Lee Aitchison School of Business Instructor
Sustainability is all about connecting the dots and breaking down silos. Instructor at Camosun's School of Business, Lee Aitchison is a driving force behind sustainability in the curriculum. As Lee is showing his students, the business world is not just reacting to sustainability; it is also a critical driver to it. Moving beyond "green" and the environment, Lee inspires others to think how we can give back to the community in a broad and integrated way.
"There is a snowball effect when ideas are shared amongst a broader group: self-generating action occurs. We need to create a unified culture of sustainability, a collective mindset, here at Camosun. We need to break down the silos of sustainability."
Who are you and what do you do on campus?
I am an instructor in the School of Business and I developed and instruct the course Business and Sustainability.
Tell me more about incorporating sustainability into the business program. What was the inspiration for creating a course like Business and Sustainability? How is studying sustainability relevant to business?
It is a student-centred course which provides a lens of sustainability when looking at business. There is a heightened awareness around sustainability in the School of Business, and we recognize that sustainability is something students need to have in their toolkit upon graduation.
Sustainability and business are very much interconnected: a robust business climate is needed to advance sustainability. From the business standpoint, there can be a cost-savings or competitive advantage to being sustainable, which can be good early motivators, but there is also the notion of healthy communities. Companies are recognizing that it is to everyone's advantage to have a healthy community now and in the future. The business sector does not act in isolation - society, the environmental community and the business community – they are all interconnected, which is where the triple bottom line comes in. So whether it's reactionary – meeting the needs of the customer, or more proactive in terms of creating healthy communities – the fact of the matter is that business needs to be one of the main drivers behind the sustainability movement.
How did you first get interested in environmental work?
The catalyst for me was the issue of food security. I was shocked at the shift away from producing and growing food here on Vancouver Island. What if we had to sustain ourselves for an extended period of time? How do we tackle the issue of dealing with increasing land prices combined with in a decline in available agricultural land, and a declining general interest in agriculture? How do we get young people involved and interested in this field? And how do we make it accessible? Everyone should have the right to nutritious and culturally appropriate food.
What direction would you like to see Camosun take to become a leader in social responsibility and environmental sustainability?
I believe Camosun is uniquely positioned as an academic institution to be a leader in the community. I really believe that the breadth and depth of passionate and expert people here at Camosun is unmatched in any institution or organization on Vancouver Island. There is no other institution that has the applied knowledge, skills and expertise that Camosun does.
For the college a first good step is getting our own house in order, then to ask ourselves – how do we move beyond that? How do harness that expertise and knowledge so that we can give back to the community in a broad and integrated way? It is not just about environmental sustainability in the environmental sense, but how do we help build healthy communities in the broader scope: social, ecological and economical? Because that is what students want: they want to contribute back to their communities and better themselves in doing so.
A lot of great ideas are shared in the classrooms but they are not necessarily shared beyond that. There is a snowball effect when ideas are shared amongst a broader group: self-generating action occurs. We need to create a unified culture of sustainability, a collective mindset, here at Camosun. We need to break down the silos of sustainability.
Can you tell me about "Centre of Global Responsibility"? What is it about? What are you hoping to achieve?
The Centre of Global Responsibility is still in the infancy stage, but we are working on finding ways to harness the knowledge, resources and expertise from across campus. We often don't hear about the good work that is being done here until after the fact because we tend to operate in isolation. I envision it as a learner-focused, pan-institutional centre with a mandate of seeking out and expanding on projects that have a social responsibility, sustainability or ethical decision- making model. A lot of issues that come up are broad in scope, and if we are able to look at the problem through different lenses – business, human and health services, technology and trades – we might be able to come up with some really great solutions. I hope to get the students and the faculty fully engaged in tackling problems that are restorative in nature.
What do you think is the biggest challenge preventing people from becoming more sustainable?
A consumer culture has developed where we are used to having a lot of things, and having them cheaply. We are at the point where we have to make hard choices. We have to shift our mindset. Fifty years ago roughly 25% of our income was spent on food, now it's closer to 10%. It comes down to turning back the clock in a lot of ways. I say to students: how is it even possible to get a pair of running shoes from big box stores for $14? Even if you're not paying for it monetarily, someone somewhere is paying for it. We need to be aware of these things and allow this awareness influence our choices.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Recognizing that the actions I take – my every day, ordinary activities – have a global reach and impact. If my intention is to have a world full of healthy communities, I need to be aware that my actions have a ripple effect and that individual actions do make a difference in the global community. Along with that mindset is the recognition that sustainability must include business and that they are not mutually exclusive.
What advice would you give to the sustainability leaders of the future?
Individual actions contribute to a collective mindset and to a more sustainable world. Do not get discouraged or waiver from that goal. Do what you can. Be mindful of your actions and then find that place of passion where you can contribute to sustainability in a broader context. Be passionate about something in sustainability.
The world is certainly facing significant challenges, but the business community is both resilient and innovative. Equipping students with a good understanding of triple bottom line concepts and a strong personal commitment to sustainability will be a catalyst to creating healthy communities of the future.