Moral Agency & Purpose-Driven Business

The 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the twelfth meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) recently concluded in Marrakech, Morocco. More information can be found at the COP 22 website, here.

As we discussed in our article on COP21, COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking, scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Our article discussing COP21 provides a summary of the SDGs. Details about individual SDGs can be found here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html.

The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the SDGs in efforts to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection. However, businesses have a large part to play in how well the SDGs are achieved regardless of regulatory framework, government support, or directives. Technologies exist to support companies’ efforts to measure progress towards meeting the SDGs, and these technologies are available to most businesses whether they are based in countries that require such efforts or not.  With the unanticipated paradigm shift that may be happening in the governments of some Western nations, it may soon fall to business to provide the voice of environmental leadership and innovation in the West. This will include integrating the SDGs into the structure of company vision and operation. While these changes will no doubt prove challenging, they may also offer a new opportunity for the business sector to cast a wider net as innovative, integrated and purpose-driven.

Every business model tells a story. A good business model will tell a story that supports a long-range vision and goals for long-term success. Because long-range goals must value employees, clients, and consumers, sound business models cannot be built solely on the motivation for profit. Instead, there must be room for innovative thinking, technical advances, and ethical practice. Practicing business ethically should not be dependent upon regulatory restrictions, but rather be built upon support for approaches that are inclusive of caring about humans and the human condition, with an ability to embrace social and cultural development. All business requires support from humans, as workers, clients, and consumers. And humans are moral beings, with moral agency and responsibility. As such, purpose-driven firms have a mandate to support sustainable development, especially in the midst of moral ambiguity and contradiction. Sustainable development includes socially responsible practices and actions, and environmentally responsible actions are socially responsible actions.

Climate change is the most important environmental issue facing our species, and we must turn our attention to mitigating its effects. Relentless pursuit of profit for its own sake without attention to these issues, in the end, results in no profit, because there will soon be nothing left to profit from.

The strength of the correlation between human activity and climate change is clearly illustrated here: http://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world. The data used for these graphs is from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The lack of a control planet against which to assess the data denies us of the final definitive data set; however, we simply do not have a control planet, and so no reasonable arguments can be made to continue down a path that appears to lead toward planet-wide catastrophe. We must become better stewards of our Earth, and we must incorporate actions to those ends into standard business practice. It’s important to remember that we have nowhere else to go.

 References & Resources

Bloomberg the Company, 2015. What’s Really Warming the World? June.

Earth System Science Data, 2014. Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Harvard Business Review, 2002. Why Business Models Matter. May.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP22/CMP12) website: http://www.cop22-morocco.com/

United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html

 

Watershed Health

watershed n.

  1. A ridge dividing the areas drained by different river systems.
  2. The area drained by a river system.

 Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 1964

 More than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water and the natural water cycle provides water to Earth as a recyclable resource. However, Earth’s water supply is not infinite, nor is it infinitely renewable. A powerful graphic on the United State Geological Survey (USGS) website shows how small the volume of water on Earth truly is. In this image, all water on, in, and above the Earth is represented as a sphere. The sphere is not large in comparison to the planet, with a diameter running roughly the distance from Utah to Kentucky. A much smaller sphere represents the volume of all fresh water on Earth. And a tiny sphere represents all of the fresh water in rivers and lakes on the planet. This tiny sphere is the water that sustains us and most of the other life on the planet. You can see this graphic here. This imagery underscores that water is a precious resource. Our local watersheds provide us with the greatest opportunity as individuals to preserve and protect this resource.

The definition of watershed above comes from a dictionary that, as of this writing, is 52 years old. More current dictionaries also include a secondary definition: a time when an important change or event occurs. With rapidly increasing populations creating challenges for meeting and managing urban and agricultural needs, we are facing a watershed moment in protecting and restoring watershed health.

Human factors adversely affecting the volume and quality of water in a watershed include:

  • Creation of impervious land cover, such as parking lots and roads, which inhibit infiltration into the soil, increase incidents of flooding, and decrease water quality.
  • Consumptive use that reduces, and in some cases eliminates, evapotranspiration (Medellín-Azuara, Kyaw, Yufang, Lund, Hart, Kent, Clay, Wong, Leinfelder-Miles, 2015).
  • Extraction and consumptive use creating drought conditions leading to collapse of river and estuary ecosystems (Rosenfeld, 2016).
  • Contaminated run-off from pesticide and herbicide application and chemical lawn fertilizers (Schueler, 2000).

Restoring and protecting watershed health makes sense environmentally, ethically, and economically. Healthy watersheds provide protection from erosion and flooding. Development costs for best management practices (BMPs) protective of watershed health do not increase construction costs while increasing property values (Schueler, 2000). Economic benefit is also derived from protected areas unavailable for land development. Undeveloped areas that provide habitats for wildlife also support recreation such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching and hiking. The State of New Jersey has estimated the value of freshwater wetland services at 9.4 billion dollars per year (Mates, 2007).

Changes in individual behavior can improve watershed health. The increase in household recycling and decreases in littering and oil dumping in the past few decades indicate that environmentally protective changes in behavior can be adopted and normalized. Actions that reduce run-off and actions that reduce the amount of contaminants introduced into the runoff can increase water quality and encourage natural infiltration, which helps protect local watersheds. Conserving and re-using household water where feasible is a good way for individuals to protect the local watershed.

Some other actions individuals can take include:

  • Applying no fertilizer to lawn and/or ensuring chemical fertilizers applied do not contain pesticides and herbicides.
  • Applying pesticides and herbicides to yards and outdoor areas only as a last resort.
  • Inspecting septic systems and pumping them out when needed.
  • Replacing non-native plant cover, such as turf lawns with native fauna, including trees.

The last bullet brings us to urban watershed forestry, which among other benefits, offers an opportunity for municipalities, developers, and individuals to embrace BMPs that protect and increase the quality of local watersheds. The United States Division of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has been working to increase general knowledge on the benefits of urban watershed forestry.

Some benefits of trees to the watershed include:

  • Reduction of contaminated run-off through evaporation from the canopy, water uptake through tree roots, and increased soil-drainage in the root zone.
  • Absorption of pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter.
  • Reduction of air temperature, reducing formation of pollutants and indirectly decreasing energy use by surrounding households.

More benefits and more details regarding urban watershed forestry can be found at the Center for Watershed Protection and US Forest Service. The US Forest Service also provides guidance to planting trees on residential lawns. Information regarding the many other benefits of urban forestry can be explored at the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program site.

 References & Resources

2016, California WaterBlog, Comparing Delta Consumptive Use preliminary Results from a Blind Model Comparison, October.

2016, Center for Watershed Protection, Urban Watershed Forestry, -.

2016, Center for Watershed Protection, Watershed Science Bulletin, -.

2016, SFGATE, SF Bay ecosystem collapsing as rivers diverted, scientists report, October.

2016, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service, Urban and Community Forest Program, -.

2016, Unites States Geological Survey (USGS), What is a watershed?, October.

2015, Medellín-Azuara, Kyaw, Yufang, Lund, Hart, Kent, Clay, Wong, Leinfelder-Miles, Delta Consumptive Water Use Comparative Study, -.

2013, Colorado Conservation Board, Agricultural Economic and Water Resources: Methods, Metrics and Models – A Specialty Workshop, July.

2007, Center for Watershed Protection, Watershed Forestry Resource Guide, -.

2007, Mates, Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital: An Assessment of the Economic Value of the State’s Natural Resources, April.

2000, Claytor, Assessing the Potential for Urban Watershed Restoration: The Practice of Watershed Protection, -.

2000, Schueler, The Economics of Watershed Protection, -.

2000, Schueler, On Watershed Education: The Practice of Watershed Protection, -.

2000, Schueler, Watershed Protection Techniques: Understanding Watershed Behavior

COP 21, Sustainable Development Goals & A Step towards Global Thinking

Scientists estimate that a global temperature increase of greater than 2º C (3.6 º F) above pre-industrial levels would be catastrophic; however, if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, an increase of approximately 5ºC (9 º F) is likely within the next two to three decades (Earth Science Data, 2014). The agreements on greenhouse gas emissions established in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol are due to expire in 2020. Moreover, the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol was limited due to obstacles. The Protocol did not come into force until 2004 when Russia passed the treaty, it did not include goals for several developing countries, and it was never ratified by the US Congress.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) was the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the eleventh meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 11). More than 190 countries were represented at COP 21 with the goal of reaching a new, lasting, global agreement on climate change. COP 21 formally began in Paris on November 31, 2015 and was due to conclude on December 11, 2015. The conference was extended into December 12 in an effort to reach a draft final agreement. There were approximately 20,000 accredited people in attendance and 45,000 participants in total, including delegates, observers, and journalists. Officially accredited attendees had access to the Conference while others participated in debates and attended exhibitions, talks, and screenings.

On Friday, December 4, 2015, Laurent Fabius, The President of COP21 and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasized the need to make progress. “Let me be clear: this is still not enough, “said Fabius. “The text remains too long and complex. Not enough compromises have been reached on unresolved issues.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the conference “is not a finish line, but a new starting point” and that any agreement must take into account the differences among nations, stating, “Countries should be allowed to seek their own solutions, according to their national interest.”

President of the United States, Barack Obama, stated in early remarks, “Now, all of this will be hard. Getting 200 nations to agree on anything is hard” before going on to say, “And I’m sure there will be moments over the next two weeks where progress seems stymied, and everyone rushes to write that we are doomed. But I’m convinced that we’re going to get big things done here. Keep in mind, nobody expected that 180 countries would show up in Paris with serious climate targets in hand.”

The efforts of the world leaders in attendance were laudable and COP 21 may mark an important turning point, signaling more effective national solutions to a global problem. However, there are many simple, almost child-like questions that are worth asking: What if, after a week of meetings, a clear, concise legally-binding agreement was in place? What if global interests were consistently a priority? What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?

At the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, more than 150 world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also knowns as the Global Goals. The SDGs are 17 measurable goals that range from ending world poverty to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls by 2030. The goals are categorized as follows:

  • SDG1: No poverty
  • SDG 2: Zero hunger
  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
  • SDG 4: Quality education
  • SDG 45: Gender equality
  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • SDG 9: Industry, innovation, infrastructure
  • SDG 10: Reduce inequalities
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption, production
  • SDG 13: Climate action
  • SDG 14: Life below water
  • SDG 15: Life on land
  • SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions
  • SDG 17: Partnership for the goals

Details about individual SDGs can be accessed here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/mdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html

The SDGs succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight measurable goals which were signed in September 2000. The United Nations development Programme (UNDP) has provided support to governments working to achieve the MDGs and will continue to do so with the SDGs. In supporting efforts to achieve the goals, the UNDP works to balance what it identifies as the three pillars of sustainable growth: social progress, economic growth, and environmental protection.

All of the SDGs are inter-related and many of them link back to the goals COP 21. Goal 4, Quality Education, seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities. This goal focuses primarily on literacy, vocational training, and eliminating gender and wealth disparities. SDG 13, Climate Action, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. SDG 4 and 13 are clearly intertwined in that education may lead to development of the technology that averts our planetary crises, but educators and world leaders could seek to further intertwine these goals

What if a basic science education included an introduction to climate science? Or perhaps, more simply, astronomy? While this may seem idealistic and ambitious, great progress has already been made towards achieving the MDGs. The inclusion of one subject into basic education is a small step in comparison to many of these successes. The study of Venus could provide insight into runaway greenhouse effect. The study of Earth’s atmosphere from a purely scientific view could lead to a generation of critical thinkers who prioritize planetary concerns. Planetary concerns are also national concerns; without our planet, nations cease to matter.

At COP 21 this week, Fiji pledged to accommodate the people of the low-lying Pacific Island state of Kiribati if rising sea levels renders their home uninhabitable. Without significant changes, this is likely in the next few decades. Kiribati is not a closed ecological or environmental system. In time, the plight of the people of Kiribati becomes the situation for us all. Given this reality, adding a subject to a basic education with the goal of creating a generation of planetary thinkers seems like an easy thing to achieve. This video made for COP 21 by astronauts from around the planet provides an illustration of the mind-sight we could hope to create for the general populations of the future: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/message-de-la-station-spatiale-internationale-ne-laissez-pas-passer-cette-occasion/

Successes achieved in the past 15 years working toward the MDGs and work still to be done is discussed in more detail here: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html

 

About the author: Ms. Drumheller is a certified Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) with 18 years of experience in chemistry, environmental science, environmental project management, regulatory compliance and permitting, capacity development, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) and 17025. Ms. Drumheller holds a BS in Environmental Science with a dual emphasis in Chemistry and a Masters of Theological Studies with an emphasis on Environmental Ethics.

References

Earth System Science Data, 2014, Global Carbon Budget 2014, Abstract here: http://www.earth-syst-sci-data-discuss.net/7/521/2014/essdd-7-521-2014.html

Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 12, Issue 7, 2009.

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://www.nasa.gov

United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11) website: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

United Nations Development Programme Website: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2015/09/24/undp-welcomes-adoption-of-sustainable-development-goals-by-world-leaders.html