Michael Bossert

Michael Bossert is the Manager of Research Innovation and Business Development at the Next-Generation Cities Institute at Concordia University in Montréal.

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

We have all had to adjust to how we are working over the last two years – any insights that are game changers for you?

The last two years were a challenge for many reasons. In addition to the existing grand challenges and crises, a little virus managed to turn our world upside down. Overnight many habits got questioned, and it was/ is shocking how badly the crisis was managed internationally, nationally, and locally. Trustful information and knowledge based on scientifically approved facts were the main points for orientation. This fact and the role of being drivers in local innovation ecosystems and part of urban communities should play an important role in how we collaborate as universities with our ecosystems. It was possible to change our way of working and collaborating in a few hours. The pandemic has shown us how quickly we can adapt and the risks and limits. We should use this knowledge to develop tailored local adaptation pathways to deal with the climate and biodiversity crises. “The ability to innovate determines our destiny!” as Roman Herzog, a former German President, said. I am convinced that Institutions of Higher Education must play a key role in this transformation process.

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

For me, good leadership is based on trust. This means it needs some time to grow and be nurtured continuously, as trust is hard to earn but easy to lose. A good recipe for leadership includes the following ingredients for me:

  • Ability to listen
  • Ability and willingness to change perspectives to understand problems and challenges better
  • Ability to form a strong core team in which each member can play their strength and aligns with the purpose, and has the possibility to grow
  • Transparent decision-making
  • Capability of telling good stories and motivate others
  • Finding quickly alternative solutions
  • Being capable of giving credit and appreciation to others
  • Staying excited and curious to be able to inspire others and be open to innovative ideas
  • A pinch of self-irony

Tenacity and Perseverance

What is the biggest implementation barrier you see, what would you need to overcome it?

Let’s call the barriers challenges. The biggest challenge is our own comfort zone. We are used to habits, cultural and historical grown or just somehow developed routines that make us feel comfortable in our everyday life. It requires some kind of motivation to make a change and to get out of this comfort zone, try new things or habits and to evaluate them if they are better or worse than the business as usual. The key is to create a tailored motivation to convince people to engage and participate in the urgently required transformation process. I doubt that national plans with no possibility to have a buy in will drive the change. But the locally co-developed plans that will directly influence our neighborhood and city will be a game changer. Said so, the biggest implementation barrier is the lack of tailored motivation solutions in the right scale to influence our behavior.

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

I have loved snowboarding since my teenager years. However, the weak point of this pleasure is that it is only possible a few weeks a year, even while living in Montréal. At the beginning of the pandemic, I discovered the summer version of this pleasure in form of an electric skateboard. Since then, I ride my Boosted Board each free minute, use it to commute to work, going shopping, meeting friends, and discovering the Montréal Island. As Montréal is pretty ambitious concerning the transformation of the transportation infrastructure there is an extensively growing network of bike paths that are in a great shape, a perfect condition to discover and cross the city and the Mont Royal.


Manfred Braune

I love the outdoors, nature and the ocean, where I find myself a lot. This combined with a love for science and creativity led me to a career in engineering and green building design. In my role as Director: Environmental Sustainability I now have the ability to combine my love for the environment, science, creativity and the built environment, where I oversee the delivery of the University of Cape Town's overarching environmental sustainability strategy in all spheres of the university.

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

What does the world need most right now?

The world needs action. There is unfortunately still way too much talking going on about solving critical environmental issues and too little action, in all sectors but especially in higher education (at least that is my view of the situation in South Africa). The world doesn't need another committee or conference, but rather the world needs higher education institutions to dedicate some of their time and resources towards tackling critical environmental issues, directly through the campus facilities and the campus community (this is obviously besides the research and teaching that goes on).

The world also needs more sharing to enable some of the action where resources are constrained. Some countries and universities have a lot more than others. Are there ways that universities that are well-resourced can establish green campus partner programmes that can provide support for periods of time? For example, a 6-month programme to share a senior resource at another university to support their green campus initiatives.

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

Here are a few of the qualities of excellent leadership that stand out to me:

  1. Creativity: excellent leaders are creative and don't simply follow somebody else's plan, but they creatively come up with solutions that can tackle the problems that nobody else has been able to overcome.
  2. Courage: excellent leaders have the courage to go against the grain/mainstream, when everyone says do this, they are prepared to step up and do something different or question the mainstream if they know it will produce a better result.
  3. Humility: excellent leaders are humble and quick to acknowledge all their team members and the incredible work that everyone does to contribute to a project's success, and respects and welcomes contributions from all kinds of diverse backgrounds.
  4. Honesty: excellent leaders are honest with themselves and with others about who they are and what they are capable of, including setting boundaries where appropriate and acknowledging failures/mistakes.

Tenacity and Perseverance

What would you tell others who are facing obstacles in their work?

We all typically face some kinds of obstacles in our work and life. I like to face them head on, but with plenty of preparation and planning beforehand, and, if you are a person of faith in God, like me, some prayer. So, collect as much information about the obstacle and gather ideas from others, and come up with a plan to tackle the obstacle. If the plan fails, try again. If the plan fails again, try another plan. Sometimes it helps to step away from the obstacle for a while and come back in future to tackle it, and for some reason then it can be overcome. The key is to not let the obstacle overcome you or to defeat you, but to keep trying or to shift your focus onto something else (if possible) and come back later.

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

One of my favourite things to do is surfing or swimming on a wave in the ocean, preferably without a wetsuit, even if it's cold - I love the feeling of gliding over or through beautiful waves with the beach and the mountains next to me, celebrating God's beautiful creation. If I can't do that, then I'll grab my skateboard and try to get as close to that as possible on the pavement! :-) Besides that, I love hanging out with my wife and two daughters, as well as with friends, and playing soccer and field hockey.


Tore Betten

Tore Betten is a senior advisor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in the Division for Governance and Management Systems. His role is to coordinate the measures NTNU use to reduce their collective carbon footprint.

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

Is there one thing you know now that you wish you had realized 5 years ago related to your work?


I wish I had understood earlier how serious the climate crisis was and is. I had been fairly environmentally conscious in my private life, while having jobs that required a lot of air travel. My climate concerns slowly started impacting my career plans. At some point, I realized I was spending so much time on trivial assignments and commuting by plane an embarrassing amount - I’ll never be able to compensate for the amount of flights I’ve taken, although I will try! I wish I had realized this earlier in my career. But like other things, a certain amount of life experience and maturity was needed.

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

I see excellent leadership as a combination of three dimensions. First and foremost, the ability to inspire. This is incredibly important in our field, because reality isn’t always accepted by those around us. A leader has to communicate messages, paint pictures, and plant seeds, and do all of this in heterogeneous contexts. Second, the ability to lift people up and give them the freedom to find their own way forward, while being willing to step out of the spotlight as a leader themself. Third, as a former health and safety professional, I think the ability to create a positive and healthy work environment is the alpha and omega. Being able to make work into a place that people want to go to every day will help teams grow, prosper, and reach their creative potential.

Tenacity and Perseverance

What is the biggest implementation barrier you see, and what would you need to overcome it?

It goes without saying that the climate crisis is complex. Yet I do see a few key challenges, the first being consumption - and more specifically, over-consumption. In my corner of the world, this is absolutely our biggest challenge. If everyone on earth consumed like the average Norwegian, we would need three to four earths to resource us, per year. “Earth Overshoot Day” arrives earlier and earlier each year, and we consume more and more. Culture is really the main barrier here, as well as the accepted idea that economic growth is a key (positive) indicator, and a measure of success. I really think we can get far through developing policies that encourage a longer life of products - both from the production side and the consumption side. This will really require politicians and policymakers to, and for people like me to show that it is possible.

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

During the pandemic a lot of people rediscovered their own city and country, and the same went for me. I went on so many great bike trips with those in my bubble and went to places in Norway that I had never been. In year 2 of the pandemic, I biked every day for more than half of the year. One of my favorite trips was a 520 km trip through the Lofoten islands. Admittedly, “white nights” during the summer definitely facilitate being outside! But I am thinking about winter tires this year…


Ana Margarida Costa

Ana Margarida Costa is the Head of Sustainability at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). She is Portuguese and has lived in Saudi Arabia since 2016. 

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

What does the world need most right now? 

Science has undoubtedly shown us that we need immediate and pragmatic action to prevent the overshooting of Earth's planetary boundaries. The world needs bold leadership to challenge the status quo and drive transformative change to tackle the climate, social and economic crises. The triple planetary crisis of climate emergency, pollution and biodiversity loss will most likely exacerbate the already existing pressures on society and the economy. The world needs to be united in one voice to turn the challenges into opportunities and drive real and effective action. Prioritizing nature and investing in research and innovation are key to this pivotal transformation.

Leadership and Inspiration

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

In the face of adversity and probably insuperable challenges, never give up. There is always an unthinkable solution ready to be discovered.

This is a piece of advice from my mentor and PhD advisor that helped me endure complex challenges and build resilience during my academic and research journey, and which I've kept in the last 20 years in my role to advance sustainability in the different organizations that I've worked with. Exercising creativity is inherent to the path to sustainability. There is no one-size-fits-all solution; We need to adapt the approach and solutions for sustainability to each organization and country's local circumstances and reality to be able to progress and succeed.

Tenacity and Perseverance

The Climate Emergency we face feels like the greatest challenge of our lifetime – what keeps you inspired?

The energy and courage of the young generations in advocating and leading the needed transformational change of our society for a more sustainable planet. Every day, I see the passion and the commitment to building a better world by the group of graduate students at KAUST that I'm mentoring. They are trailblazers and true change makers and a real inspiration to believe that there is hope for a global net-zero future.

 

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

I'm passionate about martial arts. I started karate when I was 14 years old and in the last few years, I've been practising kickboxing and Muay Thai. It helps me improve my mental strength, sharpen focus, and increase concentration. When I finish my training, I always feel re-energized and ready for the next challenge.


Emilio Latorre Estrada

Emilio Latorre Estrada is the Director of the Sustainable Campus Office at Fundación Universitaria Católica Lumen Gentium - UNICATÓLICA in Cali, Columbia.

"As an engineer, an urban and regional planner, and a dreamer, I believe it is still possible to reconnect Society with Nature."

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

What does the world need most right now? 

The world needs truth and organisations that are reliable and respected so that they can speak about the realities that are the consequences of objective research, based on real facts. Maybe this organisation could be it, universities that come together in networks at the local, regional, national and international level (like ISCN) and speak loudly about environmental problems, inequalities, segregation, neocolonialism, racism and classism, the scandal of wars still in the twenty-first century, and animal protection, among many other things. It is impossible to speak about sustainability without considering the social and political aspects. But finally, the worst that could happen is to generalise the idea of not doing anything to change the world, because the worst thing an individual can do is too little. We must behave responsibly with others and with Nature, before we think of changing the actions of others.

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

Leadership is the capacity to move other people around, ideas, and common purposes and at the same time give them the possibility of public recognition and visibility.

Tenacity and Perseverance

What is the biggest implementation barrier you see? What would you need to overcome it?

The biggest obstacle for implementing democracy, sustainability, and equality is selfishness. We humans think individually, we live in crowded cities that depend on the region in which they are situated, and still believe that we are not dependent on others and on nature. Culture is the biggest barrier to equality, sustainability, and overcoming sexism and classism. One of the most important things to change in our perception of the world at all levels is to change selfishness to collaboration. The pandemic could not have been controlled without collaboration, and in the same way climate change, inequality, migration, and poverty cannot be overcome without collaboration. Compete to collaborate, not to win. That would be the real purpose of cultural change and education in the face of the big problems we have to solve.

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

When I spent my sabbatical in South Carolina, USA a friend used to have bird feeders in her rural home. But to my surprise, when I came back to Colombia, I learned that I lived in the number one country for bird watching in the world, and that I had lived with birds without seeing them. So, I became a bird watcher and that changed my life. Because you can do birdwatching wherever you go. But always, always, see them in freedom.


Dave Gorman

Dave Gorman is the first-ever Director for Social Responsibility and Sustainability at The University of Edinburgh, a post he has held for 9 years.

Dave and his team support the University to deliver on its commitment to make a positive impact on the world, meet climate targets, consider human rights in activities, and innovate to generate positive social and environmental change in society.

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

We have all had to adjust to how we are working over the last two years – any insights that are game changers for you?

I think the last two years of dealing with Covid has taught me three things:

Firstly, that whilst we can indeed work 100% remote and virtual, we shouldn't. Universities are places for ideas and innovation; those ideas flow many times from the serendipitous conversations and can be hard to replicate if life is a series of Teams calls.

Secondly, I learned what a fundamentally important role Universities can play in society and during crises. Our university was doing everything from fundamental vaccine and virus research, to 3-D printing of scarce masks, to emergency community grants, to diverting surplus iPads and laptops to families in need to allow education to continue remotely.

Finally, I learned, just like after the 2008 financial crash – that we can pivot very quickly when we need to and when an emergency is in front of us – so how can we use that knowledge to make the same case for the climate crisis?

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

For me, an excellent leader knows and understands the context they work in. That means actively scanning the horizon for emerging issues, knowing their organisation inside out, and understanding their local area and the key stakeholders. A leader has a vision of where we need to go and a sense of how to get there. They know how organisational change happens, and how to communicate well and persuade. They own decisions but share the credit and support their staff fully whilst expecting high standards and strong performance.

Sustainability leaders need to create spaces for people to innovate and collaborate, and to ensure they have a measure of resilience – change is hard! Finally, an excellent leader has a certain humility, knowing their limits, sharing praise widely, admitting when they don't know, and they must always keep on learning...

Tenacity and Perseverance

The Climate Emergency we face feels like the greatest challenge of our lifetime – what keeps you inspired to keep working at it?

It can be hard to keep trying - I've been trying to alert society to the urgency of climate change for 30 years, and the IPCC reports just keep coming and emissions keep on rising. But there are plenty of signs of hope. Most people do want to tackle climate change, technology and innovation are moving apace, and as the IPCC says, we have all the tools we need to tackle this crisis.

More fundamentally for me, it's about more than technology and policies, it's about values and fairness. I have children, I want a better world for them. I don't want to be the generation that knew but did nothing. I know that climate change is fundamentally an issue of justice, I believe we owe nature the right to exist, and it's abundantly clear those most affected by climate did the least to cause it. So, when I am struggling, I think of my children, I think about nature, I think about fairness, and I think about the legacy I want to leave - and I go again.

Fun Fact

What is your favourite activity in your spare time?

I love nature and the outdoors and living in Scotland there is plenty to see though I often don't make the time for it that I should. I did my first ever solo wild camping at the age of 52 last summer - I learned that I love it, that 40 pounds on a backpack for 16 miles is hard work and I especially learned why it is that most others I saw were under 40 years of age! This summer I will return with lighter gear and a little more humility.


Julie Newman

Julie Newman PhD is the founding Director of Sustainability and lecturer with the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1995 Julie returned from Guatemala where she served as an environmental management Peace Corps volunteer and enrolled in graduate school to explore and develop a deep understanding of sustainable development, which was still a new concept at the time. She worked for the University Leaders for a Sustainable Future as a graduate assistant and then joined the University of New Hampshire to assist with the launch of the Office of Sustainability in 1997.

From there Julie headed to Yale University in 2004 to launch the Office of Sustainability where she also held a lecturer role with the School of Forestry and Environment.  While at Yale she founded the Northeast Sustainability Consortium which is still active today. In 2013, Julie moved to MIT as the Founding Director of Sustainability and launched their inaugural Office of Sustainability.  She has since built a program that includes 9 staff [as of FY23], 2 Faculty Fellows and 12 student research assistants. Julie was an inaugural member of ISCN representing Yale University at the time.

Big Idea(s) for Advancing Sustainability in Higher Education

What does the world need most right now?

We must look beyond ourselves and embrace and acknowledge the interconnectedness and the impact that our lifestyle choices, organizational systems, and regulatory structures upon which we depend have on the state of the world today.  Secondly, we are embedded in systems that warrant different scales of solution development and must consider and develop a deep understanding of our actions at the level of the: individual-the campus [for those of in higher education institutions]-the city-the state/territory-the country-and in the globe.

Leadership and Inspiration

What does excellent leadership look like to you?

Excellent sustainability leadership calls for deep humility, open collaboration and transparency, and a willingness to not be credited for the success. A desire to find common ground with those you may not see eye to eye. Additionally, sustainability leadership calls for a need to work across disciplines and expertise that are not your own and calls for us to act decisively to pull the multiple perspectives together to inform our understanding of the complexity of the challenge and the potential solution. Excellent sustainability leadership calls for developing a team that compliments your strengths and a willingness to solicit and learn from different perspectives.  Excellent leaders create space for ideation and listening to empower others to lead the way and developed a sense that the community is in this together.

Tenacity and Perseverance

The Climate Emergency we face feels like the greatest challenge of our lifetime – what keeps you inspired to keep working at it?

I carry a deep sense of responsibility to both as an individual and as part of a collective, solve for a net zero future with the greatest of integrity and urgency.  I continue to experience how solving for a net zero future enables the creation of new multi-disciplinary partnerships and provides common ground between unique individuals.  I am continuously inspired by those I am surrounded by who are equally committed to strive and solve for a net zero future which provides a deep sense of hope that we will figure this out, even in times of despair. At MIT I co developed a course with a faculty member from Mechanical Engineering, entitled “Solving for Carbon Neutrality” and each Spring we work with a multi-disciplinary group of remarkable students, who become trained in both carbon accounting and Net Zero scenario planning.  Developing that space to study, analyze and plan in a learning environment provides new angles on a familiar challenge.

Fun Fact

What book is a must-read and why?

Coal, by Barbara Freese, is a must read by those of us attempting to mitigate and plan for a net zero world.  Coal provides the historical perspective on the emergence of our dependency on an energy system that fueled our homes, our economy and our industry while also fueling systems of injustice, economic disparity and a public health crisis.  We must understand the lessons learned and opportunities sought over the 800 year period we have relied on coal to inform how we transition and transform our energy sector today.