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Asia to Take the Lead towards a Sustainable Future: Pipedream or a Possible Reality?

Like many buzzwords, sustainable development can mean a variety of things depending on who is using it and how. A quick Google search (as well as asking experts) would reveal the same: the definitions might not differ that much, but the implications vary vastly, ultimately implying that there really is no one way towards sustainable development. Among the varying opinions that exist out there, some suggest that the developed bloc (such as the U.S. or the European Union) should take charge in the matter. However, there seems to be a growing trend nowadays that looks at Asia to take a more leading role in paving the way for a sustainable future. This subject was at the forefront during one of the panel discussions at the UNEP SWITCH-Asia Conference on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) in November 2012. The question then is what makes Asia so special when it comes to hoping for a more sustainable future?

Can Developing Asia Make The Switch?

In the restrooms of the Plaza Athénée in Bangkok, Thailand, where the UNEP Switch-Asia Conference on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) took place in November 2012, I noticed I had two choices when it came to drying my hands: paper or cloth. I’ve often alternated between the two but at this time and place, it got me thinking – which one is the more resource heavy option? The paper towel is a single-use commodity, while the cloth towel can be reused after washing it. This experience raised the question of what if the hotel could just buy a product that promises to be good for the environment, whilst delivering the same function – a win-win situation, right? That’s where the Green Public Procurement (GPP) plan comes into play.

Reinventing Language: The Cornerstones of Talking Sustainability

Language is an interesting device. It helps us communicate with each other, share our ideas, thoughts, feelings. Yet, more often than not, all of the above get lost in a morass of misinterpretations and misunderstandings. The concept of sustainability isn’t safe from this either. It’s easy to overuse the S-word these days.

Sustainability and Profit: From Trade-Off to Essence

Economic paradigms come and go. The seemingly endless debate between neo-liberals and –Keynesians in the past century provides a fascinating account of this. It shows that there must be words in economic debate other than last words – that no matter how certain an insight might seem in a particular instance, it will likely be proved wrong in the myriad combinations of circumstances that history inevitably yields. The essence of capitalism evolves around the centrality of profit, which in many ways is the very reason it has outcompeted its economic alternatives. Few would disagree with the central claim of University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman’s controversial essay on social responsibility (New York Times Magazine) that the paramount social objective of any business is to achieve profits within its legal constraints.

Don’t Let Fear Defeat Hope -Why Richard Branson, Edward Norton & Jane Goodall Believe We Can Save the World

After two weeks of Rio+20, I have met many people who feel very uncertain about our environmental future. They throw their hands up in the air and ask: Why aren’t environmental issues getting the traction they deserve? In fact, I was one of them during the “Four Days of Dialogue.” When the panel for “Sustainable Energy for All” solicited questions from the floor, I stood and asked, “What took you so long? And what will you do, to ensure that it won’t take us so long again? Because if we don’t know what is preventing us from acting now, how will we be able to act faster in the future?” Five hundred fellow members of civil society heard me and applauded.

Social Capital Markets – On Impact, Measurability and Trust

Social capital markets attempt to connect social entrepreneurs with impact-oriented investors. The ability to measure “impact” is still considered to be important in order to create such marketplaces, even though this measurability might often not be given. To create market structures that efficiently transfer resources from investors to entrepreneurs, an old resource rises anew – trust! This would be a lesson from SOCAP 2012. The promise
A new understanding of value creation is at the core of a social capital market.

A Tree of Rio+20 Visions

Located in the main conference venue for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the “Tree of Rio+20 Visions” wall displays a collective art initiative organized by WeCanada. Conference attendees were invited to add their own vision throughout the three-day event for “the future we want.” You can see the tree in the slideshow below.

Earth Security Initiative: “Ecological Limits Create New Risks and Opportunities for Impact Investors”

This article is cross-posted in NextBillion. The Earth Security Initiative is bringing attention to the new investment agenda emerging around the notion of ecological limits. Among other things, argued its founder Alejandro Litovsky at SOCAP in Malmo last week, the limited quantity of resources like water and fertile land present a series of risks to investors, as well as opportunities for creating long-term value.  

Changing Perspectives: Risk and Resilience

This initiative aims to focus financial markets and political leaders on ecological limits as an issue of economic risk and national security. Over the last year the Earth Security Initiative has launched high-profile agendas on resources like the the Amazon (Amazonia: The Focus on Risk) and fisheries (Fisheries: A Security System) which show why investors and policy makers must factor the risks of losing the resilience of these ecosystems. At the same time, the Earth Security Initiative calls upon investors and businesses to allocate capital in ways that build the resilience of natural capital and human security.

Road to Rio – Nicolò Wojewoda on Moving the Young Generation

Nicolò Wojewoda is the charismatic director of Road to Rio. This coalition of 100 youth-led organisations is collaborating to realize the full potential of the Rio conference. They are devoting their time to raise awareness and to build momentum around the final negotiation round taking place in Rio. Nicolo and the Road to Rio team are closely collaborating with the Major Group for Children and Youth, the official entrypoint for young people in the Rio+20 stakeholder engagement process. In the podcast at the bottom of the post, Nicolò shares his perspective on the power, importance and possibilities of the younger generation to engage in the final negotiation round during the Earth Summit in Rio. Events to build momentum.

Environmentally and Economically Sustainable Businesses

How can businesses develop products that are both environmentally and economically sustainable?  Many company executives see green initiatives as a financial burden that are only pursued out of good will.   Some environmental projects require large initial investments or involve changing the structure of an operation.  However, many initiatives that reduce the environmental impacts of products also reduce costs for businesses and improve their bottom line.  At the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) conference titled “Greening the Supply Chain: Best Business Practices and Future Trends” on Thursday, April 26, many strategies were presented by various companies that have improved both their environmental and economic sustainability. (more…)

A Tour of the WWF6: Bringing People Together, Developing Solutions, and Increasing Awareness

The World Water Forum 6 took place from March 12-17th, 2012 in Marseille, France.  The Forum aimed at bring people together, allowing for conversation, presenting solutions, spreading awareness, solving challenges, and making commitments.  The Forum, according to the event’s website,
“…mobilises creativity, innovation, competence and know-how in favour of water. It gathers all stakeholders around today’s local, regional and global issues that cannot be undertaken without all stakeholders into a common framework of goals and concrete targets to reach.  The goal of the 6th World Water Forum is to tackle the challenges our world is facing and to bring water high on all political agendas.”  
Take a Tour of the WWF6

Take a tour of the World Water Forum 6 by watching the video below.  The opening ceremony featured a song by The Marseille Rêve Choir, which felt optimistic and inspirational.  This optimism continued throughout the Forum as individuals from diverse backgrounds, numerous countries, and varying opinions discussed important issues related to water.  The twelve thematic targets organized discussions to focus on certain key issues in water governance, energy, food, access and others.  It wasn’t only talk, however – the Village of Solutions presented concrete and unique solutions addressing a variety of problems.


How Successful was the Forum? 

Some may argue that the Forum lacked conflict, which is explored in this post.  I think determining the success of the Forum depends on what outcome is considered success.  One thing that the Forum successfully accomplished was to initiate dialogue between individuals, groups, and countries that may not have otherwise interacted with one another.  The ability to communicate between so many languages with the use of live translation was fascinating.  Second, the Forum increased awareness of water challenges, both in Marseille (which had signs advertising the event at many bus stops) and around the world (through articles published in newspapers and blogs).  I now intend to share the knowledge I learned from others at the Forum with my own friends and family at home.  Finally, many connections were forged between water professionals.  The Forum was an open space for meeting like-minded individuals who are passionate about water.  Personally, I met youth from around the world and spoke with experienced professionals working in the field of water who I will stay in touch with.  These connections lead to research and solutions: for example, a classmate found the inspiration for a master’s capstone project through a Forum panel discussion and interview. However, I wonder how many concrete changes will result from the Forum and if the solutions and commitments made were enough.  On Friday, the second to last day of the Forum, I attended a high level panel that I expected might end in a series of clear steps to take in the coming months or years.  But much of the time was spent sharing perspectives from different individuals on the panel.  It is valuable to share these experiences, but I did not expect this to still be the focus so far into the Forum.  Because of a lack of concrete next steps in some of the panel discussions I attended, I left finding it difficult to explain to others specific steps that will be taken as a result of the Forum.  

Did you attend the World Water Forum?  As the largest global meeting for water, do you think it addressed appropriate issues?  What impact has or will the WWF6 have on water issues globally?