Redefining Sustainability

Redefining Sustainability

Motivation and aspiration instead of doom and gloom

Joking that his students often refer to him as “Dr. Doom,” MIT Sloan Professor and sustainability advocate John Sterman made it clear to the gathered crowd that the time has come for motivation and aspiration. In other words, a lot less scolding and a lot more focus on solutions.

To achieve that kind of monumental change in the thinking around sustainability, Sterman and fellow faculty member Rick Locke talked about the unique approach of MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative.  The initiative focuses on a systems approach that is dedicated to research that matters, education and outreach, engagement in public policy, and, walking the talk.

In terms of education, both Sterman and Locke stressed that students need to understand that there does not have to be a trade off between economic development and sustainability. Said Locke, “Give students the tools and framework to understand the world the way it really is and to make a difference in it.”

And students are doing their part, asking for and engaging in more and more sustainability related classes and projects.  One hoped for outcome is that as students are educated about how to achieve positive results, they will become more and more hopeful–and motivated to do more.

As for the alumni perspective, both Joaquin Bacardi and Bruce Jamerson were clear that sustainable business requires vision and commitment, but that it does not preclude growth and economic development. Bacardi had some particularly interesting insights about how corporate social responsibility and sustainability are not exclusively for new “modern” companies. At 150 years old, Bacardi has long been committed to this culture of responsibility, and has been recycling methane from their fermentation process for 30 years.

This discussion, along with every other Exchange 62: Now and Next session, took place in MIT Sloan’s new home, the greenest building on the MIT campus. In a fitting turn, the building’s architechts, Moore, Ruble, Yudell, were in attendance at the sustainability session.



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