The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Personal Accountability is Essential NOW!
Managing change while confronting the onslaught of converging social, economic, and environmental issues that challenge humanity requires all generations to work together. Although we inherently know that collaboration is a powerful tool for achieving mutual results, humanity is frequently encumbered and divided by generational differences which stifle productive communications and relationship building.
Too often I’m confronted by people of all ages that say they don’t understand the “older” or “younger” generation. Whether they are old or young, the sentiment is often the same. Typically, frustration and plethora of excuses are expressed on how and why the “other generation” simply “doesn’t get it”.
Boomers call Millennials too proactive, unfocused, entitled, and non-respectful. Millennials are frustrated by bureaucratic and lengthy process and would rather see immediate results. They claim Boomers are slow to act and require too much handholding when it comes to new technology, the speed of information, and the formulation of ideas into action. Boomers claim Millennials fall shy of understanding process and the need to formulate sound strategies which can be deliberately put into place to hedge risk.
There is no doubt that there are stark generational differences in how Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials think, act, and live. We have grown up in dramatically different times. The advancement of personal computers and communications technologies since the early 1980s has been significant. Many of us “old fogies” remember rotary dialed phones, mainframe computers, and floppy disks. Throughout their lives, Boomers have seen both incremental and dramatic shifts in technological innovation.
In contrast, Millennials were born into a world where the speed of information and the generation, management, and analysis of large amounts of data was just taking off. When it comes to technology and computing in particular, Boomers began with training wheels and had a steady learning curve associated with the implications of how data and information could be processed and used. Millennials on the other hand have been handed the wheels of a Ferrari, without any driver’s education, and are somehow expected to stay within the fictional “lines” of due process so valued by Boomers and older generations. Boomers have been able to “stage-gate” their relationship and experience with technology, whereas Millennials more intuitively adopt.
Our shared reality is that all generations are part of a new playing field that looks a little like the game of the past, but is rapidly reinventing the game going forward. The rules of engagement and players have done a 180 degree turn in one generation. Without pause for reflection or time to assess the damages and opportunities, this situation pits old against young, rich against poor, Democrat against Republican, and so on.
As each successive generation moves forward, it is important to ask if we continue to have the “freedom to operate.” In a free and democratic nation we have virtues, values, and beliefs that we are open to share, vet, and pursue. When we constrain ourselves, whether it be in our philosophical framework and thinking (i.e., our mindset) or in our ability to live a healthy lifestyle (i.e., limiting our mental or physical abilities and consciousness) we basically limit our ability to help not only ourselves, but others.
If our own most basic needs are net being taken care of, how can we possibly address the needs of those in our community, our state, nation, let alone around the world? This simple point is far too often lost by too many people. In an eagerness to serve the needs of people a world away, far too many people forget about the challenges right before our eyes, in our neighborhood and under our own roof.
It is not enough to say “I don’t get the other generation.” We have to lead, move beyond impasses in philosophical and ideological thinking, and work hard to understand the needs, capabilities, and values of others so that we can not only understand them, but work together with them. That is how generational change happens, that is how leaders lead. When Boomers or Millennial’s ask me what they should do I frequently say, “befriend someone from the other generation, get to know them, learn about them, discover what drives them, and embrace who they are and the values they bring.” If we throw up our arms and announce defeat before we ever really get the chance to collaborate, well then, that is just another way we limit our freedom to operate.
When I speak to audiences I often challenge them, hopefully balanced with a little sense of humor and a dose of reality, to consider what our actions and behaviors as adults demonstrate to children. For some reason the values and virtues that our parents and grandparents preached to us as kids don’t always stick into adulthood. There is tremendous merit and truth to what our elders once taught and told us. And for a period of life we somewhat heeded to their wisdom. Do you remember advice and phrases such as “be kind to others, treat others respectfully, listen to your peers and elders, share, take turns, and play nice?” I do. These words were often delivered in the moment, and used as a direct way for the older generation to guide us, swiftly, into modifying our behavior while learning a “societal” virtue on how we are expected to behave. Yet when we arrive at adulthood, whether we are 20-something or 50-something, we don’t always live up to the wise advice and expectation of those that came before us.
Eager and innocent, the world’s youth intently watch and model adult behavior as they yearn to have more responsibility and “be older.” Adults however, are conflicted. Our actions and behaviors depict a confusing contrast of hope and fear. On one hand adults preach individual integrity and character, generational peace and sustainability – yet when we are at our worst – we perpetuate war, violence, economic inequality, racial biases, unethical conduct, and so on. Adults inflict unwanted and unnecessary havoc throughout the world. Children are mostly innocent bystanders and victims of our vile social ills.
Recently, I referenced the stark contrasts and illogical behaviors of adults as an illustration of generational divide impeding sustainable development to a group of college students and professors. Following the presentation, one of the professors in the room stated very matter of fact, “…yes, its accurate that adults are not 100% accountable for the unsustainable behaviors and mistrust they perpetuate in society…but you can’t change that, humans fight for survival and for what they believe in…conflicts and differences will always be prevalent in society…it is how changes in the past have occurred…and it is how changes will happen into the future.”
When the professor concluded their comment I looked around the room. All eyes were on me, awaiting a reaction. I looked at several students and felt immediately sad for them. The flawed logic of this particular professor is exactly what the students have come to hear, time and time again, their whole lives. Too me the professor’s ideology screamed of accepting the world for what it is, not what it could be. The comment accepts the status-quo and suggests that humans are inherently unable to collaborate to achieve mutual ends.
The status-quo has an incredible way of drawing you in, making you feel safe and comforted. People hide behind the status-quo, and they like to extinguish challenging ideas quickly. To do so, they recite history and put the fear in others. For people living in a democratic and free country with an exuberant amount of wealth compared to developing nations, it is a convenient podium to speak from, the status-quo. Everything makes sense when you reason it with a sprinkle of economic theory laced with baked-in ideological views of humanity that were developed 30 or more years ago, during a time when students were not even born yet.
Why shouldn’t humanity aspire for greatness grounded in a new generational demand for peace, sustainability, justice, ethics, and accountability? To throw up our hands, and before a group of peers and students, and basically say challenging convention will never work goes against the hard fought freedom that has been bestowed upon every citizen that attend my talk in the lecture hall. I did not challenge the professor, but I did simply say, the most challenging thing is to set ourselves aside, even for just a moment, to view our communities and the world through another set of eyes, to understand the point of view of another human, who may share space on this earth with us, but who may have a dramatically different view that us on how we play together.
The world’s greatest asset is the life, intellect, creativity, and inspiration enveloped in every single individual alive today. And, life is rapidly evolving before our eyes. To stay too entrenched with the past prohibits us to live in the moment, let alone figure out ways to move forward. We shouldn’t throw away our values, beliefs and ideologies. But we need to be cognizant that there is always a younger generation seeking wisdom, truth, and opportunity – right at our heels – and who represent the promise of a better future.
We will differ on the definition of, and approach to, attain a sustainable future. However, together we all represent the sustainability generation, an extraordinary diversity of people, ideas, capability, and creativity. By harnessing our collective ambition with the will to act, and the power of personal accountability, the sustainability generation can overcome any challenge threatening the fate of humanity.
The opportunity to achieve a more sustainable world begins with each one of us, selflessly embracing and living life with a strong sense of purpose, passion, and resolve. We have, individually and generationally, the power to influence the world around us. To get there, we need to foster mutual respect, understanding, trust building, and collaboration. Together we can bridge generational divides and allow humanity to achieve its greatest potential. In doing so, we can stimulate sustainability and liberate humanity from the most significant barrier to our collective success, ourselves.
Author note: This post was originally published by Mark Coleman on May 20, 2015 in the Huffington Post.
Time flies. Yet some of life’s experiences and lessons are timeless. While it’s hard for me to believe, eighteen years ago I was completing my Master of Science (MS) in Environmental Management and Policy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). The Master’s program, a hybrid in graduate education, was progressive for its time, fusing traditional MBA-core curriculum with hefty coursework requirements in science, engineering, public policy, and humanities.
I sought out the unique MS program because it appealed to my desire to learn and understand the language of MBAs, lawyers, chief scientists, and principle engineers. But more than that, I wanted to be able to see all sides of an issue, and be trained to effectively communicate and work toward pragmatic and mutual solutions.
One of the most memorable courses I took in graduate school was an elective titled “One Mile of the Hudson River.” The course was deliberately designed to be interdisciplinary and focused on “one mile” of the Hudson River basin as an illustrative microcosm of how human and natural ecologic systems converge.
The elective was taught by professors of biology, economics, engineering, and included aspects of law, policy, and stakeholder management. The course was oriented to junior, senior, and graduate students who had completed prior science coursework. The diversity of students combined with the interdisciplinary focus created an atmosphere of intellectual stimulation and curiosity that was unique.
Some students were data-driven and more analytical and mathematically minded. Others were more interested in ecology, biodiversity, and conservation. And some students took a more economic and business-minded viewpoint. While the course aligned to the strengths of students at different times, it also revealed their weaknesses. Professors made it a point for students to work both in teams and individually.
Students were required to construct and input and output models that analytically demonstrated what would happen to the ecologic health of river systems based upon nutrient loading of nitrogen and phosphorous, and other chemicals. For those that were less data-minded, such assignments were onerous. Students were also assigned to collaborate on design teams that would assess specific social-economic-environmental issues in the Hudson River watershed, and derive a solution that could balance the multi-faceted interests of the community.
The design project required teams to get out of the classroom and talk with real-life people. In response, our team sought out to identify and speak with as many critical stakeholders concerned with the environmental and economic prosperity of “one mile of the Hudson” as possible. I vividly recall pressing the flesh with local politicians, talking about the challenges of PCB-remediation with GE engineers, hearing about the concerns of community members that lived on the river, and having lively conversation with economic developers and environmental activists.
For those students that did not feel comfortable asking questions or talking with strangers, stakeholder engagement was an awkward and arduous activity. But the process precipitated tremendous learning and value for every team member. It forced us to assess our audience, define valuable content and questions, and draw on the strengths of every team member.
Ultimately we pulled together critical insights across a diversity of community members that we then integrated with our independent economic and science analysis to create a plan of action for the community. The team then presented its observations, analysis, and community plan to a multidisciplinary panel of representative constituents.
Time and again, throughout the past 18 years of my career, the experiential learning from “One Mile of the Hudson” has been called upon. My skills have been challenged, broken down, rebuilt, and sharpened, again and again. Whether I was working with research scientists, state governments, global corporations, or community activists, I’ve worked hard to provide level-headed advisement and perspective. This approach has made all the difference in personal fulfillment and professional success. Looking back, the following seven observations have been timeless lessons:
It’s been nearly two decades after completing my Master’s degree at RPI. Since that time the complexity of issues intertwined between science, economics, public policy, and development have only intensified. As the world has become digitally connected, it’s unveiled significant dissonance, breeding and feeding distrust between individuals and institutions.
The lessons from “One mile of the Hudson” are illustrative of what’s lacking in many current affairs, locally and globally. Whether its social and environmental justice issues in Flint, Michigan, the concerning climate of a national Presidential election, or the unfolding debauchery of the Panama Papers, ego and self-interest are widening a deep gorge between a sustainable future, or one that is fraught with fear.
Society’s “one mile” has a vast horizon, with one mile of Wall Street on one end and one mile of Main Street on the other. To reconcile our differences means that we need to develop the hard and soft skills to elevate our highest self – the inner leader that is forgiving, reasoned, and principled. Today, more than ever, we need constructive collaboration between stakeholders, and leaders who evoke inclusive decision-making, trust-building and mutual solutions.
Author note: This post was originally published by Mark Coleman on April 13, 2016 in the Huffington Post.
Check out Mark Coleman’s “Trailblazer” interview with Catalysta. Catalysta inspires and provides practical assistance to anyone who wishes to pursue a career that’s a catalyst for the common good.
In the interview Mark states, “Very simply my book’s intended message is that “you, me, and WE” represent the Sustainability Generation. We are experiencing a global awakening that transcends old and young, rich and poor, Democrat or Republican, that the world has limits and being mindful and respectful of those limits is part of being human. We are the generation that has to, for the sake of our freedom and the future of our children, have to come together to make pragmatic choices about the most pressing issues of our time: human health, natural resource depletion, the security and resiliency of food systems, addressing the root causes of terrorism, global poverty, ecologic damages, and other economic, social, energy, and environmental challenges. The accountability of everyday citizens and consumers is key to addressing change and taking action toward a sustainable future.”
Catalysta considers the workplace a lab with the potential to take on today’s environmental and manmade challenges. Their website presents pioneers whose livelihoods are a conduit to a better world. Catalysta introduces professionals from all fields whose commitment to the community is fundamental and inspires individuals to make this approach their own.Comments Off on Catalysta.org interview with Mark Coleman
Upstate New York manufacturer, Harbec, Inc., demonstrates carbon-neutrality is not just a goal, but a reality. The innovative prototype, CNC machining, mold making, and injection molding business delivers “Carbon Conscious Components” to its customers at no additional cost to do so. In the process of working toward and achieving carbon-neutrality Harbec, Inc. has been able to remain cost-competitive while continuously improving upon its utilization of energy.
Next up for the custom injection molder: achieving water neutrality by 2015!
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By, Mark C. Coleman
It’s Time to Question Our OS
It is fascinating how much effort we put into evaluating what the best operating system (OS) is for our mobile devices: Apple, Android, Blackberry, Microsoft, and so on. It is equally captivating how these OS’s and devices have transformed our daily life. Projected to double by 2015, currently there are approximately one billion smartphone users in the world. Further, there are six billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. Demonstrated by the mass adoption of mobile devices to support our lifestyles, there is no doubt we take our OS’s very seriously.
Given our reliance upon data-driven OS’s that follow-us through life in sleek packages, it is prudent to ask of ourselves, how often do we look at the broader OS by which our generation conducts business, creates policy, and carries out a “lifestyle”? I would argue that we place much more emphasis on perfecting the OS of gadgets than looking inward to what values, morals, and ethics guide our personal OS throughout life. And with that, I believe it is time for a change. As a framework for a “new generational operating system”, sustainability can provide a platform for individuals to be personally accountable as citizens and consumers to their individual life, and as conscious stewards of the planet.
A multitude of economic, environmental, and social issues are simultaneously converging upon society. These concerns are complex, interrelated, and challenge conventional ways in which we can adapt to imminent change. Ongoing political subterfuge and extension of the government shutdown tied to America’s fiscal crisis is representative of the challenges our generation is trying to muddle our way through. But as the clock ticks and economic calamity nears, one has to ask: As a society, are we really making transformative progress toward a better future or simply relying on traditional political tactics of blocking and jockeying to maintain a status quo and prolong an inevitable economic, social, and environmental reality?
Sustainability offers a systems-level and holistic framework for our generation to adopt a new operating system (OS) to guide how we live, work, play, and interact. By adopting principles of sustainability in our daily lives can also foster critical thinking and pragmatic action which can, when aligned with personal accountability, enable our generation to meet our needs today without hindering our children from having a high quality of life in the future.
What the World Needs Now, a New OS for the Sustainability Generation
Sustainability can be defined and achieved in as many ways as there are people on earth, at least 7 billion! While having a common definition for sustainability is important, it is equally important for individuals to internalize what it means to them, and what role they will choose to play in being personally accountable to enacting it as new generational framework. In this context, sustainability then is about how “you, me, and we” will become the everyday actors and implementers of sustainability, driving it with a sense of purpose, and fully realizing its potential, as the new generational status-quo in which we continuously seek to improve our human interaction with each other and the natural world.
Living life with one foot in the present, one foot in the future, and with the good conscious toward respecting both is what being human is all about. Humans are in a constant tug-of-war with time and space as we try to live for the present, prepare for the future, and find enjoyment and happiness in the process. While we try to “save time” or “create more time into our day”, neither is really possible. Our attempts at earning more time on earth are futile attempts to gain efficiencies and productivity toward outcomes we’d like to see accomplished (primarily work or monetarily related) so that we have more time to ourselves. But when do we really ever have more time? There is always something competing for our attention and focus. What we do have control over however is our personal accountability to ourselves and the life we choose to lead. We can’t turn back the hands of time, or travel into the future (as far as I know). But we can address the here and now. So how do we learn from the past, be mindful of the future, but focus more attention on NOW? That is where a new generational OS comes into being.
Signals that Sustainability is here to Stay
Where and when in the hell did we go wrong regarding our consumptive and unsustainable lifestyles? I suppose it doesn’t matter. The time and place are irrelevant. Somewhere between Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” and Tom Friedman’s articulation of a very discomforting “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” world our generation lost itself, physically and virtually, amid big screens, big data, and big operating systems. We became complacent yet comfortable, entertained yet entitled, powerful yet paranoid. As global issues tied to the availability of basic life resources like clean air, water, and food resources have collided with our impact on the natural world, and as global conflicts and financial uncertainty have escalated, people have begun to be more awake and conscious to the current generational operating system that simply no longer meets our needs. Business as usual has no place in the current economy and needs of the world. We now need a generation of critical thinkers and doers that can incorporate multiple perspectives and points of view into our decision models at the onset, and so as to reduce unintended consequences of our actions.
Our mind shift toward a new generational OS enveloped in sustainability will not happen overnight. But the year 2014 appears to signal that the time has arrived for a Sustainability Generation to thrive on a global scale. Thanks to more than two decades of global coalitions and efforts like the United Nations Global Compact, Rio+20, Agenda 21, and other initiatives there has been a slow but steady infusion of sustainability principles influencing our collective conscious. And now as 2014 approaches there are clear signals from business, government, foundations, non-government organizations (NGOs), educational institutions, religious groups, and other stakeholders that sustainability has a specific meaning to them, that it is worth pursuing, and that it is here to stay as a fundamental choice and opportunity to drive change for a better world.
Collectively and globally, organizations are spending billions and taking charge on empowering employees, developing new products and services, drafting new public policies, establishing new programs, and creating new curriculum and workforce training programs to foster greater urgency and pursuit of sustainability in all facets of life. What is most impressive is how individual citizens and consumers have begun to internalize sustainability to their own actions, behaviors, and lifestyle choices. As everyday citizens take responsibility they reinforce the evolution of sustainability as a new generational OS.
While the role of policy and impact of products are critical, people represent the common denominator to a more (or less) sustainable world. Without citizens taking action to their consumptive habits in their daily life, sustainability remains a lofty goal without any teeth. Personal accountability by engaged citizens remains one of the last “tipping point” requirements for sustainability to evolve from a business oriented return-on-investment (ROI) model to a generational norm that is the new baseline by which all decisions are made. The year 2014 appears to be the tipping point for this new evolution in how the world views sustainability, and now motivated more than ever by “you, me, and we”.
Stepping out of the Status Quo: The Sustainability Generation
The generation alive here and now is the “Sustainability Generation”. It is comprised of the “Greatest Generation”, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennial’s, and whatever other label social scientists designate to make sense of who we are, how we behave, and with an intent to sell us more stuff, govern our behaviors, and collectively focus our future state of being. We are all an experiment, playing out real time. The Internet, large data centers, and the creation and dissection of “big data” is affording our generation the capacity and possibility of looking at ourselves in terms of a “generational IQ”, that is, how intelligent we are as the stewards of the earth, and our individual happiness.
Who we are as individuals, and the values we choose to bring to our daily life, is the true “[human] code” behind our operating system. We cannot create a unique algorithm or “App” for solving the world’s challenges. People and our relationship with each other and the natural world remain the fundamental building blocks of our OS. For our generation to have any chance at improving our life context it will remain up to each of us to be individually accountable citizens and consumers to our personal actions and behaviors. How we choose to conduct ourselves says a lot about who we are at the core of whatever OS we adopt. Thus, having a personal social responsibility to be conscious to the world is important.
Yet, it is as important to not allow our fascination with technology impede, misguide, or ill-judge who our true self is. Technology is but a conduit for society to manifest itself. However if the technology driven OS overrides our humanistic OS, society can quickly become ill aligned. By adopting “sustainability” as a new generational OS we can engage with technology and each other with a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and accountability.
If a fiscal cliff does not crush us a sustainability one will! How can we use our common intellect and generational IQ to protect and advance our freedoms while supporting our current needs? Have we overextended our reach? What are our true needs versus wants? What does America look like not just in 2 days but in 20 years? What role will you choose to serve as a citizen and consumer to advance the Sustainability Generation?
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Part 1, Sustainable Manufacturing is Shaping America’s Industrial Future
Part 2, Using Operational Excellence to Achieve Competitive Advantage
Part 3, Sustainability Happens When People and Innovation Collide
The series focuses on the market drivers shaping the future of manufacturing, how small manufacturers have created lasting value from their investment in sustainability at an operational level, and how organizations can maximize their impact and return-on-sustainability by investing in, and integrating, people and innovation.
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Read Mark’s August 12th Guest Column with Environmental Leader titled, “The Inevitable Convergence: Corporations, Carbon, and Consumers“. Mark co-wrote the article with his colleague Denny Minano, the former vice president and chief environmental officer of General Motors Corporation.
In the article Mr. Minano and Mr. Coleman state “Business has discovered that the emergence of the “carbon conscious consumer” is a new reality influencing their strategy, operations, and products. The convergence of carbon within the consumer mindset has altered allocation of corporate resources. Corporations are now working to proactively engage their stakeholders to discover how best to align societal and business goals to achieve success.”
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Read Mark’s July 16th Guest Column with Environmental Leader titled, “The Little Manufacturer that Could (Be Sustainable)“.
Sustainability is not just a value-driver for large Fortune 500 firms. In response to global economic, environmental, and social challenges small-and-medium-sized manufacturers like New York State based Harbec, Inc. are embracing sustainable production, and are leading the reinvention of the U.S. manufacturing sector in the process.
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How does your life context impact Sustainability? Check out Mark Coleman’s column “In sustainability, as in life, don’t forget to be accountable to YOU!” made available by “The Global Conversation”.
About The Global Conversation: On October 1, 2012, The Global Conversation began publication of one of the very first places on the Internet where world events and personal lives can be explored on a regular basis within the specific context of The New Spirituality.
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What is the responsibility of citizens in taking action toward creating a better, more sustainable community, nation, world? Check out Mark Coleman’s Op-Ed in the New Maine Times.
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