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It can be very hard to keep up with the ever-emerging sustainability research ranging from climate to our personal health to the health of entire communities. For those with an interest in the sustainability field or who are looking to enroll in our Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Sustainable Solutions, Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Sustainable Solutions, Dual MBA/MPA Degree in Sustainable Solutions, or Certificates in Sustainable Leadership programs, we discuss five crucial sustainability issues that require assessment and action in 2021.

1. Maintaining declined carbon emissions

While 2020 saw an unprecedented decline in carbon emissions with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders, this decline has not continued into 2021. In fact, by May 2021 the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere reached approximately 419 parts per million (ppm), the highest level recorded in modern history. As the global economy rebounds, we should ask what society can learn from the period of decline and this alarming increase. Could solutions lie in shifts to greener cities? Do more localized supply chains offer answers? How can we do better moving forward?

2. Circular economy advancement

Many sustainable solutions are already making their way into many industries, but some companies continue to rely on the make-use-dispose production methods of the past. A circular economy aims to redefine growth by encouraging manufacturers to design products that can be reused. One example of how this practice is currently used is the popular boot company Timberland. Having partnered with a tire manufacturer in 2008, Timberland constructs the outsoles of their boots with crumb rubber created from recycled tires.

3. Climate change

The period from 2010 to 2019 was the warmest decade ever recorded, and organizations like NASA have found we are already dealing with impacts from the climate crisis, with effects including:

  • Shrinking glaciers
  • Accelerated sea-level rise
  • Rising global temperatures
  • Drought
  • Wildfires

How can we use sustainability careers as a leverage point to shift away from the increasing severity of environmental emergencies? One of the benefits of being in a community with like-minded sustainability experts is the expansion of a network addressing problems from all angles in all fields. This positive work overlaps to compound its effects since each issue is connected to the other.

4. Social justice

Sustainability cannot exist without social justice because when we extract from the Earth, we are also exploiting humans and vice versa. Repairing the harms done through hundreds of years of abusive practices is absolutely crucial. To begin with, we must provide access to equitable resources for all people. We must also hold society accountable for its diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, which includes holding our government and corporations to higher standards than what currently exist. As a community, we must reimagine and then build on that vision of a better future for all. This is why we believe that achieving racial equity is integral to sustainability.

5. Implementation of holistic responses

Holistic thinking strives to provide comprehensive problem-solving to the challenges we’re facing. By assessing the many relationships between a variety of elements and networks in a complex system, we can discover the most impactful leverage points to be adjusted for the greatest positive impact. The goal is to address whole-scale patterns that can have resounding effects rather than focusing a small target on one individual problem. As we say at Presidio Graduate School, thanks to the systems thinking lens we develop in our students here, a system is designed to reproduce the same outcome over and over. So how do we shift the direction of the system to create a new outcome without needing to tear the whole thing apart? This school of thought can be more widely applied through business decisions, governmental affairs, and more to create a positive impact.

Fostering change through a graduate degree in sustainability

The decisions that businesses and governments make in 2021 are more crucial than ever. There is a great need for more people to tackle these problems head-on in the coming years, which is why sustainability education is necessary to quickly prepare a new type of leader to be launched into action. If this is your passion, consider earning a sustainability degree from Presidio Graduate School, which serves talented students from across the country and has a growing alumni network of sustainability professionals. Learn more about our graduate degrees and certificate programs and then contact us and to see how we can help you take the next step in your impact journey.

About the Author / Merry Richter

Merry served as the Director of Marketing & Communications at Presidio Graduate School and the Editor of the Presidian Blog from 2020 to 2021. Her posts share happenings at Presidio, alumni and student stories, and helpful resources and stories of impact.

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