Toward Integrative Science-Inspired Solution-Structures for Sustainability: e.g., C3

Friday, February 15, 2013
Room 300 (Hynes Convention Center)
Kai Ming A. Chan , University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
The array of urgent environmental and social-ecological challenges may call for an array of solution-oriented initiatives. But a proliferation of initiatives arguably detracts from the success of each—both because of competition between concerns and discordance of solutions. Elinor Ostrom argued aptly against panaceas: no specified ‘solutions’ can work in all settings. Are those who seek to protect ecosystems and ecosystem services therefore doomed to a fire-fighting role? The information age presents scientists with an opportunity to help structure the apparently overwhelming complexity of environmental concerns for diverse audiences, and to co-craft initiatives that can empower well-intentioned actors to practice small-planet ethics. A key component is the design of a global networked structure to help coordinate and fund place-based initiatives to protect and restore ecosystems and ecosystem services.

One such possibility is ‘C3’, a proposed Community of Caring Consumers, producers, organizations, and corporations who commit conspicuously to internalize all possible ecological externalities and to strive for a net positive impact. Members would buy within C3 and fund offsets and mitigation measures in places impacted by their consumption and activities. C3’s design is rooted in institutional design, psychology, systems analysis, and other fields. It’s not a new solution, but a science-based integration of existing ones. By requiring mitigation measures to be co-designed and run locally in order to address priority risks as derived from participatory processes, C3 might enable just and lasting solutions. C3 would verifiably channel funds to places and projects based on trusted science with some user-choice, thereby streamlining environmental risk management and corporate/consumer social-ecological responsibility. C3 corporations might burnish their brand through creative marketing, which could unleash a positive feedback of identity messaging and adoption that cements a new social norm for sustainability: that citizenship implies taking responsibility for diverse, diffuse, and distant social-ecological impacts.

C3 may go nowhere or surpass reasonable expectations. Regardless of its fate, I invite all to join a group of researchers in a new node of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere to conceptualize and design such coordinating initiatives for global sustainability. Science can help harness and activate goodwill by connecting consumers, companies and others to the social-ecological ramifications of their actions, and to solutions.