It is always important to start a new adventure on the right foot. That is why I was so excited to begin my studies in Environmental Sustainability Master program with the four day orientation week, during which there would be time to get to know my new classmates and elaborate on our perception of sustainability. It did not disappoint.
The orientation week really brought us all close together, especially the team building exercises, given to us by Dr. Brian C. Bailey, a well-known psychotherapist. We learnt a lot of new things, including simple techniques on how to better understand the cognitive processes that eventually affect our productivity. Fun and intensive group exercises, during which we built teams and successfully solved fun puzzles and tasks given by Dr. Bailey, were a real ‘ice breaker. All of us became friends with one another in no time.
Our stay at the magnificent EcoNiche House in the middle of a picturesque forest in Quebec was, without doubt, my favorite part of the orientation week. But it was far from being the only exciting part of it. We took a hiking trip to the Gatineau Park, visited Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre – a huge sewage treatment plant that operates like a fine Swiss watch – and a redevelopment project site, run by Windmill Development.
We met with many interesting people, and of course, spoke a lot about sustainability, and heard many different opinions.
When asked about my own perception of sustainability prior to our orientation week, I gave the following answers:
1) “Longevity of environment” – as my own definition of the word ‘sustainability’.
2) “Harmonic interaction between the man and the nature which is based on realizing that the man is an integral part of it” - in the sense that humankind needs to reevaluate its attitude toward the environment, and stop viewing the nature, first of all, from the perspective of a mere utility, but rather strive to promote care and compassion for the nature through realizing our oneness with it.
3) “Wise management of natural resources and bio-systems so that they could replenish themselves” – by realizing our responsibility to the nature, we should restructure whole systems of our activity in order to minimize the harmful impact on atmospheric, maritime, geologic, and many other natural processes; to protect, and as much as possible, refrain from utilizing animal and plant life; and to give bio-systems the ability to replenish what has been taken from them.
However, in the modern world, which is intrinsically anthropocentric, this is hardly feasible to implement. We evaluate the nature first and foremost by practical utility, and sadly, are still unable to view the world through the eyes of a whooping crane or a snow leopard, or to fully comprehend the fact that we only share the planet with myriad of similar organisms, rather than own it.
The role of environmental sustainability thus is to make the economic development and humankind’s natural strive for prosperity less harming by promoting eco-conscious strategies and lifestyles, such as ethical consumerism, and making them a top priority on social and political agenda of today.
Therefore, the orientation week was highly useful for setting the course for the future work, creating a strong bond between all of us, and personally, broadening my own perception of the current scientific approach to sustainability. It may not be as thoroughly influenced by the ideas of environmental philosophy as I previously thought, but it just makes it all the more interesting.
Much exciting work lies ahead.
Ronnie Safarov is a M.Sc Environmental Sustainability candidate with a strong background in media and communications.