25 sustainable ways to see the world in a week

I did have the chance to go to Vancouver last week.  I did walk past the rose garden and mountain view every morning on my way to a sustainable classroom in a sustainable building on the University of British Columbia campus.  I did use the composting toilets all week and had no complaints about doing so. 

Myself and 30 other participants from here and abroad shared 5 intensive days pondering the notion of sustainability under the guidance of 25 top thinkers in the field today.  I am surprisingly energized and hopeful given some of the startlingly depressing topics we covered.  Instead of getting grumpy and dejected I have decided to suspend reality for a moment, shelve the doom and gloom and keep on doing what I do best – catalyze the environmental and social change needed to make sure our hospitals do as little as possible to compromise the next generations ability to provide their basic human needs: creativity, leisure, freedom, affection, protection, subsistence, understanding, identity and participation. Which were conceived by Max Neef and are a little different and more inspiring than the usual. 

Disclaimer:  This will be difficult and I will not be able to do it alone.  Luckily there are more and more people globally and locally examining how we live our lives, confronting the stories we tell ourselves that make over shopping, under voting and being violent to each other ok.   These are “exponential times” according to Brian Nattrass our Monday morning keynote, everything is happening faster and faster and in some cases it is hard to keep up.  We are quickly heading for that uncomfortable place where complexity rules supreme and George Eisler says we will find new meaning in the empty spaces between two points.

It sounds like left field but if you think about it, it is true.  It is exactly what I heard over and over again last week in Vancouver from people who are paid to think about these things.  One after the other came back to the common themes of shared values, collaborative network relationships and the urgency of using a system or design thinking approach.  Those of us who are already questioning how we got to this point and what we can do to get past it are inventing a new story to live by; defined by ecological limits and inspired by possibility. It is our job to help buffer the shock from old to new as we all navigate through, what by all predictions will be a difficult transition.

For many of us this transformation will be by choice. We will choose to learn from the past and respect the emerging lessons of the future.  We will choose to make room for conversation, co-leadership and co-creation and abandon the notion that there is one best way.  We will choose to see what is invisible and make sure our actions align with our values.  For many others there will be no choice.  We know air pollution is already claiming lives around the world (follow the link to the Canadian Medical Association report Illness Cost of Air Pollution). We know that sea level rise is already claiming coastal land and displacing individuals, families and communities from their ancestral lands (follow the link to a National Public Radio video about the small island nation of Kiribati). We know that waste is already poisoning our food and water supply (follow the link to photographer Chris Jordan’s spectacular interpretations). We know that we are all witnesses of these events and it will be difficult to explain them to those that come after us.

This will be bigger than changing lightbulbs and driving hybrids it will include transforming our institutions, corporations, cities and social networks.  It will not be enough to make things less bad, our task is to actually make things better.  How can providing electricity equalize wealth, conserve life supporting resources and achieve social inclusion?  How can transportation systems get people where they have to go, clean the air, provide jobs and increase leisure time?

Enough thinking about it…better get to it.

Learn more about the Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership

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