THE SUSTAINABILITY CONNUNDRUM

AMAZONIA (2017) ALPERIN DIGITAL ART

I have been back in Argentina since 1997, after many years abroad since my childhood.

I believe I have gained through the years, a fairly deep understanding of the regional environment as an artist, lawyer, and through leadership roles in different companies and organizations over the last 20 years, as well as because of my personal and professional interest in geopolitical and cultural trends.

While sustainability and conservation have become part of the lingo in our part of the world, there is still certain superficiality and misunderstanding as to the real nature of the massive cultural and business shift that is advancing worldwide.

I am Professor of Creativity and Innovation for the MBA’s at the National Catholic University here in Buenos Aires, and I must say that I am always surprised at the little understanding of the changes that many young (and not so young) high level managers still profess at the start (and how much they change by the end).

I am proud to say that I take them through a dizzying ride of empowering course contents that are the result of my own professional and personal experience. And I am grateful at the University for its openness and excitement at trying out a novel approach to teaching. Ours is a construction, carefully intertwined, between concepts of sustainability, respect for the environment, art, creativity and innovation, sprinkled with quantum mechanics, space exploration, game theory, logarithms, relativity, laws, social responsibility, and obviously, faith.

As I always tell my students at the start of the course, the 20th Century produced amazing advancement through, amongst others, the concept of the “me society”. The positive advances achieved were, on the other hand, burdened by the misconception that the planet in general, and its biosphere in particular, could sustain any damage without long term repercussions.

I always say that the 21st Century has to become a lot less about “me” and a lot more about “us” (I call it the “WE” Century).

Creativity and innovation are no longer detached from sustainability, ecological parameters, a deeper understanding of universal laws, ethics and integrity, and from our responsibility to the community in general. Our role must be seen within a holistic approach to solutions where we must endeavor to be systemic, and therefore no one in particular, but the conjunction between the different actors in society, produce the desired results.

To do that, you need a fairly leveled playing field (or at least one with clear rules), enforcement that is real and present, and within that set of parameters, creativity and innovation that can have long term effects, may finally occur and flourish in the best possible sense.

What we see in Argentina, and in many of our neighbors, is that the rules (the lines in the playing field) are mostly there and in some cases, are very cutting edge.

Yet, in some cases, and because the concepts and rules have been taken from laws and regulations that are being applied in countries that are, either much more advanced in these areas, or at least, are more advanced in their respect for the rule of law, we find that the end result is an almost impossible practical application of many of their principles.

To that general context, we must add that the enforcement agencies have been given few “teeth” and their capabilities are quite limited, while the Judicial system is fairly slow to react. And as we know, laws without prompt and practical legal enforcement, become dead letter very soon.

To that, it is also true that there are very few regulatory incentives for businesses to take the plunge. And it is also there where change can be promoted.

On the business side, sustainability is slowly being understood by the major corporations. We have come from the mere use of “sustainable referencing language”, to slowly attempting to introduce sustainability into the DNA of each business. Many are finally working today while preparing for tomorrow, as they realize the real economic and financial benefits of sustainable growth, and the potential of adding to all that, the benefits of innovation and creativity (in regards to products, services, methods and so on).

I believe there are a great deal of opportunities in Argentina, and the region, yet to be explored. And I also believe that this may be a great time to explore them.

Conservation history teaches us that at the genesis of any movement to save a place around the world, there has always been one emotionally and ethically inspired citizen. One person who has mobilized communities, who has created engagement, and who has generated the long term constituency that will preserve change.

We know that we are facing, despite the enormous progress obtained until now, a bit of an uphill battle.

We know for a fact that, at least in the North, Millennials and the X generation are not showing the same kind of connection to traditional Parks and protected areas as Baby Boomers did. And Argentina, and South America, seem to be moving in the same direction. They cannot relate to it and they need us to make that connection.

That, instead of being a problem, may become a great opportunity.

The traditional view of separate, almost isolated, protected areas may not be the correct way as we go forward in most cases. We understand now that every preserved area is part of a larger system and must be connected to it, must be emotionally attached to the community, and must generate a constituency that will sustain it in the long run.

While many have already embraced this shift, there are in our countries many business leaders, and particularly large landowners who own areas which can be protected and made environmentally sustainable, that do not trust, or simply do not understand, neither the purported benefits of this shift in general paradigm nor the potential for the win-win situation that can be generated from it.

In the case of Argentina, at least, the problem seems to be the disbelief by many, that government (whom they do not trust because of decades of mismanagement, contradictory legislation, inflation, lack of incentives, lack of medium and long term planning, and in some cases little respect for private property) can do the job.

And that is why we need honest brokers (individuals and organizations that can present innovative solutions that are systemic and full of counterbalances (Government, Venture Capital, Multilaterals and NGOs, Technology, and obviously Business), and which can produce results that engage and with wide ranging benefits in mind.

Sustainable strategies can produce real environmental, community based positive long term results that in the case of business, can also be very profitable, and in the case of nations, become the next level of long term sustainable growth. And we know that sustainable, long term growth, is the key to strong communities, large middle classes, and the path to eliminate poverty and incorporate those who were left out until now into a wider, more inclusive society.

It is time to convince political leaders, business influencers and landowners, to aspire to become that “one person” in their impact area, that will go down in history as a promoter and the center of that change.

To make it so, and to be able to also engage and convince the new generations (from Millennials onwards), one must be where political decisions are made, where opinion makers speak and cultural trends are born and expanded. Paraphrasing the WCU, it is the “urban imperative”.

The truth is that very soon almost 60% of the world population will live in cities. And it is there, in the great capitals and in the cities where people live, the place where we can make a difference. People must make the difficult connection from their urban habitat, and to do that we must not only engage and inform, we must enamor and create our constituency. And their voice will help us convince decision makers (government and business) to come to the table.

At the center of all of it, it is about moving hearts and minds. In my class I always say that the emotional factor must never be discarded. The force of sheer scientific numbers will always impress, but it is necessary to engage people at their emotional intelligence level. Particularly in South America, where our very Latin roots make us more emotionally open.

Let´s start to make a difference, each one of us in our own area of influence. This is no longer a matter of a few enlightened or of fringe groups. It is already here and it is the new society, and the new economy, that is coming towards us (and in many cases, it is already here).

The paradigmatic change is already moving the ground from underneath our own feet. Let go of what is old, and embrace all that is good in this shift of major boundaries. And remember, that at the center of it all, it is not a matter of you making it to the other side, it is a recognition that either we make it together, or we will not make it at all.

 

PhotoFunia TV interference Regular 2014-08-04 01 55 05

©2018 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera

 

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