Green China?

I just returned from an amazing trip to China with the executive master’s program at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability.  We interviewed sustainability leaders in Yunnan and in Shanghai.  Blogs to follow.  I also did some sightseeing.  Check out my video.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Green China?

Lessons from Syria Not Good for Action on Climate Change

The Security Council produced a toothless statement that civilians should not be killed and humanitarian aid should be allowed. It took three years for the UN to agree. During which time accumulated unforgivable loss of life and destruction of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

This does not bode well for the mounting and more consequential global threat to life and civilization poised by climate change.

The war in Syria is tangible, visible, and real-time.  No one denied it was happening.  No one denied the horrible consequences.  You could see it unfold on the nightly news.  Such impotence suggests that nation states and global governance have even less power to address the diffuse, invisible, and off-in-the-future threats of climate chaos.

Climate solutions must be found elsewhere. Some of the most likely and encouraging developments are happening through collaboration and leadership by municipalities, businesses, NGOs.  What if mayors ruled the world?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Future & 10 Billion

Warning: uncertain times ahead!   The Future and 10 Billion belong to spurts of literature that periodically erupt, spewing warnings that the end is near and that sustainable development is not possible; classics of this genre include Malthus’ Principle of Population, Marsh’s Man and Nature, Carson’s Silent Spring, Ehrlich’s Population Bomb.

10 Billion’s author, Stephen Emmott, directs a research lab for Microsoft.  His synthesis of current conditions and future trends is … dire. His conclusion: “I think we’re fucked.” People are the problem.

In The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, Al Gore presents only a slightly more optimistic view: “the currents of change are so powerful that some have taken their oars out of the water, having decided that it is better to surrender…”  People are the problem for him, as well.

Emmott, characteristic of many scientists, offers no hope or solution other than high-tech inventions that create new and clean sources of food, material, and energy.  But he concludes that people are the problem because our insatiable demand will outpace his innovations, hence the unpleasant inevitability of ecological and social collapse.

Vice President Gore claims to be an optimist, raising his concerns  “…not out of fear, but because I believe in the future.”  Still, he offers 359 pages of concerns and only 6 pages of “what do we do now?”  Not surprisingly for a politician, many of his recommendations involve social change and new institutions such as better media, more rational communication, getting the money out of politics, and fixing market signals.

My critique of  Emmott’s and Gore’s genre of literature is that it inspires doom and gloom instead of direction and hope.  People will walk across hot coals in their bare feet if they believe they want to get to the other side.

What we need is leadership from above, from below, and from the middle.  Everyone can lead from where they are.  Everyone can help their team, their organization, their network, their society achieve direction, alignment, and commitment around sustainable development solutions.

People are not the problem, lack of leadership is.  Leadership is the solution.  Leadership is our opportunity.

Posted in Convergence 2050, Environmental Fundamentalism | Leave a comment

Why is the shrill wing of environmentalism so negative?

Some so-called environmentalists remind me of the Tea Party: every response to any government initiatives “No!”  “Bad!” “Don’t!”

Zach Beauchamp’s 5 Reasons Why 2013 Was The Best Year In Human History  uses five mega-trends to suggest humanity’s positive trajectory, and I looked forward to reading the details because I’ve been developing a similar narrative for my own teaching and writing projects.  His arguments, supported by many reputable sources such as WHO an IMF, show that, as a whole, we are healthier, wealthier, less violent, and less discriminating than we have been at any time in human history.  Beauchamp is not making this stuff up, nor is he a shill or an apologist; his conclusions reflect a growing chorus of arguments I’ve documented in an April 2013 essay to honor Earth Day.

But the very first response to his essay asks: “Is this a spoof…? We are in the midst of the greatest extinction period in 65 million years, and unless we radically change our ways, there won’t be anyone around to scoff at how pathologically naive this article is. What a load of rubbish.”

Subsequent yeah-sayers and nay-sayers tag-team to polarize and paralyze the discussion.

Yes we have serious challenges, but clearly we have wonderful opportunities.  Let’s find a way to collaborate.  Let’s strive for solutions, not rhetoric. Let’s be constructive, not negative. Let’s get busy constructing sustainability.

Posted in Convergence 2050, Environmental Fundamentalism | Leave a comment

Two Sides of the Climate Coin

The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels
There’s no question that burning fossil fuels is leading to a warmer climate and that addressing this problem is important. But doing so is a question of timing and priority. For many parts of the world, fossil fuels are still vital and will be for the next few decades, because they are the only means to lift people out of the smoke and darkness of energy poverty….

Current Warming Target “Disastrous”
On other side of the coin is a new study by James Hansen and Jeffry Sachs, arguing that the target of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) as the maximum acceptable global warming above preindustrial levels would still result in “disastrous consequences,” from rampant sea level rise to widespread extinction….and that we are already well on pace to go beyond 2 degrees….

Posted in Convergence 2050 | Comments Off on Two Sides of the Climate Coin

Cross-Sector Sustainability

Most organizations conceived or reformed to solve 20thcentury problems will face challenges being effective and relevant in a populous, wealthy, globally-connected, climate changed, 21st century world. Glimmers of new organizational arrangements can be seen in cross-sector collaborative efforts such as those attempting to address the sustainable development impacts of global supply chains.  Auret van Heerden, in an oft-cited TED talk,popularized one new type of institution he calls the “Independent Republic of the Supply Chain.”

The reasons for new organizational arrangements are many.  Nations are struggling to keep up with the demands of the global economy.  They are unable to manage what crosses their borders: Goods and services circle the world in long complex supply chains and with them vast quantities of embodied water, land, and pollution (Dalina 2012, Skelton, 2011, Quaing 2013).  Climate changes, ozone holes grow, ocean fisheries collapse, and other global commons degrade with little probable or viable state-sponsored response. Corporations, meanwhile have grown in size and power, and many are now larger than most governments.  Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, ½ are companies. Public Infrastructure—the bread and butter of government– is being privatized, owned and managed by corporations: highways, ports, and airports…even the Panama Canal. Thirty corporations today control 90% of world internet traffic.  Even national defense is public-private partnership.

The recent Global Trends 2030 National Intelligence Council report includes a scenario titled “Non-State World” in which urbanization, corporations, civil society, and accumulated capital create new institutions that define the future.   Some of the most innovative changes are occurring in this cross-sector space where business, government, civil society overlap. Governments use law and regulation to level the playing field, prevent a race to the bottom, establish markets, and make sure good actors don’t get punished and bad do. Corporations have money and management capacity and motivations for risk reduction. NGOs have moral authority, but perhaps most importantly can look problems outside temporal and spatial limits of business and politics (quarterly profits, election cycles, political boundaries, market jurisdiction).

Posted in Markets | Leave a comment

Knowledge Networks

I’m hoping you might help me identify some productive ways to navigate the vast intellectual space of knowledge management that seems colonized by everyone from information scientists to network-actor mappers to higher education pedagogists.

Here is the short story:  My work in DC with the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability is exposing me to intentional transnational knowledge networks managed by loosely formed communities of practice that steward knowledge about sustainable development practices on diverse topics ranging from water and infrastructure to climate adaption and food systems.

The transnational actors come from all sectors: Corporate, Civil, Faith, and Government.  They have linkages that extend from the global (conferences, contracts, partnerships,…) to the local (companies, markets, and shovel ready projects).  The goal of the transnational knowledge networks is to find and distribute best management practices to where they might be of use, to learn lessons from applications, and to circulate those lessons back through the network.  The goal is to make the world a better place, to build capacity, to help us respond to the emerging challenges of 2050.

The knowledge networks structure knowledge practices, structure questions that can be asked, and just like railroads structured where businesses and people located 100 years ago, the knowledge networks create and structure opportunity today.  Said differently, knowledge networks are the infrastructure of problem solving.

Knowledge networks probably also have positive feedback loops.  They certainly affect the answers we get to the questions we ask, so they eventually shape the questions we ask, because we want to ask questions to which answers can be provided, otherwise why bother. Ultimately this positive feedback structures what we know and how we think.

  • The computer is “an engine not a camera”
  • “Computers represent the world and thereafter create it”

What should I be reading?  Who should I talk to?

Posted in Leadership | Leave a comment

Why is Collective Impact Important for the Chesapeake Bay?

Sustainability professionals target some of the most complex and contentious challenges facing humanity, such as securing the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecology, economy, and culture.   Many solutions appear just within reach, if only we had the leadership to implement them.  In response to this opportunity, the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) is highlighting work from the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program, including projects reporting on the utility of a promising strategy called Collective Impact.

Collective Impact is becoming a preferred adaptive management technique for complex sustainability challenges.  It promotes learning and adapting through partnerships. It helps organizations and people create and see their roles in the problem and its solution, understand which resources they should bring to the table, inspires commitment, and leads to emergent, innovative solutions.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is a classic example of a complex adaptive system that with contentious sustainability challenges and opportunities—and thus was the target of recent projects in the XMNR program. It  is one of the largest, most studied, and best funded watershed management efforts in the world, yet progress towards sustainable development remains elusive.  Solutions are beyond the capacities of any single institution, or even multiple organizations within any sector, and thus require cross-sector collaboration and innovation by multiple organizations working over time and space—Collective Impact.

Detailed case studies of innovative collaborations working in or near the watershed identified key lessons that can improve any project targeting economic, ecological, and cultural conditions of the Bay. Efforts promoting sustainable development have more and more lasting impacts if they:

–       Negotiate shared goals

–       Share measures of progress towards those goals

–       Champion the cause by rallying the troops and attracting attention

–       Secure adequate, reliable funding for the long-term

–       Communicate regularly regarding clear goals, progress, challenges, and needs

–       Adjust goals and methods as lessons are learned and shared through the network

–       Support and are supported by a backbone organization that brokers relationships, serves housekeeping functions, and provides continuity.

Posted in Leadership | Leave a comment

Good Deeds Go Unnoticed.

Positive, well-intentioned, brilliant innovations that promote dignity, health, safety, and environmental quality wither and fade unless integrated into some larger, coordinated effort that has meaningful, collective impact.  Louis Boorstin’s article, Quest for Scale, illustrates the necessity of thinking beyond the impacts of our individual projects.  We must evaluate the success of these projects as having larger lasting impacts on our mounting 21st century challenges.  No matter how well intended and feasible our individual projects might be, we are negligent if, before we invest in their implementation, we don’t first consider how our efforts contribute to scalable, durable solutions.   Boorstin learned valuable lessons as a member of a Gates foundation team targeting water and sanitation in Africa.  He suggests we ask hard questions about the impact, sustainability, and scalability of every innovation.  Scaling up and Collective Impact are necessary strategies for constructing sustainability.

Posted in Leadership | 1 Comment

Sustainable Luxury Tourism

I’ve been traveling this summer for business and had the good fortune to visit some pretty swank destinations.  Now I’m wondering whether sustainable luxury tourism is an idea whose time has come or a contradiction in terms.

Tourism alters the development trajectory of communities by consuming resources and transforming economies and cultures.  Tourism also transforms tourists by creating new awareness and appreciations that change their behaviors back home.  Thus the link between tourism and sustainable development is intuitive and important.  The link between luxury and sustainability is less intuitive, but might be just as important.

Luxury attracts tourists, particularly elite and discerning travelers that might also be thought-leaders back home (just the sort of people one would want infected with the sustainability meme, if one wanted sustainability to spread!).  Luxury also generates profit margins and sets high standards, both of which enhance local economy and capacity and can be good for sustainable development.

Are luxury and sustainability synergistic or incompatible?  If it is to be compatible with sustainability, luxury must be dis-associated from excessive, conspicuous consumption.  Instead, sustainable luxury should focus on exceptional, exquisite and distinctive experiences that can be both sustainable and luxurious.

Sustainability already adds value to mass tourism, perhaps it can do so as a niche in the luxury tourism market.  Several topics are explored below to further our thinking about the relationships among sustainability, tourism, and luxury:

–       Facilities and Supplies: No surprise here.  Sustainability practices save energy, water, and waste management costs, as well as increase durability of facilities.  A daunting challenge for sustainable tourism, however, is overcoming the wastefulness caused by the temptation to meet guest expectations about freshness and cleanliness with excess food preparation and waste disposal.

–       Marketing: Some tourists and tour operators seek facilities and locations certified as “sustainable.”  Thus there already exists market access and a possible price increase associated with sustainable practices and various sustainable certification schemes.  Large global tourism companies such as TUI and Cook recently implemented a policy requiring sustainability criteria be met by operators.

–       Enhanced Experience: Sustainability adds a new layer to the meaning and story experienced by the tourist. Sustainability-related activities can engage visitors, help them build a story by participating in it, help visitors become part of the sustainable development trajectory of the region, and help visitors build a relationship and responsibility with the place. Sustainability, that is, provides another vehicle for co-creation of tourist value.

–       Manage Regional Resource Risks:  Regional amenities attracting tourists can become degraded or exploited.  Regional sustainable development planning seeks to identify, enhance and sustain the story and amenities that draw tourists, offering some intentionality and control over the regional development trajectory in ways that favor community interests.  Importantly, sustainable development also addresses ecosystem services, especially water and agriculture, climate change, energy.  It also promotes infrastructure, public health, and public safety functions.  All these qualities complement both tourism and regional sustainable development.

–       Enhance Community Capacity.  Tourism generates local employment and economic opportunities that multiply through the region. Tourism provides a way up for talented people without education.  Tourism may employ and empower women as managers more than some other industry sectors, hence addressing equity issues.  Training programs by service providers provide one means to educate local labor, addressing health, poverty, and injustice.  Sustainable operations that subscribe to international standards to attract international tourists also spread international norms and business practices, which builds additional capacity in the community and industry. Additionally, sustainable tourism that promotes local amenities and culture requires building capacity in local/traditional trade and craft, construction, and cultural practices that lead to the genus loci making places distinctive and hence destinations.

–       Social Learning: Tourism may promote sustainability by setting and reinforcing (in guests and operators) norms and expectations of sustainable development that are taken back home and infused into communities worldwide.  Injections of sustainable development framing into tourist experiences may spill over major life dimensions that inform and help one navigate some of today’s most pressing challenges.  As importantly, the sustainability frame evokes a sense of responsibility and empathy that motivates action.

–       Trends: To the extent that elites seeking luxury experiences set the standards to which mass tourism aspires, sustainable luxury tourism may move all of the tourist industry towards sustainable development.

–       Is “Sustainable Luxury Tourism” the right name for this emerging important topic?  Alternative names can be assembled by combining one word from each column, below:


Sustainable Luxury Tourism
DematerializingEfficientMinimize wasteInvest in future







Reduce poverty



Public health




Forward looking



















Attention to Detail











Conspicuous Consumption
















  • HARDY, A., BEETON, R. J. S. and PEARSON, L. (2002) Sustainable tourism: An overview of the concept and its position in relation to conceptualisations of tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 10, 475-496.
  • LU, J. and NEPAL, S. K. (2009) Sustainable tourism research: an analysis of papers published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 17, 5-16.


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Sustainable Luxury Tourism