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Strategic sustainable transport

Henrik Ny

If you come back a year later and they’ve got recycling in the office rather than looking at the main process, that’s a sign that they are not really buying it.

Dr Henrik Ny is a researcher and Sessional Instructor at Blekinge Institute of Technology. His research interests include ecological economics and sustainable product development. He has worked to integrate lifecycle assessment into the environmental management system and the waste treatment and recycling efforts of major industrial companies. Henrik’s current role is to run large research projects together with industry and public institutions. The largest so far is a regional electric vehicle project called Greencharge.

This conversation is one of a series of four recorded at Blekinge Institute of Technology Department of Strategic Sustainable Development in September 2014.

Talking points

I studied engineering as a route to sustainability.

If you did it from scratch it would be much easier…but it rarely happens that you get to do something from scratch.

My PhD was a toolbox for companies to practically integrate strategic sustainability into their products and systems.

Rather than just looking at the systems as they are, we started looking at applying the principles for sustainability.

Substances from the earth’s crust should not be allowed to increase in the system – because then we will have problems now or in the future. So this makes the process of increasing concentrations a problem – before you know what consequences they give.

Chemicals – combinations of emissions from the earth’s crust – these should also not increase.

The third is about other ways to break down natural systems.

The fourth is about social sustainability, because even if we address the ecological issues without the social people will not deal with this in a good way. We need to be happy at the same time.

We have focussed on the process conditions – the increasing concentrations, we’re working with others (Rockstrom) who have set up the boundary conditions for how far those processes can go.

Companies are beginning to understand that so long as they are acting in an unsustainable way, they are taking a risk. It sometimes takes while for them to understand that.

If you are working with someone who is trying to improve, it is sometimes counter productive to be too dogmatic. I never tone done the science or the consequences of something, but I am trying not to tell them how they should run their business.

If you come back a year later and they’ve got recycling in the office rather than looking at the main process, that’s a sign that they are not really buying it.

The nature of something that is so big – holistic – is that sometimes it is so big and blurry that you don’t know where to focus…that’s the value of the framework.

We have added a scoping phase to Life Cycle Assessment where you use the principles of sustainability, so that you can see, just by knowing that you’re looking for substances from the earths crust what you’ve up against… the idea is that you can keep track and not get lost into the detail.

If you want (your analysis) to become dynamic, then you use scenarios and tweak it, system dynamics from a strategic perspective.

The challenge is to do something complex enough to address reality, but not so complex that you don’t understand what is going on.

Putting social systems into that makes it more complex.

(Green Charge) The technology we need is more or less here – so it is more of a social- economic problem: how can you mobilise the necessary actors to act in a coordinated way to make this possible and affordable.

We could say this is how you should be sustainable, but if everyone is bankrupt before they get there then little is won. So we try divide in two steps. First a wish list of the things we want to do. Then we prioritise based on short-term economics.

So we try to find things that will give you money now, and prepare for coming steps.

(are we close to the tipping point for sustainable transport?) Not yet, but within five years.

The status quo is a big barrier.

As long as there are a few good examples of success, we will move forward quite quickly.

Those who don’t move will lose in the transition.

The strategic framework raises a few principles as a common guide for any actor. It is built at such a level that anyone acting in society could, for example identify according to principle one, how they contribute to increasing concentration of substances from the earth’s crust. That can lead to common goals, with different types of actors working together.

The strategic sustainability framework provides a common language so that people from different positions can work together.

When you put a price on externalities and internalise them into the economy, then you are making the economy better. But even with this environmental economics, we might consume them (the environment) anyway but at a higher cost. Ecological Economics attempts to limit this with quota and so on.

We need to think about growth in more nuanced way. Many times growth today is just expanding a wasteful business model where you waste a lot of resources, then you expand that and waste a even more resources. If you transition to a business model where you waste less resources, then you can have economic growth while not wasting as much. It is difficult to achieve this in practice – to have both growth without systematically eroding the environment.

There are different ways to fulfill needs that wouldn’t show up in our current economic systems.

Just enough is not enough. Restorative sustainability…systems that start to improve themselves again. I think this is necessary, because we have destroyed a lot of things.

(Motivation) Realisations when I was very young – looking a car exhausts and asking where they go. The realisation that this is not going to work. Then being able to be part of the solution and just looking at the problem. And I’m quite curious and I like solving problems, simplifying, explaining…and here is the biggest, most interesting problem we have.

(How many people do we need?) Amoeba theory…

(Activist?) Depends on what you mean by activist. I don’t generally go around telling people what they should do. And I’m not fundamentalist in that I do everything right always myself. I try to make the big things right and recognise that sometimes you need to make compromises.

(Challenges?) Run Green Charge to fruition. Develop the road map, develop a big systems model to look for transition points.

(Miracle?) We have the technology…so one, a sudden global awareness that we need to change to become sustainable, and two, this is how we should do it.

(Advice?) Don’t despair. Most of us are aware that there is something wrong with the world today, but most of us are also quite frustrated that we don’t know what to do to fix it. But there are many things you can do, use the internet, find things to do, trying to reduce your own energy bill for example will start helping the world.

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