Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New Courses, New Routes...

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and the blog has suffered, I apologize. After wrapping up the introductory course over two weeks ago now, with presentations and exams, we had a couple of days off (checked out Copenhagen, a beautiful and very fun city), and then had half a week of introductory lectures to the three courses for the second half of this term – Strategic Management for Sustainability, Advanced Societal Leadership, and Engineering for a Sustainable Technosphere.

The material for all three promises to be very inspirational once again. The engineering course will be focused on the “double explosion” of population and energy consumption. There is a common misconception that as populations grow in “developing” countries, energy use will ramp up in correlation. But the mind-boggling reality is that as these populations grow exponentially (with the exception of China – should stay around a cool billion) their demand for energy will also be growing at an exponential rate – not because of the population growth, but in addition to it. This leaves a lot of tough challenges for the engineers of the world to come up with means for supplying that energy, to say the least. So far the groups are looking at the big energy use sectors like agriculture, buildings and transportation, as well as a the whole array of alternative, renewable technologies. In each case it becomes clear that organizational efficiencies (designing upstream for less demand, ala McDonough’s China project) will be imperative – but even so, sustainable alternatives to fossil-based energy production will be required.

Advanced Leadership will look more in depth into the concepts of Organizational Learning, Transformational Change, Linked Networks, Systems Dynamics, Tipping Points, and Engagement. Facilitation, communication and presentation skills will also continue to be in focus. The Strategic Management course will give an overview of what’s out there in the field of strategic management, and how the various schools of thought can best be related to Sustainable Development. The reading lists for all of the courses are great – with the likes of The Fifth Discipline, Tipping Point, Mid-Course Correction, Built to Last, and Strategy Safari to name a few – I’ll try to get some better recaps of the readings up when there is time.

Last week we had an excellent field trip to Lund for a meeting with Tetra Pak (a huge global packaging company) where some members of our group presented to a selection of representatives from their various environmental departments. Not the most hostile crowd, as you can imagine, but it was really exciting to see some classmates run through some of the things we had been learning in the setting of a large corporation. They did a great job, and took a great approach – and I think got some of the Tetra Pak people thinking about how they can better frame their existing environmental and social initiatives and management systems.

The next day we took off for Stockholm with a stop at an Eco-Municipality on the way. It was cool to see one in person, and get a tour. It was essentially just a cluster of houses – so not a true, mixed use development. But the houses were very nice, each had a garden and a yard and solar panels on the roof. The materials and design were all chosen with regards to their environmental impact, and the houses were heavily insulated with heat-exchangers for air circulation. The site had an integrated sewage treatment system through a series of ponds and wetlands that acted as a “living machine” to purify the waste water before it was reintroduced into the watershed. All in all, there wasn’t much above and beyond, or even to the level of what my boys out in Colorado at Steeprock have been doing for years, but it was cool to see the integrated cluster, and the Swedish take on residential green building.

Finally we arrived in Stockholm, and I just can’t say enough about the beauty of that city. We stayed in a great hostel, very nice and clean and Swedish with big rooms and easy access to the city. On Tuesday and Wednesday we had the huge treat of all attending a big upscale Clean Vehicles and Clean Fuels conference, which I’ll go into in more detail in another post. As a side note though, we also scored some left over tickets to the Tuesday night reception at the City Hall, where they hand out the Nobel Prize. This was one of the craziest buildings I’ve ever been in with an eclectic intermixing of architectural styles from a broad range of history and geography. We got a full tour, including the Blue Hall where the award banquet happens, but ate a gourmet spread and guzzled some free wine in the Gold Hall (literally covered in gold, from the floor to the 40 foot high ceilings) – who said sustainability was about sacrifice??

On Friday we checked out some museums and went to the offices of the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI), which again deserves its own post. We also hooked up with some students in other sustainability / environmental masters programs in Lund and Stockholm, which was cool, got to see some more student pubs, and checked out a bit of the night life around the city. I got a huge kick out of the name of the city’s hip / funky neighborhood – SoFo, as it is south of some street that starts with “Fo” and clearly is no SoHo… but still a really cool area, with a great vibe and some great people.

All in all a pretty hectic and exhausting couple of weeks. The time has changed and the darkness comes early – especially in Stockholm where our shadows were 12 feet long at high noon. But we’ll push through. I hope you are all doing well. Stay going…