

During my time in Chennai at the WBCSD annual meeting I had the opportunity to experience a corporate environment like one, I could never have imagined. Before this trip, to me the concepts of sustainability and corporate business were worlds apart, I assumed that businesses only had one motive and that was profit. I did not think sustainability and corporate businesses could exist side by side. Businesses want to create shareholder value by reducing costs and increasing revenues, these motives do not coincide with greener aims to protect and restore the planet. However, after an amazing experience in Chennai, my opinion on this changed. I saw multiple businesses that genuinely care about the environment and were on a mission to change this by implementing policies set out by the WBCSD. This sparked a personal interest of mine to deeper understand what motivates businesses to start transforming their business to be more sustainable.

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The most apparent motivation for businesses to become sustainable is that they genuinely care about the people, the planet and the carbon footprint their business leaves behind. The new influx of managers and business leaders that are emerging are more aware of sustainable implications and consequences that arise when the planet is not being looked after. These new managers are more conscious to implement changes within  a corporation so that the planet benefits when the business does. This increased awareness could have arisen from more research and understanding across businesses and new managers about what is really happening to the world and how the natural resources are being depleted could have sparked a passion to implement change in the way businesses operate.

The second motive for businesses to become more sustainable is to improve the image of the company. This is because increasing numbers of customers becoming more conscious of their purchase decisions and are trying to become more ethical, where possible. This means that consumers are more likely to pay a higher price for an organically sourced, fair-trade and sustainable product rather than going for the cheapest option possible. This means that companies that produce sustainable products are likely to have increased brand image as they more popular than unethical products. This will lead to higher revenues from customers and increased investment from shareholders. This is great news for businesses as this could lead to business growth and profitability which would align the two goals and provide an explanation to why a previously profit motivated firm would take an interest in sustainability.

A third possible reason for why businesses are becoming more sustainable is that it will benefit its employees. Part of being sustainable is looking after employees and suppliers all the way throughout the supply chain. A lot of businesses use cheap offshore labour to manufacture their products, however, this can come with some bad press as it is associated with using child labour, poor working conditions and extremely low pay. If a company decides to look out for their employees, especially in developing economies it will transform the livelihoods of these workers. This again will reinforce positive company image and improve the corporate social responsibility but will also be the morally the right option for the business to take. This also includes workers working in head office roles; if these employees are treated better then it is likely that they will perform to a higher standard, be more productive and efficient.

Overall, while it is important to consider the motives behind businesses becoming more sustainable their motives and intentions do not really matter – all that matters is that businesses, for one reason or another are waking up and putting sustainability higher up the list of their priorities. And at the end of the day, that is what matters.

Image: http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Yes-the-planet-got-destroyed-But-for-a-beautiful-moment-in-time-we-created-a-lot-of-value-for-sh-Prints_i9318014_.htm

Rainbow Home- Residential Hostel for Girls

Katie McAllister

 

While in Chennai we, LUMS students, were given the amazing opportunity to volunteer at an organisation of our choice- either a rehabilitation centre for men with mental disabilities or at a hostel that teaches English to young girls- organised by Chennai Volunteers. Volunteering has always been something that I have wanted to do, especially abroad and especially in a school, so going to Rainbow Home Residential Hostel for Girls was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss!

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On approach to the school we were surrounded by slums and squalor living conditions, hard to come to terms with when you’re faced with the modern infrastructure of Lancaster University on a daily basis. As we reached the school we began to understand that this kind of environment is so normal to those who live within it, women were smiling and laughing while sitting on street corners making necklaces from fresh flowers, men went about their day to day business selling street food as if they were Michelen Star Chefs!

The school gates opened as we drove up the dirty driveway to see around 50 young girls sat outside giggling and singing. The playground, or yard, was grimy and probably very unsafe but that didn’t stop the young girls from dancing around. Each and every girl seemed so excited to see us as though we were a completely different species! They were truly over the moon to see us arrive and couldn’t wait to talk to us when we got inside!

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After removing our shoes, we all sat down on the floor of a class room with young schoolgirls fighting for a seat next to us. After a few moments of shyness, the girls soon came out of their shell and began to sing to us: “if you’re happy and you know it…” and after this it was only fair that it was our turn to sing to them, much to the children’s enjoyment and our embarrassment we stood up to teach them the Macarena and the Hokey Pokey (which obviously continued on for much longer than anticipated). Following our X-Factor worthy performance, we were asked by the teachers to help the young girls draw a greetings card for someone of their choice. This proved to be difficult due to language barriers as well as the girls being more interested in the softness of our hair and the colour of our nails! After some discussion about our beauty regime the girls got down to business, drawing flowers, butterflies, love hearts as well as writing some very good English! We also had the chance to take some photographs with the girls, who took it upon themselves to take them with our iPhones- another moment that they were truly mesmerised by something that we take for granted. At the end of our short visit, most of the young girls decided that they wanted to give the card that they had drawn to us, a sweet memory of our time at Rainbow Home.

Although it is unlikely that we will ever see those same girls again, I know, on behalf of all the other students that came, that we wish them all the best in terms of health, education and opportunity. They have been born into an environment which may not deal them the best cards in life, however with the confidence that they showed us on our short trip, we know that they can definitely go a long way! The trip itself was very humbling, it highlighted for me the true divide that exists not only in Chennai but across the globe. I saw those girls as girls just the same as me when I was their age, but they looked at each of us as though we were aliens.

We are all the same, living in the same world with the same problems happening around us. It just happens to be that some of us, due to our more individual environment, are made to be more aware of things going on in the world. After this experience I came to the conclusion that climate change, poverty, pollution are all things that require the action of everybody, however it takes us – the more aware- to kick-start that action!

Banking on sustainability

Our visit to India led us to acknowledge how important sustainability is in today’s world. It was evident through discussions and sessions with senior leaders that we are still not prepared, as a society, for achieving social responsibility and sustainability. There is still so much we need to accomplish as a society to grow towards a more eco-friendly future and events such as the WBCSD help us strive towards that future.

Chennai opened our eyes to various issues and challenges our habitat is facing in achieving sustainability. Most of these issues need to be addressed from the root of it, where we make it a point to incorporate banks, the government and policy makers to first make a step towards sustainability before we encourage and educate others to make that leap.

Sustainable development is at the heart of many non-bank companies in the world and this is evident based on corporate sustainability reports and NGO developments, which clarify their investment towards encouraging and incorporating social responsibility. However, can we say the same for banks and whether they are doing enough to finance individuals and societies, to allow them to grow and indulge in sustainable development?

According to a Deutsche Bank report, approximately USD 14 trillion is being invested worldwide in sustainability. However, the IFC claims that there are “only 14 financial institutions in 12 countries that have taken concrete steps to integrate sustainability into their policies, practices, products and services”.
However, according to the IFC, there are major opportunities for banks in researching “un-served segments of the market”.

It is assumed that social investment tends to be quite a risky business for banks, particularly in India, due to the high operation and maintenance costs involved, coupled with the lack of governmental support and policies.
Banks also claim that there is a risk on payment of security of renewable energy products as a default project could make the plan unviable and unable to have its debt restructured. The main concern lays in the conflict of interest that banks face as a lot of their income is generated through loans to unsustainable firms since not all companies operate unsustainably. If banks barred these services to such firms, it would have a tough impact on their profitability.

Nonetheless, banks, in recent years, have benefited from socially responsible investments with Ceska Sporitelna, Afriland First Bank and Nedbank all benefiting from sustainable loans in waste collection, treatment and energy projects.
In addition to this, banks in India such as YES Bank recently introduced green bonds worth well over USD 160 million however, a large chunk of banks still refrain from providing loans and this ideology needs to be swiftly addressed all over the world.

To conclude, policymakers, investors and the public are all searching for better ways to bank in the aftermath of the financial crisis and sustainable banking is enjoying greater prominence than ever before.

‘Doing good’ is beneficial for banks and society alike, not just in an ethical sense but also financially, when measured against benchmarks such as the triple bottom line. The growing challenge now is to meet the need for lending and other financial services for people traditionally underserved by the banking system and to raise the awareness, amongst these big corporations, on the issues our world is facing today and what they can do to contribute to a more healthy, efficient and sustainable lifestyle.

By Divesh Lachhwani

Bibliography:

Ifc.org. (2016). [online] Available at: http://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/9486d980488658f8b7b2f76a6515bb18/Banking_on_Sustainablity_Launch.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=9486d980488658f8b7b2f76a6515bb18 [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016].

Cowe, R. (2012). Banking on sustainability: is the financial sector doing enough?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/banking-sustainability-financial-sector [Accessed 24 Oct. 2016].

Thoughts on homestay networks and their effect on climate change

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Not always the most comfortable, but certainly the cheapest option: Online networks have made it possible to find hosts willing to accommodate travelers for free or low cost. The emergence of such platforms has strongly facilitated traveling, triggering a rise in overall air travels and resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Couchsurfing and Airbnb are homestay networks through which holidaymakers can book short-term accommodation in residential properties, staying together with owners. The platforms offer reasonably priced or free accommodation and have reached out to millions of customers globally. Continue reading →

“Sustainability: A Lesson for Change”

 

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“The Greatest Threat To Our Planet Is The Believe That Someone Else Will Save It”

Robert Swann

I ask you firstly to close your eyes and imagine a perfect world: Human utopia. Vibrant Trees, lots of Happy People and Green scenery. I then ask you to open your eyes and look around. Take a hard look at what we do have and why is it this way.

Currently, sustainability is a “hot topic”. Before the industrial Revolution the human race self sustained, the wheel was used for transport, and agriculture was seen of critical importance however, during the Industrial Age, human race has become dependant on new technology and consistently improving upon what we already have. FACT. Continue reading →