Sunday, 6 April 2014

Post 13: Impact! Conference Pre-Course!

I was away for the weekend in Kelowna for a good friend's bridal shower, and wow—after being away for only 2 days, it's amazing that I feel like I've been a month away from my project! (This is a good thing - I'm excited and charged up for it, and feel like the clearing of mental space was fantastic.)

While I'd packed about three or four books for on the drive and the quiet pockets I thought I'd have (they did not materialize...), I didn't really get to dig into them at all, and instead spent a bit of time trying to complete some of the final project marking, either on the drive or waiting in the Airport. It worked, for what it was.

At the end of May I''m fortunate to have been chosen to attend the Impact! Youth Conference for  Sustainability Leadership 2014. This conference is a bit different than other conferences I've been to, and seems to be more focused on providing us with different ways to think about sustainability, to be inspired by different initiatives, and to essentially take in more information than we give out at the conference. More specifically what I mean by this is that instead of me preparing to bring a poster or presentation to the conference or share the research I've been doing, I'll be participating in workshops and listening to talks, for the most part. I am very excited to go—I'll get to meet Commander Chris Hadfield and almost 200 other delegates that are ecologically, socially, and environmentally motivated and interested in making a difference in the world. As part of the prep for this conference, I've also been asked to complete an online course about sustainability, provided by the Natural Step, one of the collaborators to put on the conference.

Our lovely gorse (Ulex europaeus) along the ocean in Victoria. 

So, late last week I was going through the 1-hr course on sustainability, and perhaps it's because I haven't been closely looking at the ideas motivating sustainability discourse, but I was a little bit troubled to find that a common theme throughout the online course was the idea that "sustainability is feasible if you can make companies understand that it's economically viable for them to do so." So, in that light, a sample case study for sustainability was wondering whether IKEA would manufacture an energy efficient lightbulb for various reasons (including a strong societal push to do so), the main reason why they went ahead for it was because it was financially feasible. To an extent, that makes a lot of sense - obviously it would be a difficult sell to companies today if they went bankrupt trying to achieve sustainability. But, this makes me wonder—how do we address the efficacy of sustainability when companies are encouraged to go for the 'low-hanging fruit', and essentially do things that (yes, save them money in the long run, like, going paperless, or using less energy to run their office buildings) cannot fundamentally change unsustainable business practices? In other words, what do we do with the Exon-Mobiles and the Suncors who can green their offices, but at the end of the day are still responsible for using vast amounts of water in their industrial practices and actively destroy ecosystems and harvest fossil fuels from the ground that contribute to climate change when burned? It seems to me that sustainability has no answers for how to address the complicated big problems like these.

I recognize that the flip side of the 'going for the low-hanging fruit' means that it's possible for people to get a taste of sustainability, and see that it's possible to do some of these (sometimes) simple things, save some money, and help the environment, but I am not sure how far the little projects like this will take us. Undoubtedly the little projects help in more ways that saving some paper and extending the lifespan of a lightbulb (as well, changing the way we think through the life cycles of a product; in the case of the IKEA lightbulb, which contains some Mercury, IKEA developed a recycling program to take back used bulbs and extract the Mercury from them after use.) The little projects should by all means be undertaken and encouraged. Doing these little and simple and easy things also help to positively change the mindset and hopefully contribute to the thinking processes that make us wonder what else we need to do to impact the earth and other non-human species less, and to figure out how else we can share the planet.

I am also glad to see that some of the project ideas in the forums are taking a broader stab at sustainability, like one woman who's trying to see what excitement there is for a farming cooperative in eastern Canada. That is great.

I hope we will be able to talk about some of these ideas during the conference. What happens at the nexus of capitalism, neoliberalism, and sustainability would certainly be interesting to explore, and it seems to me like there are plenty of difficult questions to be asking.

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