Tag Archives: sustainable development

Recap on “Crossing Boundaries” conference in Netherlands (education for sustainable development)

CROSSING BOUNDARIES in Netherlands (put on by Dutch UNESCO Chairs for Education for Sustainable Development)

This was a very interesting and fruitful conference for gaining a better understanding of sustainable development in higher education. The conference was done in a participatory style (World Cafe, Fishbowl, Open Space, etc.), so I had a chance to gauge the interest in some of my ideas and hear from many leading academics in the field, educators, and international org representatives.


(Brace yourself… this is academic jargon… but very useful for those who are studying in this field!)

Transition management –  (a concept I’ve worked with before in my papers) the idea that we must transition our society and technical systems towards sustainable development

  • All relevant stakeholders needed
  • Macro-meso-micro level
  • Long term vision with short term action
  • Learning and adaptation

Social learning the process in which we can learn from our experience to be more sustainable (can we unlearn our way out of unsustainability?) What are the appropriate learning and instruction theories, methods and techniques for enabling learners to contribute to sustainability-oriented social learning?

Transdisciplinaryscience with a purpose”, unity of knowledge beyond disciplines


UNESCO (ESD) it is currently the decade for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) 2005-2014

GUNI – Global University Network for Innovation – conference on how to transition universities towards sustainability 2010  Nov. 23-26 in barcelona

AASHE (Association for the advancement of sustainability in higher education)

Key Discussions:

–        “Minding the gap” (Glasser) – of where we currently are (and our associated behaviours, lifestyles) and to where we need to be in order to be sustainable

–        ICT as an enabler

–        Sustainability in Africa and including the developing countries into the process of SD

–        Reflections – how to do it? (method used in Action Research), intervisions

–        Social entrepreneurship  (putting SE into the curriculum in developing countries, linking it with the trades to stimulate sustainable development)

–        Innovation for sustainability

I have a longer debrief that I have shared with my colleagues so if this interests you, contact me directly.

LOTS AND LOTS OF INTEREST IN ART OF HOSTING (conference i attended in Feb in Sweden)!  As there were some challenges in the world cafe, fishbowl .. many wanted to know how to improve the method – I sent them to Art of Hosting pages. It’s amazing how powerful these methods can be when done properly.

On a personal note, I leave Finland soon… but that on its own deserves a new post 🙂

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Canada, I’m not impressed.

I’m a pretty patriotic gal (no more so than last month 🙂 ), but when it comes to Canada on the world stage – particularly in the case of sustainable development, I just get more and more angry with Harper’s government.

For the vast land up north, Harper has cut funding for the climate change research and seems to be only focused on  “drill, baby, drill!” and commercializing the Northwest Passage. For owning all of this land, we have a responsibility to the world to understand it and protect it.

And aside from the fact that we don’t really have a plan and have disgraced ourselves at international conferences, we go ahead and continue cutting funding for renewables. (Make note: I’m not all for an internationally binding treaty on climate change , but I’m all for action – something we’re not doing.)

In that article, our Finance Minister insists that they’ll improve our energy system based on regulations, rather than subsidies – but I actually agree with Bjorn Lomborg (the sceptical environmentalist) on this one, we need a hell of a lot of investment into research and development to spur the kind of innovative technologies to get us moving.

All in all, not impressed with our government.

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Abandon sustainable development? My rant on the Economist debate.

Oohh… way to make my blood boil.

Check out the Economist debate on “This house believes that sustainable development is unsustainable”.

Whew, a lot of thoughts on the Proposer, Mr. David Victor’s  Opening Remarks.

Yes, the term “sustainable development” needs work.

It has been universally accepted because no one can say that looking after our grandkids’s kids is a bad thing – yet what does that mean in practice? That’s where the term becomes empty and becomes everything for everyone.

Is it possible to live sustainably? Not really (we are far from it) although Cuba seems to be the only one who’s got a fair shot at it. (Map the Human Development Index and Ecological Footprint index and you’re left with one little communist country.)

Technology (on its own) will not save us.

Mr. Victor is optimistic that we can be saved through our own ingenuity. When we look at the trends (that giant 90 degree angle), we are unprecedented in our population.  In other words, our checks and balances haven’t been checked for a while (where do we expect this curve to go?!?). Even if we “innovated” our way out of the energy crisis with renewables – our lifestyles still won’t last on this consumption wheel.  Mr. Victor’s salt example is of but one resource. We’re in a different ball game now.

That being said, technology + societal change will at least give us a better shot at coping (not necessarily to be sustainable just yet, but at least less unsustainable;).  We can’t look at innovation as being purely technological (invention-based) either. It means process/market/service and thinking-based innovation – we need to change our mindset. And it’s worth asking the question: is all innovation good? The short answer is no. What can produce value in the short term, doesn’t always transcribe for the long run (disposables anyone?) and not all economy-boosting innovations are even good for the present social/environmental needs.

Returning to those kids of our kids

Mr. Viktor’s second point is that we (in the sustainable development camp) have only focused on the harms that we will pass down to our kid’s kids and not the benefits. I have one quick response. We leave them nothing if we don’t leave them with energy, space and biodiversity.

And those damned policy makers…

His third point is on policy (I’m writing a paper on this exact topic so happen to feel rather intelligent in my grounding right now …). Extracting resources to further economic growth today with hopes that the consequences will be beneficial to future generations is careless and dangerous to say the least.

Smart regulation and policy making means that we need to figure out where we want to go – together with all of the decision makers. If governments really put meat (or hearty veggies;) on the meaning of sustainable development, it means policy makers from all sides need to agree on a future state and start transitioning the economy, directing innovations towards creating that sustainable future. This doesn’t mean that governments should choose which innovations – it just means that they need to create the environment where the market will move into this direction.

Human ingenuity on its own has done us tremendous favours – but let’s not forget that it has also led us to the tragedy of the commons…

Renewables shwpenewables.

And sorry, Mr. Victor – your attacks on renewable energies don’t reverberate with your “let’s innovate out of this conundrum!” Mining to the last drop without aiming for new sources is ridonculous.  And the comment on windpower being an eyesore leads me to discount much of what you have to say – MIT/Harvard grad or not. Lets look at alternatives through full life cycles & costs please. Being “frugal” with a limited resource still leads you to a dead end in the end.

Economy + Environment … and oh yeah, Society.

True, sustainable development tends to leave out the social side (he’s right to ask where’s the human rights, dignity or fairness in this talk?) Sticking the ‘human side’ back into economics and realizing that it isn’t just about money models will help with this. But, I have to say one thing that it often left out of the international development debate – ending poverty can’t be the end goal either.  Sustainable international development … now there’s a whole other paradox.

Mr. Victor ends “the last two decades have yielded an empty debate. Intellectually and politically, sustainable development is not sustainable and has become dangerous. It should be abandoned.

Abandoning the concept of sustainable development is abandoning this planet as we know it.

I say, the last two decades have yielded an empty debate. Intellectually and politically, sustainable development has not been sustainable and has become dangerous in its inertia. It should be attacked head-on.

Until then… cover up when you sneeze come this Fall. Our “check” on the population might just be around the corner…

Perhaps not the most optimistic ending for a post but it may just wake us out of our immunity fantasy.

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sustainable + development + Acumen Fund + TED

Just watched another fabulous TED video and had to share…

Jacqueline Novogratz shares stories of how “patient capital” can bring sustainable jobs, goods, services — and dignity — to the world’s poorest.

She founded the Acumen Fund – a nonprofit that acts like a venture capital fund, investing in high risk businesses that serve a cause (high risk for other investors, but very serious in its approach to get results) in developing countries. Very interesting approach to tackling poverty…

I met Yasmina Zaidman, Acumen’s director of knowledge & communications (and writes most of the blogs over at the Acumen blog at the Net Impact Conference I went to last month. What a fantastic speaker as well.

Watch the video though, it’s great.

Moving forward (albeit painfully slowly…) on the thesis front. Wanted to bang my head against the wall more than a few times.. but that’s the joy of thesis writing, no? 😉

Anyways, this topic touches heavily on my topic so, I leave you now with questions (not just about Acumen Fund and ‘patient capital’ but just sustainable development questions in general), no answers.. something just for pondering…

  • this is ‘patient capital’ – which is needed for projects like this and doable in this case since it’s being funded by philanthropic dollars… but for everyone else who’s out there to make a buck, ventures are about growth growth growth… How can we tell people to ‘be patient’ when their investors are down their neck?
  • sustainable development – the word in and of itself is oxymoronic… sustainable (circular) and development (linear)… not the first one to point this out, just an ongoing question in my head. Annie, from the Story of Stuff is bang on “you cannot live on a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely” – at the end of the day, no one is 100% sustainable – read the No Impact blog to see how hard it is even to try
  • it seems like everyone who wants to help needs to go there (to a developing country) to understand first hand… if you don’t everyone else will tell you that you don’t understand ‘them’ – you’re less qualified to ‘help’ in that sense. What about the people who can’t get there? Plus, aren’t the environmentalists telling us to slow down on the travel? How can we make it easier to connect these two worlds virtually? Asking cause I think its about time I get myself out of the western world and see the world that the other 5 billion people see…

Well.. should probably start answering my own thesis questions…. so, back to work.

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