For four days in a row at the beginning of August, Earth recorded its highest average global temperature ever, a fact that — coupled with some devastating storms — has pushed climate change back into the national news cycle. But for many of us, the focus on sustainability and long-term environmental change isn’t just a momentary headline; it’s a passion that fuels our education, our careers, and our lives.
At Presidio Graduate School, we’re helping busy working adults become sustainability leaders with master’s degrees that make an impact.
Our mission has always been to create a community of changemakers who will build a better future for all, and one of the ways we do this is by talking about current, up-to-date issues in the field of environmental, social, and governance (ESG). In 2023, here are a few of the top issues we’re seeing that we’re working to change:
1.) Pushing back against greenwashing
With greater public awareness growing, companies and governments are starting to face pushback on their inaction on climate change. Recently, sixteen children filed suit against the state of Montana for the damage they have done to the planet, and they’re not the only ones. Overall, this is a good thing — we want people to be aware and active in their futures — but it’s led a lot of companies toward the path of a public relations spin, instead of meaningful change.
Slapping stickers and marketing lingo on your products or creating heartstring-tugging commercials about the importance of the planet can fool consumers into thinking you’re actually doing something, but if companies don’t actually shift how they’re doing business, they’re going to run into the same wall several years down the road. Presidio alumni often are often tasked with demonstrating to executive boards and CEOs that actual environmental changes are more reasonable and cost-effective in the long term than an advertising campaign.
2.) Spotlighting reporting, accountability, and transparency
On the heels of greenwashing, there is a major push for organizations to report on their ESG efforts and face real accountability and transparency. As of last year, there is now the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the International Sustainability Standards Board, all of whom have proposals for disclosure standards regarding sustainability issues. Rules are being set into place to enhance consistency and cut down on misrepresentation, all of which will make it more difficult and less profitable for companies to greenwash. Reporting will become more detailed, more scrutinized, and it honestly should be.
These changes, though, will require everyone from NGOs to Fortune 500 companies to adapt quickly and learn the new ropes of sustainability disclosures. They’ll need expert advice, like the kind they might get from a Presidio sustainability leader.
3.) Pursing the continued growth of renewables
Getting to net-zero energy continues to be a number one priority in order to curb the rising temperatures, and there has been a lot of progress in this sector. But there have also been some signs of slowing as major events like the Russia-Ukraine war contribute to supply disruptions and a growing sense of unease with energy security. Companies and investors have countered this by focusing on carbon offsets and still holding tight to traditional fossil fuels.
But carbon offsets will not be enough. Presidians across the globe have found — and likely will continue to find — themselves working to help combat these issues and keep governments and organizations on track toward a wholly clean energy grid.
4.) Prioritizing intersectional environmental justice
Along with growing public awareness of climate-related issues has also come a bigger conversation about who is impacted the most by everything from extreme weather events to water accessibility to rising tides. Many of the graduates of Presidio’s pioneering degree programs have gotten involved in a growing number of businesses and nonprofits focused on how to partner with communities most in danger from climate change. Many Presidio students and alumni work with or within federal, state, and local governments to create and implement policies to counter the impacts of climate change in a way that benefits everyone, not just those who are already well-resourced.
5.) Transforming building and construction practices
This issue is two-fold: building more sustainable buildings but also transforming how we build as well. The United Nations Environment Programme reported that the building and construction industry contributes to nearly 37% of the world’s carbon emissions, and most reports show that this area is nowhere near being on-track to going net-zero by 2050.
It’s a topic that’s on the mind of many construction executives though, especially as more investors and financers pressure them to “green” up their practices. It’s going to mean rethinking everything in the process — from how they design to what materials they use to how they dispose of those materials and more — and a lot of these companies will be relying on sustainability consultants to help them navigate this new world.
6.) Preserving biodiversity
Biodiversity loss is one of the top five threats facing us in the next decade, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report. But it makes sense when you realize just how much of our world economy relies on the natural world: what it produces and what it provides. Preserving our planet’s biodiversity encompasses many different facets that affect ecosystems, including: deforestation, seabed loss, chemical and plastic pollution, nutrient pollution, and freshwater preservation.
While this issue is rising in overall awareness, it’s still not on the radar of a lot of companies or organizations who are used to thinking of single issues instead of addressing challenges at a systemic level. Given that Presidio’s graduate programs teach students to think and work systemically, our alumni will be well positioned to consult with executives on how to work toward being both carbon-neutral and nature-positive.
7.) Rethinking supply chain sustainability
The global supply chain is both a masterpiece of interconnectivity and human ingenuity and a massive producer of carbon and pollution. It can also be a big contributor to social injustice due to critical resources and minerals sourced from traditionally marginalized areas of the world. Supply chains are also long and complex, and reinventing them in a way that is truly sustainable will take big-picture creative thinking.
Take, for example, fast fashion, where clothes are cheap and disposable and contribute to large amounts of waste and pollution. Apparel is often shipped and packaged in single-use plastics and made of materials that are not easily recyclable.. Transforming this supply chain involves not just reimagining the process itself, but also shifting the perspectives of the consumers it serves.
8.) Leveraging AI in strategic ways to boost sustainability efforts
Artificial intelligence is a big topic of conversation in most industries today, and sustainability is no different. The biggest factor affecting this issue in 2023 is how we will utilize its benefits without triggering any of its risks. Unchecked, AI could potentially disrupt social behavior or worsen DEI initiatives, but it can also create positive impacts, like: unifying data in the public health and environmental sectors in ways that might boost prevention and remediation efforts, helping us generate cleaner supply chain and business models that optimize efficiency and conservation, and assisting in the pooling of data and information in order to transform research and innovation opportunities.
Discover a career in sustainability with Presidio
All of the above are issues that we study, think about, discuss, and brainstorm over inside and outside of the classroom at Presidio Graduate School. No matter which program you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss your passions and most pressing concerns, but also discover systems-based approaches to affecting change. If you’re interested in making an impact, download our free eBook, which breaks down the actionable steps and benefits that come with the one-of-a-kind programs offered at Presidio.