Speaking the international language of sustainability

May 5, 2017

Student club journeys to Germany for an inspiring conference with other chapter representatives


From language to currency to social norms, there’s no question that Europe and North America have a few cultural differences. In March 2017, one student club discovered that perceptions surrounding one concept in particular vary greatly between the two continents: sustainability.

"Coming from oil town Alberta, it's all trucks, it's all oil—that's the big thing. Sustainability is growing here, but it's not as big as it could be yet,” says Roberto Valdemarca, third-year accounting major in the Bachelor of Commerce. Roberto recently travelled to Hamburg, Germany for a conference that highlighted sustainable consumption. “It was inspiring to see the other side of things in Europe where they're much more open to ideas centred around sustainability and they're working through solutions to a variety of environmental, social and economic issues.”

In Hamburg, Roberto and three other members of Oikos Edmonton, a club that focuses on sustainable business, were joined by Oikos chapter representatives from all over the world.

Club president Erikk Opinio, third-year accounting major in the Bachelor of Commerce, says it was refreshing to be surrounded by people who are optimistic about the possibilities that sustainable innovation presents.

"We had a common language,” he said. “It was that sustainability language that we all spoke."

At the Oikos International conference, attendees focused on one particular part of that language: sustainable consumption.

"In today's consumerism-driven world, sustainable consumption looks at ways in which we can, as a whole, change the system that's currently in place to a more enduring one,” Roberto says. "It’s about consuming so we're not taking more from the world than the world can give."

Sustainable consumption goes far beyond ensuring the products being purchased are eco-friendly. Consumers need to consider the practices used to make the products they put in their shopping carts—who made the product, how it was made, how it was packaged, and how it made its way into stores.

But who’s responsible for ensuring that more people commit to making ethical and environmental purchases? Is it the government? Businesses? Consumers?

"What we got out of the discussions at the conference is that all parts have to be involved. It's not just one,” Erikk says. “Governments react to consumer demands, same with businesses. And consumers are influenced by the governments they are under and the businesses that operate in their countries. Positive impacts are made when you see movement toward sustainability happening in all three of these sectors.”

As one of three North American Oikos chapters and the sole Canadian chapter, Oikos Edmonton gained full chapter status at the conference, which Erikk and Roberto say provides an opportunity to encourage a dialogue about adopting more sustainable practices in Canada—particularly Alberta.

“Our full chapter status connects MacEwan and the Edmonton community to a large network of academics, business leaders and post-secondary institutions who are working to integrate sustainability in university curriculums and student life all over the world,” Erikk says.

"We're in this bubble where oil and gas is the way to go at the moment because there’s such a high demand for it," Roberto adds. "Further down the line, I think Oikos Edmonton could be a big player in hopefully turning the market and culture in Alberta to be one that values sustainability.”

"We just have to keep pushing,” Erikk concludes. “And if we need help, the international Oikos community is behind us.”

Read more stories from the Office of Sustainability:


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