Already over six weeks since the amazing experience of the WBCSD conference in Montreux came to an end. Time flies. I came back from Switzerland with new conviction and hope. Hope that business sustainability is an achievable goal and conviction that I have a role to play in reaching this state. Nevertheless, six is also exactly the number of flights I took during those six weeks. The multiple damages that flying causes to our planet cannot be doubted anymore, since even the aviation industry, which during years refused to be included in any international agreement on climate change, accepted that it needed to change its position (Harrabin, 2016; Jacob et al, 2015; Smith, 2015). I know, I know, six flights in six weeks might not sound a massive number for some of us compared to “others”. However, this argument does not hold as it will always possible to find someone who makes things “worse” than oneself. Each individual should step in responsibility for the actions it undertakes, acknowledging that most of those actions have much wider consequences than those that one might directly notice. This is the essence of the message that I kept from my time in Switzerland.
The companies present at the conference impressed me, through their willingness to change their actual practices in the here and now, step by step, without throwing the stone to someone else. The different workshops I had the privilege to attend all had one intrinsic feature in common: every company in the room was aware of its impact on its wider environment and was ready to accept challenges, costs and feedback to endeavour to make a difference. Those two elements, namely being aware of one’s responsibility and being ready to make efforts to enable change to happen, were the two key elements of those companies in the realm of business sustainability. Of course, they all still have a long way to go until complete business sustainability is reached but at least they have begun their sustainability journey. This attitude confirmed my pre-conference believes: companies do not only talk about sustainability but they also attempt to live it. I am convinced that this attitude should not be limited to the professional realm.
As written in my first blog, I believe that to make a real difference the individual, and not only companies should start to both reflect their actions and step into responsibility for them. I am completely aware that most of us already undertake those two steps as several indicators illustrate it: recycling rates increase as some countries (e.g. Germany) introduce policies inducing people to pay more attention to waste (McCarthy, 2016), food waste is not a ignored issue anymore, on the contrary, “more retailers, restaurants and philanthropic organisations are addressing the sheer amount of food and drink that is wasted around the world, which is changing consumer perceptions” (Mintel, 2016), and fair trade, which started as a coffee concept, is nowadays a recognized global sustainability trend (Clifford, 2014). Nevertheless, I think (and hope) there is scope for more. Those “KPIs” highlight one fact: we tend to be more careful with particular products we consume and try to compensate this consumption. My wish and hope are that we (and I am always included myself when using the plural form) adopt this attitude in every aspect of our life. That it becomes a natural reflex to reflect on the impact of our actions and act (whenever possible) to “create a better world” (I know, this expression is extremely kitsch, but it is actually the goal!).
Furthermore, I spotlighted in my surrounding (anew including myself) the tendency to talk more about the problem rather than really undertaking an action attempting to resolve it. One reaction to the publication of my first blog provides an ideal example to illustrate this phenomenon. In the later, I argued that Business Schools should fully integrate sustainability throughout their degrees rather than just offering the possibility to attend to a “sustainability” module. Following the publication, one reader agreed but asked the question where education actually starts. I fully understand the thought behind this interrogation and, as a matter of fact, also agree with the fact that universities do not bear the full responsibility of future managers’ sustainability education. The point that I am trying to make here is that rather than just developing the discussion to further “theoretical” points (which usually leads to endless discussions about the issue than actions to solve it), every argumentation should be closely linked to practical consequences. Please do not understand me wrong, I am not promoting rush non-reflected actions but I am convinced that more scope from direct action exists.
Having said all that: what is the solution? What should I do regarding the six flight which I decided to take during the last weeks? If I follow the aviation industry’s logic, which affirms that “from 2020, any increase in airline CO2 emissions will be offset by activities like tree planting, which soak up CO2” (Harrabin, 2016), it would seem to be enough to offset the carbon footprint I created. Nevertheless, the question remains: is this really enough? Or is it only a mean to appease my guilty conscience? I would argue, that it might be a first and necessary step, but that a deeper reflection is needed. Hickel (2016) brings the real issue to the light. When it comes to climate change the root of the problem is the logic of endless growth on which our economic system is based on. Offsetting my carbon footprint might enable me to reduce my “personal responsibility” in the process of climate change but does not address the wider problematic: the growth of an industry which destroys our planet earth. In other words, ‘Offsets provide the aviation industry a license to grow,’ says Magdalena Heuwieser of FTWatch, an Austrian environmental and human rights group. ‘It’s a very dangerous lie to present aviation as sustainable or carbon neutral – this distracts from real necessary solutions.’ (Reyes, 2016). Real solutions such as more sustainable transports but also short-term behavioural change are essential. What do I mean by that? To put it in a nutshell: we need, on the one hand, a growing pressure (often related to long-term solutions) on our policy makers to tackle the issue of climate change by ensuring that they increasingly focus attention and financial means on providing sustainable transport, however, on the other hand, short-term consumer (i.e. you and me!) behavioral change is fundamental if “the benefits of new technology are to be fully realized” (Chapman, 2007). Phrasing my responsibility in another way: I have to make sure that my political leaders enact and enforce policies, which will shape a future in which sustainable transport is not a myth anymore but a reality and I should simultaneously endeavor to use the sustainable means of transport which already exist (e.g. why not using the train?) even if it comes at cost (in my personal case: time).
I was a pleasure to write those blogs, hopefully, you enjoyed reading them!
Chapman L., (2007). Transport and climate change: a review. Journal of Transport Geography. 5 (15), pp. 354–367
Harrabin R., (October 7, 2016), Aviation industry agrees deal to cut CO2 emissions, BBC, [online] available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/scienceenvironment-37573434
Hickel J., (November 5, 2016) To deal with climate change we need a new financial system, The Guardian, [online] available at https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/nov/05/how-a-new-money-system-could-help-stop-climate-change
Jacobs M. et al., (2015). Seizing The Global Opportunity. Partnerships For Better Growth And A Better Climate. Washington: The New Climate Economy
McCarthy n. (2016) The Countries Winning The Recycling Race [Infographic], Forbes, [online] available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/03/04/the-countries-winning-the-recycling-race-infographic/#32b029542b3d
Mintel, (November, 11, 2016) Mintel announces six key global food and drink trends for 2017 [online] available at http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/food-and-drink/mintel-announces-six-key-global-food-and-drink-trends-for-2017
Reyes, O., (September 27, 2016) Climate Con: why a new global deal on aviation emissions is really bad news, New Internationalist Magazine, [online] available at https://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2016/09/27/climate-con-a-new-global-deal-on-aviation-emissions/
Smith T., (December 16, 2015), Shipping and aviation are climate change’s main culprits – but they were nowhere to be seen at Paris, The Independent, [online] available at http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/shipping-and-aviation-are-climate-changes-main-culprits-yet-they-where-nowhere-to-be-seen-at-parisa6775126.html
Zukunftsinstitut (n.d.), Fair Trade: Von der Nische zum Trend, [online] available at https://www.zukunftsinstitut.de/artikel/fair-trade-von-der-nische-zum-trend/