Category: Featured Blogs
Jon Emmett, LSE Sustainability Projects Officer, gave a lecture on sustainability as part of a module on project management, and reflects on the opportunities for further collaborative projects to develop new approaches to sustainability teaching in universities.
Last week I had the privilege of giving a lecture to a class of project management students, on how to incorporate sustainability into projects. Hopefully they took away some new ideas to play with, and introduce into their work. I certainly found that the students provoked me to think about my own work in a new light, and I took away some thoughts on how to improve my own team’s practice.
I was honoured to be approached during the summer break by Dr Susan Scott from the Management Department, who asked if I could contribute to a module called Business Transformation and Project Management. Her initial idea was that I’d provide my experience of introducing sustainability halfway through a project, and how this new constraint affected project management.
Happily for LSE, we’ve actually got pretty good at incorporating sustainability at the earliest stages of projects (especially major ones like new buildings), by using robust systems processes and close working relationships between teams.
Instead, we chose to develop a case study based on LSE’s implementation of its new recycling system. This was a complex project, which involved not just significant capital spending on improved recycling bins, but all the work before and after the roll-out of the bins: making the business case; obtaining stakeholder feedback on their requirements; collaborating with users and the manufacturer to develop many iterations of bin and poster design; securing buy-in from users by explaining the changes; delivering training; responding to enquiries (and complaints!); and much more.
The students were given a design brief based on the LSE bins programme, and were asked to consider how they would approach the project themselves – how they would capture stakeholder feedback, plan their budgets and timescales, etc.
The module was structured so that I gave a 20 minute video lecture, which the students watched online before attending the class, in which we had a Q&A session. This is an innovative teaching technique known as ‘flipping’, and is aimed at frontloading the hard ‘learning’ part, to free up class time for more stimulating debate, and creating a more interactive and engaging learning environment. My video lecture was structured by Susan Scott, who interviewed me on the implementation of the LSE bins project, as well as on my general experience of embedding sustainability into projects, and into institutions.
The question and answer session followed a lecture by Dr Scott on the general principles of sustainability (defining it, considering its origins as a concept, its global implications, and its implications for project management and businesses). I then took questions from the students on every issue under the sun, ranging from why sandwich boxes don’t fit in the hole in LSE’s green bins, to the effectiveness of international climate negotiations.
As someone with an academic background in sustainability, as well as experience as an environmental management practitioner, I found it interesting to engage with the students on all of those levels. It was really stimulating to respond to questions surrounding some of the broader philosophical, political, social and historical questions, as these are areas I don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about in my daily role. It was also interesting to hear student perspectives in response to being provoked to consider the unequal global distribution of environmental risk, opposing viewpoints on policy options to manage climate change, approaches to individual vs societal management of environmental problems, and more.
On a practical note, this was an opportunity for me to reconsider my own approaches to project management. Although LSE has robust processes in place to manage its environmental impacts as a whole (through its ISO 14001 environmental management system), and systems to ensure individual projects are carefully planned and managed, it is rare that the Sustainability Team would do so using a formal ‘project management’ strategy (such as Prince 2, which the students have been learning about in this module). In particular, one student’s question really highlighted for me that we need to get much better at post-project evaluations to learn for the future, as it’s easy to get caught up in the next project, and then be too busy to make the time to reflect on completed work.
Many colleagues in the HE sustainability sector frequently discuss embedding sustainability in the curriculum, and I found this collaborative approach, drawing on expertise from across the School to create new interactions and learning environments, to be extremely fruitful. I can’t speak for the students, but from my own perspective found it to be highly professionally and personally fulfilling. It’s certainly something I would like to participate in more at LSE, and have recently been interested to hear of many excellent examples of similar work being undertaken in universities across the country.
Dr Scott tells me that she’s planning a Masters course next year, to further develop some of the material and ideas explored in this module. I sincerely hope to be invited back!
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 10:56
Category: Featured Blogs
Michelle Warbis, LSE Environment and Development alumnus, argues the success story of Costa Rica owes much to its approach to sustainability, which embraces environmental, economic, social and political factors synergistically.
Costa Rica’s beginnings
Columbus was forced to drop anchor off today’s Caribbean Costa Rica on his final voyage to the new world, after suffering damage to his ship. Whilst there, he ventured into nearby settlements and forest, and on return from the encounter, claimed he had seen more gold in 2 days than in 4 years in Spain. These descriptions of Costa Rica, the ‘rich coast,’ became a lasting name. Columbus petitioned to become governor, though the prize was awarded to his rival de Nicuesa. To the disappointment of de Nicuesa Columbus’ tales of gold were lies, and locals were less than affable. Eventually the Spanish came to regard Costa Rica as the poorest and most miserable of all of the Americas.
Perhaps due to this perception of Costa Rica as having a scarcity of mineral wealth and indigenous labourers, the country never faced a permanent campaign from the Spanish. Furthermore, largely useless swampy backwaters meant no slave based economy ever developed, and the slave trade triangle kept to South America. This provided a backbone for rural democracy, which is still evident across Costa Rica today, based upon principles of equality, freedom and peace (which are now interestingly key cornerstones of ‘sustainable development’). After independence from Spain, with a little help from Mexico, Costa Rica began nation-building with infrastructure and currency, returning life to normal, whilst the rest of Central America saw post-independence civil wars rage on for many more years. To this day, Costa Rica has no national security forces.
The country today
Costa Rica’s unique historical story without doubt has an impact on the way the country is today. Its economic position, though not mind-blowing on a global scale, is certainly impressive compared with other countries of Latin America. Infrastructure is solid at all levels from the bus system to hospitals, and currency is strong – it’s not a spot for backpackers on a budget. Democracy runs through Costa Rica like blood, with corruption levels low and political participation high. Poverty levels are manageable at less than 20%. Tourism is of particular importance in Costa Rica, contributing to the economy more than any other industry, though solid exports of pineapples, coffee and bananas are also of importance, however a banana republic this is not.
Nowhere else in the world are so many types of habitat squeezed into such a tiny area – the country is estimated to have 615 species per 10,000 square kilometre. This abundance of wildlife is in part due to Costa Rica’s relatively recent emergence from the ocean, but is also due to the huge protection schemes in place – no other tropical country has made such an effort to protect the environment. The diversity of landscape is particularly significant here, with three different types of forest, two coast lines, an abundance of reefs, volcanic earth, and deep, moist valleys, all of which are kept largely pristine thanks partly to the emergence of eco-tourism. With sustainability at its heart, this concept sees tourists pay a premium for a ‘natural’ and environmentally friendly experience, allowing operators to put much of this money back into environmental projects.
The sustainability model
It seems like the perfect balance – the optimality of the Environmental Kuznets Curve which is becoming the goal of development globally. But how has Costa Rica’s sustainability really come about, and is this a template that can be followed elsewhere?
Costa Rica has a stable government which attracts investment and encourages growth. It has an advantage in terms of biodiversity, and an economy boosted by masses of tourism. But these aspects do not work in isolation. The tourism, which gives Costa Rica much of its income, would not be present without its pristine environments and unspoiled landscapes. Its landscapes would not remain pristine were it not for a well-functioning and democratic political system. The government would have very little to work with were it not for the high levels of employment, investment and sustained growth. And that is sustainability – the three pillars of economy, society and environment, interdependent, and working seamlessly together, along with cornerstones of freedom and peace, present at Costa Rica’s conception.
Nowhere else in the world is ‘sustainability’ such a national phenomenon. And it will be tough to make this spread. Costa Rica’s path of development has been unique: Its colonial path was largely untroubled, and later the country avoided the rapid industrialisation seen in many Asian, African and South American countries. On top of this, its geological features such as the abundance of volcanoes and fairly recent emergence from the ocean provides it with fertile ground and extensive life. Costa Rica’s journey to sustainability has been very much tailor-made, and though it may not fit elsewhere, the success of the tiny Central American country must be applauded. The developments have made it, in every sense, a rich coast after all.
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 10:44
Category: Featured Blogs
Mikaela Rambali, MSc Environment and Development student at LSE, explores the paradox of the River Ganges: how can its purity be held in such religious veneration, whilst suffering significant degradation due to industrialisation?
Early one morning in South India, I booked a yoga session with an amazing view of Kerala’s backwaters. When I arrived, it turned out to be a meditation class. It was quite an experience for me to spend a whole hour learning how to relax my pancreas and my kidneys. At the end of this inner journey, the teacher asked me what I thought. I replied that I could now better understand why so many people meditate along the Ganges when the sun rises each day. The teacher’s eyes glazed over. He said he felt shivers when I pronounced the name Ganga. The mere mention of a river would never evoke such reverence in France, where I come from.
Water is essential to life and the stakes of its management are as serious at a global level as at a local level. The water of the Ganges, the “blue gold” of northern India, is increasingly exploited because of the growth of India’s population and economy. Ranked by the World Wildlife Fund among the 10 world rivers most at risk because of water over-extraction, the Ganges and its future should be a serious cause for concern across India. All the more so because ‘Mother Ganga’, sacred in Hindu mythology, is worshipped by hundreds of million of people. In this respect, a paradox lies in this river: how can the Ganges be venerated and at the same time disastrously neglected?
One explanation for the depletion of the Ganges is the subcontinent’s booming economy, for which the river is being drained. Present in the lives of 400 million people who live in its basin, the Ganges represents nearly one quarter of India’s water resources. Its exploitation is unavoidable to satisfy growing needs. The demand for energy has encouraged the development of hydroelectric stations upstream. Food production, which depends on irrigation, is also increasing with the growth of the population and income per capita. Industry, another thirsty sector, will continue to increase its water use in view of the growing population and incomes. All these sectors – power, agriculture and industry – view the Ganges as an abundant and cheap raw material.
As a consequence, the water’s quality is deteriorating and extraction is continuing at an unsustainable rate. This has harmful impacts on the river’s ecosystem and on the well-being of local populations, who are victims of many waterborne diseases despite the fact that some scientists claim Gangajal has a high oxygen recycling capacity.
Questions about the duality of the Ganges have to be considered from a religious perspective. For Hindus, the dissociation between the purity and cleanliness of the Ganges can be explained by the fact that one represents the transcendental power of the river and the other is its tangible form. The cleanliness of the river is not in any way conditional to its purity. Hindus make a distinction between the material and the spiritual, explaining the paradox that the river’s purifying waters can also be used for waste disposal. That said, the concept of ‘pollution’ is raising confusion, with a blurring of the frontiers between ritual impurity and material dirt.
Religious leaders have refrained from mixing concepts that according to them have nothing to do with each other: the depletion of the physical world does not interfere with the transcendental purity of the Ganges. Spiritual rituals should not be merged with civic ethics, they say. However, Veer Bhadra Mishra, a Hindu high priest and hydraulic engineer, conceded that the spiritual and physical natures of the purity of the Ganges have to become complementary. He is now a member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, a planning, financing and monitoring authority for the Ganges established in 2009.
How will ‘Mother Ganga’ survive if there is no more water in her bed? Pollution and over-extraction will not necessarily jeopardise the divine nature of the river but they will weaken one of the pillars of Hindu culture—no doubt, the purity of the Ganges is challenged by India’s development. But there is also hope for the future cleanliness of the river as younger generations are increasingly aware of environmental challenges. A Hindu student of Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology once told me he thought his generation would take care of the river, not because they consider her a goddess but because it is wrong to act against their own environment.
To make the Ganges a lasting resource, it seems that India has to learn from the mistakes of industrialised countries in order to combine its development path with respect for its resources, starting by assessing the depletion caused by exploitation. This challenge is even greater than cleaning up the Rhine, primarily because India’s population already exceeds a billion and owing to underlying antagonisms between Hindus and the polluters, notably in the tanning industry. A way to reconcile the lessons from the West’s errors with India’s ambitions has to be found. And for the message to be conveyed to the local population, a new development model issued from their own culture has to emerge.
This article originally appeared on the India at LSE blog.
Last Updated on Friday, 01 November 2013 06:13
Category: Featured Blogs
Robin Ray, LSE Sustainability Assistant, argues that although there are inherent tensions between business-as-usual and environmental sustainability, businesses such as Bioregional can be important players in creating a sustainable future.
The question of whether or not business activity and healthy ecosystems are mutually exclusive is a longstanding staple of environmental debates. It is often argued that ‘sustainable’ and ‘business’ seems to be at odds. One recent article claims the environmental damage associated with high levels of consumption seen in modern society cannot be mitigated by making that consumption more sustainable.
Similarly, outspoken environmentalist and trained physicist, Vandana Shiva has recently argued that current obsession with economic growth has led to and will lead to violence against the earth and against people. These sorts of arguments are important to raise. Undeniable evidence such as widespread resource depletion, growing landfills, and a nearly completely human-induced changing climate suggests that current business models, in promoting unbridled economic growth, are indeed unsustainable.
There is some danger, however, in these arguments. They should not be taken to mean that business does not have a role to play in making human activity more sustainable. Things may not be so black and white. Sweeping statements about economic growth being bad for the environment may not leave room for important work being done by organisations that are genuinely striving to reconcile impacts with environmental standards.
BioRegional, an entrepreneurial charity, is one of many organizations that seek to both make new ‘green’ business and to transform existing businesses into more sustainable ones. These sorts of organizations may be on to something, since they operate on the idea that business and sustainability can go hand in hand, and therefore attempt to engage with business as a sustainability actor.
Founded by Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone in 1992, Bioregional is famous for establishing the BedZED housing development just outside South London. ‘BedZED’ is an abbreviation of ‘Beddington Zero Energy Development’, referring to its zero fossil fuel consumption. The estate also has a very low environmental impact in other ways, including water consumption and waste disposal.
Bioregional also works as a consultancy to advise its partner organisations on how they can become more sustainable, by embedding the values of what Bioregional call ‘one planet living’ into their core operations. Our society currently consumes more than one planet’s worth of resources – so in order achieve a sustainable future, we must change the way we run our economy, and how interact with the environment.
Often, the question of disingenuous ‘green washing’ arises when businesses are given the opportunity to engage with sustainability. By now, the smoke and mirrors used in ‘green washing’ are somewhat easy to spot. When considering whether or not a company has genuinely engaged with sustainability, there are key things to look out for.
First, if comprehensive impact assessment has been conducted. The assessment of resource use and emissions, such as water and CO2 mean that the organization has laid the appropriate foundation for progress and can mean there are baselines in place, from which to cut. Second, Lifecyle Analyses (LCA) of products. LCA allows a business to consider all associated impacts, and means they at least recognise associated externalities. Lastly, thinking outside the short-term capital gain frame. Look for comprehensive planning around their sustainability, as a means of understanding if they are considering long-term gains.
These are the sorts of activities promoted by organizations like BioRegional. This line of thinking may not be able to directly fix major problems like excess consumption. It may not directly change the current fixation on upward economic growth. It also may not be able to improve the impacts of all economic activity, especially in certain notoriously dirty sectors. But this work is important work that changes the status quo and harnesses the power of business to lower environmental degradation.
Sure, larger questions remain about which sorts of economic models are better for environmental and social health. Think tanks like the New Economic Foundation are making strides in devising new macroeconomic strategies. Until these larger changes can be made it seems worth considering business, in general, as an important sustainability actor.
Pooran Desai will give a public lecture at LSE: ‘Mainstreaming Sustainability — the last 20 years and the next 20 years‘
Tuesday 12th November 2013. 6:30pm, Clement House, room 2.02. Free entry. All welcome.
Pooran Desai, OBE, is co-founder of BioRegional and International Director of One Planet Communities.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 07:57
Category: Featured Blogs
Pim Mekdhanasarn, MSc Management, Organisation and Governance student, describes her experience of working on an open innovation project for Futerra, a sustainability communication agency whose mission is ‘to make sustainability so desirable it becomes normal’.
Hope (or shall we say pressure) is pinned on the younger demographic to dig us out of the grave that previous generations have dug. Growing up in a world of plenty, it is not surprising that young people of today do not feel any more anxious about the future than their past ancestors. As a 22 year-old living in London, a city where everyone is always in a rush, it seems easy to get caught up in the busy city life where time and convenience is etched in your daily priority list. As we scramble on the tube like packed sardines after a day of hard work, who has the time and energy to walk those extra metres to use the recycle bin?
“How can young people’s behaviour towards sustainability be changed?”
This was the challenge given to us by Futerra. As part of the Open Innovation course at LSE, my team and I worked with Futerra to find ways to communicate to the younger generation, engage them in the sustainability movement and sustain their positive behaviour towards sustainability. The only rule we had to abide by was that in solving this challenge an open innovation approach had to be taken. This meant that we had to utilize external knowledge from outside our team to develop our solutions.
As a strong advocate of sustainability myself, this project struck close to my heart. With such a good cause, to me this assignment was more than a piece of university work but rather a valuable opportunity for me to explore ways to change, or at least have an impact on, the mindset of tomorrow’s generation in order to work towards a more sustainable future.
Our project consisted of three main steps, each involving different open innovation tools. The first step aimed to identify reasons as to why young people don’t engage in sustainability. Crowdsourcing (in the form of an online survey) was the open innovation tool selected, due to its high potential in gathering large volume of information. According to Surowiecki (2004), under the right circumstances large crowds of people are in fact ‘smarter than the smartest people in them’. Such ‘wisdom of the crowd’ often leads to more effective outcomes than what an elite few can produce.
For our project, in order to ensure that collected data reflected the specifications detailed in the research question, stipulations were made such that only responses from “young people” (i.e. those aged between 16-25) were taken into consideration. Out of the 238 respondents 189 (79%) were within this target age group. Results reveal that the most important determinants of why young people don’t engage in new activities include low appeal, high cost, and time consumption.
Having identified the barriers, a virtual workshop was then conducted for academic lead users who provided us with theoretical grounding and identified possible solutions to the barriers. The six lead users that participated in this workshop specialised in relevant academic fields including behavioural change, marketing, and sustainability. As many solutions were proposed, one academic lead user from Stanford University suggested that the different answers given by participants could in fact be easily grouped into three overarching categories:
1. Kick-starter: factors to raise awareness or remind people to engage e.g. emails, notifications, recommendations by peers, etc.
2. Driver: factors that motivate them to engage e.g. rewards, recognition, personal benefit, fun.
3. Tools: factors that facilitate the process of engagement e.g. cost and time efficiency, simplicity, low effort.
These three factors formed the basis of our conceptual model (shown below), which can be used as a guideline when designing campaigns, events (or just anything at all) to change young people’s behavior towards sustainability. Put simply, kickstarter, tools and drivers must all be present in order to get people to ‘think’ about sustainability, in order to get them to ‘feel’ positively towards sustainability, and finally in order to get them to engage in (‘do’) such sustainable activities. As seen in the framework, the process is iterative and constantly reinforced by these three factors. It is sustained through social interaction and positive feedback.
In the final phase of our research we held a two-hour workshop for practitioner lead users that have successfully changed peoples’ behaviour towards sustainability in the past. We presented the practitioners with this conceptual framework and asked them to suggest interesting ways Futerra can employ such framework. Some examples are shown below:
Example 1: Green Escape Eco Travel Website
Example 2: Sustain-O-Matic Mobile App
|Kick-Starter||Tool||Driver||Comparative RealLife Example|
|Launch app through various media channels; notifications||Easy to use (track spending, automatically rank spending, categorize purchases, show location of nearby stores that shelve cheaper and more sustainable alternatives)||Help save money; get loyalty points; keep track of spending; gamification (can compare with connected friends: spending, savings, and how much of the environment user has reserved by switching to more sustainable alternatives e.g. less contribution to COE emission by walking or biking)||Mobile app ‘Myfitnesspal’|
It was much fun working on this project, as not only did it allow me to exercise my creativity to a great extent (something that most of my modules did not allow me to do) but I was also given the chance to experience how a sustainability communication agency is actually run and in a way even help them. Futerra is a groovy firm that is the mastermind behind many cool sustainable events such as Swishing. To learn more about the firm and what they are up to check out http://www.futerra.co.uk/.
Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 07:28