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Sustainability Myths Busted with Dr. Maren Kropfeld, Professor of Sustainability & Entrepreneurship

Dr. Maren Ingrid Kropfeld
Impact MBA Program Director, Professor of Sustainability & Entrepreneurship

In the world of sustainability, misunderstandings, and simplifications often arise not just from misinformation but also due to lobbying, conflicts of interest, and the pervasive influence of social media.

In this blog, Dr. Maren Ingrid Kropfeld, our Impact MBA program director and Professor for Sustainability & Entrepreneurship, shares some expert insights to clarify the complexities of sustainability for our learners.

By busting three widespread sustainability myths, Maren aims to equip us with the critical insight needed to navigate businesses and consumer behavior towards more genuine and effective sustainable practices.

A child, only its feet are visible, walking across stones, without shoes, looking sustainable.
Leave nothing behind but footprints

🚫👣 Carbon footprint is our own responsibility

The idea of a personal carbon footprint, for instance presents a compelling case of environmental responsibility neatly laid at the individual's doorstep. This concept was popularized as a way to push environmental responsibility onto individuals, a strategy that has been critiqued for shifting focus away from the significant emissions produced by industries, particularly the fossil fuel industry

“It’s time to go on a low-carbon diet”

BP, a major player in this sector, exemplifies this misdirection through its "Beyond Petroleum" campaign. Launched in the early 2000s, the PR campaign aimed to position BP as a company committed to renewable energy and environmental stewardship, however its operations remained heavily centered on fossil fuel extraction. The company's involvement in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 starkly contradicted its environmental promises, highlighting the disconnect between marketing narratives and corporate practices. This event not only caused extensive environmental damage but also underscored the critical need for genuine action rather than superficial branding.

The facts

  • Oil and gas operations account for nearly 15% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions today and the industry has the ability and resources to cut them quickly and cost-effectively. (Read more)
  • EPA has issued a final rule that will sharply reduce emissions of methane and other harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas operations — including, for the first time, from existing sources nationwide. (Read more)

Are these brands truly sustainable or experts in greenwashing?

🚫💚 Eco-conscious products are always sustainable

The market is washed over with products boasting labels like "natural" or "eco-friendly," promising a guilt-free pass to sustainability. However, this feel-good marketing often obscures a less palatable truth—that the sustainability of these products is, at best, superficial.

“Buying Conscious Choice Products"

H&M uses green labels to market its "Conscious Choice" products, suggesting these items are either sustainable or more sustainable than their other products. However, this labeling can be misleading as many of these "Conscious Choice" garments are made from polyester or recycled plastics. These materials carry significant environmental concerns, particularly regarding non-biodegradability and microplastic pollution. On top of this, the production and disposal of these still poses substantial environmental challenges. This discrepancy between the marketed image and the environmental impact of the materials used raises questions about the veracity of sustainability claims, underscoring the need for greater transparency and accountability in green marketing. Read more about this.

The facts

  • A 2023 report suggests 60% of sustainability claims by European fashion giants are “unsubstantiated” and “misleading.” Read more
  • The European Union’s Green Claims Directive initiative aims to combat misleading environmental claims, ensuring that all sustainability assertions made by companies are clear, accurate, and substantiated. Read more
What's sustainable today, may not be sustainable tomorrow

💡🔁 Efficiency will save us all

In our pursuit of a greener planet, the adoption of LED lighting has become a beacon of energy efficiency within the energy sector. However, this advancement, while significantly reducing the energy consumption per light unit, has not led to a decrease in overall energy usage for lighting. This surprising outcome serves as a prime example of the Jevons Paradox, revealing that efficiency improvements alone can inadvertently increase total consumption, rather than the expected reduction.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like LED-Christmas”

The shift towards energy-efficient technologies like LEDs was expected to cut down energy use. Yet, the reality has been different, with the lower costs leading to their broader application, from increased outdoor lighting to more elaborate home displays, particularly noticeable during festive seasons like Christmas. This phenomenon illustrates the critical insight that enhancing efficiency can paradoxically fuel greater overall consumption.

The facts

  • Addressing the Jevons Paradox requires systemic changes like adopting circular economies, sharing models, and developing sustainable technologies to reduce overall consumption, alongside policy measures that incentivize sustainable behaviors beyond efficiency. Read more
  • Government policies, including carbon pricing, stricter energy standards, and renewable energy regulations, are essential for a comprehensive strategy to lessen resource depletion and environmental impact, ensuring a sustainable future.

the transition to a sustainable future starts with you... and all of us

🌱💼 The call to lead: from self-development to systems change.

As we deepen our understanding of sustainability, it’s evident that not only large corporations but also individuals can play a pivotal role in fostering change. Gaining a holistic understanding of the role of sustainability at societal, governmental, and individual levels allows us to shift towards the systemic change we need, while also empowering us to effectively advocate for policies and actions that push us beyond misguided attempts and misconceptions that ultimately deter us from reaching our full potential as modern societies.

Our programs go beyond traditional leadership education by integrating self-development and sustainability thinking to foster transformative change within individuals and across the business landscape. By recognizing that personal change is the foundation for societal transformation, we are able to amplify our impact. However, it’s important to remember that this is not a solo-journey. By engaging with experts like Maren and leading the way in sustainable practices within our networks, we can support the collective transition towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Discover more about Dr. Maren Ingrid Kropfeld's work here and learn about our Impact MBA program, under her direction, here. Besides her role as Program Director, she also shares her knowledge as a Professor of Sustainability & Entrepreneurship across various programs at Tomorrow University.

Dr. Maren Ingrid Kropfeld
Impact MBA Program Director, Professor of Sustainability & Entrepreneurship
Dr. Maren Ingrid Kropfeld
Impact MBA Program Director, Professor of Sustainability & Entrepreneurship

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