Recent stories

Interview: Sanaa Iqbal Pirani on Food Waste Management in the Hospitality Industry in Abu Dhabi

Most of the food in Abu Dhabi’s tourist sector is imported. At the large scale that is needed for all of the hotels’ operations, it is difficult to get it locally. Still, a lot of food goes to waste. Sanaa Iqbal Pirani, a researcher on food waste management at the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, talks about the ways to change that.

On the Difficulties of Buying Our Way Out of the Consumption Problem

Many new products promise to address consumption-related woes. Yet many of these products fall short of promises, creating a false sense of absolution and at times exacerbating other associated problems. In order to meaningfully address overconsumption, these products would, paradoxically, have to actually reduce primary consumption.

The Practical Politician from the Philippines

Student Reporter Andreas Slotte had the privilege of interviewing Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering, Vice Chairperson of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines, during the UNEP Switch-Asia Sustainable Consumption and Production Conference (SCP) in Asia, held in Bangkok, Thailand. A government official in a unique position, Ms Sering is in charge of finding practical, implementable SCP policies that could be enacted in the Philippines. Unlike the comparatively steady states of developed economies, the Philippines present an exciting challenge of a country seeing high-single digit growth rates (the Philippine’s Gross Domestic Product grew by 6.6% in 2012, and has had an annual growth rate of 5% for the past 10 years), yet in pressing need of infrastructure and other macro-scale projects. (more…)

The Many Roads to Our Common Future

At the UNEP Switch-Asia SCP conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Student Reporter Mas Dino Radin sat down with Dr Magnus Bengtsson, Director of Sustainable Consumption and Production Research at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), to tackle the issues surrounding implementing SCP policies in the developing, as juxtaposed with the developed world. (more…)

The Path Not Taken: Following Unconventional Wisdom in Economics

Student Reporter Adam Wong interviewed Dr. Steve Keen, Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Western Sydney, on his new but controversial economic ideas in sustainability and economic modeling. Economics has always been one of the main forces of human development and in this new era of resources depletion and financial instability, this is no different. Conventional economic ideas continue to play a vital role in helping our governments and societies to make decisions that improve our well-being. However, Dr. Keen is against the conventional ideas of orthodox economics and he views the economic world completely differently from neoclassical economists. Economics cannot grow forever

‘Green must become grey growth,’ Dr. Keen pointed out in his presentation. Our economic growth cannot be infinite, he said, even with advances in technology and if we continue to follow the current mindset of neoclassical economists.

A Universal Diet – Can the Same Sustainable Development Plans Work for Emerging Economies?

‘Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites.’ William Ruckelshaus, the former Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, made this famous statement in BusinessWeek in 1990. Twenty years later, we are still seeking the right ‘diet’ for sustainable development. While the recent developments in the global dialogue on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and resource efficiency have helped create a better “diet plan”, the question remains: could it work for all economies? First, let’s have a look at some of the hottest items in our new sustainable development diet. At the World Resources Forum 2012 held in Beijing, China, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Dr. Mohan Munasinghe was one of those tackling the topic.

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.

Made in Marseille: Deputy Mayor Martine Vassal on the Forum Footprint

As Lindsey discussed in her earlier post, there are a number of online calculators which you can use to calculate your water footprint. A water footprint is the amount of water needed to produce the goods and services you use, and it is important to be aware of this number because it helps us reduce our water use.  But, what is the water footprint of an entire conference about water?  This was one of the questions I was able to ask Marseille’s Deputy Mayor, Martine Vassal, when I sat down with her to discuss her role in planning the forum as a board member of the International Forum Committe. We also discussed the ideas that went in to making sure the week’s events would leave as small a footprint as possible. It is difficult to accurately calculate the water footprint for an event the scale of the Forum, which is estimated to draw 25,000 participants.

Sustainable architecture beyond energy and resource efficiency

At the World Resources Forum, it’s no surprise that the construction industry and housing were active, as buildings are responsible for more than 40 % of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, there is a huge potential to save energy and materials through changing the building methods. Passive houses can save up to 95% energy in heating compared to standard buildings (exact savings depend on the local building code and climatic region).  We can also refurbish old buildings and decrease energy needed for heating by 90%. Very promising numbers.

The Bio-Economy Guide


At the beginning, I would like to ask you a simple question: What is economics? What would you answer? Would you tell me that economics is a science that describes production, consumption and distribution? Correct! Yet, there is another answer that I would like to hear: economics is a science that describes the life in the world of unlimited needs and limited (natural) resources.

Effective way to communicate the resource challenge?

Harry Lehmann, Director of Environment Planning and Sustainability Strategy at the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA), just dropped off this video ‘Flow’ aiming to explain the resource challenges we face to non-scientists. The video was made by UBA and the Sustainable Design Center eV. While the graphics are attractive and the video gets more dynamic as it progresses, the monotonous computer voice drives me crazy and switches off any sense of humanity, for me. On the other hand, at least this voice can’t sound moralising and patronising, like other educational and campaign videos do. What’s your view- does it effectively inform newbies to the resource field?

Decoupling: A false faith?

We can’t be obsessed with the growth imperative anymore, we have to de-couple economic growth from the use of resources and its environmental impacts. Be resource-efficient, be smart, be innovative. No chance to miss these proclamations at the WRF 2011 as they resonate everywhere . Why? Evidently the classical model of economic growth measured by GDP that should deliver prosperity fails in one important aspect: whilst creating goods and services, it destroys one of its crucial bases; natural capital.