A discussion with Amazon Campaigner, Tatiana de Carvalho on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior during the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
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.
As business educators we must challenge the underlying assumptions of economic and business development, like the need for economic growth, unlimited consumerism, shareholder value. It is up to us to ensure that we create leaders who will focus on creating value for the world rather than only for a few shareholders. Leaders who act as servants for the common good operate a conscious business, they are engaged with society and the planet and they are asking for their real needs concerning economic innovation.
This is the contract we as management educators have with the world and with society. No more silos, no more tenure, no more clear-cut divisions between institutions, nor between business and other active players in the world (formally known as NGOs) , nor more citation indices to evaluate scholars. This is what we must measure ourselves by and this is what we should strive to achieve. And we shouldn’t leave a stone unturned in order to get there, even if it means undoing some brick and mortar and doing away with some ivory towers.
Business executives – more than any other profession – have developed the capacity to deal with complexity and to adapt their strategy to an evolving environment. Businesses have evolved beyond national boundaries into global enterprises, uniquely able to address and act on global issues. As such, they do have an important contribution to make as co-trustees and co-actors, working with all stakeholders towards a larger vision for the world (“Living well and within the limits of the planet’s natural resources”, WBCSD).
Reviews of the American education system reveal that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adolescents and young adults has risen in parallel with the growth of standardized testing in colleges and universities. We have come to accept that a significant percentage of kids are being routinely medicated. Unlike ever before, young generations are confronted with information from every angle, yet they are getting penalized for getting distracted from what they consider “boring stuff” at school. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth, yet we are getting them through education by anaesthetizing them.
Rather than putting students to sleep, educators should is exactly the opposite: we should be waking them up to what is inside of them! In view of the challenges we as a global community face, we should develop our thinking in the exact opposite way of what we have done so far. Instead of convergent thinking, we need to develop divergent thinking , i.e. the ability to see a lot of different answers to a question and lots of different ways to interpret the question – an essential capacity of creative thinking. In a longitudinal study , kids before schooling score 98% in the divergent thinking test, at the age of 13-15 years the score dropped below 40%. This study shows that while we all have the capacity of divergent thinking, it mostly deteriorates the more we get educated.
 An example of divergent thinking: “How many uses can you think off for a paper clip?” Most people come up with 10-15, convergent thinkers about 200, by asking questions back like “Could it be 200 foot tall and made of foam rubber?”
Get an understanding of the key elements of a radically new vision for business schools and management educations by the driving forces and stakeholders involved in project 50+20 (www.50plus20.org).
We are many things: children, parents, neighbours, lovers, students and teachers, employees, employers or both, citizens, experts in some domains and novices in others, consumers, stakeholders, care takers and care givers. As human beings, we are the most advanced race on earth.
We owe this distinction to the frontal lobe of our brain, the Neo Cortex. It represents the centre for reflection, analysis and perspective. It is our most potent weapon to overcome and tame the reptilian brain located right next to the brain stem: this deeply en-rooted “fight or flight” instinct that has enabled our ancestors to survive and prevail. Yet, no other species has destroyed our planet more than we have. Our ancestors have brought all large animal species to extinction in a few 10’000 of years; we have transformed fertile land into desserts, and rivers, lakes and oceans into bio-hazards. Today, we use more resources than our planet can regenerate and despite the fact that we know this, we are unable to turn around the trend. The reptilian brain causes more harm than good and reactions triggered by conscious and unconscious fears often bear consequences that limit not only the well-being and happiness of a person, but may well endanger the well-being of communities, nations and the world. Connecting ourselves with our full potential, overcoming the reptilian instinct with more careful consideration and reflection, thus raising not only our awareness but our consciousness, is critical to fully explore the magnificent potential of our species and to preserve the world as our home.
The journey of developing the full potential of a human being is a personal as well as a collective adventure. It starts with a personal choice, a desire to look inside, to connect to what drives and motivates us. It requires us to dig deep down to render subconscious reaction conscious, to reflect to what degree what we feel, think and do are triggers of deeply instilled automated fear-based mechanisms. The path requires courage, patience, persistence, humility and compassion – first and foremost with ourselves. Increasingly, this path will lead us to become more reflected, conscious and truly human beings, able to treat others with this same compassion, patience and humility. At some point, when we are able to truly embrace that we are part of one – all of us, humans, plants, animals, all living beings on earth – when we feel this in every cell of our body, we have the potential to become truly enlightened leaders. This journey is what leadership training needs to put in motion and while no training can guarantee such an outcome, it is this end goal that represents the core of a truly relevant management education of the future.