By Ranah Chavoshi
Edited by Franki Katz
Every two years, individuals uniquely positioned in their fields to make a difference in sustainability meet at the bi-annual conference GLOBE 2016. This conference is preceded by a youth conference called Leading Change which is designed for individuals who are actively working to become the change-makers who inspire others in the sustainability movement. This spring I was fortunate enough to attend both conferences. There, I was inspired to see so many other young leaders and thinkers working towards the common goal of reducing carbon emissions and phasing out our reliance on oil and its products. My fellow delegates came from across Canada with a wide diversity of backgrounds. Among these business professionals, experts in law, sociology, and applied scientists, there was a high proportion of of environmental and fundamental scientists present. Contrary to Leading Change, GLOBE had a low count of scientists among the attendants and low representation on panels and speakers as well.
One reason for this is the extremely high cost of GLOBE. For a full conference pass one can expect to pay approximately two thousand dollars. Any academic at an educational institution or research facility cannot rationalize the possible deficit in a lab’s operating budgets in order to attend a conference not specifically in their field. Additionally, the conference’s week-long time commitment may be overwhelming for academics who are often so bogged down with their own research along with the fight to attain grants to continue that research. Nevertheless, this lack of scientists at a conference about how people can live sustainably with the environment is a brutal irony that points to the lack of scientific engagement with grassroots organizations and the business community.
With a majority of individuals present at GLOBE working in the sustainability departments of the business and corporate world, surprise was often the immediate response to my field. When these individuals then proceeded to ask me what sustainability meant to me, I was confronted with the large variation of understanding regarding the concept of sustainability. Indeed, my perspective was baffling to many of the people I spoke to. The confusion primarily arose from my non-anthropocentric focus on sustainability, wherein conservation of other animal and plant species is equated equally with saving mankind from itself.
Three of the primary perspectives on sustainability come from business, science, and sociology. Many biologists define sustainability as the preservation and conservative use of our natural resources to support all life within the biosphere. Meanwhile, those with a business perspective more often use the word sustainability in connection with a triple bottom line. A triple bottom line is an accounting framework that businesses frequently use to assess the profits they are making through their corporate sustainability solutions. Fundamentally, a triple bottom line looks beyond the traditional priorities of businesses. Instead of focusing primarily on financial gains, a business with a triple bottom line focuses on profits that are economically, environmentally, and socially beneficial. Through triple bottoms lines and other similar business practices, businesses aim to be “responsible corporate citizens”. With this in mind, major companies and corporations strive to build relationships with their communities, reduce their carbon emissions and carbon footprint, and engage in other similar endeavours. Meanwhile, in sociology sustainability is most commonly defined as “development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
However, in order for people to care, they need to be able to understand what it is that they are supposed to care about. A higher level of widespread literacy in financial and scientific language is required in order to establish a bridge of communication between experts and the public and to further advance and implement sustainable practices throughout industry and throughout everyday life. However, this requires that all sides are working cohesively to establish a clear definition of sustainability as this lack of clarity and understanding of the definition of sustainability is likely one of the reasons for our society’s hindered contribution to the green movement.
Despite the emphasis on collaboration at both conferences, the fight for a sustainable future must be fought from all cross sections of society. While this is a worthy endeavor, true collaboration cannot be achieved without the active engagement of the scientific community Indeed, many well-established professionals repeatedly advised me that the simplest thing I could do to make a change was to show up and start the conversation. Well, it is time for scientists to start showing up.
Ultimately, GLOBE taught me about the functioning of sustainable industry and about current applications of science to technology, focusing especially on finding alternate sources of renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions and waste. Leading Change has inspired me to work collaboratively with my peers to change the world. For me, this conversation has been started, and I am here. Next time I go to a similar conference as a scientist, however, I better not be showing up alone.
Thank you to the Leading Change Committee who made this experience both absolutely amazing and invaluable.
Ranah is finishing her last semester at SFU to attain a Bachelor’s of Science degree majoring in Biology. She is currently the president of the Simon Fraser Biology Student Union. Her passion is to take what she has learned throughout her undergrad and be involved in furthering the sustainable movement. She also really loves Gibbons which are lesser apes, not monkeys.