Positive Impact Blog

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En route to Rio


As I stand in the long line before for the security check it hits me: the moment has finally come and nothing but a 12 hour flight separates me from actually being in Rio! 12 hours is a long time and I wonder if we can really justify the negative environmental impact we cause with our travels to go to a sustainability conference. I ask my travel companion if he chose the carbon offset option that was offered when we registered for the conference. He tries to remember. Well, I didn’t offset and suddenly feel kind of guilty about it. My president, who is also coming to Rio, chose to pay for the $40 carbon offset charge. I remember how surprised I was and how stupid I felt. Part of the reason why I declined the charge was my insecurity about how my institution would feel if I chose to incur such a voluntary expense. While the environment is personally important to me, I was not sure I could actually impose this sensitivity on my work. My colleague sheepishly admits that he also did not choose to offset. We wonder why!? If we, two environmentally conscious, comfortably employed academics specialized in Responsibility and Sustainability wont do the carbon offset, who will? When booking Easyjet, we have a choice to pay more for the offset, so far I never clicked on the option. Making a “donation” which is how offsetting carbon feels like right now is contrary to the  spirit I am in when booking a low-cost airfare. My money-saving mode prevents me from doing what is right.

When we dig deeper, we identify another disruptive emotion that perverts us: when paying an indecently low amount for a flight (Easyjet and co.) we somehow refuse to donate money without knowing what is going to happen to it. My colleague ventures that there are questions like “where is the money going?” and “will it be used in a sensible way?” suddenly come up. Not that such questions aren’t justified, but would we ask them before making a carbon-offset contribution while we don’t ask them for other expenditures. Not really consistent! I, for one, don’t consistently ask where some of the clothes I buy are made and under what conditions.

We further explore, what would change if we could choose where our money ended up?If, for example, we could select between investments to ensure biodiversity, reforestation, revamping production in the Northern hemisphere or social enterprises in emerging countries. What bothers me in particular is the idea that such donations at least partially end up in contributing to expand our already out-of-hand consumption pattern. I don’t want to support new innovations of even more stuff that I don’t need, even if it has a significantly improved carbon-footprint compared to the previous year’s gadgets I already didn’t really need. I realize that I don’t really know what projects can get funding from these offsets. I should read up on this on “my climate”. While it is critical to significantly reduce our footprint, we can’t fool ourselves by believing that investing in green growth will get us there. We in the wealthy West or North must fundamentally rethink how we want to live, what is important to our quality of life and as a result how we want to spend our personal resources (time, energy, money, and share of mind and heart) to live well and within the limits of our planet.

I recognize very humbly that I have a long way to go before I will be the kind of role model I would like to be. But, let us start talking about what we can do in every aspect of our life’s. And now that I am en route to Rio, my determination to make the best out of it increases by the hour. Two year’s ago we promised the U.N. a scandal and today we are ready to deliver it. Back in November 2010, I made that promise to the U.N. division in charge of the business sector (UNGC), namely to help save the RIO+20 conference with a significant, important contribution. With a scandal. What I had meant with it was that we would work on a radically new vision of how management education would contribute in all possible ways to a world worth living in. Already in 2010, it was rumoured that the 20th anniversary of the original Rio Earth Summit may well become another Copenhagen. A large scale disappointment. It became apparent that governments would not be able to agree on the kind of break-through agreements needed to assure the future of our planet. The private sector and namely business would have to make the difference.

Author: Katrin Muff PhD

Dr. Katrin Muff is Director of the Institute for Business Sustainability in Lucerne, Switzerland and Professor of Practice at the LUISS Business School in Rome, Italy. She consults leaders and boards in business sustainability and strategic transformation, and runs an executive program together with Thomas Dyllick. Her book “Five Superpowers for Co-creators” provides insights about issue-centered multi-stakeholder processes. She brings 20 years of international strategic and general management experience in Europe, Australia, North America and Russia and a decade of leadership in business education. www.KatrinMuff.com

4 thoughts on “En route to Rio

  1. Katrin,

    It is wonderful to see you question yourself and your current practices. It is something that the program we went through at UNSG & BSL in Sustainable Business had us do the whole time.

    We were continuously asked to think about how we would lead change; how we would move the people we touched along the way to build a world that would take care of those surrounding them, remembering that the planet is an integral part of it. It was, and is, about our environment, the greater environment including the people within it. We continuously questioned our purpose and clarified it. Experiencing and applying these new perspectives, we walked along a road to building a better environment, continuously thinking about how people, planet and profit should be together on this journey. A real challenge and real, in every sense.

    Whatever we did, wherever we went, whoever was with us, we became more conscious about building a better today and tomorrow. One final thought, take Sting with you: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every step you take, we’ll be watching you…” Play it loud, play it clear and let them know that you will make a difference.

  2. We live on a 550 acre organic farm, in New Zealand, generating all our power from hydro and solar. We have run school holiday camps for children, in order to get them involved with nature, gardens, trees and baking bread. We have offered residential No-excuses Corrective training for young people in trouble with the Law. Also Family Building Centre Training for entire families at risk. All por Gratias.
    My Question is, how does a Person get an invitation to an event like Rio 20… Because I would like to be there. Our place, Tira Ora Estate, Pelorus Sound New Zealand, has served as a Model for Sustainable Living, hosting hundreds of International Students over the past decade. Achieving PEACE around our table of Guests, from sometimes conflicting nations.
    Looking forward to your response…
    Kindest regards
    Annebeth Riles
    MBA Massey

  3. Hi Annabeth,
    RIO+20 was a maze in itself but basically everybody can come. We do not take part in the official intergovernmental negotiations but there are many hundreds of side events such as the people summit!
    Great to hear what you are doing in New Zealand – hats off for your efforts!