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Keeping Sustainability at the Forefront

A depiction of a globe with a field and clouds within
What does COVID-19 have to do with sustainability?

Listen in to “Sustaining Sustainability”

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“Sustaining Sustainability,” an impactful new podcast from the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Sustainable Business (CSB), draws from a network of global experts to explore the societal challenges that are being exposed and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is the newest educational offering in support of the CSB’s threefold mission to leverage innovative research, specialized education and training, and critical thought leadership in promoting sustainable business practices.

With an international reach and perspective, CSB director CB Bhattacharya explores the effects of the public health crisis and visions for the way forward in insightful 15-minute conversations with top leaders in industry, academia, government and civil society.

“It’s a team effort,” said CSB associate director Leslie Marshall. “We wanted to find a way to leverage our network and expertise to add something new to conversations surrounding the pandemic.” Marshall works behind the scenes with CSB Sustainability Coordinator Alyssa Martinec to bring each episode to life.

Every week brings a new guest to the podcast.

Speaking from Rome, Francesco Starace, CEO and general manager of Enel, talked about how the Italy-based global energy company and utility provider adapted in the early days of the pandemic, and discussed the future of renewable energy and the critical societal role played by business. "This is a crisis that forces everyone—governments, companies, each part of the society—to rethink the essence of its own being,” Starace said.

CB Bhattacharya
In another early episode, Bhattacharya discussed the future of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the role of political systems during this crisis with Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of its Center for Sustainable Development and director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Bhattacharya discussed the urgency of collaboration with Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, cofounder of IMAGINE, and chair of the International Chamber of Commerce, who spoke from London about what it means to be a responsible business in these times, and how CEOs can work together to build a new global green economy.

Once the virus is under control, a strong recovery is needed, Polman said. “And no better recovery than recovering in the direction of a more resilient future,” he said. “Moving to a green economy is in fact the growth opportunity of the century,” Polman said. “Just in the next 10 years, it will unlock $26 trillion of economic opportunity and create 65 million jobs. And, above all, it actually prevents 700,000 deaths per year.”

And, closer to home, Bhattacharya discussed the need for strong networks in creating more resilient cities with Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer and sustainability manager, who talked about the role industry partners can play in implementing digital, environmental and food systems innovations.

Upcoming guests include Piyush Gupta, CEO of Singapore-based DBS Bank, discussing finance and banking during a global pandemic; Wayne Balta, IBM vice president for corporate environmental affairs and product safety, discussing digital technology’s response to the pandemic; Astrid Haas, policy director of Kampala, Uganda-based International Growth Centre, discussing urban pandemics and healthcare gaps in the Global South; and Kate Brandt, Google’s top sustainability officer, on the ways that tech innovation can help drive more sustainable practices.

“We are seeing more clearly that we are in this together. We live in a shared space and the actions we take affect the wellbeing of us all,” said Bhattacharya, who also is the H.J. Zoffer Chair in Sustainability and Ethics and professor of marketing and management at Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

“Collaboration is the future,” he wrote in his 2019 book, “Small Actions, Big Difference, which demonstrates, based on his research worldwide, the value of promoting sustainability as core to a company’s purpose and the need for broad partnerships to address societal issues.

“This mindset has become more crucial as we face this pandemic challenge,” he said. “We need to emerge with an even stronger collaborative mindset–for our own collective survival,” Bhattacharya said. “When collaboration breaks down, everyone stands to lose.”