Monthly Archives: July 2014

AESS 2014: Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences in NYC

AESS conference logoI attended the fifth annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) last month.  I had attended the inaugural meeting in Wisconsin in 2009 and the third meeting in Santa Clara in 2011, and had very much enjoyed these interdisciplinary gatherings of scholars who study the environment and society.  This meeting was hosted by Pace University in New York City, which was a nice change of pace from the less urban venues of past meetings.

I spoke on a panel focused on environmental policy, and presented some of my research on “The Meaning of  Embedded Values in Environmental Certifications and Ratings.”  It was a great opportunity to talk about my plans for the second chapter of my book manuscript, which analyzes the development of information-based environmental governance strategies.  In this particular chapter, my goal is to explore the role of values in determining the extent to which consumers and organizations pay attention and respond to sustainability ratings and labels.  I mapped out some of the ideas I want to cover in the chapter in the presentation, and received some helpful questions and feedback that I am looking forward to incorporating into my next draft.

I also attended several other interesting panels at AESS, including ones on the Montreal Protocol, sustainable business, synthetic chemicals and society,  and US climate policy.  One of the highlights of the meeting was the field trip I went on to the new Sims Recycling Plant in Brooklyn.  It was an odoriferous but fascinating tour of where now much of New York City’s recyclable materials goes for processing.  Supposedly it is the largest recycling facility of its kind in the US.  They have an educational exhibit and classroom for local schoolkids and citizens (and environmental studies conference participants) to learn more about the recycling process.  See the photos below for a glimpse into that process — and a great view of NYC from the facility!

NYC recycling plantGraham Bullock @ NYC recycling plantNYC skyline NYC recycling plant

ISEAL’s Global Sustainability Standards Conference

location of ISEAL conferenceIn May, I attended ISEAL’s Global Sustainability Standards Conference in London, England.  ISEAL is an alliance of standards organizations, such as FairTrade International, the Rainforest Alliance, and the Forest Stewardship Council, that is working to “to strengthen sustainability standards systems for the benefit of people and the environment.”  Amy Jackson, ISEAL’s Senior Credibility Manager, had invited me last year to speak on a panel at the conference, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the organization, meet both practitioners and scholars working on sustainability standards, and share some insights from my research.

The title of the panel was “The Claims Jungle,” and focused on “how to improve consistency and trust in claims and labeling and avoid label confusion and misleading claims.”  I was fortunate to have three distinguished individuals with me on the panel with rich and diverse sets of experiences relating to sustainability standards —

  • Amanda Long, Executive Director, Consumers International
  • Adam Lavis, Senior Policy Adviser – Sustainable Business, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Blake Lee-Harwood, Communications & Strategy Director, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership

My talk started off the session, and provided an overarching framework for thinking about the current “claims jungle.”  It also laid a foundation for the insights from the other panelists and their various backgrounds.  Our combination of academic, consumer, government, business, and NGO perspectives made for a great blend of perspectives on the cacophony of labels that have emerged in recent years.

The rest of the conference was engaging as well — representatives from businesses such as IKEA, McDonalds, Chipotle, Mars, and HSBC, advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace and WWF, and a host of  certification organizations spoke at a wide range of plenary and breakout sessions.  While I didn’t see any “magic bullets” to the challenges that sustainability standards face, it was clear that there are many innovative efforts to to make these standard systems work as best they can.  I had the opportunity to meet and talk with a good number of the conference attendees who are working on these initiatives, and look forward to following up with them and learning more about their work in the future.

The conference was held at The Crystal on Royal Victoria Dock in East London, which is a very new and “green” conference facility (with Outstanding BREEAM and Platinum LEED accreditation) built  by Siemens that explores the future of cities (see photo above).  It features “the world’s largest exhibition focused on urban sustainability,” which was indeed very impressive and well-designed.  You can learn more about the facility and the exhibition by clicking here.