Tag Archives: Green Economy

we CAME, we SAW, we BERN, Switzerland

we CAME, we SAW, we BERN, Switzerland

Our trip to Bern was the icing on the cake to finish up our first module of Sustainable Europe Study Abroad. The capital city had beautiful sites and grand history that we explored for two days in addition to three meetings including with US Ambassador, a handful of important officials, like the Director of Environmental policy for Switzerland, and finally a tour of University of Bern with Fabian, a PhD graduate student. I was able to take the research on Green Economy that I had done for my presentation as background for these meetings. In all the meetings Green Economy was an important aspect of what was discussed whether about transportation with the Ambassador, nuclear power and other energy sources with government officials.

Walking around Bern I was struck by the sheer quality of the city. The quality of the buildings lined up in every color framing the streets that had a canopy of wires powering the electric train that dominated the right of way. I could tell that the spaces were hand crafted rather than built up over time. The trains system was so prevalent that is gave a stark contrast to many American cities where the car rules the street. As unsightly as the web of electrically wires are the German architecture and the efficiency of the train in the city overweighs the aesthetic part. The trains allowed for an example of a more Green Economy as they do not emit carbon dioxide and they move lots of people efficiently. They do not compromise resources with growth. To discuss such solutions further in our meeting created a well rounded perspective.

On a very rainy July second the group was fortunate enough to meet US Ambassador to Switzerland Donald Beyer. A Virginia man himself, we all had an instant connection and welcoming feeling at the Embassy in Bern. Through Mr. Beyer’s stay in Switzerland his observations of the countries structure and attitude towards sustainable development influenced his view of American government’s system and development programs. He discussed with us the polarization of political parties in America and how if they could only come together and communicate pressing needs whether environment, economic, or social maybe all could work together  in consolidated groups to move forward on an agreed agenda so issues and solutions can be identified. He also emphasized the wonderful transit system that connects the small country with the densely populated areas. Personally I found was he discussed very insightful and made me reconsider our ways of development in the states precede.

Our second meeting in Bern was one of the more intimidating but turned out to be one of the most informative. Just look at the room where we had the presentation and Q&A! We met with people that are so highly involved in Swiss sustainable development, including Stefan Ruchti (FDFA), Lorenz Kurts (FDFA) and Daniel Wachter (DETEC), that to listen to their views on Switzerland’s direct route to a green economy was very interesting. The officials highlighted the fact that energy efficiency is a main component for nuclear power plants scheduling to shut down. The worry of both our group and the panel of officials was what will compensate for what energy will be lost? The panel explained that they did not have obvious answers such as wind power or solar since Switzerland does not have that type of power like Germany where high power wind comes off the ocean. I was intrigued by the special development group that we spoke to that had only six members but which integrated issues about transit, construction and planning all in one so the parts can be designed together instead of in isolation. In the U.S. there is no such thing as a special development board, however, there is definitely a need for a group such as this to communicate and weave all parts of sustainable development into an integrated machine.

Before I started this Sustainable Europe study abroad course I had very little knowledge of what sustainable development entailed. I just thought it was an effort to use renewable materials so that future generations could live as well as we do. To my pleasant surprise, sustainable development is much more multidimensional and encompasses a much broader scope of issues. These are critical matters regarding, among others, global economic changes, employment, innovation and the environment in the context of theories of development, trade, technical and organizational innovation, and job creation. I have always accepted the sprawling neighborhoods that branch out of U.S. cities, but what if we could start building in a more sustainable way so that less land is used per household and commercial and residential structures are mixed. I know if the U.S. had a train system like Switzerland the use of cars would decrease dramatically. I see at least one large obstacle. What works in a small place may not automatically transfer to a much larger place. The U.S. has more land and cities are much farther apart causing a significant challenge for implementing a train system.

The trains would just be the beginning. Glimpses of Switzerland’s approach showed me that the future of U.S. development needs to change at its very foundation to shift to sustainability. Everything that goes into making a great society, including being a good citizen of the global society, needs to be altered altered to not only grow our economy and the well being of people, but to support our environment as well.

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International View on Green Economy

For our assignment we presented a short description about various topics on sustainable development, issues and possible solutions surrounding the flawed systems of development in the world. Green economy, my topic of choice, was an example of solutions to the current economy. A green economy would be a system that leads to more sustainable growth but does not use up more nonrenewable resources or have a negative impact on the environment. In other words decoupling elements of the economy that sound unrelated. I presented it with the Photoshopped picture, seen above, and discussed green economy in both the context of the world through the United Nations and what Switzerland is initiating to create a sustainable economy that works with the environment and society through Cleantech innovations.

Sustainable development has been a mainstream topic of the UN. The UN website describes Sustainable development as creating a decent standard of living for everyone today without compromising the needs of future generations or “finding better ways of doing things” for all the world’s population such as: reducing poverty, encouraging job creation, providing access to clean energy, water, and nutrition and creating cities and transportation that function well all while protecting the global environment. (http://www.un.org/en/sustainablefuture/sustainability.shtml)

The concept of a green economy does not replace sustainable development, but is part of it. There is growing recognition that achieving sustainability depends on getting the economy right. [UN Green Economy 2011 intro p 17] http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/Portals/88/documents/ger/1.0_Introduction.pdf%5D

Although just a branch of sustainable development, green economy is still a large topic. I started out by explaining how the UN defined a green economy, ”one that results in improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. To read more go to: (http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20//content/documents/Transition%20to%20a%20Green%20Economy_summary.pd)

A green economy does not forget the principles of the past such as including Rio Principles and Agenda 21 as part of the green economy. This means that while underscoring the links between the economy and the environment, a green economy should not lose sight of the equity dimensions, including the needs of the poorer members of society throughout the world, the specific needs of developing countries (and of different groups of developing countries) and, of course, of future generations.

I saw the concept of a green economy as a tool box that incorporates preexisting systems and manipulates them to redirect the focus to a sustainable view:

Government can regulate innovations so they are sustainable, can encourage environmentally-friendly pricing policies, can structure taxes and subsidies to limit pollution and emissions and to control over-exploitation of natural resources. This would make products, services and their prices better reflect environmental values that would encourage a green economy.

Technology innovation will be key to the success of the green economy. New ideas will have to make the world more efficient, allow for growth and preserve the environment without reducing overall jobs. Working towards a more efficient world that allows for growth with out hurting the environmental or taking away jobs. This challenging task ties back to this chain of events diagram:

Green Investment: Invest in green technology–> increase demand–> increase employment

An example of manipulating the tools that are already set in place would be agriculture production. “Food Security” is a term that has shifted back to the traditional concept of greater self-sufficiency and increased local food production. This means putting back many institutions that were dismantled in developing countries due to structural adjustment policies.

Teaching about the sustainable technology, especially in developing countries is important so they can absorb it and then manipulate it for the developing country’s specific needs.

Trade is also a very important part creating a green economy. The re-adjusting of resources brings potential economic benefits to developing countries by opening up new export opportunities. One obvious way trade policy might help in the greening of economies is by lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers to goods such as wind turbines and efficient light bulbs, and services such as environmental engineering.

Switzerland’s View on Green Economy

The Swiss Platform for Rio+20 describes their direct route to a green economy, “The world is facing huge social and environmental challenges. Its rapidly growing population and changing consumer behaviour are putting more pressure on the environment and natural resources. Moreover, social inequalities are on the increase. The current economic model is reaching its limits in terms of overcoming these challenges.” Switzerland is taking leaps and bounds towards a more green economy through programs such as Cleantech and combining government sectors for a more streamlined system.


What is Cleantech you say?

Cleantech is a resource-saving and thus sustainable way of conducting economic activity. The cleantech concept covers all technologies, manufacturing techniques and services that are intended to help protect and maintain natural resources and systems. It incorporates all levels of the value added chain, from research and development to the production of capital goods to exports. The Cleantech Masterplan is a situation analysis and should lead to greater coordination of resource efficiency and renewable energies. By combining the forces of the federal government, the cantons, the private sector and academic actors, Switzerland should become a leading business location for resource efficient products, services and renewable energies by 2020. Few other sectors of the economy are predicted to have the growth potential of cleantech. This field includes technologies, manufacturing processes and services that help to preserve our natural resources and the environment. Switzerland enjoys a strong position as far as foreign trade in cleantech products. There is a broad knowledge base and also considerable specialization. In addition to cleantech, education is a key component of green economy in Switzerland. By 2020, the general conditions for research, knowledge and technology transfer and education will be in place, leading to greater innovation in the cleantech sector. Swiss companies will be able to effectively use the knowledge gained by higher education institutions as a means of developing their economy.



After I finished the green economy presentation and heard what others in the class had to say about this “new” system, is that the system is not different but just re-adjusted to be geared towards a more sustainable mindset. What the UN described had all the same aspects of the current economy, such as: trade, government regulations, tariffs, etc. but they just varied in the degrees of influence. Although the steps recommended for a green economy would probably be implemented relatively smoothly because of the similar structure, I struggle to see where the push would come from for long term progress. If the way the economy is set up now is not leading in a sustainable direction, why would the world overcome the usual resistance to change and use the same structure just in an invisible cloak of shifts labeled sustainable? A green economy would require such a fundamental shift in evaluating the use of scarce resources and expected returns that the concept seems to broadly overreach the confines of economics.


Why did the UN call this solution “green economy” instead of “green society”? How can you change a system but not have the people change?