On the 4th of March 2015, the Green Economy Society was proud to host their annual Green Business Forum. The Green Business Forum is an event, for which the Green Economy Society invites speakers from the green sector congregate for an afternoon-long panel discussion about the current issues of the global green economy. The panel speakers receive 15 minutes to present their current work and after four panel speakers the audience can engage in a 15 minutes open discussion. It is the perfect opportunity for students to meet, listen to and, interact with the leaders of today’s sustainability challenges.
This year’s themes included ‘smart cities’, ‘water management’ and sustainability as a whole. The panel included speakers from PWC, the Green Economy Coalition, the Committee of Climate Change, BuroHappold Engineering and many more.
Jo Kelly, from PwC, introduced the forum with an inspiring talk on “Achieving sustainability in an ever changing world: understanding global megatrends”. She spoke about how sustainability is no longer linked solely to carbon and ozone layers but that it is now recognized that the biosphere is closely linked to society and business. Corporate Social Responsibility is no longer a ‘luxury’ feature, but has become the lens through which a business is judged by its consumers, workforce, its investors and society as a whole. Jo elaborated this further by focusing on the restricted amounts of energy, water and food/farming land. This, in combination with enormous demographic and social changes (2/3 of all the people who have ever been 65, are alive today), and shifts in global economic power (with the Asian Pacific middle class being expected to overtake Europe and North America combined by 2015), poses extraordinary new challenges for business. Sustainability is and will be the only method that will ensure businesses to survive.
This discourse on global challenges was followed by a presentation from Oliver Greenfield from the Green Economy Coalition. Oliver told us about how the coalition believes in the necessity of a cross-sectorial holistic approach, instead of mere small inter-sectorial adjustments in order to achieve a green, fair and inclusive economy. The coalition is engaged in mobilizing a Green Economy Movement by implementing national dialogues, thus actively shaping national and international policy decisions. So far the Green Economy Coalition consists of more than 20 organizations and corporations that actively contribute to Green Economy such as the WWF, IIED, UNEP and many more.
Andrew Comer, from BuroHappold Engineering came next. He spoke about the theme of “smart cities” and sustainability in urban development and role and influence of cities in the world we live in. He elaborated that half the world’s population lives in cities, thereby producing 75% of the world carbon footprint. We discussed examples of potential solutions to these challenges; ‘Intelligent Building Management Systems’ such as, in particular, the Genzyme HQ in New York built in 2003. The Gezyme HQ is a building with a double façade and a high atrium that creates an open atmosphere while using the natural sunlight to light and heat the building interior. Photovoltaic solar panels capture the solar energy and contribute to reducing the heat and energy losses and rainwater collection tanks optimize water usage. To report on all the “green” innovative technological systems incorporated in the building would largely exceed this report, however what is clear is that the future of Urban Planning and Buildings will be highly exciting.
Narrowing the focus from large cities to individual institutions, Richard Jackson from the UCL Sustainability Team reminded us of how sustainability can be applied at the local level within UCL. He introduced his presentation by briefly outlining UCL’s impact on the environment. Amongst others these showed how:
- “Academic travel generates 160,000 tones of carbon per year, which is equivalent to 74 trips to the moon”
- or “UCL uses the same amount of energy as 11,000 homes”.
Since the UCL sustainability team has set out its goals to improve sustainability across campus in 2011, a number of sustainability related improvements have took place: New bins and recycling bins have been put up across campus, £14 million in utility bills have been saved and the sustainability engagement of each department massively increased. Richard finally told us about ways and methods through which we can each take part in improving UCL’s sustainability, for example through contributing in sustainability initiatives such as the big Easter Switch Off competition to save energy, which saved around 50 kWh this year.
After our engaging networking and snack break, during which we hand the chance to talk
to the speakers privately, we heard from Daniel Johns, head of adaptation of the Committee on Climate Change. The Adaptation Committee provides independent expert advice on climate threats or sustainability opportunities and is in charge of informing the Parliament about progress in climate adaptation. Together we looked at the temperature rise since the industrial revolution and their potential impacts in the following years. Examples of such impacts include sea level rise, heat waves and droughts. In the UK specifically the main climate change risks are flooding, water scarcity, and high temperatures. Yet Daniel remained optimistic. Ways to tackle these challenges, he concluded, consist of flood risk management, property protection, metering for water efficiency, and passive cooling in homes.
Up next was Roudaina Al Khani, a woman with an extra-ordinary CV. Working as an architect, urban-, and regional planner, she further is engaged as a development consultant, lecturer and the Head of Strategy Committee at Syria Trust – her sustainability projects and activities spanning across the globe. She spoke to us about her many experiences in strategic urban planning in Northern Europe and the Middle East. This included her previous work of making the city of Copenhagen more sustainable and her current activities of sustainable urban planning in Syria. Her ambitious goals for Syria’s urban development are the development of new, green policy strategies that benefit moth, the environment and the civil society
Our last panel speaker at this year’s GBF was Morgan Gillespy, a water account manager from CDP. She spoke about corporate water stewardship and CDP in general. CDP’s water program aims to eliminate environmentally harmful as well as inefficient water usage. The importance of water to human flourishing and global business is well recognized. In 2014, 68% of the 500 largest companies reported that their corporate growth could suffer in the future decades due to water related risks. A good example of water related risks for business is the Unilever case study. Morgan outlined how 90% of Unilever’s products depend on domestic water usage. This means that in countries with water scarcity, consumers are limited in their water usage and forced to reduce water-related household tasks to a minimum. This, necessarily, will put Unilever’s growth at risk.
CDP’s analysis suggests that policy frameworks are needed on an international, national and local level to accelerate more efficient water usage and to ensure that the human right to water and sanitation is publicly acknowledged.
After this final speaker we had another round of thrilling Q&A’s, followed by personal face-to-face debates with the various speakers and students who stayed a little longer. As the Green Business Forum 2015 finally came to an end, all of us were still reflecting what has been said during the panel discussions, and thinking about how we all can contribute to accelerate the desperately needed transition to a Green Economy!
Overall it was a huge success and we thank everyone – panel speakers and students – for coming!