University of Western Ontario's IDEAS conference

Today I had the pleasure of watching the students of the University of Western Ontario’s Masters progam in Environment and Sustainability present to their peers, partners and other community guests the output of their 6-week consulting projects.

All of the student projects used The Natural Step Framework as the guiding structure for their analyses and recommendations to clients ranging from the the university, the city, a neighboring First Nation community, to multi-stakeholder regional watershed groups in Canada and Kenya, to a local community organization and successful local businesses. Seeing the students espouse the merits of backcasting in such varying contexts or hearing them articulate the rationale for their recommendations using the three strategic prioritization questions was inspiring and a good reminder of the broad applicability of the framework. One group even creatively used The Natural Step framework as applied to the choice between two different tomato options at local grocers to clearly establish the gap between London’s urban food system today and a sustainable urban food system of the future.

The keynote speaker for the event, Mr. Bob McDonald, the renown Canadian science journalist, spoke optimistically about humanity’s capacity to respond to the serious threats of our unsustainable course, based on his recounting of the astounding development of science and human intelligence in the relatively short life span of just a couple of generations and the growing recognition that we have just this one Earth. Seeing these bright students in action today and sensing their obvious passion for making positive real change, I share his optimism. We need to create more opportunities for young people like this to focus their energy and creativity on sustainability, and more opportunities for “clients” to hear them.

Congratulations to the University of Western Ontario for creating this innovative program and to the client partners for participating.