5th World Sustainability Forum in Basel – the Keynote Lectures

On Monday evening, the first keynote lecture was given as a Skype talk by Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and long-term advisor of the UN.

PSX_20150909_142245Monday evening – excitement before the Skype talk by Jeffrey Sachs

Two weeks before the Sustainable Development Summit of the UN in New York, Sachs explored the differences between the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), which were introduced by the UN in Rio in 1992, and this year `s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The MDG were non-binding and primarily served for mobilising public awareness. They achieved to attract interests, donors responded to them and new institutions were funded to help implementing them.

“The main focus of these MDG was to fight extreme poverty.”

With regard to this focus, it could be achieved to reduce extreme poverty, which means having to live from less than one dollar per day, from 43% in 1992 to about 14% in 2015. The new goal is now, to bring it to zero by 2030.

These MDG are also the origin of the SDG with a first call for new goals being published in “The Future We Want” after the Rio 20+ conference. The new aspect of the SD is, that economic development shall continue but shall also take social and environmental objectives into account. Therefore, is follows the triple bottom line approach as opposed to the intergenerational justice idea from the Brundtland Report (“Our Common Future”).

Sachs further explained that we need the SDG because our economic development is not a sustainable development. We can find rising inequalities and unemployment all across the world, and of course we should stay within the planetary boundaries!

Therefore, the UN put together 17 SDG which will be adopted at the Sustainable Development Summit in two weeks.  While these 17 goals are “global goal”, each country has to prioritise and determine these goals which are most crucial for the respective country.

SDGsThe new set of Sustainable Development Goals

But how to meet the goals? Sachs stated that we should think into the future – to the year 2030, the year until the SDG are valid – and back cast in order to decide what needs to be done now. And he quotes Kennedy who one said:

“Find a goal, show that it is manageable, let the people draw hope from it and then move irresistibly toward it.”

Sachs determines technology and innovation to be the crucial areas in order to achieve the SDGs. According to him, we are “in the middle of a revolution, a digital revolution. And we need a technology overhaul on how we produce and utilise energy.

In this notion it was not too surprising when he introduced the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. This independent global network of research centres, universities and technical institutions was  launched by UN Secretary‐General BAN Ki‐moon in order  to help find solutions for some of the world’s most pressing environmental, social and economic problems. This Sustainable Development Solutions Network will work with stakeholders including business, civil society, UN agencies and other international organizations “to identify and share the best pathways to achieve sustainable development“.


On Tuesday, Klaus Leisinger explored the topic of Corporate Sustainability, Global Values AMD pluralistic societies. He presented SD as a multi-dimensional normative concept, which is a common threat all over the world, but needs to be adapted to specific problems in respective countries. One of the most striking points he made is, that under the notion of the SDG – in contrast to the MDG:

“Now all countires are developing countries.”

He talked about “wicked problems” – problems which have no one simple solution, only more or less acceptable ones. And this acceptability is determined by worldview of the observer – and due to the very nature of pluralistic societies, there are different ways of looking at something, which not makes it easier to cope with the big problems of our century.

He explored who is responsible for finding adequate solutions to these problems and determined the internatational community, national governments, communities, households as well as individuals to have their equal share in finding and implementing the right answers. Regarding the question What can we know? he stated that most knowledge about the root causes of unsustainable development  and about how to change it is easily accessible and should therefore be known.

He further talked about the incentive problem, about accepting inconvenient changes for minuscule long-term benefits and putting up with potentially restricted patterns of individual mobility.

PSX_20150909_141941Tuesday: Waiting for Klaus Lesingers talk on sustainability in pluralistic societies


He further explored What can the corporate sector know? and identified legality only to be the lower level, which means that corporations should not only act to fulfil the legal limits but rather to do more and better than demanded by the law. He stated that corporate leaders must strive for legitimacy and integrity – being honest, truthful, accountable. Furthermore, we were asked to  learn through stakeholder dialogues and inclusive decision-making (“do not only talk to people who are easy, you learn much more from people who oppose your Ideas”) and the pooling of resources and solution partnerships. He states that it is indeed easy to preach values, but not so easy to pay the price – “Business ethics are not a free lunch.”

According to Leisinger, a new type of CSR needed – the sustainability values management as shown below. This includes a Kantianification of our actions – we should act following the categorical imperative: Can what you do today become norm in future?? In this concept, neither society nor nature must be degraded – which ought to be reflected in corresponding key performance indicators – as for instance in the “Future-fit Business Benchmark“. And while this sounds very good and positive – it is very idealistic and it is highly doubtable whether corporations use the categorical imperative for key decision-making.

He raised the question of What are we willing to pay for less environmental burden? – be it in terms of tax, economic growth, profit margin,… a question which is hardly ever discussed – perhaps there has to be a climate change tax at some point. Or only companies which limit their profit margins to a certain level in order to really act sustainably …and of course communicate this decision transparently, are accepted by the consumers…but that is certainly in the faaaaar future.

A controversial part of his talk was on societal innovation and paradigm change about what is good life and individual responsibility which cannot be shifted to someone else.  Of course – we as the citizen/consumer decide what we buy or not – how much, from which company, which product and can thus do very much in order to strengthen companies which already act very responsibility as well as products which include no palm oil or tons of different crude oil based chemicals. But legislation has to pave the way in order to allow citizens to take their responsibilities, in order to allow them to make educated decisions – if there are only unsustainable products on the market or the information about the circumstances of production (pollution, waste, exploited workers, …) are not accessible – what can you do? Also a strong restriction of advertisements as well as the promotion of low-impact consumption (services, non-material goods) could make a significant difference to the consumer behaviour. But this aspect is often completely neglected and all the responsibility is handed over to the citizen/consumer.

The core message of his talk was, that it is the role of technological innovation (genomics, nanotechnology, biotech,…) to buy us time and solve one part of the problem, but it is the role of social engineering which solves our problems on the long run.


PSX_20150909_141904Klaus Leisingers idea of sustainability value Management.


On Wednesday morning, Marc Rosen gave a talk on the Contribution of Net-Zero energy buildings and communities in Canada to sustainability.

He explained how he had one searched the term “energy sustainability” on Google and got no fits at all – which today of course is very unususal. So he made up his own definition of energy sustainability:

“The provision of energy Services in a sustainable manner, sufficient for necessities, affordable, environmental benign and acceptable by the community where they are.”

He further explained how especially the last aspect of community acceptance is often failed, as it has to suit the very specific views of the respective community – and for example in Ontario, nuclear power is well-accepted while wind mills are regarded to disfigure the landscape.

He went on with the requirements for truly sustainable energy which he defined as:

  • sustainable energy sources (renewables; bioenergy and nuclear are debatable);
  • appropriate energy carriers (H2,…);
  • increased efficiency (device and system efficiency, energy management, matching supply and demand – low-energy sources for heating, integration/ using synergies – e.g. using waste heat for further processes, design systems using energy efficiently;
  • reducing environmental impact (LCA, CCS);
  • satisfy other aspects of sustainability (culture, health, lifestyles, laws, globalisation,…).

Regarding the last point he noted that people don’t want to give up their living standard… they want to have good standards, which is of course true and lies within the human nature – but what are really good living standards? And should our current ones really regarded as ‘good’ – or rather as wasteful, egocentric, and highly unsustainable in every possible way?).

Not before about two thirds of the talk were over, he finally got to the topic of net-zero energy building and communities. Per definition, they use on average no energy from fossil fuels over the year, export at times, import at others. He raised the question whether it is really good to go straight to zero or if it is not more economic to go to 10% of the average energy consumption for one building and have another building near-by which actually makes up the difference by producing energy?! This is of specific importance in the light of the enormous existing building stock as most of the old buildings are very difficult to retrofit to net-zero buildings and it is much easier for new-built.

This way he came to the topic of community level net-zero energy – which obviously is much easier to achieve as for instance thermal storage is easier to realise on community level due to the economies of scale. As examples for net-zero energy communities in Canada he presented  the Drake Landing Solar Community in Alberta which comprises 52 homes which meet 90% of their heating and warm water demand by solar heating through large solar collectors. Also a POE  (Post Occupancy Evaluation) was carried out for the tiny community and apparently, the people are very happy with their new homes. Based on projects like this, the Canadian has now decided to build bigger communities like this to achieve better scale effects.

As another example he presented the Dockside Green community in Victoria which meets its entire energy demand through biomass from wood – which is very abundant in the area.

PSX_20150909_141333Wednesday morning: Marc Rosens presentation on Net-zero Energy Buildings

He further talked about the Canadian Smart NZEB Strategic Research Network and its goals as shown below.


Finally, Rosen proudly presented the University of Ontario with an impressing geothermal heating and cooling system including borehole heat exchanger, 400 plastic tubes (which are supposed to last 50-60 years and have separate sensors for leakage detection), 200 m deep into earth. By this system, costs for heating are reduced by 40% and the costs for cooling are reduced by 16% . As a payback time for the HVAC, 3-5 years and for the well field 7.5 years were stated.

PSX_20150909_141200University of Ontario `s new-built with an implemented geothermal heating and cooling system.


So altogether, the keynote lectures gave a positive impression of what has already been achieved and what can further be done. The uniform opinion was that technical innovation (including debatable things such as genomics, nanotechnology and biotechnology) on the one hand and altered consumption pattern on the other will be the key to sustainable development.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s