Rio+20 – Day 4: Reflections and Firsts

Our day started bright and early, with a wonderful alarm going off at 6:30 AM. Even though our presentations were finished, we continued to have a packed schedule, which was in no way a bad thing. It was both busy and relaxing at the same time. I was ready to tackle the day with whatever it threw at me and ready to take those experiences and learn from them. After a quick breakfast we called for a taxi to take us to the Windsor Barra Hotel where we met up with the German and English student teams. At the Hotel, we attended our first Panel, the UNEP Inspire & Invest Panel: The business case for the Green Economy. This session was loosely guided by the UNEP publication: Sustainable Return on Investments: The Business Case for a Green Economy. The Panel was moderated by Mark Lee, Executive Director of SustainAbility. Panelists included the Executive Director of UNEP, the CSO of PPR/Chairman of the Board of PUMA, CEO of Calvert Investments, and Barbara Kux, CSO of Siemens and Managing Board who had also been one of the judges of our presentation the previous day.

Just poking a little fun at our passions. SOURCE: xkcd.com

The Panel was interesting, especially with perspectives from within the private industry. Both the CSO of Siemens and PPR explained the challenges private businesses faced when implementing sustainable practices and the moderator was excellent in turning answers into more questions. I was also glad to hear acknowledgement of the People’s Summit by the Executive Director of UNEP, who explained that many people in the world are frustrated at governments and private businesses, seeing these institutions not as sources of innovations and answers, but as sources of problems and maintaining the unequal status quo. I’m not a fan of economics or dealings with money in general, but I know the importance of the economy and how much it influencers our everyday lives. It was great to hear the Panelists talk about the benefits of sustainable practices within the private industry and how important it was for businesses to ingrain sustainability into the “DNA of the company.” Panelists also discussed the importance in responsible leadership not just at the CEO level, but within all levels – especially the Managing Board Level to insure the sustainability of sustainability (if that makes any sense). Another interesting fact I learned was that actual companies such as Siemens and PUMA only contribute around 6% of environmental impact of the products they create, the other 94% of environmental impact comes from the supplier side. The importance of working with suppliers has never been greater, and it was great to hear the acknowledgement of all aspects of the product life cycle. Another point that I noticed was the continually statement that “we already have the technology to solve today’s problems.” This phrase was repeated by Barbara Kux both today at the panel and yesterday at the UNEP Pavilion where she announced the Empowering People award – and award that recognized that very fact: utilizing today’s technologies to solve today’s issues. I think it’s an interesting point to make, that while technology should continue to be further developed, we already have a vast toolbox of solutions we can use to start solving the world’s greatest issues, we just have to find some way to easily disseminate these solutions to the areas that need them the most. It sounds easy, but it comes with a variety of other issues, such as cost. But it’s inspiring to know that there are people out there who not only work on the technology, but act with it.

After the Opening Panel a couple of us attended a Panel entitled Business as Unusual which discussed various business practices of banks and organizations in developing and developed countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and South Korea. I couldn’t follow the presentations as well as the previous panel, but from what I could tell, there were a lot of innovative strategies being implemented around the world. It’s important to note that some countries cannot simply deal with Sustainable Development in terms of Energy and Technological advances, some countries need to look at Sustainable Development as it pertains to basic human needs such as suitable/affordable housing, infrastructure services and security in disaster/war-ridden areas. Sustainability is a fancy word for a lot of issues that we’re facing today, and it’s important that we don’t forget that.

After a buffet lunch on the second lower floor of the hotel (second lower floor? I guess that’s like the basement’s basement) we headed to the football stadium Enginão. Engenhão is the main football stadium of Rio located in the northern part of the city, and I believe it’ll host a few games for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Rio. The Rio team had invited us to see the game, and it certainly was entertaining. The two teams playing were Santos and Flamengo (the local favorites). I’ve played football since I was little (but here in the states we call it soccer) so I was familiar with the rules and have watched many games, but nothing compares to watching the game live, it’s a whole new experience when you account for the audience. The crowd of black and red was very energetic, waving huge flags and banging drums. After the game I even heard one of the Cambridge Students comment on how more entertaining this Brazilian game was when compared to games back home. The views from the upper seats of the stadium were stunning as well, not just views of the game, but the views of the surrounding city. I am continually awed by Rio’s beauty.

With Flamengo winning the match with the help of a penalty kick, us Future Influencers said our goodbyes to the Students for Sustainability and hopped on a taxi back to the Barra area of Rio for our Dinner with Roland Busch, CEO of Siemens Cities and Infrastructure and Greg Gibbons, Head of Communications for Siemens Cities and Infrastructure. Seeing as we were having dinner with two very important people, the three of us decided to wear semi-formal clothes. However, we were pleasantly surprised and relieved to see both Dr. Busch and Mr. Gibbons wearing casual polo shirts and slacks. It appeared that this dinner would be more of a casual feel, for which I was very thankful (I was also surprised at how tall Dr. Busch was, I wasn’t able to tell that from the webcast). Both men were very friendly, and even though it was a relaxed atmosphere, I was still incredibly humbled in their presence. We talked about issues related to city development and energy as well as our respective trips to and in Rio. Also, the Future Influencers introduced Dr. Busch and Mr. Gibbons to the wonderful world of TED talks! I’m actually surprised that they hadn’t heard of them before, but now they have a treasure trove of great videos to watch! The dinner was filling both in stomach and in mind, and I’d like to thank Dr. Bush and Mr. Gibbons for taking time out of their busy schedules to dine with us, it was quite the honor.

On the way back to the hotel, Kali, Rashiq and I had a little “heart-to-heart” in the cab. We discussed life aspirations and career goals and how ones views in life are shaped by experiences. It was all very deep, philosophical and somewhat personal stuff and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to share a cab with them. Rashiq and Kali both gave me some life advice as I continue through my early states of University and I’m filled with both feelings of respect and awe of my fellow Future Influencers, and optimism and eagerness to learn all I can and do all I can about the issues I’m passionate about. I guess one thing I should take away is be open to all, expect little and know that if you really want it, you will get yourself there. It’s been interesting being the youngest member of both the Future Influencers team and the Students for Sustainability presentations, but as the youngest member, I think I learned quite a bit. I’m only on my second year of University, but I’m looking forward to it, and so much more beyond it. There will be the time in my life where I won’t be doing things just for the sake of getting to the next step (like getting through high school to get to University). Eventually I’ll find myself with the freedom to choose what I want to do and how I want to make this world a better place, and while I’m certainly nervous about it. I’m looking forward to it, even if it takes me longer than expected.

Now back in my hotel room, I have started packing my bags for the trip home tomorrow after one last panel. It’s been a great few days, full of firsts. My first trip to Brazil/South America, my first Caipirinha, my first Brazilian Barbecue, my first interview with a cameraman present, my first Night Club, my first Football match, my first handshake with a CEO of a company, my first…well, you get the idea.

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