A new Concordia project is aggregating environmental knowledge for stakeholders around world

Sunset with rolling green hills and a windmill farm stretching into the distance.Photo by RawFilm on Unsplash

The problem with formalizing education around sustainability is that things change so quickly. According to Maria Maisuradze (BComm 09), co-creator and project manager of the Sustainability Ecosystem, there is hardly time to develop programs, curricula or train educators before processes, best practices and technology become irrelevant. This is just one of the issues that her new project is looking to rectify.

Hosted at Concordia’s John Molson Executive Centre (JMEC), the Sustainability Ecosystem aims to serve the community at large, both within Montreal and beyond.

A sustainable mission

The Sustainability Ecosystem officially launched in May 2020, and it has since hosted two Learning Lab series delivered by experts and practitioners, which allow participants to work in groups on case studies. Initially planned as one full-day, in-person event, the program has been adapted to bring participants from level one: awareness, to level three: specialized, over three two-hour online sessions.

The Learning Labs are designed to deepen understanding on quickly evolving environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics and help catalyze the adoption of sustainable practices for businesses, asset owners and investors. The ecosystem also hosts the Educational Exchange Forum, a monthly meetup of educators and students from around the world who share ideas and information and create collaboration opportunities.

Finally, it provides a tangible space for people to come together to find unbiased, well-rounded information regarding every aspect of sustainability. With the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals in mind, the ecosystem was developed as a branching-off point for individuals around the world searching to deepen their understanding and advance their sustainability practices.

Bringing everyone together

The Sustainability Ecosystem capitalizes on collective intelligence to aggregate knowledge and bring it to various stakeholders including students, academic institutions, industry professionals, asset managers, regulators and more. The focus is to bridge existing knowledge, initiatives and task forces to create synergies and advance more quickly.

“Our vision is to leverage a multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary approach, in order to break the silos and catalyze innovation and systems change,” says Maisuradze. “This is the only way to get closer to solving the wicked problems that our society is facing.”

A different approach to sustainability action

Although there exist several sustainability-focused initiatives in Montreal, the Sustainability Ecosystem is unique. “We do not refer to it as an initiative but as an aggregator. The ecosystem aggregates all the best facets of sustainability education in one place,” explains Stephen Kibsey (MBA 91), co-leader of the project. A primary goal of the ecosystem is to fill a clear need for sustainability education and collaboration, particularly in Montreal but also extending worldwide.

One such identified need was the lack of hands-on, practical education regarding sustainability issues. Increasing amounts of research and content created on these topics make it difficult to navigate and identify quality and relevant information. According to Maisuradze, most webinar and panel discussions available today remain at a basic level and do not provide actionable knowledge that individuals can apply within their organizations.

“We are beyond the ESG 101 phase,” stresses Amr Addas, project governor of the ecosystem, as well as an adjunct professor of finance at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business. “We need to go beyond that. We need to educate people about the tools they can use and really dive a bit deeper.”

The ecosystem is delivering such tools through the many different topics it has already covered and plans to cover in the coming months. The aggregator is collaborating with organizations such as Ceres, Manulife Asset Management, the CFA Institute, CDP, SHARE and more to host upcoming Learning Labs on climate scenario analysis, greenhouse gas accounting and reporting, and stakeholder engagement.

The ecosystem is ever-evolving. The team analyzes current needs for sustainability knowledge and continues to shift and change the programming over time to meet community needs. Overall, patience and agility are priorities to ensuring the ecosystem’s success in meeting its goals. As Kibsey puts it, “Many times change comes very slowly, but the key is to never give up.”

The human element

“Embracing and supporting sustainability is the most human thing that a business person or educator can do in the 21st century,” Kibsey adds. The ecosystem began when he, Maisuradze and Addas realized there was a need for a tangible community – a safe space, so to speak – where people could share knowledge and get ideas about sustainability in a well-rounded and unbiased way.

Guided by ESG principles, the goal is to build a resilient and prosperous society without sacrificing future generations. For Kibsey, the only way to advance these complex issues is through collaboration – the most human element of all.

Learn more about the John Molson Executive Centre and the Sustainability Ecosystem.

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