Building Sustainable Legacies


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Kicking off Collaboratories in Asia – Towards “Green Living in Hong Kong”

Riding up the elevator of the brand new building of the Design Faculty at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sets the stage: 4th floor Collaboratoy, 8th floor Innovation Think Tank. I haven’t seen the use of “Collaboratory” formally used to designate an entire floor of a building! We must be in the right space! Clearly Cees de Bont from the Design Faculty and Alison Llyod from the Business School are not only an experienced but also a very creative and effective team. Everything was set for a memorable first Collaboratory event in Asia!

Cees’ design students have worked over the past weeks to create more than half a dozen of benches made out of recycled or repurposed material. Special acknowledgment goes to Claudius Bensch, Art Director of the project, for developing the original Bench Circle installation concept. As we walked into the space, our jaws dropped at the sight of these benches! True beauty and an astounding variety! Each bench was designed by a known designer and produced by design students. Here is a short time-laps film that shows them at work:

Allison’s business students had masterfully arranged the space into the signature inner circle held by two rows of outer circle chairs. They had helped to mobilize the key stakeholders for the event and ensured that all concerned parties in Hong Kong concerned by “Green Living in Hong Kong” were not only present but had been briefed in great detail on what to expect. An energized group of approx. 50 engaged citizens, representatives of business, consulting, real estate, NGO, social entrepreneurship as well as various relevant faculty members and students was curious to see what would happen next. Everything was set for an intense 3 hours of co-creation!

The first hour served to lay out all the different perspectives on the topic of what Green Living in Hong Kong might mean, why it was possible, impossible, covering current important issues such as air pollution and the impact of the increasing inequality, the high dependency on the “Hong Kong shopping center”, the dramatically negative impact of the recent frugality strategy of the Chinese and the sky-high real estate prices that drove social entrepreneurs out of town. Yet, the fact that 40% of the land was labelled as national parks and only 30% of the surface was actually built, opened up a discussion around the potential of Hong Kong with its 70+ islands, beaches and many hills and hiking trails for every level of difficulty. We heard stories of permaculture, roof-top gardens, and the need to go beyond organic food to radically re-localize food (the footprint of organic food not being sufficient to balance population growth). A young social entrepreneur shared his initiative of in-house gardening and tourist operator a dream around eco-tourism. The elevator was introduced as a highly sustainable solution to save land (vertical city) and elegantly delegating the cost of mobility infrastructure from government to private investors (well, that’s the real-estator’s perspective). The idea that if green choices need to come more attractive (adding a price on unsustainable living), they would take off. The question of how design can help advance green living in HK. The dilemma of the importance of education and the fact that it takes too long to produce results. The businessman’s pragmatic perspective: “how much are we willing to pay to make Green Living a reality?” countered by the psychologist who believes that it is all a question of behavioral change. One sentiment expressed the rather upbeat sense of the discussion best: “If there’s anybody who can do it, it is Hong Kong!”, this despite the fact that a concerned voice reminded us that returning to a simple living also implied consuming less and that companies would need to radically reinvent themselves. A final voice made a historical comparison, reminding us that in 1972 the Hong Kong government campaigned against corruption which was considered mission impossible and today in Hong Kong corruption was largely gone. So why not campaign against unsustainable living? Well…

After a break, we shifted into the visioning phase of the process and went on a journey where we collectively dreamt up a Hong Kong that had realized Green Living. The traditional sharing round among all participants was among the richest I have experienced today: a new vision for Hong Kong came alive! A vision where Hong Kong would adopt Singapore’s positioning as an education hub to become Asia’s Sustainability or Green Living Hub. Conscious of the fact that Hong Kong in many ways plays a role model function for many cities and people of mainland China, the power of such a transformative change was palpable. Descriptions of such a future vision of Hong Kong included clean air and blue skies, a slower pace and fresh vegetables at hand anywhere to eat. Shopping as a way to secure happiness was replaced by more profound offers that would lead to a more sustainable well-being and happiness. People would come to Hong Kong to “slow up”, to recharge, re-energize and to co-create and develop great ideas.

In the final third phase of the Collaboratory, we asked the question: so what can we concretely do in the next 2-3 months to make steps towards this utopian future. To enable this, we transformed the center space into an entrepreneurial brainstorming space: at least 20 ideas were developed and any last signs of Asian shyness disappeared. The spark of a shared and embodied vision had triggered not only enthusiasm but also creativity. I was challenged to summarize and group the many ideas into 8 main prototypes of which each participant would choose one he or she wanted to spend the last hour of the Collaboratory exploring. We initially thought to vote the best 4 of these 8 ideas but there was enough energy for all of them that we split the circle into 8 sub-circles and empowered each group to self-organize and further develop their ideas. After 40 minutes each team was ready with a solid prototype idea and had identified one responsible person among them who was willing to carry-forward the project until Alison and Cees would decide on how to proceed with a next Collaboratory event to further develop if not all, at least some of them.

Here is an overview of all the ideas:

  • Introducing positive discrimination coupled with transparency to enable green organizations to perform better and attract the talent and to individuals to the incentive to change behavior. A radical shift requires radical support including the development of broader well-being measures on the macro and micro economic levels (lead: Shrikant Ramakrishnan, four members)
  • Eco-tourism: slow up in Hong Kong and relax into great ideas! Various steps needed: a) turning the city green (greening the roofs), accessible hiking trails for all levels, transforming hospital into wellness clinics, turning public spaces into oasis, taking the noise out, developing eco-tourism in the islands, etc. (lead: Stella Kwan, four members)
  • Transforming universities into practical learning centers in society, by reducing the current disconnect particularly in CSR, changing the pedagogy to include in-company learning, integrating self-realization as an integral part of learning (lead: Alison Lloyd, nine members)
  • Fostering cross-sectional stakeholder dialogue through collaboratory discussions: not a solution in itself but an enabler to contribute to a new mind frame and to rally for a common vision (lead: Philo Alto, two members)
  • Copy-cating the best green solutions and branding for massive globe scaling, by applying a rigorous process of a) what is the problem), b) who is the leader in the world to solve this, c) how can we adapt to Hong Kong, d) how can we brand to enable scaling, e) how do we commercialize globally – example: Starbucks vertical farming wall (lead: Lydia Guett, six members)
  • Developing a sharing culture towards a new governing model by bringing in relevant ideas to Hong Kong and by working with students as activists and promoting a culture of sharing, e.g. electronics (lead: Ming Ho, three members)
  • Becoming a personal role model first and then contribute to the sharing culture (see 4), supported by government actions such as theme Sundays to re-develop relationships at all levels as they used to be (lead: Match Chen, six members)
  • Developing a new mind frame: business needs new managers and leaders, current people in charge can’t lead the transformation, a higher consciousness is needed, achieving this by a significant focus on personal health for every employee at all levels (top particularly) since a better life will result in a better business as it triggers a shift in focus; also: embracing the consumer-side of the people by initiating new consumer demands which will result in new business opportunities (lead: Eric Chu, 2 members)

Cees and Alison have expressed an interest to integrate the first three into their current project development structures which are available in both Faculties. Furthermore, the PolyU business school has platforms on which other prototypes could be further developed. Both of them will communicate with everybody involved in the Collaboratory shortly to ensure that these prototype will start to be realized where possible and where the teams feel energized to further work on them.

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Walking into the Silverbox Conference room at the ICON hotel in Hong Kong the next day felt VERY similar to walking into the UN RIO+20 PRME Business Education conference back in June 2012 when we launched the 50+20 agenda: 3 benches were lined up as I walked off the elevator towards the registration desk and the back of the room was displaying with 6 more benches. Awesome! It is amazing what kind of difference some real art can make. More on the conference: http://www.bsl-lausanne.ch/news/school-news/events-and-conferences/bsls-dean-gives-keynote-speech-at-conference-on-renewing-business-education-in-asia

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A call to action – launching the 50+20 vision

During the 3rd Global Forum on Responsible Management Education the 50+20 vision is launched with the unveiling of the 50+20 Agenda and short film.

Business Schools Without Borders

50+20 visits the People’s Summit in Flamengo Park during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro to host a collaboratory.

Collaboratory with Greenpeace

A discussion with Amazon Campaigner, Tatiana de Carvalho on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.


Rio dialogues: Focus on water

Rio Dialogues offers a public debate on the critical topic “water” on at RioCentro. Dialogues is a public direct democratic initiative by the Brazilian government as their contribution to RIO+20. In the main auditorium there is a highly diverse and young crowd of approx. 1000 delegates and representatives of all walks of life from around the world. A rowdy crowd that is alive and present! The former president of Brazil who presided over Rio 1992 was booed out when honored. Right thereafter, the top Chief Sustainability Officer of Coca-Cola was speaking – and the electricity in the room is palpable, yet nobody booed, maybe because his speech is very correct? Yet, what about the need to walk the talk?

The session offers an important outcome and is important as we will select 3 recommendations from the 10 most voted items through a democratic process in the past 10 days. Much energy focusses on the pre-sentiment that government is trying to get away from the 2010 declaration on the right of water for everybody. The choice ranges from securing access to water, to implementing the right to water to improving water sanitation to ensure that education of children. In contrast to yesterday’s people summit at the Flamenco Park, here the urgency and the importance is palpable. It is my generation who is here: many many young faces and at least half of them women! Maybe I have finally found a place where people want to meet to change the world!?

It is difficult to find the list of the panel in the maze of the RIO+20 and I am lacking references here. A high-level African quotes an important saying:

“if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” to express his hopes for RIO+20.

He suddenly stops mid-phrase when the King of Sweden steps in with his guards and joins the audience. Shortly thereafter, Mohamed Munif turns things serious when he talks about water contamination in Bangladesh.

The representative of the World Water Council wants engagement not just words. They demand that all countries in the world inscribes the right to water in their constitutions. Today, only 1 nations has done so. They also demand that as of tomorrow no single school rests without a water tab and toilets. Today, 60% of African schools are without access to water. In the other hand, they want action to ensure that more only food but also water is provided to disaster zones. We must restore the safety of water to the level we have inherited it from our ancestors. Water security founds the very basis of human survival. It is estimated that by 2020, the world needs 45% more water than today. According to the rule of 3, only oxygen is more important to human survival than water. Already today, 890 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

The UNCG Corporate Sustainable Forum is also under attack: the trade union representative accuses corporations to have failed on all 3 pillars of sustainability: economy, social and environment. He turns to his fellow panellist from Coca-Cola and says:

“I cannot believe that Coca-Cola will ever agree not to want to sell more Coke!”

The lady from India raises the challenge by stating that India is facing a 79% increase in water needs while at the same time facing a reduction of over 40% in the next decade. She says that we are not horrified enough that 2 billion have no access to sanitation and this impacts mostly women in the global South. She clarifies that the solutions of the North do not work for the South. While in India, the daily water consumption is around 18 litre per capita (lpc), in China the water needs are raising to 80-100 lpc in the next decade. In contrast, the USA uses 570 lpc today, which may go down to 440 lpc at best, but is way out of any sustainable future. She insists on home grown solutions based on ancient wisdom from the global South.

“There is enough for everybody’s need but more enough for anybody’s greed” (Gandhi).

After introductions, Jeff Seabright of Coca-Cola is put in the hot seat: “can we reconcile economic growth with the needs of water, and if so how?” He does not expand beyond politically correct but otherwise irrelevant answer. Munif suggests that beyond forcing governments, we need wide-spread citizen engagement to ensure the right to water and sanitation also locally. He also connects the importance of the water issue with global warming and raising sea levels which endanger many regions, and in particular Bangladesh. Two indigenous women from Mexico turn the atmosphere chilly when they point out the lack of consideration and consultation in the decision- making process around water. A 13 year old indigenous girl asks for clear strategies on how to ensure that this will be assured.

The audience present selects as their urgent recommendation to implement the right to water as their first priority. The bigger question of course is what government will do with this. The current update is that there will be no consensus reached, with only 40% of the draft even discussed and no agreement achieved to date. Tomorrow, the top government negotiations with the heads of states start…


Changing paradigms for creating sustainable and just cities

At Rio Centro, many thousands of delegates, media and major groups  (women, labour, youth, business, labour, etc.) representatives are  meeting to discuss the challenges we face. What a nice change from the 5-star experience at the Windsor Barra, the temporary home to 2,700 business executives. Finally we had some relevant and engaged discussion about important and urgent topics – food for the brain and soul!

A session sponsored by the Ford Foundation on building and creating  just cities pointed out an important new paradigm: we need to look at  the arrival of poor emigrants in a city as an opportunity rather than  as a problem, like in the 60s and 70s. Addressing the issue of  mobility linking housing with work place is also critical.

Naturally, there are fears about the political instability that results from many new low-income emigrants. Yet, there is a proven,  direct connection between general income inequality and political instability. Investments by foundations are, as such, risk money. We need to take risks to ensure we limit and reduce inequality, activities and investments that support this.

The latest thinking highlights the importance of non-government associative housing projects. Another related paradigm shift is the  need to understand that the different interests for different city spaces need to be transformed from competing interest to combined interests. The effect of moving favelas (slums) into different areas has long proven to be a disastrous strategy. In Rio, an unknown amount of economic activity and value-added activity of low-income areas was wiped out when the neighbourhoods were relocated to create space for  competing interests, such as commercial buildings. So-called informal settlements are very vulnerable to being relocated, often not only temporarily but (as an example given again from Rio) for a period of  50 years – a sad series of undisputed discriminatory deeds!

A great take-away quote from Luis Ubinas, President of the Ford Foundation: “Let’s not call investing in low-carbon public transportation solutions a courageous act, it would rather be courageous or stupid  not to do so… much like playing Russian roulette with our future!”

In conclusion, a related side comment from one of the panelists (the official list is hopelessly outdated, listing NYC Mayor Bloomberg who is nowhere nearby) who reminds us that rural poverty is even worse than urban poverty as it also concerns social exclusion and is mostly  hidden and invisible to the public eye. What a most relevant and engaged session – I feel as being part of a group of people who cares with a sense of urgency. What a relief!


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Here is today’s launch speech.

“Today is not just another day and not just another conference. Today, we present to you the result of two years of voluntary work by many many passionate people who deeply care about ensuring that business schools and management education truly contribute to a better world. In this process, John Cimino’s song the CALL which he just performed has been our inspiration to be daring and courageous.
I was 22 years old when the original Rio conference took place in 1992. I was studying business at BSL, the school I now run as a Dean. Stephan Schmidheiny‘s book “changing course” changed my life. While I was environmentally conscious in my private life, my experience at work had taught me that I better leave personal interests at home and be strictly “professional” at work. With Rio 92, I sensed a new world opening up – one where I could integrate my personal passion into my professional work and help companies to become sustainable.
Today is not business as usual. We need something different from the usual conference debates. We have seen and heard all this before … The same words, the same arguments. We are busy rearranging deck chairs while the titanic is sinking! This cannot be another Copenhagen! The stakes are simply too high. The time is up – it is OUR generation and this is OUR time. We are the ones, who need to drop what we do, reflect and take courageous steps in a new, right direction. Now!
50+20 is a collaboratory, an open-source effort of GRLI, the WBSCSB and UN PRME. Our aim was to come up with a radically new vision for management education. A vision that started by asking big questions, like
– what kind of a world do we want?
– what does this mean for the kind of society we will need?
– what is the role of business and the economy in this?
– and what should business contribute to such a new world?
– what kinds of leaders do we need to achieve such a transformation?
– and as a result, what would that mean for management education?

We worked in a collaborative process with people around the world, including more than 100 thought leaders. Many people in this room have been involved in ways large and small. And we invite you all to stand up.

Together we created a vision beyond incremental change. Management education FOR the world, management education in service of the common good. We see 3 fundamental roles. We reframe education, we give a concrete purpose to research and we introduce public engagement as a new responsibility for business schools.

This is about new benchmarks and the benches you see here symbolize that. They have been created by artists around the world from re-cycled materials. We invite you to look at them, sit in them and feel the creativity and the fire for a socially just and environmentally sustainable future they embody.

Today, right here, right now we officially release the 50+20 Agenda. Here it is in physical form.

Digitally it’s in the conference documents and online at 50plus20.org. Its the start – we have developed a process of engagement, there will be a book in the fall, there are over 100 emerging benchmarks on the website which may serve to inspire. We have worked hard to strip out the
greenwashing the blue washing and well meaning intentions.

But what matters is not what others do, it is your engagement and whether we personally take up the challenge of service to mankind. If you share the passion to drive deep change and would like to take action in an advanced community please give me or Katrin your business cards.

So now we bring you the voices and faces from around the globe who have helped us define the 50+20 vision. Turn off your email open your hearts and souls, and enjoy what the people out there have to say to us.