Monday, September 17, 2007

Speaking sustainability, day 2

The challenge of sustainability is huge. With CO2 emissions climbing and climate impacts piling up, how can we possibly imagine a better future?

Do we need a "breakthrough" technology that will suddenly solve everything? Or, can we rely on a large suite of more modest solutions that add up to climate stabilization? The smaller solutions look helpful, but the problem may just be too big. Oh no.

And, once we've focused on sustainability for 6 hours, can we sustainability advocates play a fishery management game and achieve sustainability?

Short answer, all of our fisheries crashed, despite the heroic efforts of a few "managers" to build agreements for restraint and sustainability.

Our Stanford overlords have effectively led us into the gut-level realization that profit motives and a short term outlook are POWERFUL THINGS, and the prospect of voluntary human action to protect our climate system seems perhaps remote. When there's money (or chocolate) on the table, then everyone sharpens their elbows and plays tough to win. Or at least enough people do that the rapacious ones control the outcome. How then to move forward?

Maybe this is like boot camp, where I hear that the job is for the military to break people down before building them up again with a new outlook?

Will we find solutions tomorrow? Stay tuned as blogfish brings you day 3:

1. Sustainability as a market strategy.
2. High profile activism: media and boycotts.
3. Environmental standards and non-governmental enforcement.

What about that high profile activism? What is it good for? Is sustainability a viable market strategy?

Where are we? A reminder, we're at Stanford Business School's "Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability" day 2.

Image: Kranky's cartoons


Pepijn said...

Thanks for the updates Mr. Blogfish, this surely sounds -reads- like an interesting meeting.

The crash, a "tragedy of the commons" type crashing where some non-team players made it impossible for the rest to create a long term sustainable solution? It would be interesting if you could tell us some more regarding the simulation / game. Why, for example, did the heroic few not come to a system of sustainable fisheries.

Kevin Z said...

But the point, as you said in the Day 1 post, is that sustainability is a state of mind. How is "breakthrough technology" going to get people to change habits? I keep seeing a reliance on technology for problems that aren't always technologically founded.

But then again, people don't want to hear no. They are like my 2 year old! Every time someone says no it just makes them want to do the opposite of 'right'.

That brings us to incentives then right? Reward good behavior, but should bad behavior be punished?

Mark Powell said...

Pepijn, The heroic few did not get to sustainability because the aggressive bunch caught all of the fish we left in the ocean. Conservation didn't work because the non-conservers reaped the rewards, pulled our conservation out of the ocean, and used them to win the simulation. Grrr.

Mark Powell said...

Kevin, I hear nothing to take me off the position that sustainability is a state of mind. Hopefully we'll get to that question explicitly tomorrow. I'll be sure to tell you whether I get crucified over that squishy idea.


Eric said...

If the Stanford guys were playing the same game I have played, the sustainability "side" can only win if they can convince, early on in the game, EVERYONE that sustainability is the best strategy. One rogue fisherman/manager and the game tilts and goes all pear shaped.

You are a brave one Mark...

The trick is to make sustainability and conservation attractive to people and business in the shortest time span possible. Attractive aesthetically, morally, or (most effective?) financially. (As Kevin pointed out Incentives work here...but I think punishment is generally counterproductive to creating genuine mind share changes)

Most business (by my experiences) have short timeline vision. It has to be something that "pays off" inside 5-7 years to even begin to hit the radar of most people. It is a very rare and far sighted businessman that looks beyond 10 years.

How to sell a state of mind...especially one that has very little obvious short term payoff?
Sounds almost like the problems of a religious missionary.