Thursday, December 19, 2013

Apply Now for Master's Programs in Sustainability & A Brief History of My Recent Life

Applications are open (through Jan. 15) for two amazing sustainability master’s programs in Sweden – MSLS and MSPI (details below). Please share with anyone you think might be interested in a transformative international experience.  Here’s a quick run down of mine:

The genesis of this blog was one of these programs that I attended eight years ago.  (It was those ancient days before Facebook and Gmail were really things, and I was emailing friends & family about this amazing experience, when I realized: this is why they invented blogs).

The experience changed my life. 

It tied together all of the things I’d been trying to do for years to assemble a career in the sustainability field. It gave me a great framework and opened my eyes to whole new worlds, new ways of thinking, amazingly exciting areas of theory and research.

I met my wife. 

It tapped me into an incredibly dynamic, engaged, welcoming, and exciting international network of sustainability leaders. I met ‘gurus’ whose books I had loved and who I never figured I meet. They became thesis advisors, mentors, and friends.

We got a puppy. 

It led directly to exciting jobs and projects with huge sustainability impact, and endless opportunities for learning and growth. We got to present at conferences, meet incredible leaders. 

We had a baby.

The program left me with lifelong friends, and every since I’ve been able to look up fellow alumni in just about every part of the world, get introductions, crash in guestrooms, and make more lifelong friends.

We have a shared language and a shared understanding about the big challenges society faces, and the unbelievably exciting solutions that have the potential to improve quality of life for everyone, now and in the future.

Please check out the details below if you’re at all interested, and share with anyone else you think might be – maybe some recent college grads, or a friend thinking about a career change, or someone looking to incorporate some bigger-picture meaning into their current role, or someone already working in a sustainability-related field, who might want to recharge and get re-inspired...


Sustainability Master’s Programmes at the Blekinge Institute of Technology

The Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH) is a top ranked sustainability research and education institution currently recruiting talented, early to mid career professionals for its cutting-edge Masters programs. BTH is located in the beautiful coastal city of Karlskrona, a UNESCO world heritage site on the southeast coast of Sweden.

There are two MSc programs available, both suited for early- to mid-career professionals from around the world (the 450 alumni have come from 69 different countries), and taught in English.
The Master's in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) program is a one-year program founded on the basic premise that a "whole-system," trans-disciplinary approach is needed to deal with the sustainability challenge.  Two integrated streams are the focus: 1) a framework for strategic sustainable development; and 2) organizational learning and leadership required for sustainability decision-making.
The Master’s in Sustainable Product/Service System Innovation (MSPI) program is two-year program designed for students wishing to combine engineering competence with sustainability knowledge to help deliver new product and service systems.  Specifically, students learn to analyze sustainability challenges for an organization in a scientific manner; introduce a strategic perspective on sustainability to a company’s product innovation process; use new methods and tools to work with sustainable product and service innovation in industry; and support a transition towards a more service-oriented economy.  More info can be found at:
Both programs are delivered in a non-traditional educational setting through experiential and holistic learning methods.  Tuition is 100,000 SEK (about US$15,000), and is paid by the Swedish government for EU and EEA citizens.

Applications are due January 15th, 2014.


"The question of reaching sustainability is not about if we will have enough energy, enough food, or other tangible resources - those we have. The question is: will there be enough leaders in time?"

-- Dr. Karl-Henrik Robčrt and Dr. Göran Broman program co-founders.

Stay going.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Super Typhoon Haiyan: climate disruption is not a future concern

How to comment on such a tragedy?  First and foremost, our thoughts, condolences, prayers are with the victims.

This disaster, once again (like Katrina, Sandy, the droughts, floods, and wildfires), brings stark clarity to the idea that climate change is a challenge of morality and justice.

We know the frequency and intensity of storms will continue to increase, driven by global warming and the climate change that results. And increasingly, people are starting to believe what scientists have been saying for years, now that we're seeing and experiencing the patterns first hand; prompting the question if this will be a "turning point in how the West thinks about climate change."

For years, we in the sustainability field have been saying, "there's still time to act, if we act now." And in a sense that's still true.  But in another, very real sense, it's already too late.

It's true in that the faster we reduce and eliminate our net contributions to GHGs in the atmosphere, the better chance we have of minimizing the damage.  It's too late in the sense, that we're clearly feeling the damage, in obvious and subtle ways.  We'll keep feeling these changes for decades -- even if we stopped GHG pollution on a dime today, what we've already emitted cumulatively will continue to have an impact for decades.  So we'll need to continue to adapt and prepare for changes to come.

But we can't give up on the necessary goal of eliminating net GHG emissions.  The annual international climate negotiations -- COP19 -- are happening in Warsaw Poland right now.  The lead negotiator from the Philippines, Yeb Sano, announced in a powerful video (below) that he will voluntarily fast until meaningful pledges are made.

You can take a small, simple action now to help support his effort by signing Yeb Sano's petition to Stand with the Philippines and demand significant progress in Warsaw.

Stay going.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stranded Carbon Assets

The Generation Foundation released today a new report: Stranded Carbon Assets: Why and How Carbon Risks Should Be Incorporated into Investment Analysis (pdf).

It builds on the logic that globally, we have a fairly accurate idea of the maximum amount of carbon we can add to the atmosphere and still have a 50/50 chance of avoiding temperature rises of 2 degrees Celcisus.  To stay within that budget we can't burn more than one-third of known reserves by 2050.

This means that 2/3 of known reserves -- which are baked into the valuations of fossil fuel companies -- will need to be stranded, one way or another, to even have a 50% chance of avoiding really devastating impacts of climate change.

The report lays out three ways these assets may become stranded:

  1. Regulation -- there are many forms of regulation being pursued around the world limit carbon emissions, but to date most investors have focused primarily on the big, international climate agreements, which have been stalled. Sub-national and indirect regulations represent investment risks that are under-appreciated by most investors.
  2. Market forces -- improvements in renewable energy and the potential for breakthrough innovation can cause shifts in capital away from fossil fuels
  3. Sociopolitical pressures -- even if they don't lead to comprehensive regulation right away, sociopolitical pressures threaten carbon-intensive business's license to operate 
If the status quo is maintained, the report argues, artificially high valuations of carbon-intensive assets will continue to grow, creating a 'carbon asset bubble' that is not sustainable. 

The report suggests that investors should: 
  1. Identify carbon risks across all asset classes in their portfolios
  2. Engage corporate leaders on disclosing and mitigating their carbon exposure
  3. Diversify their holdings into companies that will bring about a low-carbon economy
  4. Divest from fossil fuel intensive holdings
Examples of growing support for regulatory action are everywhere.  The EU Emissions Trading Scheme has been established for years, California has carbon legislation on the books in AB32, as do the Northeastern states through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. China is launching regional carbon markets, and this summer President Obama laid out plans to limit emissions in the US. Last week, Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia (which has its own carbon tax) announced plans to cooperate on developing climate protection schemes. 

While we don't know for sure how we will end up limiting carbon emissions, we do know we'll have to if we want even a 50/50 chance of avoiding unthinkable impacts, which will be costly not only in financial terms, but also with regard to loss of human life and suffering.  

The report includes an excellent analysis of how indirect impacts -- like water scarcity -- also pose risks to carbon-intensive assets. Oil and gas extraction and coal power plants rely on large amounts of water, and will will become more costly and difficult as water scarcity (exacerbated by climate change) continues to grow. 

Renewable energy is becoming more competitive, supported by government policy and market forces. In 2007, the installed price of solar was $8 / watt, compared to just $3.05 / watt in the second quarter of this year. 

Perhaps most importantly, the report stresses the potential costs of maintaining the status quo. Most businesses will suffer great losses in a future defined by climate havoc: "Inaction, therefore, is a systemic and salient risk to all investors." 

In laying out options for actions investors should take, the report makes the case for evaluating carbon risks in portfolios and engaging with corporate executives and boards (leveraging tools like the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB); the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP); and Integrated Reporting).  It quotes Mercer's Responsible Investment group in encouraging investors to "think about diversifying across sources of risk rather than across traditional asset classes." 

And it offers a nuanced approach to divestment from a risk-mitigation perspective, as opposed to a moral perspective emphasized by activist campaigns calling for divestment, noting that it's not "all or none" when it comes to divestment. There is a "hierarchy of fossil fuel asset stranding" and investors would be wise to recognize that and abandon positions with the highest risks. 

This section ends with a paragraph focused on college and unviersity endowments, which is worth quoting extensively: 

"We fully recognise that divesting can be complicated, both ethically and logistically, for asset owners. College and university endowments, for example, must prioritise intergenerational equity to ensure future students have at least the same resources afforded to current students in order to maintain and enhance the calibre of the institution. Additionally, many of these endowments participate in comingled investment vehicles, delegating complete control of asset selection to the hired fund managers. However, the investment committees of these endowments must not dismiss divestment due to the complexity inherent in outsourcing fund management since carbon risk is significant and only growing... Furthermore, academic institutions in particular are in the unique position to heighten the level of scholarly discourse around fossil fuel risk and the transition to a low carbon economy by integrating these topics into the classroom and across campus life."

Stay going. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog Action Day 2013 - Human Rights and Social Sustainability

Today is Blog Action Day. This year's theme is human rights.  In the context of our conversation here, human rights is essential to understanding sustainability and taking a strategic approach to creating a sustainable society.

The 4th Sustainability Principle -- that in a sustainable society, people aren't subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs -- is essentially a human rights statement.

In thinking about human needs, we use Max-Neef's concept of 10 basic human needs , that are non-hierarchical and constant across time and cultures (although the ways in which these needs are satisfied can vary widely across cultures and between different eras).

The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a profound statement stemming from the horrors of WWII.  The world saw what systematic violations of human rights could lead to... and it's not sustainable.  At some point, under such conditions of oppression and abuses of power, human societies will break down into conflict.

Below are the 10 basic human needs, with reference to corresponding articles of the UDHR.

  • Subsistence                 (article 3, 25)
  • Understanding            (article 26) 
  • Creativity                    (article 19, 27)
  • Freedom                     (article 1, 2, 3, 4, 9)
  • Participation               (article 20, 21, 23, 27, 29)
  • Idleness                      (article 24) 
  • Protection                   (article 5, 6, 7, 12, 14, 27, 30)
  • Affection                    (article 16)
  • Identity                       (article 15, 23)
  • Transcendence           (article 18) 

Stay going.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Secrets of Sustainable Leadership in Business

Next year ASU will be offering a new Executive Master's for Sustainability Leadership.  GreenBiz hosted a great webinar today with some of the people involved with developing it:
  • George Basile, Ph.D: Senior Sustainability Scientist, Arizona State University, Global Institute of Sustainability | @ASUgreen
  • Bruno Sarda: Director of Global Sustainability Operations, Dell | @bruno68
  • Cindy Drucker, Executive Vice President, Global Sustainability and Social Impact, Weber Shandwick | @CindyDrucker
  • Moderated by: Joel Makower, Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group | @makower
The conversation touched on many of the key attributes of leadership for sustainability -- the need for compelling vision, strategy, goals, effective communication, listening, engagement, and much more.  An archive of the webinar is available on GreenBiz; definitely worth checking out. 

The promotional video for the new master's program is also great for learning more:

Stay going.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Video Contrasts Obama's Climate Speech and Coal Policies

Greenpeace just released a new video aimed at keeping President Obama honest on the contents of his recent powerful speech on climate change, pointing out continued policies that give away coal from public lands for cheap export to China:

Read more in this Huffington Post article by Brendan DeMelle of DeSmogBlog.

Stay going.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

College Endowments, Divestment, ESG Investing, and Corporate Sustainability

I recently published the following piece for Second Nature's @edu column on  Read the full article here.

Will campus activism reach the C-suite?

Something's brewing on college campuses that soon may affect corporate sustainability professionals in all industries.

During the past year, a groundswell of action demanding that college and university endowments sell their holdings in fossil fuel companies has brought environment, social and governance (ESG) issues to the fore. Driven in large part by, the fossil fuel divestment movement has sprung up on more than 300 hundred campuses and is spreading to cities, faith organizations and beyond.
The latest news: Sterling College -- a small, private liberal arts college in Vermont -- has completed its divestment from the fossil fuel industry. While Sterling is small, with only about 100 students and an endowment of approximately $1 million, it provides more evidence that divestment is possible and relatively straightforward.
Do your homework
Common initial comcerns about divestment include that it is costly, complicated and requires investors to sacrifice returns. To divest, Sterling College chose a fossil-free option that Trillium Asset Management has offered clients for over a decade. “Those who say divestment is not possible haven’t done their homework,” said Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium.
Trillium’s fossil free option replaces screened companies with similar investment characteristics (e.g. similar beta and return on equity). The result is a fossil-free option that doesn’t sacrifice returns. Recent reports from Impax Asset Management (PDF), MSCI (PDF) and Aperio Group (PDF) support the claim that removing fossil fuel investments from portfolios has a negligible impact.
Sterling is one of just six colleges to commit to divestment to date, along with Hampshire, Unity, Green Mountain, San Francisco State and College of the Atlantic. But many others are considering it.
Divestment highlights the moral hazard of our fossil fuel based economy for institutions that understand the devastating implications of climate change, yet support fossil fuel production as shareholders. This is a particularly difficult challenge for college and university endowments, designed to benefit institutions and students over the long term, in perpetuity. How is it justifiable to risk the fundamental resilience of our society from climate change impacts in the name of potentially higher financial returns? (Particularly when the data suggest those higher returns are negligible, if they exist at all.)
A moral paradox
Divestment proponents recognize that fossil fuel companies are unlikely to stop mining and drilling because some investors sold their shares -- others will buy them. But the movement highlights this moral paradox. And even if no other schools divest, it has sparked conversations on campuses across the country about a range of other ESG investment strategies.
And this could have dramatic implications across all industries -- not just fossil fuel companies. Every company currently has some responsibility, in one way or another, for greenhouse gas emissions and a wide range of other sustainability challenges such as water use, toxic chemicals, and labor and human rights issues. But those that are proactively implementing strategies that help move society towards sustainability can avoid risks and seize opportunities for innovation, attracting top talent and enhancing shareholder value...

Read the rest at's @edu blog.

Stay going.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Culture Shift: Why culture trumps technology in moving markets

This great video of Rebecca Henderson's talk at VERGE is worth the 10 minutes.  She lays out four elements of a needed cultural shift:
  1. Adopt an entrepreneurial mindset
  2. Develop compassion for the core (e.g. the mainstream, the status-quo, those who don't see the need for change)
  3. Become rational about emotions
  4. Develop a systems mindset
Henderson explains each of these concisely in her talk below, and stresses, that like the "fifth discipline" the need for a systems mindset is the most important. 

Moving groups, organizations, and societies as a whole towards sustainability requires great collaboration and profound shifts in worldviews, values, and mental models (e.g. habits of thought, assumptions and blind spots).  I believe we have everything we need in terms of resources, tools, technology to create a sustainable society (though continuing to work and improve on those fronts is important, beneficial, and can potentially make the shift easier) -- and that we still have lots to do in bringing about the culture shift. 

That calls on us all to be open and provide leadership at all levels. Those acts of leadership often involve simply being strong enough to let go of assumptions and preconceived notions; to rethink success, and reevaluate what our fundamental needs are, and how we can most effectively go about meeting them. 

Stay going.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards 2013

Second Nature has just announced the winners of this year's Climate Leadership Awards -- "an award program that recognizes signatory institutions of the ACUPCC for their innovation and excellence in climate leadership." 

Click on the following links to learn more about what's happening on these campuses, and watch videos from each. 

Associate's Colleges

Baccalaureate Colleges

Master's Granting Institutions

Doctorate Granting Institutions
Pratt Institute

Finalists in the 2013 Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards

Stay going. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

'Grand Strategy' for sustainability

Below is an interview with Mark "Puck" Mykleby from the recent VERGE conference in Boston. It provides a great overview of his work on a "grand strategy" for the US, which shows the interconnectedness of defense, economic prosperity, and ecology -- and how a proactive, systemic approach to sustainability is the best path forward for the country and the world.

He lays out three major areas of opportunity: (1) housing (walkable, smart growth) (2) agriculture (regenerative agriculture); (3) productivity revolution (reduce resource intensity) . For all of these, sustainability is a central concept.

He also notes that higher education is a receptive partner.  Through the ACUPCC and our other education for sustainability work, we've seen colleges and universities demonstrating more and more leadership to engage with other sectors, take advantage of applied research opportunities, role model solutions on campus.

The work around applying "full-specturum sustainability" to regional clusters is particularly compelling. David Orr has been leading this type of work through the Oberlin Project -- a great cross-sector effort with involvement from government, business, schools and colleges, and faith and civic groups. It covers the full spectrum of sustainability, integrating issues around food, art, economy, education, transportation, technology, building, community, etc.

Having a marine talk about strategy for sustainability in this way is a great way to move past the partisan hang-ups and recognize that sustainability is about preserving and promoting a healthy thriving economies and communities.

Stay going.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Create Stillness

by Emilie Oyen. Originally published on The Flame Tree

I'm looking at a painting on the wall that my friend made. It's so beautiful. When I wake up and throughout the day, it makes me happy. It reaches out to me and reassures me too. I love it. My friend is an artist and she's influenced by Japan and Buddhism and other things. The painting is seven or so sweeping, black brushstrokes. It took her probably ten minutes and her entire life, and also her ancestor's lives and all the Buddhists in the world to create it. How can you create a whole narrative, an entire novel, with seven strokes? How did she do that? There is yearning, there is love, there is tension and conflict. There is a tremendous rush and a turbulent fall. There is death and resurrection. There is escape. All in seven strokes.

To create art----do you remember that feeling? Do you remember that time of discipline, self-absorption, patience and wondering for a few months or maybe for years and years and then: one perfect brush stroke. And it is beautiful. It was not so long ago before children, work dinners, cell phones, music television dishes buses began to erode that time of creating.

It requires so much fortitude to create stillness in our lives today. It requires so much trust and patience to dwell in that stillness. To create space, stillness, enter it----and then to listen. That is the act of creation. That is also, I believe, the act of prayer. 

God is the poetry in your blood. Step aside, and listen.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Do The Math: The Movie

The movie stemming from's "Do the Math" tour last year has been released -- and it's a great watch.  Check it out for Earth Day and get involved:

Stay going.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shining a Light on Sustainability

Another great video providing an overview of the basics of sustainability science, and answers to the big "what is sustainability" question?

Stay going

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Divestment 4: Risk & Big Green

While the initial press-splash of the divestment movement seems to have calmed for the time-being, hundreds of campus groups -- 234 to be exact -- are working to encourage their schools' endowments to divest from fossil fuels.

A couple of developments that caught my eye:

This recent (and brief) report from Aperio Group concludes that the impacts of divestment to a portfolio's risk and return profile is likely to be negligible. 

And students at Dartmouth have entered into the fray with a push for divestment.  With a very dedicated alumni base -- full of investment professionals and sustainability professionals, it will likely spark a lot interesting and important dialogue. 

Stay going. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

We Made Ourselves Anew

While it seemed the inauguration crowd was pretty subdued today, the President's speech included many hopeful ideas.  From a sustainability perspective, the lines that will most likely stand out are these:

"We the people still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations... The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it." 

It was great to hear Obama continue to break the climate silence.  The first big test to see how much substance is behind those words is coming up with how he approaches the Keystone Pipeline, and other proposed alternative pipelines - and whether or not he has the courage, strength, and wherewithal to take a stand and own up to the science, which says to really "respond to the threat of climate change" we must leave that tar sands oil in the ground. The civic engagement of "we the people" on this issue is building - with Keystone protests (Feb. 17), an upcoming action in Portland ME (Jan. 26) to protest a Northeast pipeline, and the growing "Idle No More" movement among First Nations groups in Canada.

But while many still associate "sustainability" with energy, climate, and environmental issues, it is as much about people, health, safety, and social issues.  The focus in Obama's speech on civil rights, gender equality, gay rights, poverty, community, and civic engagement were all strong sustainability statements.

For me, the most sustainability relevant parts of the speech were those that referred to leadership and active engagement in transformational change. In reference to eliminating slavery, the President said: "We made ourselves anew." To create a sustainable society we will now need to make ourselves anew once again.

He emphasized the need to work together throughout the speech and articulated how consistent principles can guide us through constant change:

"But we have always understood that when times change so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action."

We must make great changes -- to our energy systems, production systems, lifestyles, laws, policies, and perhaps most importantly, our mindsets. And we must engage in this tough work together. Regardless of how we get there -- whether it be through strong government leadership and policy, or elegant market-driven solutions -- we must all keep the bigger picture in mind: that we'd all like to see humanity continue on and flourish without destroying this beautiful home with which we are completely integrated, and which we rely on absolutely for our survival.

Stay going.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

America the Possible

I recently read Gus Speth's new book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy. It's a good, fresh read on where we are in terms of achieving sustainability -- the massive challenges that remain, and the kinds of transformations that are needed to get there.

Many in the sustainability field will recognize the references and concepts explored, but I certainly picked up some new insights, as well as new authors, books, organizations to check out. The explicit focus on the US and the current challenges give the book strong direction. After running through the big challenges (with good coverage of the social dimensions of sustainability, not just environmental) and the possible solutions, Speth lays out the transformations that need to take place to achieve sustainability - transforming communities, corporations, consumption, measurements of well-being, finance and foreign affairs.

Like his previous book, The Bridge at the End of the World, this one calls for dramatic changes to our economic system and ways of thinking. It wrestles with how to get ourselves out of the growth trap, so we can increasing value and well-being without constantly needing to produce and consume more energy and materials. It also spends quite a bit of time on important technical changes that need to be made to the economy, like better ways of measuring success than GDP. As the subtitle suggests, much of the book is focused on creating the new economy, which I think is probably the most critical leverage point for achieving sustainability.

But Speth recognizes that these types of changes to the economic system, will require deep social and political change. The book wraps up with chapters on realizing democracy (from campaign finance reform to increasing participation in voting and other aspects of civic life); and the need for a more coordinated, broad movement, where groups historically focused on specific issues (e.g. 'environment' or 'tax reform' or 'equity' or 'trade') align efforts to create a prosperous sustainable future. Addressing the need for these changes up front, he states early on: "the prospects for systemic change will depend mightily on the health of our democracy and the power of the social and political movement that is built." 

He notes (as many have, particularly in the past few years), that "we environmentalists have been too wonkish and too focused on technical fixes. We have not developed the capacity to speak in a language that aims straight at the American heart, resonates with both core moral values and common aspirations, and projects a positive and compelling vision... Now we need to hear more from the preachers, the poets, the psychologies, and the philosophers." 

A strategic approach to sustainability is built around building compelling visions, and the belief that a positive "pull" towards something desirable is more effective in making big changes over the long term than negative "push" away from something scary or bad.

All in all, well worth the read. I recommend checking it out.

Stay going.