Geneva Summer Class Learns Sustainability at ‘Nature’s Headquarters’

| June 15, 2015
Webster Geneva - Sustainability Cluster

Students in Peter Carson’s Sustainability Studies course hear from a variety of thought leaders on the topic, including Nadine McCormick at IUCN.

“Climate change, resources, risk mitigation: these are the issues our students will be confronting in their careers after Webster,” said Peter Carson, instructor at Webster University’s Geneva campus.

He is teaching “Introduction to Sustainability Studies” this summer as part of a cluster of classes around the theme of sustainability that allows students to integrate what they learned in this course with those in management and ethics courses.

This learning community, in its second year, is one of five being offered on the Geneva campus, attracting students from other Webster campuses and other universities.

Studying in Geneva certainly has its advantages as Carson’s students discovered on a visit to the “global headquarters for nature conservancy” June 3.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), just up the coast of Lake Geneva in Gland, is generally considered the world’s authority on biodiversity conservation, nature-based solutions and related environmental governance. The research it produces is widely cited by academics and policy makers, and it is responsible for several publications of record, including the Red List of threatened species.

The Business and Social Impact of Ecosystem Degradation

The class was well-primed for their excursion, having just covered issues of systems literacy and bio-complexity. Their IUCN host, Nadine McCormick, who works in the Global Business and Biodiversity Program, bridged the divide between academic knowledge and strategic action in a presentation describing IUCN’s work with the business and political communities “to turn a vicious circle into a virtuous one.” Ecosystem valuation, a topic the class had explored in the previous week, is an evolving science but already critical to that effort, said McCormick as she showed links between those services and human needs such as health, security and social cohesion.

She pointed out that 60 percent of the world’s ecosystem services, upon which businesses and communities rely, have been significantly degraded over the past 50 years. She said that fossil records show species extinctions today are about 1000 times natural rates. And she made the case that economic losses and impacts on human welfare due to ecosystem degradation costs two to five trillion dollars per year, demonstrating why biodiversity is a material issue for business and for civil society.

“The presentation gave us more awareness about the environmental problems we are facing nowadays, as well as peoples’ responsibility for preserving nature,” said Caroline Debetaz, a business administration major.

McCormick typically engages with businesses in these types of discussions. In fact, she related that she’d just come off one of those assignments with Europe’s largest emitter of C02. So it was a welcomed change to speak with our class of future influencers.

“I was impressed by the diverse range in interests and backgrounds of the students,” she said, “and especially by their willingness to engage in thinking about how businesses can value and conserve nature.”

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