Events - 10.02.2015 - 00:00 

Shaping sustainable impact

The Leaders Forum, a three day event, brought together leaders in business, NGOs, public organisations and education to focus on current sustainability issues.


9 February 2014. Sustainability can focus on environmental concerns as well as the idea that business should also focus on the development of the welfare of the less fortunate. Leaders that follow sustainable business practices are advancing their organisations by focusing not just on economics but on social and environmental concerns as well. By bringing some of these leaders to this forum, participants were given insight into how “enlightened self-interest” is changing the world.

Introducing a group of pioneering leaders, Roberto Artavia, president of VIVA Trust stated that, “we have yet to turn the tide. Words like extinction, poverty, corruption, youth unemployment, and inequality keep showing their ugly face much too often.” He continued, stating that he hoped participants could learn how to overcome challenges by hearing these leaders talk about their personal experiences.

Defining sustainability

University of St. Gallen President Thomas Bieger provided a foundational definition for sustainability which set-up a common understanding for the entire conference. He used the definition of sustainability used at the Rio Conference in 1992 and was the basis of the book, “Kurswechsel”  edited by Dr. Stephan Schmidheiny. He said that, “Sustainability means a form of progress that which serves the needs of the current generation without destroying the basis or the possibilities of the next generation.”

Bieger continued to say that at its core, sustainability is an intergenerational issue. “Every generation wants a better start than they had… sustainability is therefore is a concept which reflects the basic values of fairness, justice, and a responsible society.” Bieger also noted that the biggest challenge with sustainability is its implementation.

Not just talk

Doris Leuthard a federal councillor for the Swiss Confederation noted that 2015 was an important year for multinational climate and sustainability, with three major conferences coming up in the next few months. She noted that all politicians from all countries needed support on these issues because, “only talking about sustainability and only talking about climate change does not make a change at all.”

She pointed out that most national governments are not seeing enough domestic economic growth to invest a large amount of money into sustainable and renewable projects. She also noted that countries such as South Africa, who use coal as a major energy source, have problems with poverty and education so expecting them to be leaders in the sustainability movement is naïve. She also bluntly stated that she believes that students who don’t care about sustainability will fail.

A tangible direction

Joining participants via video conference, world renown economist and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University was Jeffrey Sachs. He passed on his belief that this year 2015 represents the last chance for a multilateral agreement regarding climate change and sustainability. As one of the youngest tenured economics professors in the history of Harvard University (at age 28), Sachs became known for his work in economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization. “Redirecting the financial system towards sustainable development instead of unsustainable development is fundamental.”

Sachs also spoke in detail about the upcoming diplomatic conferences and mentioned that the UN UN International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July is key. He said that they, “will have the goal of having both private and public finance to move to move towards investing and paying for the things we need in the future: low-carbon energy, sustainable agriculture, smart cities, electric vehicles and shifting finance away from things we absolutely must not have like new oil drilling and deep-sea hydrocarbon exploration. The fact of the matter is we have more than enough carbon reserves now, we should not be adding any new reserves, we should be moving to wind power, solar power, hydro-electric power, and other zero carbon energy sources and energy uses.”

The Leaders Forum – Shaping the Global Sustainability Agenda was organized by the Centro Latinomericano-Suizo Center at the University of St.Gallen, VIVA TRUST and AVINA Stiftung.

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