Dr Candice Howarth and Tracey Zalk review the Global Sustainability Institute's inaugural conference
The Global Sustainability Institute's (GSI) inaugural conference themed 'Big Challenges, Creative Solutions' took place in Cambridge on 15 May 2013. Over a hundred delegates from academic, political, consultancy, commercial and non-commercial organisations attended to explore how individuals interact with and influence global systems.
The conference covered a diverse range of issues from global trade policy to the potential for hairdressers to act as social change agents. A recurrent theme of the day was on co-operation rather than competition.
Jane Davidson, ex-minister in the Welsh Assembly Government presented the keynote speech and a candid question time panel discussion concluded the formal part of the conference. The panel featured Craig Bennett (Friends of the Earth), Professor Brett Day (University of East Anglia), Deborah Doane (World Development Movement), Eileen Donnelly (John Lewis) and Dr Sergio Fava (Anglia Ruskin University).
Questions discussed included whether short-term capital accumulation was needed to allow for an increase in investment in long-term sustainability solutions (such as low carbon technology). In addition, the need for political vision and leadership whilst acknowledging the challenge presented by short electoral cycles was a seen as a clear barrier to transformation change. Concern was expressed that the type of rapid change needed has, in the past, been linked with human suffering. The panel concluded that the role of technological innovation and regulation to unlock change needs further investigation as this may or may not alleviate some of the social challenges that we are to face. How investment and economic growth contribute to a future 'green economy' is still very uncertain.
Dr Aled Jones, Director of Anglia Ruskin's GSI, said: "By allowing space for creativity we hope that the GSI annual conference provided a level playing field where economists, artists, scientists, business entrepreneurs and policy makers, amongst others, worked collaboratively and found a common language that will both challenge them but also enable them to take bold decisions as they return to day-to-day work."
The conference was illustrated in real time by a cartoonist who captured a number of the topics raised throughout the day and the twitter hashtag was #GSI2013. Academic articles were also submitted to a special issue of the open-access journal Sustainability and a booklet of the day's cartoons is in production.
The conference concluded with a private viewing of a sustainability-themed art exhibition resulting from the 2013 Cambridge Sustainability Residency. The exhibition presented works by 13 artists touching upon areas as diverse as transportation, water management and healing, consumerism, life cycle of manufactured products, access to land, invasive vs native species, food production, and climate change. The residency was conceived and materialised by two locally based artists: Russell Cuthbert and Marina Velez, and hosted by the Global Sustainability Institute and The Cambridge School of Art. The vision of the residency was to bring sustainability into a cultural and political territory from where the artists could wrestle with concepts, theories, history and even prejudices related to what sometimes is called 'environmental art'.
In addition to hosting conferences and assisting with incorporating sustainability throughout Anglia Ruskin University's courses, the Global Sustainability Institute undertakes research and other initiatives. In fact, The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries recently commissioned the Global Sustainability Institute to carry out research on limits-to-growth and potential impacts to actuarial advice.
Information about GSI's other projects (including a follow-on project to the actuarial commissioned project) can be found here:
Members of the Resource and Environment Group would have seen details of the conference through the mailing list and four members attended the conference.
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*All cartoons are credited to http://www.CaricaturesbyLukeWarm.co.uk<http://www.caricaturesbylukewarm.co.uk/cartoons-conference-cartoons>and are not to be used for any other purpose without permission of the artist.