Rio+20, The Sustainable Sustainability

The past week or so Rio saw an incredible influx of people, coming to participate in the various events related to the UN conference on sustainability. Of course, the important guests such as Obama, Dilma and other heads of states showed their presence but with more than 3000(!!) side events, the majority of the zoo consisted of environmentalists, policy makers, journalists, various human rights advocates, charity workers and any kind of self proclaimed oppressed minority.

For example, the city is full of Indians from the North of Brazil, who came wearing their traditional feathers with their faces painted, to protest the oppression of their rights. One has to ask the smart-ass question: How can a person claiming to be living for under $1 a day, can afford a $500 flight, to come to hang out in Rio for a week?

Indians in Rio

There was also a guy who claims he came from Mozambique to protest the horrible atrocities he faced by the hands of a brazilian company’s subsidiary there. He has come all the way to Rio, to protest in front of the headquarters, interviewing for all the local newspapers and media, who are more than happy for such a scoop. Just again, to put in reference, Mozambique is where there are cases when a person would quit his job after one month, because the salary was so much for him, that he decided he does not need to work anymore.

Also, we had to work from home or alternative buildings, as corporate security was worried about protests. In one of the days, some of the people who had to work late, had to be evacuated from the building as the protestors were blocking the entrances. Also, the side wall was sprayed with red paint balls, and writings such as “down with multinationals”, and your company = death. Apparently, Rio does not have enough social problems to worry about, and vandalism is a form of art.

As the recently appointed unofficial head of sustainability strategy for my company, I got to spend the last 4 months discussing any possible issue related to this topic. I also got to meet many of the various actors in the field. I came to the following conclusions:

1. Sustainability is a whole cross functional research field (like psychology, chemistry, or biology) whose findings, present and future, could fill in something like 100 football stadiums.

2. Most of the people in this field are hopeless dreamers or smart politicians who spend all their time crying for everybody else, talking about every possible problem of their world, blaming big companies, government and everybody else, without offering any solutions.

3. As a result of the above two, sustainability generates $$$ for the people who know how to use it to their advantage, those being: consultants, industrial manufacturers, politicians, NGOs, any kind of disadvantaged person.

I am not against trying to make the world a better place, but I am really skeptical this will happen unless people will stop discussing again and again the same problems and start coming up with reasonable solutions instead of saying crap such as: “GDP growth is not a good measure of development, the capitalist system has totally failed and we need to move to another system that does not focus on economics” -direct quote from a colleague from sustainability department, sitting across from me in a fancy lunch event, and wearing her designer shirt and diamond earrings).

Another alternative is also to put more smart, action oriented people, such as Shay Agassi (betterplace.com), to find solutions, instead of waiting for useless politicians or college professors to do so.

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