Attending Metabolic Lab workshop on “Sustainability & Leadership”

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Attending Metabolic Lab workshop on “Sustainability & Leadership”

Yesterday was Mother’s Day in the Netherlands: a day when a mom gets her breakfast in bed, some flowers and a gift. I like gifts as much as the next girl… but you know what I like even more? Experiences. I love it when my family comes up with creative experiences to treat each other.

About a month ago I was treated to a wonderful workshop in “Sustainability & Leadership” held in the “Metabolic Lab”. The Metabolic Lab is an education and demonstration facility located in Amsterdam North. The Metabolic Lab team organizes programs around applied sustainability, clean technology, and circular cities.

As a mom and a human being, I found it such a luxury to just take a whole day out of our busy life to pause and study. It was such a wonderful and indulgent way to spend my Sunday. And I’ve learned so much in this short space of time, as well as left totally inspired and energized.

What I liked about this workshop is that the group wasn’t too large, maybe 9 people in total. After the initial greetings and talking about our expectations of the day we went for a walk around Metabolic Lab and talked about nature and humans…the beginning… the now.

The workshop “Sustainability & Leadership”

Metabolic Lab sustainability workshop 3

De Ceuvel

Metabolic Lab is located at De Ceuvel, a creative and sustainable office park in Amsterdam North, built on a polluted plot of land that previously served as a shipyard. De Ceuvel quickly became a cool new hang out place, with it’s all organic café, plenty of outdoor sitting and hip vibe, so even if you don’t come here for a workshop, you should still hang out at De Ceuvel and soak up the atmosphere.

Metabolic Lab sustainability workshop 10

Sustainability Principles

Then we started to tackle the concept of Sustainability. What is Sustainability?The definition of “sustainability” is the study of how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology to remain in balance. It also acknowledges that human civilization takes resources to sustain our modern way of life. Sustainability takes into account how we might live in harmony with the natural world around us, protecting it from damage and destruction. Sustainability and sustainable development focuses on balancing that fine line between competing needs – our need to move forward technologically and economically, and the needs to protect the environments in which we and others live. Sustainability is not just about the environment, it’s also about our health as a society in ensuring that no people or areas of life suffer as a result of environmental legislation, and it’s also about examining the longer term effects of the actions humanity takes and asking questions about how it may be improved.

Metabolic Lab sustainability workshop 9
Sustainability is the study of how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology to remain in balance
Metabolic Lab sustainability workshop 4

The A-B-C-D Method

After an all-organic lunch we moved to the more practical part of the workshop. We learned about the A-B-C-D method to applying the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development. This method consists of four steps, which are repeated as an organization progresses toward sustainability. This method is based on backcasting from sustainability principles. The concept of “backcasting” is central to a strategic approach for sustainable development. It is a way of planning in which a successful outcome is imagined in the future, followed by the question: “what do we need to do today to reach that successful outcome?” This is more effective than relying too much on forecasting, which tends to have the effect of presenting a more limited range of options, hence stifling creativity, and more important, it projects the problems of today into the future.

Metabolic Lab sustainability workshop - ABCD 1

A = Awareness and Visioning

This first step aligns the organization around a common understanding of sustainability and identifies a ‘whole-systems’ context for that organization; building a common language around sustainability as well as creating a vision of what that organization would look like in a sustainable future. During the visioning process, people are encouraged to set ambitious goals which may require radical changes in how the organization operates. Some goals may take many years to achieve.

B = Baseline Mapping

This step is the analysis of the “current state of the business or your project: an evaluation of products and services, energy, capital and human resources from ‘cradle to cradle’. The assessment also looks at the social context and organizational culture in order to understand how to positively introduce change. This allows you to identify critical sustainability issues, your business implications, any assets you may have and opportunities for change.

C = Creative Solutions

In this step, we were asked to brainstorm potential solutions to the issues highlighted in the baseline analysis without any constraints.

Armed with our vision of success and potential actions, we looked backwards from the vision to develop strategies toward sustainability. This is called backcasting and it prevents people from developing strategies that just solve the problems of today. Instead, they begin with the end in mind, moving towards a shared vision of sustainability, with each action providing a platform for further improvement.

D = Decide on Priorities

After identifying the opportunities and potential solutions in the ‘C’ step, we prioritized the measures that move our business or project toward sustainability fastest, while optimizing flexibility as well as maximizing social, ecological and economic returns. This step supports effective, step-by-step implementation and action planning. At this stage, we can pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – actions that are fairly easy to implement and offer a rapid return on investment in order to build internal support and excitement for the planning process.

Metabolic Lab sustainability workshop 7

Can you see yourself applying this method to your business?

4 Comments
  • May 17, 2017

    This sounds like a fantastic workshop! I love those statements you had on the butchers paper at the start – basically saying we can’t produce waste faster than the environment can process it. I definitely think there are some things we could all take on board for a sustainable future.

  • May 19, 2017

    I’m really intrigued with this approach. I’m trying to move my company more towards the sustainable tourism, so I’m finding the ABCD Method to be super interesting (especially C) 🙂

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