- Gareth Gransaull, Baani Mann, Celina Chen, Nikhil Gowd, Melanie Issett
- Jun 5, 2020
World Environment Day is the United Nations' key global campaign for building awareness for the protection of our environment.
The current pandemic situation has brought into clear view the need for clear leadership and action to address complex societal challenges – whether public health or pressing environmental issues like climate change or biodiversity loss.
Fortunately, leadership and action is also what Ivey students are all about. More than ever, Ivey students care about working on issues bigger than themselves and building careers that have a positive impact on society.
We asked five student sustainability leaders to give their perspectives on some big questions for World Environment Day 2020. We wanted to know what major issues are on their mind, what a desirable future looks lie to them, and how business schools like Ivey can prepare students for this future.
The answers are highly articulate and illuminating!
Find about more about Ivey’s student sustainability activities here.
What are the main sustainability issues on your mind?
Because the climate is a nonlinear system, there are dangerous feedback loops which can drastically exacerbate the level of global warming if activated. At the current moment, it appears that some of these feedback loops have begun to accelerate. Arctic permafrost is releasing copious amounts of methane, and tropical forests are turning into carbon sources. In such a world, there is no time for a fossil fuel ‘phase-out’: it is really now or never. Not only do we need to stop emitting carbon completely, but we also need to sequester carbon from the atmosphere in vast quantities. This is humanity’s central problem of the 21st century.
Private and public partnerships are a huge area of concern for sustainability. I think the future of certain industries in Canada especially will largely depend on how federal and provincial governments are able to work with the private sector to build resilient and agile strategies, which also integrate key sustainability criteria. This will be especially important as government changes in regulatory structures around certain sustainability issues such as water security and emissions monitoring take effect. Another key sustainability issue is the rapidly increasing prevalence of social finance and the power of impact investing. Raising capital for social purpose organizations is a challenging endeavour, but impact investing offers a promising avenue for encouraging the private sector and institutional investors to become more involved in sustainability-aligned ventures.
Baani & Celina
While there are many sustainability issues that have arisen over the last few decades, ecosystem restoration and sustainable food chains are the two main issues we feel passionate about.
Ecosystem restoration, such as increasing native species and slowing down deforestation, urbanization, and industrialization. For example, we are currently researching Southwestern Ontario’s Carolinian Life Zone, which is home to 25% of Canada’s population while only representing 0.25% of Canada’s land. It is the most endangered ecoregion in Canada and 80% of the natural habitat has been heavily urbanized and industrialized for agriculture and urban development. If these trends continue, the future of the biodiverse Carolinian Zone will be in danger.
Developing sustainable food chains will be critical to sustaining our earth for years to come. This includes innovating on agricultural methods and improving the quality of wetlands for farmers, which ultimately helps achieve food security for more of the society. But as we continue to use resources inefficiently, we are depleting resources faster that they regenerate.
It is challenging to prioritize the main sustainability issues on my mind as there are many—from global warming, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, plastic pollution to human rights violations—these are all issues that I have been trying to grapple with and attempt to understand their connections and root causes.
One of my favourite quotes is by Gus Speth, a former dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies: “I used to think that the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems, but I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists do not know how to do that.”
This quote resonates deeply, and current world events demonstrate how we are intimately connected to each other and our environment. To address sustainability issues, we also need to address human rights issues.
What is your vision of a ‘desirable future’?
A desirable future is one which is regenerative, equitable, and life-sustaining. We need an economy which is restorative and replenishes nature, and we need social systems which provide essential human services to all people. We need to reinvest in our democracies, and employ public solutions to public problems. At the same time, governments cannot act alone; we need to work collaboratively between and within sectors. Businesses must recognize their role as corporate citizens, rather than vehicles of shareholder wealth, and cooperate with governments and the social sector to build integrated solutions. Above all, we must renew the social contract and see past our differences in order to restore our commitment to the common good.
I think a ‘desirable future’ is one in which the necessary shifts needed in business do not result in significant negative economic impact or increases in unemployment. Implementing wide spread systemic transformation will require the buy-in of many levels of Canadian society and that can only be achieved by reducing the perceived consequences of orienting ourselves towards sustainability.
Baani & Celina
A desirable future will only be achievable if the private and public sectors work together. On a macro scale, we envision a world in which countries have incorporated economic sustainability and the livelihood of future generations into policy priorities. Countries would be working to negate carbon emissions, transition to cleaner energy fuels, and support one another in becoming more eco-friendly. The move to cleaner air will also be conducive to the creation of green energy jobs and a booming industry to offset economic growing pains. In addition, a ‘desirable future’ ensures that those most vulnerable to economic change are included and benefitting from shifts made. It is imperative that moving toward a green future is spearheaded by Indigenous landowners – who have long protected and stewarded our earth. By actively listening and creating a political and social environment in which all groups are heard and represented, we can work together and create a future that is desirable for everyone. These changes cannot be made by any individual stakeholder or group, but instead requires a firm commitment from every sector and industry throughout the country. The healthcare crisis that we are all living through has proven our country’s unbelievable resilience and ability to make drastic lifestyle changes to ensure the collective greater good. When addressing the climate crisis, the necessary adjustments will be seen in the types of foods we eat, our modes of transportation, the ways we heat our homes, farm our produce, trade with other countries, and construct our buildings. This will not only be beneficial to future generations but will allow first-movers to reap the benefits of a new industry, protect us from the risk of natural disasters, diversify our skills market and encourage domestic innovation.
My vision for a ‘desirable future’ is one that is designed in support and regeneration of all living systems, both human and non-human. I envision a world where humans no longer see themselves as separate from nature but as a part of it and are therefore committed to placing people and our planet at the base of all decision making. The concept of planetary boundaries will be widely understood, and we will operate within these boundaries to progress the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
What can business schools do to help prepare us for that future?
Business schools need to make sure that future managers see their role as actors within wider social systems. It is no longer possible for businesses to operate in isolation; they affect, and are affected by, complex global challenges. Businesses have many stakeholders besides owners of equity to whom they are responsible, which include employees, customers, society, and the planet. We have already seen how sustainability can improve firm performance, as businesses which are good corporate citizens tend to have better governance and make better long-term decisions. Businesses which don’t invest in a sustainable future will be left behind as society moves towards a more inclusive and resilient world. Sustainability is both a crisis, and an opportunity for radical innovation. It is the greatest disruption of the 21st century, and it’s time that business schools treated it as such.
There are an increasing number of sustainability criteria and frameworks which are being used in business today. Impact measurement, ESG criteria, and social impact entrepreneurship are just some examples of what corporations are implementing to better integrate sustainability into their day-to-day operations. Moving forward, business education needs to equip students to consider and understand sustainability within traditional fields of business such as finance and CPG. Forcing students to consider dimensions of sustainability within decision making in case-based learning will encourage students to:
- Build a sustainability-oriented mindset prior to becoming career professionals
- Encourage practitioners in academia to broaden research opportunities into sustainability related topics
- Support student-led entrepreneurship which is built in sustainable principles
Baani & Celina
Business schools should put an emphasis on sustainability within the academic structure itself. For example, universities can bring in experts within the industry to speak to students, as well as incorporate sustainability related case studies into the academic material. The more students learn about the detrimental effects of issues such as climate change, water pollution, and deforestation, the more motivated they are to choose a career or volunteer path that helps to revert our Earth to sustainable levels. At every level of their education, it is important for students to understand that we have a give-and-take relationship with the natural environment. It is important to re-evaluate our human-centric perspective and understand that we are just one part of the symbiotic fabric of nature. Our decision-making is highly influenced by our peer group and the role models that educate us. While business decisions are traditionally made by weighing the fiscal costs and benefits of a certain path, we have learned that often the most overlooked consequences are those that are more difficult to put into monetary terms. There is a considerable amount of research to be done on how best to value social and environmental factors. There is no doubt that these processes are expensive and timely, which can often complicate decision-making. However, business schools play a fundamental role in educating future leaders of our country, as well as challenging students to think beyond traditional boundaries into how best to make important changes.
Business schools can help prepare us for this future by teaching business and our neoclassical economic system as ideologies instead of “just how it is”. It would be incredibly valuable to discuss the history of economics and critically speak about the advantages and disadvantages of our current neoclassical economic system. From there we could discuss newly proposed economic models like Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics as well as critically examine our current methods of valuation and question whether they are capturing the full picture. Mariana Mazzucato’s work is a good example of this.
Business schools also need to emphasize the fact that economics does not operate in isolation and is in fact deeply embedded in the environment. “There is no business on a dead planet.” Therefore, it is critically important that students understand climate science and the state and trajectory of our current way of operating on the earth. This will help to avoid situations where students justify decisions being made because it is “good for the economy” without any consideration of the environmental and social risks these decisions hold.
I think Ivey Business School should look into how they could become B Corp Certified and then proceed to support students who go on to work for B Corp companies. Additionally, I think it is important that career management highlights the copious career paths that students can take that deviate from the typical banking and consulting tracks.
Business can be an incredibly powerful tool if we can harness it to tackle some of our world’s greatest issues!