Tobias Welz cares about sustainability. The World Resources Forum (WRF) conference manager looks adoringly at one of the copies of the full conference book in his hands and says, with a proud smile, “There are only five copies this year – we wanted to reduce our print output.” But that’s not all, the vegan adds: “We want to reduce food waste, we talked to the catering here. Even the banners are reusable and will be recycled!”
Welz’ colleague Martin Lehmann joins the conversation. He, too, says that he tries his best to live sustainably. Lehmann sometimes uses an app to calculate his own carbon footprint. “Living sustainably yourself is certainly important”, he says, adding that he tries to set a good example by using mainly the bicycle and train to move around. He looks a bit guilty when he mentions that he sometimes flies to Finland to visit relatives.
Lehmann believes that the conference attendees will more than compensate for their emissions due to coming here by being “messengers to the world”. He hopes to see a “snowball effect” in sustainable living, started and intensified by this conference. He also experiments with gardening and “grows some of the food himself”.
How important are personal sustainability choices? In “The Burning Question”, Duncan Clark and Mike Berners-Lee argue that more energy efficiency in just one part of the world will lead to rebound effects and also burning of the resources – just somewhere else. “We have to look at sustainability from the system level”, explains Anders Wijkman, one of the current Presidents of the Club of Rome, “there needs to be a rethinking of current economics and consumer culture.” He has recently written a new book with Johan Rockstrom “Bankrupting Nature, Denying our Planetary Boundaries”.
“Looking from the system level,” however, rarely comes naturally to us. Thinking more about the interconnections of issues, such as resource use, geopolitics, the financial crisis, climate change and our value system is certainly useful. But how do we get there? Martin Lehmann grapples with these questions and completely forgets about the apple he meant to eat – “The existing economic system has to change. Profit is still ruling the world.” He leans back and adds: “Sometimes one feels a bit helpless. What makes me sad is that we don’t work more together. Animals do it – wolves, for example, will hunt together to achieve their goals, why are humans not like this?” Even when the bigger picture can feel depressing, though, he says he draws hope from “small stories, people who make it through their days despite all difficulties.”
Tackling the value system starts with oneself and one’s consumer choices, he posits, because society is currently off-key: “There is something wrong with the value setting.” Personal choices matter – not just because they influence global supply chains. They matter because we are the consumers and only if we change our values the abstract monster “society” will change as well. We are the ones doing the choosing and re-thinking. This is the impression you get after talking to people like Martin Lehmann.