|JIIS' Urban Sustainability team held its first international conference recently, with the attendance of 250 participants, including senior staff from local authorities and diverse civil society organizations around Israel and a number of guests from abroad. Drawing on the team's pragmatic approach throughout the project, the conference was aptly titled "Urban Sustainability – From Theory to Practice."
The conference offered a vast array of fascinating and innovative insights into this rapidly developing, multidisciplinary field, incorporating social and behavioral sciences, the impact of the social media and the millennial generation, behavioral aspects of design, more sustainable consumption patterns and alternative business models, such as the sharing economy and collaborative consumption.
The keynote speaker was Halina Brown, professor of Environmental Science and Policy at Clark University in Massachusetts and co-founder of the Sustainable Consumption Research and Action Initiative (SCORAI), a "knowledge network of professionals working at the interface of material consumption, human fulfillment, and technological change." She was accompanied by her colleague and partner Prof. Philip Vergragt.
Brown described how consumer society developed and thrived as a "post- World War II dream. Higher wages enabled more spending power which brought great prosperity, as measured by GDP." However, she added, using as an example the US case, which saw the proliferation of goods and ever-larger homes, the process "was not accompanied by a rise in subjective wellbeing, and levels of income inequality increased."
Tami Gavrieli, who heads the Urban Sustainability team at JIIS, summarized the first year's activities of the three-year project. She noted that "behavioral change is a key issue in promoting sustainability in the urban context and the multidisciplinary approach is essential in order to move towards change." Other speakers at the conference included Prof. Shizaf Refaeli, of Haifa University, who addressed the social impact of the internet. He said that society is moving away from the "atom" and to the "bit: as people and activities became increasingly digital. At the same time, he and others agreed, that digital lifestyles can be harnessed for sustainability and community engagement and in fact offer business opportunities for sharing. Servicizing, in particular, was cited as a more sustainable business model.
The event was hosted by the Municipality of Holon. But it did not end there: a number of collaborative agreements were initiated at the conference. "Indeed, it generated interest in a new agenda in Israel on sustainable lifestyles and sustainable consumption," concluded Gavrieli.
The Urban Sustainability project stresses the need for developing models for “sustainable urban lifestyles” in its strategic recommendations. It follows the now-widely recognized understanding that, despite increased resource efficiency in production processes and the promotion of pro-environmental products, the world is still far from attaining the targets necessary for the protection of planetary ecosystems for future generations.