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Sustainability; Where the Paths of Morality and Economics Intersect

At this point in my advocacy blog you are probably wondering where is he going with this? Who is his audience? What in the world do holistically managed cattle herds, corporate sustainability reports and campus sustainability organizations have to do with advocating for sustainability? The answer to that question is holistic management methods, sustainability reporting and campus sustainability events have everything to do with advocating for sustainability. How? One of my initial goals I set for this blog was to help my audience more fully understand the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability and spark their interest in this emerging field.

One of the inspirations for my advocacy blog is actually another blog rooted in business and sustainability. The author of the blog is Marc Gunther, a well-known environmental journalist. Gunther’s blog is all over the spectrum of sustainability (similar in style to EqualGenerations!) with posts on topics such as environmental engineering, human rights, corporate social responsibility, politics, religion, among others. Here is a link to his blog: http://www.marcgunther.com/

One of the first things I learned was blogs do not write themselves! But I am a college student and I fully believe that procrastination is a contractible disease. The next thing I learned is that the goal I set for my blog was very ambitious and the five posts I have composed for EqualGenerations really only begin to scratch the surface of all that is sustainable. I would have to say that my three strongest blog posts are the one that encourages people to come to the LIVE GREEN! VEISHEA Village to learn about sustainability, the post explaining what the term sustainability means to me and probably this one because this post has allowed me to shed light on how all of my posts are interconnected and bring my argument of advocating for sustainability awareness full-circle. The post encouraging people to come to VEISHEA Village was definitely a form of shameless self-advertising, but it also created an argument that The Green Umbrella, a student organization dedicated to increasing awareness for sustainability, continues to have a positive impact on both the Iowa State Campus and Ames community. The post that analyzed what sustainability means to me was fun to write because I am extremely passionate about this topic and I love getting on my soapbox and attempting to convince people why they should embrace sustainability; if not for the benefits it poses for future generations and the planet, but also the fact that employers are more and more looking for people who understand and specialize in sustainability related fields.

The big picture to my advocacy argument does not address a select or niche audience and I believe this is because of the morality behind the concept of sustainability; conserving resources for the betterment of future generations and framing the concept as a moral obligation to generations that have yet to be created. What makes this idea controversial is a theory in economics; people place greater value on resources available to them in the present than they do on resources available in the future. This is where the economics behind sustainability and morality begin to intertwine. No person can logically argue against the benefits of sustainability, but what they can argue is who is going to pay the price for sustainability. The concept of willingness to pay is another economic ideology intimately connected to sustainability. Sustainability is often criticized for providing intangible benefits in the present, but if humanity would just take a step back to see the “big picture”, they would realize just how beneficial this concept can become.

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Public Perception of the Value Placed on Corporate Sustainability Reporting

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This video that I created provides a brief introduction into Corporate Sustainability Reporting and then goes on to analyze the public perception sourced from online websites with a vested interest in the Global Reporting Initiative’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Framework. I originally created this video for another class project, but one of the most useful tools I have learned in college is being able to garner knowledge in one class and find a way to apply it to other classes and rework it to meet the needs of different project requirements. I refer to this as educational efficiency.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting is a new trend which originated in the E.U and is emerging among U.S corporations. A Sustainability report is basically a universal way for a firm to produce an annual report on non-financial performance data (Emissions, Waste streams, Water consumption, Social welfare projects, Safety metrics, etc.). Reports are communicated to stakeholders and are especially targeted at shareholders that place value on the environmental reputation of corporations. Sustainability Reporting holds corporations under a spot light helping to ensure their due diligence. I am a strong believer in the value of sustainability reporting, but one concern I have is the concept of “green-washing”, which is when companies claim to have sustainable practices when in actuality they have enormous environmental impacts. Some corporations internalize environmental stewardship and make a legitimate business case for sustainability; while others find ways to stretch the truth (or blatantly lie) and paint a green picture to public audiences.

CSR Comic

                                                        http://fastexposure.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/blog-acton-org.jpg

A current development in public perceptions on sustainability reporting are surrounding the CSR data reassurance agencies. Consulting from these agencies are not required by GRI, but tremendously encouraged. E.U companies adhere to report auditing from these agencies; however the U.S companies are not following the same suit. For some peculiar reason they claim to not see the value in having the data in their sustainability reports reassured by a third party. Unfortunately, I was unaware of this controversy before creating this video so in the video I focused on the public perception of the value placed on corporate sustainability reports instead of analyzing the criticisms held among the public spheres.


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Immerse yourself in Campus Sustainability at VEISHEA Village and Learn about The Green Umbrella

Cy at Veishea Village

Are you interested in learning more about sustainable and green efforts on campus? If so you should check out the Iowa State Student Organization, The Green Umbrella at the Live Green! tent at VEISHEA Village this Saturday located near the Jischke Honors Building. The Green Umbrella (TGU) is a student led organization who seeks to bring together different student sustainability and green-oriented groups under the “umbrella” of sustainability; hint “The Green Umbrella”. Some of these organizations include ActivUs, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Team PrISUm, The Student Organic Farm (SOF), Leaders for a Sustainable Community, Closets Collide, The Greenhouse Group, Engineers Without Borders, The SHOP (student food pantry), Greeks Go Green, EnactUs, The Sustainable Agriculture Student Association (SASA), ISU BioBus, and the Lorax Troop, among others.

TGU is dedicated to promoting awareness of sustainable efforts practiced both on campus and in the Ames community. In the TGU mission statement, they explain how the group functions to promote these efforts. For example, they facilitate open forums for discussion about the green initiatives on campus, they act as a mediator between administration and students who are concerned with sustainability issues, and they help teach students about how to live more sustainable lives, how to participate in green efforts, and helps them voice opinions on issues surrounding campus sustainability.

The Green Umbrella is taking part in VEISHEA Village for the second year in a row. VEISHEA Village and Main Street Village (featuring local businesses) will be set up this Saturday from 9AM until 5PM on Central Campus. The Live Green! Tent is for people of all ages, so alumni, students, and community members can all be involved and empowered to live a greener lifestyle. The Green Umbrella in conjunction with the Office of Sustainability, are hosting several student sustainability groups who will each have their own booths and tables set up with interactive presentations, activities, and prizes. Groups taking part this Saturday include The Shop, EnactUs, ActivUs, Student Organic Farms, Sustainable Agriculture Student Association, Design Across Boundaries, Ducks Unlimited, NECA Green Energy Challenge, and Leaders for a Sustainable Community. This year TGU will be giving away “Live Green” buttons, reusable neoprene water bottles, and postcards with seeds embedded inside for planting. You will find plenty of fabricated decorations at the village such as wind chimes made from recycled materials and repurposed bicycle parts donated from Skunk River Cycles, a local business in Ames. There will also be recycling bins located in the tent for your use. This is a great opportunity to learn more about missions of these organizations and to sign up as a new member, if you are interested in getting involved.

Sustainapalooza is The Green Umbrella’s annual spring event and acts as the official kickoff for Iowa State’s Symposium on Sustainability, which is held each February sponsored by the ISU Council on Sustainability. Sustainapalooza is an event intended to engage and empower students and staff in sustainability. This year’s Sustainapalooza event included empowerment stations on urban gardening, making your own green cleaning supplies, how to avoid falsely labeled green products, how to understand health information on food labels, and hosted a clothing swap in collaboration with Closets Collide. One way TGU markets this event in the weeks leading to the Sustainapalooza is by catching people “green handed” (in the act of doing something sustainable around campus) and recognizes them for practicing sustainability by taking a picture with them and inviting them to walk down The Live Green! Carpet (made from recycled Astroturf from the Bergstrom practice field.) and find their picture featured on the Wall of Cardinal, Gold, and Green at the event. This wall is also a place where attendees can write down what they already do to live sustainably and then make pledges about what they will do to live green throughout the year. The Green Umbrella’s 2013 Sustainapalooza event was recently awarded the Outstanding Event of the Year at the VEISHEA opening ceremony on April 16th, 2013. “This award is a result of all the hard work and determination that TGU puts into its events. Our success is directly attributed to our amazing members that volunteer their time and effort day in and day out. Each year our organization continues to grow in numbers and awareness which is extremely inspiring.” noted Dylan Gaudineer, Co-President of The Green Umbrella.

TGU also participates in National Campus Sustainability Day, which is a national celebration that promotes awareness for sustainability on college campuses. All green-oriented student groups and local businesses with green elements are invited to take part–it is designed like a mini-Club Fest for green oriented groups as well as serving as an opportunity for businesses to advertise to students what makes them sustainable. They also held a plastic bag recycling drive (which donated hundreds of bags to Plastics Recycling of Iowa Falls to make recycled plastic benches). This event will be held again next October in front of Parks Library.

The Green Umbrella has had a lot of positive impact on the ISU campus and Ames community. They have truly connected the campus and the community by bringing people together and teaching them about how to live more sustainable lives. If you are interested in joining or learning more about The Green Umbrella, you can contact the club’s presidents, Alexandra Gustafson (axgustaf@iastate.edu) or Dylan Gaudineer (dgaudi@iastate.edu) or feel free to attend bi-weekly club meetings held every other Monday at 8pm in the multicultural room in the Memorial Union.


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Sustainability…Why this Term Matters to Me

The term Sustainability is a relatively new term with roots in the “green movement” of the seventies and eighties. There are numerous definitions for Sustainability which are widely accepted, but like many other perpetrators of Sustainability, I believe that a Venn-Diagram of Sustainability which  is made up of three interconnected spheres, Social, Ecological and Economic, is the most effective tool for helping people understand the term and how to apply it in life. Each sphere shares relationships with one another and it is the middle where all three spheres overlap that the term Sustainability resides. This diagram goes beyond the simple definition of “ability to sustain” and shows what it really means, a divine balance between People, Planet and Profit. 

The title of this blog is EqualGenerations because that is what Sustainability is really all about; consuming resources in a way that does not affect the ability of future generations to maintain equal levels of consumption & livelihood. In simpler terms, conserving the planet’s resources and health of the global environment for the future generations to come. Sustainability requires innovation, determination and a commitment to selflessness in the face of resource exploitation and ecological overshoot which seems to be the direction our Planet is headed in. The global population is soon to reach 9 billion people, NINE BILLION PEOPLE!!!! Is this number even fathomable in our minds? The economics behind the resources required to support this number of people is daunting and as developing countries strive for increased livelihoods, their consumption levels rise mirrored by their pollution levels and ecological footprints. But as Americans, can we blame them for wanting accessibility to equal levels of livelihood as us in the already developed world?

Before coming to college I had never heard of the term Sustainability. I first learned the term in my Technology and Social Change Class on Globalization and Sustainability. This class helped me understand the interdisciplinary nature of Sustainability. What I mean by this is that I learned that Sustainability is not a standalone subject matter, but an area of study that seeks to better understand the relationship that human’s share with the planet and its resources. Beyond understanding, Sustainability seeks solutions to the problems posed by concepts like finite resources, exponential population growth, tipping points, ecological overshoot, climate change and other problems facing Mother Earth which will undoubtedly affect the quality of life of future generations. In this class I had the opportunity to hear perspectives from a very diverse range of people. These perspectives included presentations from economists, engineers, biologists, industrial designers, anthropologists and many others that all contributed to my broader understanding of Sustainability and how to apply it in my life.

Sustainability, to me, is an obligation to my children and my children’s children. An obligation to address problems that we cannot continue to ignore. I don’t believe anyone can predict what the future holds for our planet, but I do believe that if we continue to ignore the signs of the problems facing our entire planet without taking trans-formative actions then the way of life as we know it may be unrecognizable to the generations that will inherit both our planet and the problems facing it.


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How Cattle Farming Methods Might Help Combat Climate Change

http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html

I recently came across a blog post on Marc Gunther’s blog, Business.Sustainability, titled, “Meat Lovers, Rejoice! Cattle Could be a Climate-Change Solution”, (http://www.marcgunther.com/meat-lovers-rejoice-cattle-could-be-a-climate-change-solution/), where the controversial connections between livestock and world-wide green house gas emissions are contested by Jim Howell, a livestock farmer and believer in holistic farming methods. Gunther’s blog covers an array of topics in and around sustainability and business and Gunther is a highly respected and awarded environmental journalist.

Jim Howell owns a company called Grasslands LLC, a company devoted to monitoring environmental impacts of unconventional livestock management techniques also known as “holistic agricultural management”. Gunther clearly states Howell’s argument in the beginning of his blog, “Their argument, in brief, is that traditional ranching methods can degrade land and threaten biodiversity but that, when managed well, cows can actually be restorative”.   Howell’s argument is supported by Allan Savory, Grasslands LLC Co-Owner and Zimbabwean farmer, environmentalist and politician. Savory is widely known for the book he wrote in 1988 titled, Holistic Resource Management. Savory is featured on a Ted Talk where he describes how holistic resource management (HRM) works and argues for HRM methods by describing its restorative nature and frames it as a climate change solution.

Holistic management is complicated and Howell states that “it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach”.  He says, “Recipes never work when you are dealing with the chaos and unpredictability of nature, plan is not a four-letter word but a 24-hour job”. According to the Savory Institute, a company owned by Allan Savory, “Holistic Management embraces and honors the complexity of nature, and uses nature’s models to bring practical approaches to land management, and restoration. The planning procedures embedded in the Holistic management approach are designed to incorporate this complexity and work with it. It does take time, skills and discipline to use this decision-making framework successfully – but the economic, environmental and social benefits are enormous.”

The most important argument stipulated by both Howell and Savory is that if all five billion hectares of grasslands around the world were to become holistically managed and organic matter in soil increased from three to four percent, to a depth of about two feet, as much as 54 additional tons of carbon per hectare could be sequestered. This amount of carbon sequestration would be enough to lower atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 135 ppm. Gunther is totally correct in calling this a “big deal as a way to curb climate change that doesn’t require billions of dollars of capital outlays”.

The issue at hand for not just Howell and Savory, but our entire planet is willingness to change and willingness to pay in the face of global climate change challenges. What I mean is that if people in the developed world continue living the way we are living ignoring the fact that our ways of life are having an effect on the planet on a global scale then we will be the root of our own destruction. We need to stop thinking in terms of incremental sustainability and start thinking of actual, real world solutions such as HRM and other technologies that are designed for one thing, changing the nature in which humans interact with the one planet we are so blessed to inhabit and revolutionize global environmental stewardship. One might ask if not now when? Do we want to be known as the generations that created a problem, ignored it and failed to come up with any real solutions? How are we to ensure equality for the generations to come?


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Sustainapalooza and The Symposium on Sustainability

Sustain

 

Events you can’t miss!!!  – Sustainapalooza and the Symposium on Sustainability.  Mark your calendars, register, and attend whatever you can.  You won’t be sorry!!!

My freshman year at Iowa State I attended the Symposium on Sustainability and learned all about sustainability efforts on and off campus, and also learned about the missions and outreach of different green oriented ISU student organizations. One of the reasons I attended the event was to obtain extra credit for a class on globalization and sustainability, and after taking this class and learning about the new ISU minor program in sustainability, I looked for different ways to become involved. I joined the Green Umbrella at the beginning of my sophomore year and had the opportunity to help plan and volunteer at Sustainapalooza in 2012.

Sustainapalooza is in its second year as an annual spring event hosted by the Iowa State University Live Green initiative and The Green Umbrella student organization. The highlights from last year’s event included opening remarks by President Steven Leath, Empowerment Centers, and a Live Green! carpet (made by The Green Umbrella from reused Astroturf discarded from renovations of the indoor football practice facility). The event was fantastic with over 300 students attending.  Walking down the green carpet at Sustainapalooza was something I will remember for a long time… not just the walk itself, but all that it symbolized… students committed to a sustainable future and making a difference and knowing I had helped make such a successful and memorable campus event happen.

This year’s events are sure to prove no different; the Symposium on Sustainability has combined with Sustainapalooza to offer several key events throughout two days, February 25th and February 26th.

Sustainapalooza (February 25th) features the opportunity to walk down the green carpet for the second year in a row, as well as student research poster presentations, and “Green it Yourself” centers (to learn about Urban Gardening, Green Cleaning, Slow Fashion, and Food Labels).  All this is followed by an evening lecture from award-winning journalist, Charles Fishman – The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

The Symposium on Sustainability (February 26th) features a keynote panel presentation from sustainability leaders from Iowa-based corporations including Becker Underwood/BASF, Kum and Go, Hy-Vee, and WebFilings. The symposium also includes additional presentations from university leaders on sustainable energy initiatives on campus, sustainability in curriculum as well as the presentation of the Live Green Awards for Excellence in Sustainability.

I would encourage everyone to attend this event… learn from students, faculty, business leaders and the community about specific projects, events, and initiatives that are taking place to make Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, and the world a better and more sustainable place to live and take your walk down the green carpet.

Check out the Live Green! website for more information about both Sustainapalooza and the Symposium on Sustainability www.livegreen.iastate.edu.