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.
Ocean Pollution and Sustainability Objectives
By Madison Covino
Unfortunately, environmental issues go far and beyond climate change. As a population, we need to mitigate and adapt to the long-term effects of climate change while simultaneously altering our everyday habits. Not only can individuals make conscious efforts to be sustainable, but businesses of every scale can do the same. I have always been particularly passionate about protecting the world’s oceans, which have essentially become waste dumps for plastic and toxic chemicals (Iberdrola, 2020). When considering our planet as a circular supply chain, you can imagine the effects of polluted oceans. About 71% of Earth’s surface is covered with water, and oceans hold about 97% of that water (USGS). Waste disposal in our oceans can have harmful effects on both marine life and human-kind given that polluted water can also contaminate the air that we breathe and our entire food chain (Dilevics, 2016). In simple terms, our oceans cannot afford to be ‘missing links’ in our planet’s supply chain because they sustain life on earth. In truth, ocean pollution is everybody’s problem. We cannot sustain on an individual level alone – there must be active involvement on a corporate level as well.
It is crucial to understand the extent of our relationship with and the current state of our planet’s oceans. As I previously mentioned, 97% of the earth’s water supply lies in oceans, but what many people fail to realize is that 30% of CO2 emissions produced by humans are absorbed by the oceans (Dilevics, 2016). Furthermore, 70% of the oxygen that we breathe is produced by marine plants (Dilevics, 2016). Without a doubt, marine life and human life are suffering from ocean acidification, but in reality they will suffer much more as a result of plastic pollution and toxic waste. There has been more plastic made in the past 10 years than the last century, and if we stay on this path, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2050 (Condor Ferries, 2020). Approximately 100 million marine animals die each year as a result of plastic pollution alone given that the majority of them cannot differentiate their food from plastic (Condor Ferries, 2020). As a result, the majority of the fish that humans consume have ingested plastic or microfibers, which is detrimental to human health (Condor Ferries, 2020). Like plastics, toxins do not easily disintegrate into our oceans. When chemicals, pesticides, oils, phosphates, mercury, etc. are released into our oceans as a result of industrial waste or land run-offs, marine life is exposed to disease and death (Dilevics, 2016). Unfortunately, our food chain ensures that humans are exposed to the same as a result of consuming fish with biomagnified toxins. Specialists have identified three major leading causes of marine pollution that must be addressed: discarding materials that cannot be recycled, littering on a daily basis, and improperly discarding products and chemicals (Condor Ferries, 2020). We cannot afford to assume that our oceans are vast areas that have the capacity to hold excessive waste, because that is simply not the case.
There are many things that can be done to address ocean pollution and overall health and wellness on an individual level. For one, we can be conscious of the fact that all water is connected. Whatever you release into your drain somehow makes it back to the ocean, even if you live nowhere near the shore. The best way to regulate your personal waste is to use as little fertilizer as possible, look for foods grown without pesticides, and choose non-toxic cleaning products and detergents (Smithsonian Ocean Team, 2018). Humans can also reduce their trash waste and choose a disposable lifestyle with reusable products to help eliminate garbage waste into the oceans (Smithsonian Ocean Team, 2018). Of course, littering should be avoided at all costs and trash cleanups are always encouraged. When it comes to health and wellness, we should all be aware of what we choose to eat. Consuming sustainably harvested fish is not only better for humans, but also ensures that the natural balance of the fish population is not disrupted by consumption (Smithsonian Ocean Team, 2018). Lastly, it is very important for humans to actively cut down on carbon. As we know, burning fossil fuels to power our homes releases CO2 into the air, which traps more of the sun’s heat, and warms and acidifies the ocean to dangerous levels. Ocean warming and acidification can be reduced on an individual level; if we all make an effort to reduce energy use and seek out alternatives, we are essentially reducing our own carbon footprints (Smithsonian Ocean Team, 2018). Perhaps the most helpful piece of advice for humans to understand is how circular our earth’s supply chain truly is. What we choose to release always makes its way back to us.
Without a doubt, corporate sustainability is equally as important as individual sustainability. We have reached a point where good intentions are no longer enough; in order to remain competitive and meet consumer needs for transparency, businesses must prioritize social and environmental sustainability (Haanaes, IMD). Companies that understand the difference between knowing and doing, and the difference between compliance and competition generally stand out in this area because they are aware, reactive, and forward thinking (Haanaes, IMD). When it comes to ocean pollution, it is crucial for corporations to understand their part and to prioritize an action plan. In reality, just about every business is likely having a negative effect on ocean pollution by releasing industrial toxins or investing in plastic design. There are approximately 20 fossil fuel companies who can be linked to more than ⅓ of our greenhouse gas emissions, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell (Taylor & Watts, 2019). It is unfortunate that the billions of people and the entire wildlife population on our planet have to pay the price as a result of poor corporate practices. All corporate businesses should evaluate their most frequently used chemicals and toxins and develop a plan to reduce their use, buy the correct amount of raw materials to avoid waste, and develop a good leak and spill prevention program (EPA). Perhaps more importantly, businesses with single-use plastic designs need to to understand how unsustainable a throw-away society is (Keetley, 2017). The government can continue to introduce taxation on single-use plastics and product bans, but there cannot be honest change until there is honest corporate responsibility. Specialists believe that the most promising corporate innovations propose distributive solutions that challenge how we present goods and services; we cannot simply recycle our way out of this crisis (Keetley, 2017). Ideally, businesses will start to prioritize designing single-use plastics out of use, and may even consider leasing agreements to repurpose products at the end of their life rather than investing in new ones (Keetley, 2017).
The key challenge for both individuals and corporations is to turn ideas and intentions into meaningful actions given that ocean pollution is worsening each day (Keetley, 2017). We are currently at a critical point in history – if we do not take corrective action now, we could reach a point where ⅕ of the world’s oceans are covered by dead zones with little to no life (Sakurra, 2019). When we consider our oceans to be the “lungs of our planet,” it is frightening to imagine what a world with dying lungs would look like.
I am currently a senior at Syracuse University studying Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises in the Whitman School of Management as well as Advertising with an emphasis in Account and Strategic Planning in the Newhouse School of Public Communications. My primary interests consist of market research and design work.
“100+ Ocean Pollution Statistics & Facts.” Condor Ferries , 2020, www.condorferries.co.uk/marine-ocean-pollution-statistics-facts.
“The Big Global Environmental Issues We Need to Resolve by 2030.” Iberdrola , 2020, www.iberdrola.com/environment/most-important-environmental-issues.
Dilevics, Andrew. “How Ocean Pollution Affects Humans.” Planet Aid, Inc. , 24 Mar. 2016, www.planetaid.org/blog/how-ocean-pollution-affects-humans.
EPA. Gateway, Water Pollution? It’s Just Bad Business , www.mtlebanon.org/DocumentCenter/View/9140/Water-Pollution—Bad-Business-Article?bidId=.
Haanaes, Knut. “Why All Businesses Must Embrace Sustainability.” IMD Research and Knowledge , IMD Business School, 16 Aug. 2018, www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/why-all-businesses-should-embrace-sustainability/.
“How Much Water Is There on Earth?” USGS Science for a Changing World , www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/how-much-water-there-earth?qt-science_center_objects=0.
Keetley, Amanda. “How Businesses Can Tackle Ocean Plastic Pollution.” Less Plastic , 9 Nov. 2017, www.lessplastic.org.uk/businesses-tackle-ocean-plastic-pollution/.
Sakurra , Kati. “What Will Happen If We Don’t Save The Ocean ” NatureCode.” NatureCode , 3 Dec. 2019, naturecode.org/ocean-preservation/.
Smithsonian Ocean Team. “How You Can Help the Ocean.” Ocean Find Your Blue , Smithsonian , 14 May 2018 ocean.si.edu/conservation/climate-change/how-you-can-help-ocean.
Taylor, Matthew, and Jonathan Watts. “Revealed: the 20 Firms behind a Third of All Carbon Emissions.” The Guardian , Guardian News and Media, 9 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions.
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
Ocean Pollution – Photo by Artem Beliakin – CC Pexels