A SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY

I. Introduction to Sustainability

I recently took an interesting and eye-opening course at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, called "Embedding Sustainability in Operations". Although many might roll their eyes when hearing once again about sustainability, it seems this topic is growing, as individuals, households, neighborhoods, institutions, organizations, companies, cities and governments tend to be more aware of the importance of thinking and acting sustainably.

Definition: Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. (Source:http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/basicinfo.htm).

Although many of us, when thinking about sustainability, exclusively refer to the environmental aspect, please be aware that sustainability has in fact 3 interconnected pillars:

  • Environment, Economy & Employees (3Es)
  • Planet, Profit, People (3Ps)


What does all this mean? That sustainability is everywhere, and when we act, we have to consider if our action is durable and whether it has a positive impact on our future wellness. For example, when we do physical exercise, we want to contribute to our health and well being, but by exaggerating with inappropriate or too much effort, we risk injuring ourselves and endangering our future possibility of practicing any kind of sports. Or, if we invest in our education today, we prove long term thinking, as we will benefit from the results of this later in our lives. Last, but not least, if a company invests in the retention of its employees, it avoids the future hiring costs, which in most cases overcome the investment in retention programs.Imagine it like a 3-legged chair…

But enough about theories and definitions, and let's find out more about the…

 

II. Most Sustainable Cities of the World

Let's have a look at the Greenest Cities of 2013 and what makes them special!
Top Greenest Cities 2013:

 

1. Reykjavik, Iceland - aims to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels by 2050

 

2. San Francisco, California - banned the use of plastic bags in 2007

 

3. Malmo, Sweden - its Western Harbor is powered only be renewable energy

 

4. Vancouver, Canada - more details below (hurray!)

 

5. Portland, Oregon - a quarter of its workforce commutes sustainably

 

6. Curitiba, Brazil - 1000 green spaces, 14 forests, 16 parks

 

7. Copenhagen, Denmark - 50% of its population will use bikes for transportation by 2015

 

8. Stockholm, Sweden - low carbon emissions per capita (1/3 compared to average)

 

9. Hamburg, Germany - changes industrial land into spaces for shop, residences, parks

 

10. Bogota, Columbia - a drastic change of air quality and water supplies

 

For more info, please see http://www.greenoptimistic.com/2013/06/04/top-10-greenest-cities/#.UfbuL6wTWuI.

It is interesting to see how the cities in this Top, belong to countries with very different cultures. This could mean that sustainability is not a cultural thing, but is influenced by other factors, such as geographical location or city management. As this is a topic in itself, I will leave it open for some other time, and focus on my now home town…

 

III. Vancouver – the Greenest City by 2020

Vancouver downtown as seen from the South

In Vancouver Sustainability is one of the hottest topics. Why? Because Vanny aims to be the Greenest City in the World by 2020 and has high objectives to achieve on its way. Here's the campaign video, a direct appeal to its citizens to join forces in transforming Vancouver into the Greenest City by 2020:

Talk Green To Us: 2:25 min:

 

As becomes obvious, being the Greenest City isn't really piece of cake, but requires hard work in several directions over a longer period of time. Thus, Vancouver has decided to take on 10 levels, outlined in the Greenest City Action Plan:


Sounds very promising indeed! Take a moment and decide: Which one of these do you find important for your home town?1. Green Economy
2. Climate Leadership
3. Green Buildings
4. Green Transportation
5. Zero Waste
6. Access to Nature
7. Lighter Footprint
8. Clean Water
9. Clean Air
10. Local Food

 


The key ingredient is to make the citizens take ownership of the positive changes, to make them feel responsible and to make it accessible for them to think and live green.The Vancouver authorities seem to do a good job, as they engage the people.

What are the initiatives meant to engage the change agents? Some are simple and in everybody's hand reach, some are challenging, innovative and highly creative. Here are just some examples:

  • Bike to Work Week (including Streetwise Cycling Courses and Build-a-Bicyclist Program, which offers to less fortunate people a refurbished bike, a lock and a helmet)
  • Commuter Challenge (a friendly competition between companies where participants bike, walk, share vehicles, use public transport or work from home)
  • Tripsters: A TravelSmart Game (online game for kids to learn about biking and public transport)
  • Metro Vancouver’s Tap Map app for smartphones (to locate fountains region-wide)
  • Veg Directory (online database with vegan, vegetarian and meatless restaurants, as meat is one of the highest components of Vancouver’s ecological footprint)
  • Green Building mobile app (locates nearby green building projects and offers audio tours for its users while they pass by the sites)
  • AirMap web-app (shows the real-time air quality conditions in the region)
  • 2013 Kids Farm Camp (children experience web-app which allows you to see the real-time air quality conditions in the region)
  • EYA – Pollinator’s Paradise (teaches how to a bee friendly environment in the garden)
  • Electrafest (exposition of a variety of electric vehicles, including a 1912 Detroit Electric)

 

IV. Relevant to us, relevant to you

Dawn O'Bar included an interesting video in her make-up ""STEPS – Steps to Eliminate Poverty Sustainably", which contained an important and powerful message: "If you give a man a fish, you can feed him for a day; if you teach a man to fish, you can feed him for a life time". A right test for our projects should also include the sustainability factor.

(Reminder of the Rotary 4-Way test for projects:

  • FIRST. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
  • SECOND. High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying of each Rotarian's occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
  • THIRD. The application of the ideal of service in each Rotarian's personal, business, and community life;
  • FOURTH. The advancement of international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.)

Through Rotary we try to make the world a better place, strive to reduce the environmental footprint, invest in education and people development and have large scale projects that impact nations, which is truly meaningful. But leaving the macro point of view aside and having a better look at the way we, as individuals, lead our lives from the sustainability perspective. Do we do all that stays in our powers in this direction or are we rather lazy, uncaring or just unaware about how we, through our personal efforts can influence the world towards sustainability living?

Let's do a little bit more and walk the talk at our micro levels, too! Let's be models for sustainable living and try to influence the people we come in contact with every day to be models as well! Big achievements are built on individual efforts, like pieces from a puzzle form the most beautiful picture.

Here's how you can start a movement (and have a good laugh, too):

Derek Sivers How to start a movement: 3:05 min

 

Please see below some tips and tricks for our daily life activities:

1. Use less energy

  • drive less, use public transport or carpools, bike and walk more (it’s good for your health, too)
  • turn off lights when you go out of a room
  • turn off your monitor when you’re not at your desk
  • unplug your electronics even when you turn them off
  • change your light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs (use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer)
  • set your refrigerator to 2°C to 3°C (35°F to 37°F) and freezer to -15°C (5°F)
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR symbol (on products from dish­washers to furnaces)

 

2. Produse less waste

  • use both sides of the paper
  • bring and use your own mug at work
  • reuse shopping bags
  • buy used or borrow things before buying new (it saves you money, as well)
  • make someone in your community happy by giving away or selling items you no longer need
  • hang-drying helps clothes last longer and smell better (remember “long term” thinking J)
  • use ‘Post Consumer Waste’ (PCW) recycled toilet and tissue paper
  • drink tap water, instead of bottle water (if possible in your country)
  • compost food (fruit and vegetable leftovers, washed egg shells, newspapers, coffee grinds, plants) -

The perfect Compost Recipe: 4:49 min

 

3. Pay attention to what you buy

  • buy local AND seasonal food (it consumes less resources for transportation and it’s healthy)
  • buy green, buy fair (it encourages companies to produce sustainable products)
  • buy LESS J (try to reuse and recycle, avoid disposable products)
  • avoid products containing unnecessary toxins (see www.safecosmetics.org orhttp://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com)

And, last but not least, if I find myself still beneath your patience threshold, please enjoy this interesting video called “The Story of Stuff”, a result of long and eye-opening research:

Note: This is optional viewing as it goes beyond our meeting time, but it will be well worth the time spent.

The Story of Stuff: 21:25 min:

 

 
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