Is there hope in the lack of it?

Someone asked me to reply to the following;

“Many people say we are driving towards extinction and horrible living conditions, basically the future will be really dark. Others say that everything will be fine. I don’t know if I can relax and enjoy the present moment with thinking that the future will be ok or if I need to fight more because the future will apparently be really bad.”

And here is my answer;

In sustainability we deal nearly every day with the worst case scenarios and how to prevent them. In doing so we tend to begin with the end in mind and often that is the worst; “the end of the world as a result of climate change”. This trickles down to the interconnections and reason for that to happen such as inqualities, growing gaps between the rich an poor, corruption, unsustainable production and consumption processes, homophobia, abuse of power, addictions, health disparities, greed, species destinction, terrorism, further illness and alike. A recipe for anxiety.

It is now not only climate change that is a threat to our own survival, but it is also the interconnections that, when we focus in extremes on them, become the reality of how this world is, or more specifically how we perceive it to be. Let me point out; it is not like that, it is not neither nor in extreme, it is in proportion. Yet, (please continue reading, the good part is comming soon), many of these challenges seem extremely difficult to solve though, because of how complex they are so that the proportion might feel overwhelming. Such an example is the current war going on between Russia and the Ukraine. There is no “stop” botton. And there also seems no stop bottom for corporations to pollute and exploit because they get to benefit from the perks of limited liability (see why that happens in the video below). It nearly feels like working towards a vacuum, a sort of helplessness in the messiness we fight in that field.

Now in sustainability we still work with the end in mind (the worst case scenario) and in some methods we imagine the best case scenario, in which we have saved the world and all problems this world is facing (see the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals). Yet even if we use the best case scenario in which we imagine the perfect world, we still break down the vision into things that don’t work out now and then how we need to change them get to the imagined perfect world. We may see again that all is quite wicked. It makes it seemingly perceive that we will likely run into a shitstorm; extinction. More anxiety.

Is there any hope globally?

In all the scenarios that we run through, in all the madness that indeed is real in proportion, there is yet also hope. That is in fact seeing that such things as the Sustainable Development Goals exist or that one or two typos become increasingly accepted (more biases being removed that against how things should be but no longer hold to true i.e. in innovation, being open for change and working with differences). Going back; although the SDGs may not be ideal, they give some sort of direction and thanks to the SDGs we see not only companies moving towards more sustainability in many different ways, but we also see more people being aware of it as a result of creative forms of education, being that funny TikTok movies to reach a broader mass, other forms of Entertainment Education, or simply because people care. We now also see that sustainability becomes a profitable business case, so that capitalism (one of course can critiques it) becomes also an opportunity for change.

There is also much efforts done by individuals as there is done by NGOs and even governments through the implementation of new laws and policy. One can now even see countries nearly competing in terms of which country or region is becoming more green or more sustainable. Why would they do that? Well it attracts investments. The more stable an economy, the more secure investments, or in some cases tourism and further employment opportunities (money is not too bad). In addition, the world is becoming more globalized, our perception is changing rapidly, so that we no longer live in our own thought bubbles, but also in ways in which things can change more rapidly, not our perception only, but opportunities of cooperation and in the fight for lets say climate justice (think about Greta Thunberg); She does a great job in bringing the issue at stake.

Is there more hope?

Many people don’t throw their trash on the floor, there are companies and individuals I know who are not driver for sustainability of the entire organizations, but their hearts are inside; While Twitter might not be known for promoting gender equality and feminism I know at least one employee who drives that type of thinking in her heart there and internal in the organization, so that in all that critqiues about Twitter there is also hope. And knowing her, I am sure she’s moving a lot.

K-Pop at the UN. That’s called fan loyality and awarness raising at high level.

And for the other topics; as much as there is war, there is also the lack of it (think about how many countries are not at war now) and while there is a lack of biodiversity there is also not a lack of it thanks to growing regulations on forest protection and because people like it (also thanks to instagram almost instagram nature tourism and romantic tags in forest/nature scenarios that are worth protecting nature for too.). Seemingly, there are many tech companies that invest into IT Tools for social innovation (I know at least one) and sustainability also becomes this cool thing to do, even in education it becomes increasingly implemented. In ways its nice, because it moves automatically (literally giving us a rest also thanks to different time zones and many people working in this field around the clock and thanks to social media running 24/7 in repetition). It also is becomming more fun and accessible i.e. being more able to shape our cities through tools or different ways in which the public can participate in legal decision making. This is kind of the way to go.

Will the future be okay or bad?

Coming back to the original comment; There is no certainty, because in certainty we know, and sustainabiltiy or the end goal of it seems quiet uncertain. There is direction and when we look at direction there is much hope too, and balance in how we look at things also.

References

Glick, R. A. (2003). Idealization and psychoanalytic learning. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly72(2), 377-401.

Swart, R. J., Raskin, P., & Robinson, J. (2004). The problem of the future: sustainability science and scenario analysis. Global environmental change14(2), 137-146.

Trussler, M., & Soroka, S. (2014). Consumer demand for cynical and negative news frames. The International Journal of Press/Politics19(3), 360-379.

Cover Picture: Local Artist Studio.

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What are unconcious biases and why do they matter for sustainability?

A bias is something, that we believe to be true, but in reality it might not be. These biases can relate to our own perception – how we see ourselves and how we think to see ourselves. They can also relate to how we see the world around us in relation to ourselves and how we think to see it in relation to ourselves.

Does our own reflection hold true to what we believe is true? Who we think we are , whether what we enjoy, follow or do holds as good or bad? And if not, would we rather believe so?

Biases can be harmful, if they lead us to making false ideas or assumptions about ourselves and others, but also if they support prejudices or stereotypes. Think about not “looking young enough” to be a reporter, or too old to try out something that could bring joy to oneself. – You are likely not too old and your qualities as reporter shouldn’t be determined by your age.

Now, we could think about getting rid of biases, but that is more difficult to do, because many of them are hiding in our unconciousness. This means that we are not aware of them, until we are made aware. Freud, the psychoanalyst, believes that most of our unconciousness is repressed and only through disinhibation, one finds what holds most true to themselves or can live a life most concious.

Because most biases are manifested deep within ourselves and thus, our environment, we are more likely to accept our biases, or even support as oppose to change them. – Change and awarness can be scary!

Making us aware of biases is difficult, because it changes the way we view ourselves and others. It can also make life or actions difficult, if awarness in unconcious biases lead to an understanding, that a situation needs to change, while there may be limited resources to do so. Resources can relate to emotional capacity, a support network , but also financial, technical or knwoledge capacity on a firm level. On the other hand, being aware of biases can support better decision making and because of that can help in creating valid opportunities for ourselves, businesses or societies.

What are some example for unconcious biases?

One of the most known biases is the “confirmation-bias“. It relates to a belief that you hold close i.e. believing that the product you bought or produced is sustainable. To confirm that, you are looking for a support network that verifies that. You’d less likely look for critiques, because you want your product to enter the market and stay there. For sustainability innovations, this can be a challange, because the system, in which the innovation is embedded has huge influences on its success or failure. While shoes made from recycled ocean plastic sounds great, plastic continuesly needs to be produced. On another note, an entrepreneur may think that technology only, will save the climate, when literacy in terms of language and technical vocabulary are just as important to run such innovation. Think about how many people in this world still don’t have access to education.

Another bias could be a belief or practice that has been followed for centuries, but does not hold true anymore. An example is the idea of it being normal to work 8-10 hours a day and that part-time work is only for parents or people in need. In reality, part time work can be for everyone. It gives more energy, time to be human and research from Denmark shows that people working 6 hour shifts are just as efficient; They are more happy , more productive and possibly more innovative.

Another bias might be cultural. An example is the perception that one can only find fullfillment in life, if one has a family, including a child and a house. In reality, this does hold not true, families can be diverse and different people can seek different types of fullfillment that holds true to their own beliefs and values. Even single parents can be great foster parents, but the perception still persist that a child needs ” two parents”. A consequence is that many children , who could have a loving “one parent” remain in the foster system.

One may also support a knowledge- bias; believing to know everything or believing that knowledge is fixed and not able to change. Most likely it is not because science advances and different people have different forms of knowledge based on experiences, education and other valid factors. While in fact, carbon-neutrality is essential for this the human race to sustain, resolving war and other social conflicts, might as well be just as important.

Why do unconcious biases matter for sustainability?

Sustainability is more then CO2. It’s about a society that thrives, a society that promotes well-being and social justice, a society that can make concious choices and thus, lives to its fullest potential. This is only possible if biases are being made aware of. These biases can relate to businesses that aim at doing good, but may unconciously engage in social or greenwashing. They may also relate to consumers who cannot make accurate choices, because they believe in certain biases. Besides consumer and producer choices, biases can also support discrimination and other mental health discrepancies that can negatively effect the individual and society on short as well as long term.

Why should we be learning more about it?

With more attention and P&R being done around “Sustainability”, other just as important issues such as social injustice, prejudices or discrepancies between the rich and poor are regarded less. Removing more biases, or learning to explore them for ourselves and others, can help to create a society more critical, more prone to change, more likely to work together and more ready to thrive. [Of course it can also help to save governmental and business cost] 😉

Resources

Learnings and inspiration from my own psychoanalysis that follows Freuds method of exploring the unconciousness (and biases).

Linking the Circular Economy to Sustainable Development – an SDG perspective

Over the last years, we have become familiar with the term „sustainability“ and at least those working in the sector are familiar with the „Sustainable Development Goals“. But yet, we face difficulties in measuring these and what sustainability means to begin with. Does sustainability imply to act ecological, to stop buying and moving into a rural house, while maintaining self-sufficiency? And if yes, does that mean we can simply change the system? Likely not, because in some ways we are all connected to the system, whether it is us using renewable energy sources to power our homes (who produces the means to do so ? where can it be bought? and how is energy even transferred? ) or whether we make use of other public services like hospitals, the legal system, medicine, transportation, education and IT services?

At the same time we are aware that consuming and producing -as we do now – has drastic effects on our health and the planet and we therefore need to take into consideration more sustainable approaches. Yet, putting sustainability into practice seems difficult and my favorite way of doing so is by looking at the circular economy.

Why the Circular Economy? The Circular Economy looks at keeping our resources as long as possible in the loop and by changing the way we design, produce, consume and dispose goods and services. The circular economy therefore appears  â€žsustainable“ by design and adds economic incentives for actors to transition instead of „good-will“ only.

How can we link the Circular Economy to Sustainable Development?

Dictionaries define poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money, means of support or material possessions” (1)(2). Using circular approaches could help to lift people out of poverty by creating new markets. Examples are new jobs that focus on waste-products accross the supply-chain such as transforming agricultural waste into value added products. An example is the transformation of coconut-husk into chips or fiber-boards for the construction industry – instead of burning it. Or the production of paper from agricultural waste.

According to the EllenMacArthurFoundation, 10% of the global population continues to go hungry. In a circular economy, food is designed to cycle, so the by-products from one enterprise provides inputs for the next. Depending on the stage of the supply chain, end of life food waste can be used to produce new foods like pasta made from bread waste. Another example is the opening of restaurants and supermarkets that sell and transform produce that does not meet the typical “beauty and quality standards”.

In a health assessment published by the World Health Organization (WHO), direct and indirect benefits of the Circular Economy can be related to a reduction of environmental impacts of manufacturing processes (by improving air, water and soil quality and by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions). Other positive impacts could deprive from a greater focus on material health of products such as by developing bio-based products, i.e. compostable bags and building materials.

The circular economy makes it easier to observe our constantly changing world comprehensively and offers a good foundation for lifelong learning and the education of new professionals. What better way is there to introduce business models or for the CE/sustainability then at the educational level already? Preparing our current generation to become agents of change for a world with wicked challenges and where creative /entrepreneurial solutions are needed – see Windesheim Honours College NL

Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development (4). Bamboo, for example is a bio-based/cricular material, that can be easily grown and transformed on homesteads and thereby helps women to create an income – frequently responsible for household tasks. In addition, bamboo can be used to create new jobs and materials that feed into other sectors and provide women with an economic opportunity not to return to their abusing (GBV) homes.

Loss of productivity to water- and sanitation-related diseases costs many countries up to 5% of GDP (WHO 2012). Universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene would reduce the global disease burden by 10% (5). One way the Circular Economy can help, is through the development of applications that collect and transform human waste into value; i.e. energy produced through anerobic digestion systems and the promotion of, for instance, compostable toilets.

Modern society depends on reliable and affordable energy services to function smoothly and to develop equitably (5). As the demand for energy is growing, new ways of producing energy need to be found. A fantastic way of creating circular and affordable energy is through the transformation of biomass waste products into energy. Biomass is a renewable energy source to begin with and waste will always exist (6).

According to the EllenMacArthurFoundation it is estimated that, in the sectors of complex medium-lived products (such as mobile phones and washing machines) in the EU, the annual net-material cost savings opportunity amounts up to USD 630 billion. For fast moving consumer goods (such as household cleaning products), there is a material cost-saving potential of up to USD 700 billion globally (7). This does not yet take into consideration the amount of new jobs that could be created i.e. through innovation and new industries.

Infrastructure has a major influence on whether resources can be preserved to use again or whether they are lost forever(8). A few Circular Economy approaches are the building of modular houses, renting of materials, LEGO like buildings or the use of bio-based materials for entire buildings like up-cycled paper brickets, wood and bamboo (reinforced concrete). Did you know that UNMigration uses bamboo for emergency shelter?

Inequalities in income and wealth are severe and have been widening globally. Businesses are engines for economic growth, having the potential to create jobs, foster economic activity through their value chain, and contribute tax revenues for public services and infrastructure (9). The circular economy can be used to create employment opportunities accross the supply-chain and by creating new jobs and markets in producer regions, thereby promoting reduced inequalities across the globe.

 According to the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, cities consume over 75% of natural resources, produce over 50% of global waste and emit between 60-80% of greenhouse gases. Cities are places, where most challenges are encountered, but they are also the places to find the most suitable solutions. Cities can serve as innovation hubs by experimenting with circular buildings and the integration of animals into cities to feed on grass instead of using machinery as example.

Circular Economy implies developing new business models such as paying for performance, designing products for using them as long as possible, reusing and remanufacturing products at the end of service life, and recovering/recycling a maximum of resources to avoid waste in production, supply, use and disposal (10). Could we rent clothes, furnuniture and other products and return them for a discount or a new product? Yes!

As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions (11). By focusing on renewable resources and replacing the use of finite materials we can avoid an increase in GHGs emissions. An example is the building with bio-digradable or recycable materials that return to the manufacturer at the end of the life – This could be particular relevant for the hotel industry, which tends to refurbish the interior i.e. tiles at an average of five years.

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life â€“ drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind (14) The Circular Economy supports to keep our waters clean and profitable such as by using treated waste water for factory cooling towers instead of freshwaster. This helps the environment and keeps factory costs down as treated waste water is 50% cheaper than freshwater (15). Other examples are the replacement of plastics with bio-degradable materials.

A flourishing life on land is the foundation for our life on this planet. We have caused severe damage to it through deforestation, loss of natural habitats and land degradation (16). We can halter deforestation and still create profit. An example is IKEA in Australia that provides customer with a discount for returning their old furniture. The furniture is up-cycled and/or resold at a discounted rate. In addition, green designs i.e. rooftops bring nature back to cities and help to cycle air at a discounted rate. (Imagine the cost of treating respiratory infections due to pollution and the cost saved).

We cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law. However, lack of employment and economic growth opportunities, often seem to play a barrier for sustainable development and peace and thus, leads more likely to corrupted behaviours. With the CEs huge job market potential and slower resource consumption, it could be expected that corrupted behaviours decrease and more financing for good governance was made available.

Circular Economy is one of the 14 themes for the Urban Agenda for the EU partnerships established as part of the Pact of Amsterdam. Several of the partnerships have developed actions to reduce barriers for a transition towards a circular economy in cities (17). Nowadays, where challanges are complex and unstructured, and supply-chains connected more than ever, partnerships are essential. An example is the complex construction industry in which different glues, different types of materials and building ownerships play a huge role in the circular potential of a building.

Of course, the Circular Economy is extremely complex, but what I like most about it is, that it has multiple solutions for complex problems. We just need to look at it from different perspectives and view our global economy as an interactive and creative system. We don’t necessarily have to eradicate the system, but we can work with it and begin with circular changes step by step, consume a little less, produce a little better, cycle materials as long as possible and think in systems [and ideally bio-based].