Chasing Sustainability Conference 2018

It was a pleasure to be in a room with so many bright minds at the Chasing Sustainability 2018 Conference in Vancouver, an annual sustainability-focussed business conference hosted by the undergraduate and graduate students of the University of British Columbia at CUS Sustainability and Net Impact.

This full-day conference was packed with keynote speakers, interactive workshops, networking sessions, and intelligent discussions. I had the chance to be a part of the second half of the conference, where I interacted with students and listened to two speakers.

Presenter Allen Langdon,  President and CEO of Encorp Pacific (Canada) busted myths such as BC sends recyclables overseas and that plastic bags can’t be recycled. He explained his role and vision as a new appointee, presented statistical facts of waste generated and recycled, and raised concerns on ocean plastics.

Presenter Shaun Frankson, the co-founder of Plastic Bank, a social enterprise that makes plastic waste a currency to stop ocean plastic while reducing global poverty, talked about how Plastic Bank provides a universal income for the world’s poor that is earned through Social Plastic recycling programs. He talked about how IBM is helping them realize this project and how blockchain technology further strengthens it.

Students had opportunities to connect with business leaders to engage in discussions around business and sustainability. It was an honour to be a part of the delegation and to discuss my work as a Sustainability Developer at IKEA with students (I’m now a part of the Operations team at IKEA CDC in Richmond, BC). All in all, it was clear that Sauder undergraduate and MBA students aim to have a huge impact around the world. I was so happy to see their enthusiasm and passion around environmental and social issues.

Keep it up, CUS team!

Event cutlery was by Fairware, maker of eco-friendly promotional products ethically sourced.

Lanyards were reused.

Greener Print Solutions, a one-stop shop for sustainably-driven printing and design solutions, was one of their sponsors.

Goddess of Green Chemistry and Climate


When the vice-chancellor of our university declared that they had come up with their own anthem “Rasayan Devike” (Goddess of Chemistry), I thought he was crazy. Who does that, I said to myself. Until now.

It has been five years since I graduated from this university. Today, I found out that the concept took birth to spread awareness about green chemistry – how old chemistry could help clean up its act with newer greener chemistry.

There’s actually a statue of the goddess near the vice-chancellor’s office. Makes me wonder the length to which the university must have gone to engage people in environmental protection. What were the odds of being ridiculed? 100%? Probably, because I heard no one talk about it the way I’m doing it now. I have a newfound respect for this.

Chances are students barely knew what it was all about. It may have been nothing but a stunt for them. Not to me anymore. History is filled with mythological characters. People have devised ways to celebrate these characters and what they symbolize.

Which takes me to another train of thought. Have you ever heard of the God of Climate? There are many weather gods – wind, thunder, rain, lightning. None for Climate. As NASA defines, “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.”

So, what am I proposing, you ask? I’m proposing a God of Climate, wait, no – a Goddess of Climate (it’s just more fun that way). I don’t know how this is going to help, but hey everything begins with an idea, right?

Mind the environmental gap


There is a gap between rising and pressing environmental issues and what we know about it. This gap is being constantly bridged through different levels. It’s like the movie Inception, a dream inside a dream in order to realize the ultimate goal.

Depending on how each government operates in different countries, environmental policies and regulations are strengthened through levels such as county or local, state, country and the overarching but yet the weakest and sometimes the strongest of the link – global regulations.

The issues are seen through different scientific sieves to screen out the array of possibilities that await us. That’s the scientific level seen through the lens of different scientific areas that together contribute to this research.

Under the umbrella of human intelligence, we perceive and feel these issues, sometimes making sense and sometimes polarizing them further apart.

Through this labyrinth, human spirits seem to find its way. There only seems to be a limbo in these infinite levels of how we deal with environmental issues when we don’t mind the gap when we don’t educate ourselves and others.

On anti-humanism in the environmentalist movement


What is anti-humanism? Anti-humanism is as we protect nature, we fail to protect ourselves. I fail to understand, aren’t humans a part of nature? Isn’t that the reason one of the pillars of sustainability is ‘people’? Are we teaching our children to destroy themselves or other humans as they learn to protect nature around them? When blaming each other for not having a consensus on climate change, what side do you think you are picking? Is this boiling down to the Marshmallow experiment? One side cares about the short-term goals whereas other care about the long-term goals.

Students reading books with environmental themes need to understand that showing respect for human worth and dignity goes hand-in-hand with showing respect for the environment, Smith said. The same technology said to impose negative effects on the earth also gives hope to people trying to survive. – Evolution News

Using clean technologies and educating people are two simple steps that can effectively lead to reduced emissions and the amount of wood used. Agree with this – but at what cost? Aren’t you taking away their culture, their way of life – just like that? Michael Pollan’s documentary ‘Cooked’ shows Australian Aboriginal Martu, who talk about the central role fire has always played in their culture. “We had bush sweets, not sugar,” one Martu woman says of their past diet. “Sugar has made us weak.”

We are mastering footprinting, but the risk is that applying water footprints could leave poor people poorer and more vulnerable. Are we making decisions for them now? Or for us? For who? I don’t know anymore. In Kenya, environmental activists threatened a boycott of the roses that Kenya exports to Europe for Valentine’s Day believing that flower production was using too much water from Lake Naivasha and damaging its ecosystem.

These systems reduce environmental evaluation to the bureaucratic application of abstract methodologies and, far from being neutral, they impose a particular humanist ideology on decision making processes which marginalises those who speak in a different voice. – From Michael Frederick Smith’s thesis

“She always knew nature was all around her, that nature was in her roots, she herself is a creation of nature.” Picture and quote via @DanteArcana on Twitter. However, anti-humanism prevails the environmentalist movement. Why?

Puppies have more legal protection in the U.S. than new mothers. Why? As we protect nature, why are we failing to protect ourselves? Are we the enemies of this planet? A plague? A destructive species? Cancers? Would you really call yourself that? I won’t. I am a part of nature just like every other bird, plant, bush, bacteria, parasite, maggot, tiger, fish, sand, rock. So what if we are different from them? Well, they too are different from us and we just want to live in harmony don’t we? That’s how I envision the environmentalist movement to be – without having to burden the responsibility of ‘Planet Earth’, because we are a part of Planet Earth. It would still be Planet Earth without us – without the dinosaurs it is still Planet Earth. We are only humans. A part of the connection and the disconnection throughout the journey of evolution. Can we strike a balance?

We should oppose Green anti-humanism wherever it is advocated precisely because we support good earth stewardship policies that promote liberty and allow us to reach the level of prosperity required to properly protect the environment. – Anti-Humanism Infects Environmental Movement by Wesley J. Smith in Legatus Magazine The reason I oppose the growing anti-humanism in environmental advocacy isn’t because I oppose good environmental policy, but because good practices require human thriving and prosperity. Calling us a cancer doesn’t cut it. – World Notices Environmentalist Anti-Humanism

You can read Michael Frederick Smith’s thesis here, submitted by him for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of Stirling. This thesis identifies a family of humanist presuppositions which, the author argues, pervade modern Western society and are partly responsible for our inability to escape from a spiral of environmental destruction.

“You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet’s doing. You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilauea, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room. – George Carlin on the arrogance of mankind


Teaching sustainability at an early age


How many of us wish we had learnt something different back in school? Something that would be immediately transferable and useful once we got out of there. What if we taught Book of Life in schools? What if “investing is for boys” is not the message we gave out to our kids. What if drawing was not just a separate class in school but a tool to help us learn? Oh how we complained what we taught was not practical enough.

As a matter of discussion, my husband and I pondered about how primary education should be based on values (Value Based Education). After a give and take of thoughts, we came to a conclusion that it is easier said than done. Not all children of schooling age have the understanding of life as we adults do, although prodigies exist. Minds can be molded and influenced, which makes it tricky because we all perceive things differently, both kids and adults. I ask you, ‘Should value based education be implemented in the school curriculum?

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

– Khalil Gibran

Research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology tells us how our brain learns. How we learn depends not on our IQ (Intelligence Quotient), but our LQ – Learning Quotient, making IQ a symptom and learning a process for one and all, fair and effective, and may be customized. The question therefore is, can kids be prepared for tomorrow’s world? What is a sustainable world of any use to the next generation if they don’t know how to live in it?

I remember how environmental education was imparted to my class. I say that with a sardonic smile because our class would write its paper with books on the table. The times when I actually learnt something was during our trip to a national park. Here, a few things were permanently etched on my mind: water lilies, vermi-composting, and Gir forest. Then there were a group of volunteers explaining my class the effects of CFC, HCFC and HFC on the environment. The hell I knew what any of these meant but I listened to them anyway. I got a general idea that these chemicals were harmful to the environment. I made my parents buy a CFC free refrigerator and it’s still operating at my home back in Mumbai.

If formal education can have such an impact on students, how far can informal education go? As a kid with limited resources I would get resourceful with waste paper and cardboard. Back then I even managed to sell a product for Rs. 2 to my friends. I don’t remember how I spent it. May be I gave myself a vada-pav treat, a popular choice of snack during school times. It was a small writing pad made from unused school notebooks. I feel good about recollecting this. I feel better when I think of how my mother nurtured exploration and resourcefulness in me. She once said this as she hugged me, “You can make gold out of trash.”

The world needs skilled parents who can lead by example. For instance, the kitchen gardening workshop that I attended, witnessed a daughter and father. I don’t remember who brought who, either way it was pretty inspiring. So much information has lost along the way, it’s time somebody brought it back. Primitive skills are as important as modern technology, says the apocalypse thinker in me. Wouldn’t you or the kids love to build a house using natural materials and without using modern tools? This man does and its fun to watch him.

An untapped potential exists for environmental education. In Japan, school kids follow precise instructions for their lunch period to become independent as well as green. This Japanese style student-led operation teaches students at an early age how to manage food and the waste created while consuming it, a contrast to the kids surviving off trash.

The Green Schools Initiative, founded in 2004 by parent-environmentalists, catalyzes and supports green actions by kids, teachers, parents, and policymakers to reduce the environmental footprint of schools by:

  • Eliminating toxics
  • Using resources sustainably
  • Creating green schoolyards and buildings
  • Serving healthy food and
  • Teaching environmental literacy and stewardship.

Such are the examples of how green habits can be inculcated to children. This is how parents can ensure their children will remain healthy and safe, with or without them. It’s easier now with tons of resources available for everyone to get this started. Here’s sharing some of them: