A Year of Work in Sustainability

As 2012 comes to a close, I plan to reflect back on the year in sustainability and write think-piece about it. There is a lot to reflect on at the global scale: there was Rio+20 and the Doha climate conference, there was the impact of a US election and a lot of new sustainability science published. But in this post, in preparation for a more general reflection, I have first made a personal inventory of highlights from my own year of work. In doing the inventory, one feeling came up often, and strongly:  gratitude. I feel lucky to work in this field, and I could not do it were it not for the trust and support I get from clients, colleagues, and friends around the world.

On reflection, 2012 felt like a specially productive year. Here are the highlights of what I did professionally:

  • Published the Life Beyond Growth report, which was republished in Japan as a book together with Junko Edahiro and distributed free on the Internet in English. The report summarizes the history, current status, and future prospects of alternatives to traditional economic growth, in terms of both frameworks and indicators. The report was widely circulated in relevant professional circles and resulted in an invitation to present work, and to chair a panel, at the Fourth OECD World Forum on Measuring Well-Being for Development and Policy Making, in Delhi, India. (Thanks to associates Hal Kane, Dana Kapitulcinova, and Catherine Kesy for their help with that report.
  • Completed a “state-of-the-art” briefing report for the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development (UNOSD) on “Knowledge, Capacity Building, and Networks for Sustainable Development.” The report summarizes current theory and practice in these three areas of SD work and provides strategic recommendations to UNOSD on its own planning, which by extension concerns the planning of sustainable development work at the national level, particularly in developing countries. The report will be discussed at a seminar on “Knowledge for Sustainability Transition” to be held at the UNOSD in March 2013. (Thanks to Dana K. again for her assistance with the research.)
  • Published two books: a collection of my essays in sustainability between 1989 and 2009 (Because we Believe in the Future), and Collected Poems 1982-2009.
  • Ran our fourth ISIS Academy Master Class (together with Axel Klimek), this one in partnership with CSCP, Wuppertal, Germany. We had a wonderful group of people that blended highly experienced directors and consultants with younger professionals.
  • Ran our first ISIS Academy workshop in India, for Indian business leaders in sustainability, in partnership with CEE India. This event also marked my first trip to India (for the OECD World Forum). Thanks to my colleagues in India for their hard work and for taking such good care of me in Ahmedabad!
  • Ran “Competitive Sustainability” workshops with Ernst & Young partners, together with Axel Klimek and Piotr Magnuszewski. The workshops included the debut of the upgraded version of our new sustainable business simulation game, Green&Great. Thanks to Piotr’s team especially for their very hard work to make “Green&Great” truly great!
  • Advised Levi Strauss & Co. sustainability executives, and provided (together with Axel Klimek) the global sustainability team with an offsite training retreat on sustainability leadership and change. Thanks to Michael Kobori and Colleen Kohlsaat for these assignments.
  • Moderated the opening plenary session of the high level Open Innovations Forum in Moscow in November, 2012, and supported my friends Alexander Chikunov and Stanislav Vavilov at the Rostock Group in the development of the panel and the invitation of the panelists. Also lectured again at Mendeleev University at the invitation of Prof. Natalia Tarasova. Thanks to my Russian colleagues for entrusting me with these important tasks!
  • Taught my annual course in the “Practical Tools for Change Agents” with the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP). The course reached 30 people in the US, Canada, Russia, Germany, Australia and a few other spots around the globe. Thanks to the ISSP team, and to Christy Nordstrom for her excellent technical support.
  • Taught several workshops on leadership and change for sustainable development with Swedish SIDA-financed courses for regional officials in Africa and Asia. This work was done in collaboration with Niras Natura, a longtime partner and the primary contractor for these SIDA training programs. These workshops impacted around 100 officials from many different countries. Many thanks to my Niras colleagues for these assignments, and to Marie Neeser, who invited me into my first such assignment several years ago and introduced me to her colleagues.
  • Conceived, launched and directed the Pyramid 2012 Campaign, a global voluntary initiative that engaged over 1,000 people in more than 20 countries in “building Pyramids,” that is, doing Pyramid workshops to learn about sustainable development and create sustainability initiatives. The results of Pyramid 2012 were documented in a report that was submitted to the UN in advance of the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development. Heaps of thanks to Tom Mclean for inviting me to keynote the conference in Manila that became the start of Pyramid 2012, to Christine Apetrei for helping to coordinate the campaign, and to many friends and colleagues around the world who organized or hosted Pyramid workshops. (Be on the lookout for the Pyramid 2013 initiative, preview and sign-up available at the beta website.)
  • Completed six years of service as president (and later co-president) of the Balaton Group (formally the International Network of Resource Information Centers, INRIC). After working with co-president Gillian Martin Mehers and our engaged Steering Committee to put together the 31st annual meeting — which focused on the 40th anniversary of The Limits to Growth and the future of modeling — I decided to step down, and I passed the leadership on to the wonderfully capable co-president team of Gillian and long-time member Wim Hafkamp. It was a good time to make the change: the Balaton Group has a healthy budget and a revived Donella Meadows Fellows program, and it celebrated its 30th (and 31st) meetings with a sense of renewed energy for the future. It is also somewhat more visible: in September 2012, the Balaton Group was the subject of a special issue of the journal “Solutions,” and a new 18-minute introductory film produced in 2011-2012 is available now on the web. There are too many people to thank here, but I especially want to appreciate Gillian Martin Mehers, who was a fantastic co-president during the past 3-4 of those years.
  • Worked with new partner firm “The Good Guys AB” in Stockholm to produce a strategic sustainability review and recommendations for a large Swedish company. Thanks to Estelle Westerling of The Good Guys for inviting me into the project and to Shawn Westcott and Andreas Föller for recommending me.
  • Performed and completed a strategic analysis and review, and strategic recommendations, for the UN Center for Regional Development (UNCRD), which has a global program office based in Japan, and satellite offices in Nairobi and Bogotá. Many thanks to my colleagues at UN-DESA for their trust in giving me these assignments, and to Tariq Banuri, former director of the Division of Sustainable Development, who invited me to do my first assignment with UN-DESA back in 2009.
  • Started a new project with colleagues from Swedish institutes and universities, leading seminars on the future of Sweden’s transport system, and held the first meeting of experts from transport-related companies and research organizations. Many thanks to John Holmberg, Vice-Rector for Sustainable Development at Chalmers University, for bringing me into that project, which will continue in 2013.
  • Provided keynotes, lectures and workshop presentations to a wide variety of audiences including the Global Issues Network in Manila (an education conference which also launched Pyramid 2012, Feb 2012), the Department of Water of Botswana (Mar 2012), the annual meeting of the European Sustainable Development Network (EU policy makers, June 2012), the Oil, Gas, Minerals and Mining Partners of Ernst & Young (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa region, July 2012), the opening of the academic year for several sustainability courses at Uppsala University for the CEMUS program (September 2012), the Growth in Transition conference in Vienna (October 2012), the Sustainable Fashion Academy in Stockholm (Nov 2012), and the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco (Dec 2012).

Many thanks to so many colleagues and friends (there are too many to name) in this special business we call sustainability for giving me the chance to contribute with these and other projects during 2012. I look forward to 2013 with hope … and with pleasure.

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