The Unfolding Sustainability Generation
Ecology Prime is pleased to share the exceptional work and unique perspective of seven bright minds from the Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University, Sustainable Enterprise course, of Fall 2020. Individually, the points of view shared by these independent thinkers, are timely and unique. Collectively, these voices beckon to a broader generational shift that has been underway, and which is becoming more inclusive, diverse, and focused on a shared pursuit of a more sustainable future.
Mark Coleman, adjunct instructor of Sustainable Enterprise and an award-winning author of three books on sustainability, introduced a class of 29 students to Sustainable Enterprise. The course’s content, purpose, and learning objectives are focused on providing the tools, methods, and understanding of how systemic changes influence business and entrepreneurs and consequentially, how business and entrepreneurs address the needs of society and create new paradigms through sustainable value. The course is part of a broader curriculum which prepares students to engage in transdisciplinary collaboration to develop sustainable solutions to complex organizational challenges. The essays and video presented here over the next weeks were submitted as the Sustainable Enterprise course’s final projects.
The Global Pandemic and Sustainable Enterprise: Where do we go from here?
By Stephanie Pearson
You’re living through COVID. You now know more about systems thinking, sustainability and the potential that sustainable enterprise development can have on the environment, society and the economy. What can we learn from this experience and what role can sustainability and sustainable enterprise play in helping us not only recover and survive, but also become more resilient and thrive?
As the world navigates through the unknowns of a global pandemic, sustainability is not the number one priority, rather health and safety quickly became everyone’s goal these past eight months. Our world was not prepared to be hit with a pandemic with such drastic effects so fast, thus hospitals, schools, workplaces, and even homes did not have the necessary materials to fight off this virus. Sustainability was not a priority as manufacturing companies were mass producing equipment as fast as possible to keep up with rising infections and death rates across the globe. We rushed to produce masks, PPE, cleaning equipment, gloves, etc. and unfortunately, most of this waste is single-use plastic. As we enter the 9th month since the government shut down in March, the precautions we take are becoming normal, and we have an understanding of what equipment is needed, the question remains: is there a way to fight off this virus while also trying to become more sustainable? Can we recover from this virus, become more resilient and thrive? Or is it in everyone’s best interest for their health and safety to keep sustainability on the back burner?
Along with the tons of single-use plastic waste from medical facilities to protect health care professionals and patients from the virus, all types of businesses are also resorting to less sustainable practices in order to stay open and keep their employees and customers safe. For example, this summer I worked as a server for a brewing company and began working there right as restaurants were allowed to re-open. While being trained, my boss informed me that their priority was the health and safety of their customers, so they did not focus on the sustainable practices they used to have in place. They switched to using all plastic cups and paper menus which were subsequently tossed into the trash after each customer. The manager was insistent that this made the customers feel safer, rather than drink from glasses that were handled and washed each time. Similar to this business, businesses all across the globe changed their daily practices to cope with this pandemic, and unfortunately it is leading to an increase in waste and pollution.
Despite the waste mismanagement, there are a few positives for sustainability that have come from the pandemic, specifically stemming from the stay at home orders, travel bans, fear of the virus, and restrictions on public establishments and businesses. Due to the decrease in travel both by car and airplane, the air quality in many cities increased significantly and greenhouse gas emissions decreased across most continents. For example, in Beijing, pollution satellites have detected a decrease in nitrogen oxide over China. There is evidence that at least some of this change is due to the economic shut down (Airborne). With the increase of working from home, people are decreasing their carbon footprint, as they do not need to commute to work daily.
Although this is a good trend right now, we have to ask ourselves if we can maintain this when things return to normal. In an article in BBC Future, the author explains that although the decrease in driving and flying does lower greenhouse gases significantly right now, it might not make that much of a difference when global restrictions are eventually lifted. Something that put it in perspective for me was when they explained that the miles that were untravelled on routine trips, like commuting to work each morning, are not going to come back; however, other types of travel may spike because people are experiencing cabin fever, leaving them eager to travel again. It is hard to predict when travel will be fully open again and how people are going to act, but unfortunately, people staying at home only affects emissions a small amount because big factories and manufacturing companies are the biggest contributors to the devastating effects on climate change. Many businesses have slowed down, but our capitalist society thrives on big business, which have not halted much during this pandemic in comparison to small businesses.
It is hard to have the climate crisis on our minds as everyone is preoccupied with news about the spread of virus, large climate events, such as COP23, are postponed, and social media platforms are overwhelmed with COVID-19 related posts. I do not believe that the pandemic should be a kickstarter for environmental change because our lives are so different than they will be when things go back to normal. However, I believe that this experience can be eye opening and we can learn a lot about how our daily practices contribute to climate change. For example, when people stockpiled food in the beginning of the pandemic for fear of running out, it led to food waste. We can look back and learn to survive on less and understand that the supply chain will keep our shelves stocked. As our global society worked from home and more people walked and biked, we now realize that we can be less reliant on our cars. Looking ahead, the reduction in carbon emissions from only this year is not enough to save ourselves from the climate crisis, however, there are valuable lessons that isolation has taught us about daily consumptions and the difference between what we want and what we actually need. These daily changes are very important, but it is also important to realize how minuscule our carbon footprint is compared to that of big factories, manufacturing, our food system, and landfills. However, our world is one system and we are the ones who feed into these big businesses.
So where do we go from here? In the grand scheme of things, the economic shut down barely dented our vast carbon emissions (Vince). Though emissions might be lower this year than they have been in the past, it is not enough to have a lasting effect on the world’s carbon concentrations. This illustrates that the climate crisis is extremely difficult to manage because even when the majority of the world halted considerably, we still have not been able to make a long-term difference. Looking at the climate crisis on such a large scale can be quite frustrating, but if we narrow in on the small changes we can make within our communities, real change can seem more tangible. Many cities are experiencing clearer skies and certain places have seen blossoming wildlife. This shows that our efforts aren’t completely useless and that even though the climate crisis seems impossible to attack, our actions can make a difference. By looking back and reflecting on what we have learned over the course of these nine months, we can change our habits in order to rebuild our society and thrive post-pandemic. The course of the pandemic is unknown, but as it (hopefully) comes to an end, we can focus on taking things one at a time, to make the world a more fruitful place that we can enjoy after being stuck at home for what seems like eternity.
I am a senior at Syracuse University. I am majoring in Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises on the pre dental track. I plan to take a gap year post-grad and then hope to attend dental school!
“Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China.” NASA , NASA,
Vince, Gaia. “After the Covid-19 Crisis, Will We Get a Greener World?” The Guardian , Guardian News and Media, 17 May 2020,
Feature Image Photo Credits
Students from Left to Right:
Jared Simon, Madison Covino, Zachary Fredendall, Stephanie Pearson, Joshua Simoncic, Camryn Lawyea, Josh Katowitz
Buckminster Fuller – Montreal Biosphere, 1967 – Photo by Cédric ThévenetCC Wikimedia Commons
Disposable cups – Photo by Ann H. – CC Pexels
Box of face masks – Photo by Ivan Samkov – CC Pexels
Rainbow – Public Domain Pictures CC
Plastic bottles – Photo by Magda Ehlers – CC Pexels
Girl with facemask – Photo by Maksim Goncharenok CC Pexels
Path with girl – Photo by Vlad Bagacian – CC Pexels
Ocean pollution – Photo by Artem Beliaikin – Pexels
Couple on train – Photo by Samson Katt – CC from Pexels