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Wharton IGEL 10th Anniversary Dinner & Conference: The Future of Education in Business Sustainability

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April 25th & 26th, 2017 On April 25th & 26th, founding and current corporate sponsors of IGEL joined leading academics in the field to examine lessons learned in the effort to promote education in business sustainability looking towards the future. … Continue reading

B-School Fundamentals for Sustainability

By John Mandyck, CSO of United Technologies
April 21, 2017

As the chief sustainability officer of United Technologies, I am often invited to college campuses to speak to students about what my company does to advance sustainability in the United States and around the world. And I’m proud of the answer.

People, Communities, and the Environment

The United Technologies sustainability platform consists of three pillars:

People — Among United Technologies’ greatest assets are the expertise, creativity and passion of our employees. We sustain our workforce through opportunity and employee development. In the last twenty years, we’ve invested $1.2 billion through our Employee Scholar Program to help our employees earn 38,000 college degrees.

Communities — We believe that financial performance and corporate responsibility go hand in hand while we strive to improve people’s quality of life everywhere we do business. We support initiatives and employee volunteerism for vibrant communities, STEM education and sustainable cities.

Environment – We believe we can do good for the planet while we do good for our customers and shareowners. Whether it’s developing energy-efficient solutions for green buildings that can change how cities urbanize, pioneering technologies to extend the world’s food supply, or setting the standard for green aviation through sustainable factories and technologies, United Technologies is leading the way to solving some of the toughest environmental challenges of tomorrow.

While we maximize the effectiveness of our environmental technologies, we actively minimize our environmental footprint — in the last 20 years, United Technologies tripled its revenues while lowering greenhouse gas emissions 34% and water consumption 57%, all on an absolute basis.

What does a CSO do?

Often, after outlining UTC’s sustainability program, I am asked, “Ok, but what does a chief sustainability officer (CSO) do every day?” That’s a fair question. Sustainability is still an emerging profession – and no two jobs in this space are the same. In addition to the private sector, large cities are starting to create CSO positions too. CSOs come from all backgrounds – marketing, technology, policy, environmental affairs, and more – and reflect the culture and priorities of their companies.

Some focus on lowering their environmental footprint. Some focus on the role for emerging environmental technologies. Some focus on corporate social responsibility. Some engage with stakeholders to achieve sustainable outcomes. Some focus on thought leadership to bring new ideas forward. We organize our program at United Technologies to do all of these activities.

My day-to-day routine focuses on outreach to key stakeholders – customers, policy-makers, thought-leaders, students and more – to expand the dialogue on three issues important to us: advancing green aviation, accelerating the adoption of green buildings and lowering food waste through cold chain development. To do this, we sponsor research, we convene experts, we share our thinking and we explore possibilities to help the world grow and urbanize more sustainably.

Business Schools and Sustainability

The question of what I do each day is sometimes followed by, “If I want a career in sustainability, what are my options?”

Fortunately, business schools around the country are adopting more and more sustainability-focused classes, as well as entire programs dedicated to corporate responsibility and sustainability. Getting started in one of these programs is a great first step.

Students and business school faculty interested in advancing sustainability curricula should focus on three key areas:

  1. Connect to the mega trends in the world – our global population is expected to grow 35% in just 35 years, and at that point in 2050, nearly 70% of all people will live in cities. These megatrends are redefining our society and our economy with big implications for sustainability.
  2. Recognize sustainability as a business strategy – sophisticated companies realize they can offer a value proposition to their customers by doing good for the planet, which often times can provide differentiation in industries.
  3. Incorporate multiple disciplines into sustainability classes – successful sustainability programs are drawing on multidisciplinary backgrounds in marketing, public policy, business, communications, engineering, science, and more. Many skills and perspectives are needed to help the world advance sustainably.

Making a Difference

Increasingly, workforce entrants are looking for employers who are making a difference in the world. Sustainability is a key way companies can make that difference. And careers in sustainability are a key way business school graduates can immediately make a difference with their careers. Business schools can prepare students for this field by providing the context, strategies and skills to accelerate sustainability around the world.

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To continue the conversation, tweet me @JohnMandyck.

Knowledge@Wharton Public Policy Podcast Featuring Eric Orts

From the Knowledge@Wharton website

“What Trump’s Executive Order Means for the Environment”

With the stroke of a pen, President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week that unwinds the environmental policies of his predecessor. The order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to begin withdrawing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon emissions by closing coal plants and building new solar and wind farms. By signing the order, Trump reiterated his campaign promise to bring back energy-industry jobs while bolstering arguments made by climate change opponents.

But some experts think the act was more flash than substance, saying there is still a long and tangled regulatory path before America can abandon its role in curbing global warming. Eric Orts, faculty director of Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership, Denise Grab, senior attorney at the New York University Institute for Policy Integrity, and Justin Gundlach, a climate law fellow at Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, recently spoke about what the executive order means on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111.

Read more highlights and listen to the podcast here.

Connecting The Dots: Sustainability Through A Circular Economy

By Darci Gold

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Partnering with logistics solution company CHEP, IGEL of the Wharton School presented a conference centered around sustainability through the supply chain. Provoking a complex conversation about the ins and outs of companies currently exhibiting a steady stream of environmental consciousness, the event took place at the University of Pennsylvania, February eighth.

The morning’s first speaker, David Clark (Vice President of Safety Environment, and Sustainability, Amco)  highlighted the importance of packaging with a sustainability mindset. Amco, a manufacturing company, specializes in rigid and flexible packaging goods. With annual sales surpassing ten billion dollars in revenue, it has vowed to protect resources that are considered necessary to create its products. Its innovation and concern for the environment made Amco responsible for saving seven million pounds of resin for customers in the last fiscal year. In his closing minutes, Mr. Clark made poignant remarks on the discussion of biodegradability versus recycling, and interacted with numerous eager questioners in the audience. Mr. Clark made clear Amco’s sustainability initiative was a key driver in the company’s success.

Senior Director of Customer Supply Chain Integration of PepsiCo, Dennis Donelon spoke next about the manufacturing aspect of sustainability. Playing a significant role in the continuing success of the company, Mr. Donelon spoke to the necessity of environmental friendliness in business. Within the next decade, the multi-billion dollar company will seek to further protect the planet, improve the nutritional value of product, and empower the public to pursue innovation. The importance of considering fact and data when forming opinion was stressed, as well as the concept of “end to end collaboration.” Mr. Donelon expressed PepsiCo’s sincere pledge to protect the environment by citing the company’s goals to limit its usage of water and other resources commonly used to manufacture its products.

Providing the retail perspective, Mike Graham of Meijer conveyed the grocer’s strategy and commitment to sustainability. Mr. Graham described Meijer’s solutions to limiting the company’s contribution to the waste stream; simply finding use for residual organic product and selling it as a separate commodity. The company’s longstanding support of sustainability is set to continue by further incorporating recycling into the production design and by establishing a supplier code of conduct within Meijer, itself.

Vice President of Nielsen, Wendy Salomon advocated for visibility and communication between consumers and producers. According to recent data, sixty-six percent of the populations of sixty countries said they would pay more for sustainable products versus cheaper, less clean options. Based on this and other research, Ms. Salomon essentially concluded that the consumer genuinely cares about which companies they support. Therefore, adopting sustainability into one’s business model can promote the general public opinion and consumption of a company’s product. An additional conclusion derived from Nielsen’s research was that millennials value a social and environmental consciousness in their employer. Ms. Salomon urged businesses to connect sustainability to consistent themes throughout their history in order to be believable and appealing to the consumer.

Finally, host of the event and President of CHEP North America, Kim Rumph spoke to the audience. CHEP (a producer of pallets, crates, and containers) has adopting a “pooled” assets model in order to promote sustainability. The logistics solutions company has successfully aided numerous businesses in their goals to move toward a more sustainable model. Essentially, CHEP shares its three-hundred  million reusable products across sixty countries. Ms. Rumph consistently stressed the importance of sharing and collaboration in order to promote sustainability.
Throughout the entire conference, each business leader advised partnership and teamwork. They all acknowledged the obligation of major companies to actively seek to adopt practices that protect and preserve the environment. Packaging, manufacturing, selling, and consuming sustainable goods is not only moral but incredibly beneficial for business. Closing the loop of the circular economy and campaigning for corporate care for the environment depends on consumer interaction, innovation, partnership, and collaboration.

The Sustainability of Fasting

By L.E. Brolly

In an era where there is a concern over food production with a burgeoning global population and a paradoxical health crisis of obesity, imagine encouraging fasting for future sustainability of both. A calculated fast, in simplest terms, provides a method for reducing consumption overall for both an individual and society as a whole. Reducing or maintaining an individual’s ideal weight which will keep an individual healthy will minimize the burden on already overwhelmed medical establishments. Who doesn’t want to think about all of these things particularly as the New Year rolls over into 2017?

Fasting can be managed by any number of methods ranging from hourly windows to multiple days. Consider a day in which a person, Alex has 12 tasks to complete and very little time to think let alone eat and a spare tire that, by fasting definitions, is ripe for the picking, for energy, that is.

Alex hits the ground running at 6AM. With an ½ hour to get out the door, maybe they only have time to flip the switch on their coffee maker, take a quick shower, and get away with their travel mug. Alex now knows that they will make their 7:30 meeting after the train commute because they did not have to stop for breakfast along the way and have an additional saving of cash with enough time to spare for quick meeting prep.

Demystifying fasting is no easy task particularly when the desire is to, in the same breath, promote it as a sustainable, healthy practice that benefits not only the individual but also society as a whole. Firstly, fasting must be defined by what it is not. Fasting is not starvation. Fasting is strategic and planned. The body responds very differently when there is no food or only specific types of food like broth or bouillon than when it is presented with repeated low calorie options and days on end which is when the body starts thinking it is starving. Pairing fasting with normal eating is the key to its success.

In the previous scenario, Alex skipped breakfast. Consider the resources spared: cash, food stuffs, energy for cooking, transport of raw and finished materials, packaging manufacturing, and more. If Alex had only partially consumed the food, there would have been waste. If Alex had ingested the full thing, it might have been the start of excess of calories for the day. This is a positive deficit.

Moving throughout the day, there are deadlines looming with only time to have tea or a quick cup of soup. Alex will make the deadline because now they have a spare hour to work on the task at hand. Tomorrow is another day and re-scheduling a lunch meeting is often an easy task. But what about having enough energy to think? The body has this capacity to turn stored body fat and consumed fat into ketone bodies (not to be confused with ketoacidosis suffered by diabetics) that can be readily used by the brain instead of glucose. This is a bonus. Skip the candy bar and the processed ready meal which takes time and energy to produce and heat up. Bring on the bouillon soup or bone broth made with hot water to replenish electrolytes.

Moving through the day, there are many fewer tasks at hand and the one key item that often gets skipped is exercise. Powered by ketones and replenished by electrolytes, there is now time for Alex to take a 30 minute jog, weight lifting session, swim, or exercise class. A body powered by fat and trained to do so can get through hours of endurance training. After all, how did the cavemen get through?

Alex has now dodged one day of getting closer to obesity or taken a step in the right direction away from it. Obesity has spawned a global health crisis whose cure is now being touted as fasting and the elimination of sugar. If instead of promoting agriculture that is concerned with a wheat, corn, and sugar base which is increasingly obesogenic and narrowly focused, society could move to an agriculture that promotes caloric density of animal products combined with wholesome, organic, diverse vegetables simply by reallocating resources creating sustainability. There is nothing extra to produce and nothing to buy to combat obesity and essentially a conservation of food resources with fasting. Practiced in an intermittent fashion, fasting is safe and easy and sustainable.

 

n.b. – Fasting while healthful, is not indicated for individuals who have struggled with eating disorders, are pregnant or breastfeeding, are under 18, or have a BMI under 20.

 

IGEL at the COP22

By Eleanor Mitch, CEO and Founder of EM Strategy Consulting, Wharton alumna

The swift approval and ratification of the Paris Agreement[1] (104 countries of the 197, or 58%, have ratified the agreement!) was nothing short of “miraculous” in CIDCE[2] president Michel Prieur[3]’s words. Never before had an international agreement been so rapidly approved and adopted by so many nations in such a short span of time (approximately 1 year). Indeed, Prieur, one of the “fathers” of the principle of non-regression in environmental law, was instrumental in ensuring the addition of “this momentum is irreversible” in para.4 of the Marrakech Action Proclamation[4]. He has participated in the drafting of many international conventions since the 1970s and sees great hope in the rapid action even though we and future generations will still have to face the grave effects of climate change.

As part of this historic movement of awakening to the realities of the changes climate change must bring about, Wharton IGEL was represented with a presentation in absentia[5] by Eric Orts[6] on the implications for business of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, one of the key sectors that will be facing changes is the business sector. While markets have already chosen more sustainable energy sources in some areas (investments in wind and solar power, and Morocco boasts the world’s largest solar power plant, which just went live in 2016[7]), much more needs to be done, all throughout the supply chain, especially in Operations.

For the first time ever at a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC-COP), an event uniting the ITC[8], IFAD[9], WTO[10], UNCTAD[11], UNFCCC[12] and UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation[13] was held to discuss how to move forward with business and trade on the Paris Agreement. During the event, Wharton IGEL Alumni Eleanor Mitch raised the point of the role of business schools, and especially IGEL’s, in leading the way to new business opportunities and innovation in sustainability. Given that Wharton graduates and those of other business schools will become business leaders, it is important to strengthen ties with the international law-making, enforcing bodies and business schools to prepare graduates to provide services and products for the challenges the world faces: environmentally displaced persons, sea-level rising, sustainable energy and consumption among others. Innovation and creativity-driven prosperity can come hand-in-hand with sustainable development.

 

[1] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

[2] http://cidce.org/

[3] http://cidce.org/structures-institutional/

[4] http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/marrakech_nov_2016/application/pdf/marrakech_action_proclamation.pdf

[5] Eleanor Mitch, presented for Eric Orts

[6] http://cidce.org/presentations-cop-22-cop-22-presentations/

[7] http://www.greenprophet.com/2016/02/worlds-largest-solar-power-plant-goes-live-in-morocco/

[8] http://www.intracen.org/

[9] https://www.ifad.org/

[10] https://www.wto.org/

[11] http://unctad.org/en/Pages/Home.aspx

[12] unfccc.int

[13] http://unfccc.int/bodies/body/6406/php/view/reports.php#c

Human Health Sustainability

By Neelam Ferrari, Moravian Academy Student

What is sustainability in health care?

As I am graduating high school this year, I thought it would be interesting to think more closely about how sustainability can be incorporated into the healthcare industry.  And I do not mean the manufacturing aspect, dealing with circular economy components related to material use and the manufacturing process.  While the production process is certainly important, I am referring to the concept of incorporating elements of sustainability into sustainable health.

If we try to find a definition of sustainability, one common theme takes an ecological approach, discussing the ability of a system to be diverse and also productive, where each member of the system has a job, and contributes to the health of the entire system.  When we apply this to environmental issues, we can think about manufacturing products that only use the materials that are needed, and the ‘waste’ can become part of another system.   A healthy manufacturing system will find a use for all of the materials, while minimizing waste.  An additional component of sustainable industrial activity focuses on preserving resources for future generations.  This way, the industrial process acts like a natural ecosystem, where everything is used.  Applying sustainability directly to human health is a little more difficult, but it is important as the population continues to increase.

When thinking about ‘human health sustainability’, if we relate to the environmental sustainability examples, we can think about human health as a platform for:

  • Maintaining and improving health throughout the lifespan
  • Incorporating new tools and technologies to improve nutrition
  • Not only look at how improved healthcare for the individual but also for larger populations
  • Identifying business opportunities where human and environmental health intersect.  This can be in preventative health, food and nutrition, and treatment.

With an emphasis on health sustainability, it will be important for healthcare related companies to think about how they can contribute to sustainable health, as well as how they can build their business around the idea.  Most companies have some sort of employee wellness programs, which encourage workers to participate in activities that encourage better health and disease prevention.  Examples might include onsite gyms, fitness competitions to encourage participation, and financial incentives for active employees.  Their thought is that healthy workers are more productive workers, and in the process, there is less lost time due to sick days, and other health related reasons.  This first way, any type of company can contribute to sustainability goals, regardless of the type of business.

A second way for companies to contribute to health sustainability is more focused, primarily on companies that operate in the healthcare space.  But this is still a very broad group, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to food companies. As consumers around the world are becoming more conscious about what they are eating and drinking, food companies can continue to offer products that have higher nutritional value, and fewer ‘empty calories’.  They can also work to make these healthier products more affordable for a larger portion of the population.  Many food companies, including PepsiCo, Campbell’s and McDonald’s, which are traditionally not known for healthy consumption, are starting to make this shift, and they are making it a core part of their business. This is a step in the right direction.

The principles of environmental and health sustainability support one another.  As sustainability with regards to a growing population becomes a bigger issue in the coming decades, companies that embrace a philosophy that contributes to both can set an example for other companies to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Impact of Brexit on Climate Policy: The EU and the Paris Agreement

By Claudio Marcantonini, Deputy Director, Florence School of Regulation Climate

On 10 June, the European Commission officially began the legislative process for the ratification of the Paris Agreement by presenting a ratification proposal for the European Union, aiming for the agreement to enter into force as soon as possible. This will happen when at least 55 countries, representing at least 55% of global green house gas (GHG) emissions, will ratify the agreement. The Commission’s proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. After that, the Council will deposit the ratification with the United Nations Secretary General, on behalf of the European Union. Meanwhile, each EU Member States will ratify the Paris agreement, individually.

For the Topic of the Month, this July, we will write about the EU and the Paris agreement. We will review the main aspects of the Paris agreement, describe what the EU has promised to do in Paris, and explore the possibility of having an international carbon price. But before starting talking about the Paris Agreement, we will talk first about the impact on climate policy of the most significant event that happened in Europe in decades: the referendum on the exit of UK from the EU.

The Impact of Brexit on Climate Policy

The UK’s decision to leave the EU may have important implications for the future of both the British and EU climate policy. During the past 15 years, energy and climate policy in the UK has been developed within the EU policy framework, and the UK has been one of the driving forces for the liberalisation of the European energy market and of the climate change policy. As a result, the UK energy market is integrated with that of the rest of Europe. The UK (like all EU member states) has participated in the EU ETS, the single European carbon market. The UK and the EU have now to renegotiate all their relations including those in the areas of energy and climate. The results of this negotiation, which will take at least two years, are still unpredictable, and it is still unclear at what level the UK will take part in the European energy and carbon markets.

The UK, with the 2008 Climate Change Act, has set the goal of achieving 80% GHG emission reduction by 2050 with respect to the 1990 level. The main British parties are committed to this target and the result of the referendum does not imply any change in climate policy. It is probable that Brexit will impose a revision of the EU pledges submitted for the Paris Conference. Before the conference all countries were invited to present the so-called Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC), which are voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions that formed the basis of the Paris Agreement (more on this in the next post). The EU presented the INDC on behalf of all the 28 Members States (at that time). With the UK out of Europe, the EU has to recalibrate its INDC and the UK has to present its own contribution. On the one side, this means that if UK wants to pursue stronger climate actions, the British government can potentially submit more ambitious INDC and freely decide to implement stronger climate policy. In the fifth carbon budget, which covers emission reduction for the period 2028 to 2032 and that was presented few days after the referendum, the British government confirmed its commitment in cutting emissions and set a target of 57%, higher than the emission reduction of the EU INDC. On the other side, however, Brexit might pave the way towards a weaker approach to fight climate change. The UK will probably go through a period of economic and political instability that might move climate policy down the priority list. Moreover, with the victory of the Brexit, politicians that supported Brexit, will have a more leverage role in shaping the future national policy. Many of them are for a reduction of the effort to reduce GHG emissions; some are climate skeptics and willing to repeal the Climate Act at all. Once outside the EU, the UK will not be subjected to the EU targets on energy and climate policy, and the national legislation can be changed with a simple majority. For example, the UK now has a target of 15% of energy consumption from renewables energy by 2020, as part of the EU 20-20-20 target. It is still unclear if, without EU pressure, the UK will maintain this commitment. All these uncertainties could also make it more difficult for the private sector to invest in low-carbon technologies in the UK. Lastly, on international climate policy, Brexit will probably reduce the international leverage of UK. In climate negotiations a country’s influence depends significantly on its share of global emissions and wealth. As a member of EU, the UK had access to the table of the major players, while, out if EU, it risks being moved to a secondary position.

From the European side, the EU has to recalibrate its climate policy without the UK. This may imply a delay for the forthcoming climate and energy legislation and probably also for the EU ratification of the Paris Agreement. The EU will lose a country that has been traditionally a supporter of cutting GHG emissions. As a consequence, the opinions of those countries that are more reluctant on strong climate policy, could weight more heavily in the EU. The UK has also been in general a promoter a small role of the central EU government. Indeed, the UK opposed a European Carbon tax in the 90′ and supported the creation of the EU ETS; for the 2030 energy and climate package, it was among the countries not in favor to have renewable binding targets as EU has for 2020. With the UK out on the negotiation for the 2030 EU policy, there might be also a redefinition of the renewable and climate policies. At international level, the UK generally supported the EU in promoting strong actions and helped the EU in the negotiations that lead to the success of Paris COP21. Without the UK, the EU will be smaller and without one of the stronger voices for international actions, this could weaken the EU’s role in the international decision making process, although it will still remain one of the fundamental player.

Originally published July 4, 2016

Post reproduced from EUI website with permission from author.

Thinking about the future of sustainability and what it means to the global economy

By Professor Robert Giegengack, University of Pennsylvania


Words matter.

“Sustainability”, as widely used in environmental and economic dialogue, does not describe a condition likely to be achieved in the near future, if ever.

Before the modern era of environmental wordsmithing, a “sustainable system” was one that could continue to function indefinitely without depleting the resources on which it depended.

Many natural systems are understood to be sustainable to the extent that they have persisted for many years, indeed for millions or hundreds of millions of years. Systems that were not sustainable have not persisted, and thus are not available for inspection.

* * * * *

Resource economists of various stripes have suggested that certain artificially constrained systems could be described as “sustainable” if they yielded predictable products from year to year without diminution of the resource base that provided that productivity. Thus, individual commercial fisheries have been described as “sustainable” if the annual yield of harvested fish was replenished within a year and thus would allow a similar harvest the following year, and in subsequent years. The lobster fishery in the Gulf of Maine is now described as “sustainable” because the annual harvest has been stable for years.

However, the concept of a “sustainable fishery” ignores the resources that are used in maintenance of the fishery and in collecting the harvest. The primary resource so used is, of course, the energy that is required to drive the boats, collect and process the product, and regulate the performance of participants in the fishery. All of those activities use energy, most of it derived from combustion of fossil hydrocarbons, which, in our outrageous hubris, we choose to call “fossil fuels”.

Gifford Pinchot, the son of a wealthy NY importer and real-estate speculator, studied “sustainable forestry” in France in 1899-1900, and returned to endow, with his father, the Yale School of Forestry (now Forestry and Environmental Studies). Pinchot was well connected in Washington, and by 1905 had become the Director of what eventually became the US Forest Service, with administrative authority over millions of acres of forest and grasslands across the USA. From his training in France, Pinchot advocated “the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man.” To Pinchot, the national forests were to be used for commercial benefit, but in a way that would not diminish the value of the resource through that exploitation. Pinchot did not use the term “sustainable”, but he imagined that the yield of forest products would not exceed the rate of regrowth. Pinchot’s environmental ethic placed him at odds with the preservationists of his era, who hoped that the national forests would be preserved for public enjoyment rather than exploited for commercial gain. No doubt Pinchot was influenced by the management of European forests, all of which had been managed for so many generations that, effectively, no undisturbed forest survives in Europe.

The US National Forests continue to be exploited for commercial gain, but the judgment of the sustainability of that gain does not include the energy cost or administrative cost of maintaining the infrastructure that allows exploitation of forest products. Today, the US Forest Service spends ten times as much money maintaining logging roads into the interior of the national forests as royalties from the extraction of forest products yields. That is not “sustainable”.

* * * * * *

We know that the coal, oil, and natural gas that now power much of modern civilization accumulated over the 550 million years of Phanerozoic history. As far as we know, no fossil hydrocarbons that we identify today accumulated prior to that time.

We began extracting and burning fossil hydrocarbons on a commercial scale in the middle of the 18th century. While many projections have been offered of the expected lifetime of the fossil-fuel industry, no reliable estimate has suggested that there will be any extractable fossil fuel after 2300 AD. Thus, we will have used up the global supply of fossil fuel in 550 years, or ONE MILLION TIMES faster than that resource is being replenished.

As long as we operate in an industrial economy dependent on fossil hydrocarbons as an energy source, NOTHING THAT WE ARE DOING IS SUSTAINABLE!

What we seek in a “sustainable” system is a system in which all resources would be extracted at rates that would not exceed the rate at which those resources are being replenished (by natural processes).

We can imagine an industrial society in which all required energy comes directly from the Sun (that is how human society operated prior to ~1750). While that energy is not “sustainable”, since it is derived from the fusion of elemental hydrogen within the Sun, we know with some confidence that the solar fusion reactor will continue to operate for several billion years before the hydrogen that drives the fusion reaction is fully depleted. To the human time frame, several billion years is essentially forever, so we can think of direct Solar energy as inexhaustible, and systems that depend on that energy source (most systems on the surface of Earth) as potentially sustainable.

The Sun delivers an average of 342 watts/m2 to the Earth’s surface. That is 8,500 TIMES the amount of energy currently used by all of human civilization.

However, there are consequences to our use of Solar energy as a fully renewable resource. We will use that resource to extract the other resources we need (metallic and non-metallic ores, food, etc.), and many of the resources we routinely extract are not being replenished at the rate at which we extract those resources. Some of the metallic ores on which we depend are not being replenished at all; they accumulated under geochemical conditions that prevailed earlier in Earth history and are not represented anywhere on Earth today. Thus, even if we are able to convert our industrial society to one driven entirely by direct Solar energy, we will still need to extract other resources at rates that greatly exceed the rates at which they are being replenished. That will not be “sustainable”.

So, comprehensive recycling of key resources must be achieved along with conversion of human society to full dependence on direct Solar energy. Recycling of products that have been dispersed by patterns of human use will require vast amounts of energy, but in a Solar-powered world vast amounts of energy will be available. That recycling will be most efficient if recycling strategies can be built into the industries that today use those key resources (in this context, the work of Scott Cassell’s Product Stewardship Institute is a clear example of a pathway to a future that is less unsustainable than the pathway we are on).

And there is another problem: The industrial systems that we now use to provide human civilization with the products it demands generate huge amounts of waste. Today, that waste is being dumped into natural reservoirs (air, water, soil, etc.) at rates that greatly exceed the capacity of those reservoirs to neutralize or assimilate those wastes. We are contaminating the reservoirs of the renewable resources on which we depend (water, air, soil nutrients, etc.).

So, a human society that imagines itself as moving toward a sustainable configuration will also have to recycle products that today we consider waste, and to keep those products from contaminating other resources on which we depend. 

[Some futurists have offered the possibility of capturing and processing asteroids that stray into the near vicinity of Earth. A single iron-nickel asteroid 1 km in diameter would provide as much of those 2 metals as civilization has used to date. The challenges of harvesting those resources and delivering them to Earth are, of course, daunting, but not beyond imagination, especially with an inexhaustible supply of Solar energy.]

In 2006, Penn’s President Amy Gutmann signed the “President’s Climate Commitment”, in which she pledged Penn to review its resource use comprehensively, and to undertake to reduce the University’s “carbon footprint” substantially, maybe even to zero (!!). In response to that announcement, Stan Laskowski (one of my EES colleagues and former Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA Region 3 for 20+ years) designed a course entitled “Sustainability at Penn”. He asked me to “co-teach” that course with him.

I agreed to do so if Stan would agree to change the title to “Toward Sustainability at Penn”. Stan and I taught the course, ENVS 494, for 2 years, and then I taught it with Dan Garofalo (Director of Sustainability at FRES) for another 2 years. Now Dan teaches the course himself…

That course allowed (or forced) me to explore the concept of “sustainability” very critically, with a group of smart, committed, principled, idealistic young people. I think we agreed that absolute sustainability is not an achievable goal, for Penn or for any other institution. We decided that the goal of our course would be to help Penn become less unsustainable. Perhaps we should redefine the concept…

So, here is my “redefinition” of “sustainability”:

Sustainability is a state in which humankind:

  1. extracts natural resources at rates that do not exceed the human capacity to discover replacement and/or substitute resources; 
  2. re-uses those resources as much as possible; and 
  3. disposes of the ultimate waste products of that activity at rates that do not exceed the capacity of natural systems to assimilate and neutralize those wastes. 

The State of Sustainability can be achieved when Humankind devises a humane and globally equitable strategy to maintain the human population at a level at which efficient and frugal use of natural resources allows conditions 1-3 to be met.

Others have addressed this issue, of course. In 1990, Herman Daly, one of the early students of sustainable natural systems, offered this definition: 

[sustainability will be achieved when:]

  1. For renewable resources, the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration (sustainable yield); 
  2. [For pollution] The rates of waste generation from projects should not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal); and 
  3. For nonrenewable resources the depletion of the nonrenewable resources should require comparable development of renewable substitutes for that resource. 

I did not read Daly until long after we had offered ENVS 494. He reached basically the same conclusions, long ago. Daly did not say, specifically, that sustainability is unachievable. I think it is unachievable.

Of course, I prefer not to use the term “sustainability” at all. It belongs with that litany of environmental buzz-words that we use so carelessly, not because we define them precisely, but because they make us feel good:  

Natural, organic, pure, pristine, artisanal, chemical-free, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, non-GMO, anti-oxidant, local, Omega-3, pomegranate (?) – the list goes on and on, ad nauseum.

Words matter. Sustainability is not a useful word. Sorry (!)

Announcing the Release of “Becoming a Sustainable Organization,” by Wharton MBA Alumna, Kristina Kohl

Kohl Book Cover

Wharton MBA Alumna Kristina Kohl, managing principal of Becoming Sustainable, a division of HRComputes, has just released a book! See below for a summary and links to purchase.

Organizations find that a performance gap exists between sustainability vision and benefits realization. Effecting transformational change requires incorporating sustainability into an organization’s culture including policies, processes, and people. This book lays out a framework to improve sustainability integrations including case studies, lessons learned, best practices, and tools and templates to facilitate transforming into a sustainable organization.

Becoming a Sustainable Organization: A Project and Portfolio Management Approach is an ideal resource for project and portfolio managers, as well as executive managers, in organizations that are embarking on a sustainability journey. It explains how to engage both internal and external stakeholders in order to reframe strategy to drive this transformation. It examines the role human capital management professionals and policies can play in ensuring that employees become fully engaged in sustainability. It also recommends baseline measurements and metrics to help managers ensure sustainability initiatives remain on track.

The case studies and interviews in this book include sustainability stories and projects from a variety of organizations in both function and size, including family-owned businesses, higher-education institutions, NGOs, municipal and federal government agencies, and large global organizations. These cases are based on interviews with experienced sustainability and project management professionals who have not just “talked the talk” but also “walked the walk.”

The voices of these professionals provide invaluable inspiration and guidance to sustainability champions and to program and project managers tasked with moving their sustainability portfolio components forward within their organizations.

Buy It Here: CRC PressAmazon