Cooperation on goals - not tactics - is necessary to address climate change.
In creating sustainable solutions, a school of thought is to review biological traits that have been successful, and adopt them into our human endeavors. Thus, understanding dolphin flipper shape to improve the design of airplane wings is one such example of “biomimicry” in action. However, nature is more creative than a single solution, and what we often see are multiple solutions to a single challenge. This is why some animals have many offspring but don't care for them, while others invest heavily in a few offspring. The goal of continuation of the species is the same, but their tactics differ. I argue that a biomimicry approach to sustainability needs to adopt the idea of utilizing multiple tactics as a solution set rather seeking singular unique solutions.
Nowhere should multiple tactics be more welcomed than in the effort to develop a strategy for how business can cooperate with government on addressing climate change and help society transition to a sustainable economy within the next 15 years. Climate change is such a huge global problem that a singular approach will only have a limited impact. So rather than a focusing on single tactics such as “innovate new alternative energies” or “be more efficient” to address climate change, a structure needs to be created in which all tactics can be incorporated into the solution. A unified goal to reduce impacts to mitigate climate change is the essential need, and we all need to be part of the solution.
If we consider the work that has been done on seafood sustainability, we see that here, there has been a move to create a culture of continual improvement. This approach addresses sustainability as a journey, where improvements can be made regardless of where the journey begins. A critical boundary is governmental regulations, as they set the floor below which impacts cannot fall. While government regulations ideally would be aspirational, in reality, they need to ensure production can occur to support the industry and provide an economic base for it constituents. At the other end of the impact cure, the best, least impactful producers need to continue to be vanguards and improve their production practices through innovation. In the middle between innovators and regulations, is where most of the industry lies. Here, markets need to encourage improvement, and one way this is working for seafood it that the markets incentive better production practices identified by certification programs. I’ve argued that initiatives can be increased and additional value can be created by using certification to develop a tiered approach. Under this approach, markets can select a level of sustainability that aligns with their CSR goals, and engaged stakeholders (markets, consumers and NGOs) can encourage the retailers to select certifications of increasing rigor to continue the journey toward sustainability. Ideally, under this framework, the best producers would innovate new solutions that could feed back and be incorporated by certification schemes into best management practices program. As the majority of the producers adopt the better practices, the regulations can improve and become more aspirational.
While the work described here has been specific to seafood, it would be easy to adopt a continual improvement model to transition to a sustainable economy using metrics specific to climate change. To mitigate impacts of climate change, we need to reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases. The beauty of this model is it’s simplicity. Implementation does not require developing new cross-sectoral cooperation, collaborations and partnerships. Governments, markets, and producers can all operate “selfishly” by focusing solely on their own needs. Where we need the cooperation is in the goal of our actions –which should be to control our climate changing practices and behaviors. Achieving this goal through a myriad of tactics will create the transition to a help society transition to a sustainable economy within the next 15 years.
Dr Michael Tlusty is a research faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He works in the Sustainable Seafood Collaboratory to ensure ecological and socio-economic resiliency of our world's waters in light of increasing human impacts. He can be followed at www.sustainabilitysci.org.
This blog is written as part of the Masdar's Blog competition.