Nov 25, 2008

The start of a new project

November 2008

Making it Happen: The Transition to a Sustainable Society

We are pleased to announce the start of a new project, “Making it happen – the transition to a sustainable society”. This project is about exploring a holistic and integrated approach needed to remove barriers and accelerate the transition of our economy and society to a more sustainable model. A transition to a sustainable society is critical to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Over the last several decades, there have been numerous reports and studies advocating change towards a more sustainable society that would be less dependent on fossil fuel, and more conserving of other critical resources such as water and biodiversity. Call it a Conserver Society, Small is Beautiful, Sustainable Development, or a Green Society, these visions have advocated an alternative way of structuring our economy and using less resources in order to reduce our environmental impact, and more recently, our carbon footprint.

There are also many technologies available today that would help move us in this direction. Every year there are thousands of new patents for environmental technologies, and investment in green companies has soared.

So why some 35 years after the first OPEC crisis and the Club of Rome’s report “Limits to Growth”, are we still playing at the fringe? Why have we not made more fundamental progress? Why is it that Canada is so far behind other countries such as Sweden or Germany in becoming sustainable?Some have suggested that we need leadership and political will, or major economic incentives to make this change, like a carbon tax or a cap and trade system before anything significant is likely to happen.

That may well be the case. But our hypothesis is that even with such leadership and macro-economic signals, there are still countless barriers and obstacles that need to be overcome before such a transition happens.

In preparing this study, we have reviewed many studies and reports relating to a sustainable society. What we found to be missing, what is currently not being addressed in a systematic way is how to make the transition to a sustainable society happen. Below the level of the large macro economic interventions, there are countless small institutional obstacles that prevent environmental technologies from being widely deployed. For each plan or innovation, there are inevitable difficulties, obstacles, or institutional barriers that prevent that plan or innovation to be fully deployed. Many of these are unexpected and unforeseen, and have not been considered in the original plans or designs. And most of these are not technical in nature.

These can include legal and regulatory barriers, inappropriate standards, ill-suited labour and skill pools, inadequate training, insufficient consumer education, limited available choices, inhibiting municipal bylaws, and so on. We’re talking here of a whole range of social, economic and institutional barriers, many of which have been designed originally for valid social and economic purposes, but which, in their current state, inhibit the rapid technological deployment and transition to a sustainable society. Perhaps one of the most insidious barriers is the lack of integrated planning in our society, the absence of a holistic perspective in making decisions that affect how we use resources and run our economy.

So our objective is as follows:How might we identify and better understand the social and economical barriers to innovation and change as it relates to addressing the challenges of climate change and the conservation of natural resources including water, as a basis of proposing government interventions to unleash the innovative potential of Canada.

Our approach

While the issues may be daunting and their linkages complex, we will be following a straightforward methodology to map out in a coherent way the different barriers to innovation and sustainability. Our steps are as follows:

1. Identify an ambitious, stretch hypothetical objective for a sustainable society, and derive all the "technological fixes" and changes that need to be implemented to achieve this hypothetical objective in 50 to 100 years.

2. Based on a practical agglomeration of the "technological fixes" and changes, bring together carefully selected panels and focus groups to identify the institutionalbarriers to achieve those rates of deployments. We hope to invite practitioners as well as subject matter experts, to identify the richest possible spectrum of barriers and obstacles.

The end result should be a systematic map of the different obstacles and barriers to the deployment of sustainable technologies and "way of doing things", which will make policy and decision makers at all levels - municipal, provincial, and federal - more aware of what needs to be done to address what is perhaps the single most serious challenge to the survival of our planet.

The project is managed out of the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, under the direction of Dr. André Potworowski, with the help of an advisory board whose interim chair is Dr. Tom Brzustowski, and is expected to take two years to complete. The initial phase is funded by the Gordon Foundation and the federal government (Natural Resources Canada).For more in formation, Contact:
Dr. J. André Potworowski, (613) 746-9600 , or
Dr. Tom Brzustowski,, (613) 562-5800 , #4759.

No comments: