- 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 – we have presented some of the highlights below (full answers are available here).
Find about more about Ivey’s student sustainability activities here.
What are the main sustainability issues on your mind?
Because the climate is a complex system, one thing can exacerbate the negative consequences of global warming. 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.
Baani Mann & Celina Chen
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.
A key sustainability topic for me is the increasing prevalence of social finance and the power of impact investing. Raising capital for social purpose organizations is a challenging endeavour, but is a promising way to encourage the private sector and institutional investors to get more involved in sustainability-aligned ventures.
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 reminds me of our intimate connection 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 that is regenerative, equitable, and life-sustaining. We need an economy that restores and replenishes nature, and we need social systems that 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. Businesses must 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.
Baani & Celina
We envision a world where countries incorporate economic sustainability and the livelihood of future generations into policy priorities. A ‘desirable future’ also ensures that those most vulnerable to economic change are included and benefit from shifts made. It is imperative that the shift 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.
I think a ‘desirable future’ is one in which necessary business transitions do not result in significant negative economic impact or increases in unemployment. Implementing widespread systemic transformation will require buy-in from all levels of society and that can only be achieved by changing mindsets around sustainability.
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. In this future, 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. Businesses that incorporate sustainability will improve firm performance, while businesses that don’t invest in a sustainable future will be left behind. 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 being used in business today, such as impact measurement, ESG criteria, and social impact entrepreneurship. Moving forward, business education needs to equip students to consider and understand these ideas within traditional fields of business, like finance and marketing.
Baani & Celina
Business schools should emphasize sustainability within academic structure. For example, they can invite sustainability experts to speak to students and incorporate sustainability case studies into curriculum. Business schools should also do more to challenge students to go beyond traditional thinking. For example, students are normally taught to make business decisions by weighing fiscal costs and benefits, but we have learned that often the most overlooked consequences are those that are more difficult to put into monetary terms. Teaching students how to value social and environmental factors is just one way business schools can challenge traditional thinking.
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 valuable to discuss the history of economics, the advantages and disadvantages of our current neoclassical economic system, and newly proposed economic models like Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics.
Specific to Ivey, I think we should look into how to become B Corp Certified and proceed to support students who go on to work for B Corp companies.