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What is Ecological Economics?

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Interview with Dr Stanislav Edward Shmelev, Founder and CEO at Environment Europe Foundation and Director of the Oxford Summer School in Ecological Economics.

Dr. Stanislav Edward Shmelev is the founder and CEO of Environment Europe Foundation and Director of Environment Europe Limited. He is the founder of the Oxford Summer School in Ecological Economics, which has been running since 2012.

What is Ecological Economics?
Ecological Economics is a new interdisciplinary field focused on economy-environment interactions and aimed at finding the solutions to global environmental challenges: climate change, destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity, the global waste crisis etc. As a field, it emerged in 1980 and rests on the work of such giants like Prof. Herman Daly and Prof. Robert Ayres. A very good starting point for learning about ecological economics is a book I published in 2012, which is called Ecological Economics: Sustainability in Practice (Springer, 2012).

Can you provide an overview of the Ecological Economics program and its objectives?
The current programme for Summer 2023 focuses on ‘Business Transformation, ESG, Sustainable and Impact Investment and New Sustainable Business Models’. Its objective is to equip executives with cutting edge knowledge and tools of transforming their businesses towards sustainability, re-examining the KPIs they are using to support investment decisions, brainstorm, rethink their business models, interact with peers, experts and practitioners and build lasting networks. It is an experience to be cherished.

We founded the Environment Europe executive programme in 2012. Over the years we trained executives from 60 different countries and offered four different programmes: ‘Green Economy’, ‘Smart and Sustainable Cities’, ‘Ecosystems’ and most recently ‘ESG Investment and New Sustainable Business Models’.

How is this different from a “Green-MBA” track, for example?
Essentially, we are offering a Green MBA, but in one week. One of our graduates remarked that ‘Your programme was an order of magnitude more exciting than a Masters at Oxford University’. Our participants arrive on a Sunday and leave on Saturday, taking no more than a week out of their busy lives. Immersed into a unique environment of Oxford, the ancient seat of learning, they breathe in the atmosphere of a city where education has been happening for almost 1000 years. The unique secret formula of our programme allowed two graduates to raise $50 mln each for their fund and a sustainable chocolate farming project in Africa. We are looking for philanthropists to support our beginning and start offering a fully fledged Green MBA programme composed of several modules plus a capstone project.

How does the program address the current challenges faced by businesses in terms of sustainability?
The business sustainability challenges are absolutely central to the programme. We are usually starting by examining the climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity issues and the waste crisis. Every participant makes a presentation on day one, sharing their challenges and communicating their projects to their peers, that acts as a starting point for all the future brainstorming. The leading professors and practitioners we gathered will guide our participants through the whole conundrum of business sustainability issues from ESG investment and sustainable business models to ecological economic thinking and the impacts of business on ecosystems and biodiversity, the challenges of circular economy and climate mitigation.

What specific topics or issues will be covered to help participants embrace sustainability issues and adapt their approach?
Our programme is offering a systemic vision and is based on multiple applied case studies that we and our professors have developed through years of practice and research. We will cover ESG, sustainable and impact investment, the approaches focused on the Return on Sustainability Investment, New Sustainable Business Models, Key Performance Indicators for Business and Investment, Ecological Economics, Impact of Business on Ecosystems, the Green Swans Approach, The ESG Culture Wars in the US, Sustainable Business Model Transformation in Practice and much more.

Who are the experts and thought leaders involved in teaching this course?
We have assembled a truly stellar cast. Our faculty brings together invaluable experience from decades of experience in business and sustainability. Some of the stars of the sustainability movement will include John Elkington, Pia Heidenmark Cook, Prof. Robert Eccles, Prof. Tensie Whelan, Dr Robert Johnson, Dr Joachim Spangenberg, Prof. Robert Costanza, and Royston Braganza. I will also be teaching a few modules.

What is their background and expertise in the field of ecological economics and sustainability?
Let me go through the list:

  • John Elkington is the founder of Volans, the author of the original ‘triple bottom line’ idea and the new book ‘Green Swans’, which is immensely inspiring.
  • Pia Heidenmark Cook led the sustainability transformation at one of the most iconic brands, IKEA, as a Chief Sustainability Officer, bringing invaluable experience to the team.
  • Prof. Robert Eccles has been a Professor at the Harvard Business School and currently is a Professor at Said Business School of Oxford University and has been at the forefront of ESG investment pioneering the systems of KPIs used to assess the investments across the whole spectrum of sustainability dimensions.
  • Prof. Tensie Whelan is a professor at NYU Stern School of Business and formerly has been the President of the Rainforest Alliance and recognised as one in top 100 most influential people in business ethics.
  • Dr. Robert Johnson is the President of the Institute for New Economic Thinking and in the past managed a huge portfolio of investment for George Soros.
  • Prof. Robert Costanza is a Professor at UCL and has been one of the founders of ecological economics and the Ecological Economics journal.
  • Dr Joachim Spangenberg is a member of the advisory board at Environment Europe Foundation and a prolific scholar and sustainability advisor to many governments and organisations.
  • Royston Braganza is a CEO of Grameen Capital, the company inspired by the Nobel Prize Winning economist, Mohammad Yunus.

And this is just a tip of the iceberg.

What is the target audience for this course?
We are aiming to attract executives, CEOs, CFOs, CSOs, board members, participants working in international financial institutions, UN, World Bank, European Investment Bank, leaders of companies willing to reconsider their business models but unsure about where to start, NGOs, academia. The programme could be a springboard for anybody willing to change direction in their career and embrace sustainability issues in the business context. There is no age limit to participate in our programme, we welcomed those who were 21 and those who were 75. Participants went on to defend PhDs after completing our programme.

Who would benefit the most from attending, and what kind of professional background or
experience would be valuable for participants?

Everyone who is even mildly concerned about the future of our planet and believes that business will have to play a central role, innovate, transform and adopt new standards and outlook. Bloomberg assesses that the market for ESG investment in 2025 will amount to $53 trillion dollars. There is clearly space for everyone, representing different sectors of the economy: from utilities and mobility to consumer goods and construction. We are open to all who believe that the time is high to drive truly sustainable transformation in the business world.

How does the course foster a supportive environment for sharing experiences and best practices in sustainable investment and business model transformation?
One of the tremendous advantages of our programme is that it works with small groups. Unlike traditional business schools where class sizes could easily reach 300 participants, we work with groups of 10-15. This gives our programme an edge and a spirit of exclusivity. Imagine being in the room with 15 other executives and surrounded by the best experts in sustainability this world has ever seen, using coffee breaks for networking and interaction. Every participant will have an opportunity to present their challenge on day one, be it the business model transformation, ESG investment or and issue related to greenwashing, the term so popular today. This is truly a unique experience. And did I mention the dreaming spires we see from our window or the garden where we normally have our break-out sessions?

Can you provide examples of how networking and collaboration among participants are facilitated?
The presentations at the start of the course and all the subsequent interactions will allow all participants to ask questions, bring their specific concerns and challenges to the discussion, and seek support and advice of their peers and experts. There will be multiple opportunities for less formal networking at breakfasts and lunches at the college, as well as dinners we normally have in some local restaurants in Oxford. The college has its own boat station so in theory we could all go punting at the end of the course. What could be more Oxford than this?

How does the course connect with real-world applications and policy implications?
The modules we teach are all driven by real-world applications. Guy Janssens, one of our speakers, is managing a large portfolio of sustainable investment at one of the leading banks in Europe. Pia Heidenmark Cook led the transformation at one of the most recognised companies in the world, IKEA. In my own modules I place particular attention on evidence-based assessment of effectiveness of policy tools, such as carbon taxes for example, and illustrate the experience using real world case studies.

Are there any case studies or practical examples shared during the program to illustrate the concepts and theories taught?
Absolutely. Each module examines case studies of sustainability transformation in different countries, cities, companies. I consider in much detail the story of sustainability transformation in Sweden, one of the most sustainable countries in the world. Particular attention is paid to sustainability transformation in global cities. Experiences from specific companies are covered in detail by the distinguished speakers.

What else would you like to mention?
Our programme has always supported the participants from the developing world, and in theory there is an opportunity to obtain a scholarship if you represent an NGO or government organisation or come from an academic background. Please go to the programme website, and apply today. Thanks!

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