Recap of Sustainability Week Geneva 2021

The Sustainability Week Geneva (SWG) is a local student project and one of many such weeks organised around the country as part of Sustainability Week Switzerland. SWG 2021 was organised by student teams from the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute with an aim to re-center higher education institutions within sustainability debates. 

Continuing the work from previous years, a motivated group of EC members took the initiative to co-organise the week with a group of UNIGE students. During March 22nd to 26th, EC hosted various online panels, workshops, and screenings to help build tomorrow’s sustainable society. It was a busy week with many events, so if you missed something or just want to know what we got up to in the events organised by EC, read on… P.S. we’ve added links to recordings/reviews of most of the events, so you’ll get a good recap of what went on!

National Opening Ceremony for Sustainability Week Switzerland 2021

This year the EC had the honour to host the National Opening Ceremony for Sustainability Week Switzerland on March 4th 2021. Titled “Climate Crisis – Out of Balance: Confronting Equity and Sustainability”, the online panel marked the opening of all sustainability weeks. 

The panel took a stance on sustainability as an issue of equity and justice. While the effects of the climate crisis are felt globally, developed countries are significantly more responsible for the greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. Yet developing countries and low-income communities in the developed world are at higher risk of suffering from the negative impacts of climate change.

With esteemed guests from around the globe, the panel provided a dialogue to discuss tools to work towards local and global sustainable policies and practices. It featured:

Opening remarks by Dr. Marie-Laure Salles (Director, The Graduate Institute, IHEID)

Panel Moderator:

  • Dr. Anne Saab (Associate Professor of International Law, The Graduate Institute, IHEID)


  • Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren (Director of External Affairs, Green Climate Fund)
  • Adenike Oladosu (Initiator, Fridays For Future Nigeria)
  • Marie-Claire Graf (President, VSN-FDD-FSS)

Access the recording here: 

Read the Graduate Press review: 

Art Exhibition: The Intersection of Arts and Ecology 

For the duration of the SWG, we hosted an in-person art exhibition in The Graduate Institute’s Salon Davis, as well as a web gallery on the EC website.

Art is a powerful tool for catalyzing solutions. It speaks across language barriers, provokes reactions and reflection, and translates complicated subject matters into a digestible form. When addressing challenges as ambitious as sustainability and climate action, art plays an important role promoting conversation and collaboration.

The aims of this exhibition were to A) Provide a space and platform for eco-activist artists to promote their talents and perspective, and B) Generate conversation about the eco-art showcase and the environmental challenges/solutions/perspectives it depicts.

Access the web gallery here:

MONDAY 22nd March 2021

Stop Nestlé’s Private Transfer of ‘Water Wealth’

Mike Balkwill, Campaign Director of Wellington Water Watchers, moderated the panel and provided an overview of Nestlé’s sale and the Troubled Waters campaign.

Community advocates representing three communities in Canada and the US affected by Nestlé’s water extraction described local impacts and their campaigns for water justice.

Featured speakers:

  • Makasa Looking Horse and Dawn Martin-Hill of Six Nations of the Grand River
  • Luke Sekera and Nickie Sekera of Community Water Justice, Maine (US)
  • Angie Thompson of Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water Colorado (US), representing Central Colorado Climate Coalition

Access the recording here:

WEDNESDAY 23rd March 2021

Concurring Crises as a Catalyst for Change: A Dialogue with Josep Garí (UNDP)

The COVID-19 crisis has revived an international awareness of our global condition and challenges. The 2020 pandemic has been a disruptive event across the planet, agitating economies, opening mindsets to change, and stimulating public governance. It has aggravated old problems – notably social inequalities – and reactivated new agendas – particularly the green and digital transitions. Covid-19 is not just a pandemic with a profound socio-economic impact; it is also a catharsis for societal changes.

Josep Garí, Senior Policy Advisor at UNDP, discussed why 2020 will be a revolutionary year in this century: three crises concurred (a pandemic, a socio-economic disorder, and accelerating climate change), thus requiring societies to start considering and deploying radical solutions to address them all, and simultaneously. He showed how the Covid-19 recovery will actually be the building of a new world, with three dimensions: a renewed democratic governance (with a new social contract to address inequalities and ensure institutions are inclusive); a green economy (to address climate change and foster peace with the Planet); and a digital transition (with its opportunities to harness, and risks to address). Since Josep is a political ecologist and works at the UNDP Nature, Climate & Energy cluster, he provided deeper insights on the means and needs to build peace with the Planet, a major undertaking for this century.

This event was not an ordinary lecture, but an informed dialogue. Josep Garí presented some highlights from current UN analysis and plans, seeking a pragmatic conversation with the audience. The online discussion provided an opportunity to directly talk to a UN senior official who is engaged in helping nations, companies and civic organisations to channel the current crises into an opportunity for peace-making with the Planet.                                                                    

Access the recording here: 

Ecocide: Leveraging the Law to Prevent Environmental Destruction

Is international criminal law capable of meaningfully addressing environmental destruction as an ecocide? Scholars and policymakers around the world are trying to introduce a new category of crime under international criminal law similar to genocide, but regarding violence against the environment.

The panel included legal, gender and environmental experts as well as indigenous representatives who offered their experience and expertise on how environmental destruction impacts each phase of human history and development. The panel also highlighted environmental vulnerability and the urgent need to recognize harm towards the environment as an international crime.

The panel was invited to discuss the history of recognizing ecocide as a crime and the challenges associated with coding it within the international law. Furthermore, the panel offered their views on the effectiveness of leveraging the international criminal law to prevent environmental damage and the potential challenges associated with implementing the law as envisioned.

Featured speakers:

  • Damien Short – Co-Director of Human Rights Consortium, Professor of Human Rights and Environmental Justice at the School of Advanced Study, University of London
  • Rachel Killean – Senior Lecturer at School of Law, Queen’s University
  • Regina Paulose – Criminal Lawyer, Executive Director of the Common Good Foundation.
  • Dhirendra Nalbo – Co-Founder of the Open Institute; Indigenous Professor on Critical Epistemology
  • Nyachangkuoth Tai – Peace and Human rights Activist from South Sudan. Co-Founder of the Mother Care Organization and Gender and Social Justice Manager at Assistance Mission for Africa (AMA)

Read the Graduate Press review: 

Ethics & Sustainability: Perspectives from the Food & Fashion Industries

Every day, we eat food and wear our favorite clothes. But, how often do we pause and question how our food and clothes are produced, who makes them, and what kind of impact we create by consuming them? This panel discussion gave the opportunity to do just that – pause and learn about two industries that are trying to produce ethically and sustainably to have a lasting positive impact on people and the planet.

From a group of experts in business, human rights and ethics, fairtrade, and international development we were able to understand how the food and fashion industries tackle environmental and social issues in production and consumption. Specifically, we learnt more about what sustainable and ethical production means in practice, why it is important, what are the successes and challenges, and how we fit into the equation as consumers. At the end of the discussion, we had learned how to become more conscious consumers and find out ways we can get involved to improve the industries!      

Featured speakers:

  • Simone Wasman – Solidar Suisse
  • Simone Cipriani – Ethical Fashion Initiative and UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion
  • Prof. Dorothée Baumann-Pauly – GSEM – Geneva Center for Business & Human Rights
  • Luca Puliafito – Fairtrade Max Havelaar Switzerland
  • Sofia de Meyer – Opaline SA                                                                            

Read the Graduate Press review: 

THURSDAY 24th March 2021

Virtual Sustainability Career Fair

The Virtual Career Fair gave students and young professionals the opportunity to learn from and interact with experts working at various sustainability-oriented organisations across Geneva.

Each organisation presented about the projects and positions related to sustainability at their organisation, while also providing tips on how students and young professionals can prepare themselves for a career in this field. Each organisation also had a Q&A session to answer live questions from attendees.

In collaboration with the Career Services of the Graduate Institute (IHEID).

Pre-Assembly: Introduction to Citizens’ Assembly

We collaborated with Extinction Rebellion Geneva and Switzerland to bring an experience of a People’s Assembly!

The pre-assembly discovered the concept in detail and introduced it to participants who then later participated in the People’s Assembly on Friday. The purpose was to introduce academia to climate change grassroots movements and concepts. Through the pre-assembly, participants were prepared to firsthand experience the participatory democracy concept advocated by these movements.

Access the recording here: 

Sustainability & The Crisis of Value: Conversations Between Bhutan & Switzerland

In 1972, Bhutan’s 4th king proposed “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) as an alternative to gross domestic product (GDP), calling the latter an inadequate measure of a country’s value. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to its knees, bringing long standing issues of economic inequality, social justice, and environmental protection to the forefront. Switzerland has been no exception.

This panel brought together diverse voices from Bhutan and Switzerland to discuss how both the climate crisis and global pandemic have challenged sustainable development as we know it, and destabilized traditional notions of economic value, environmental protection, and cultural preservation. Taking the form of an interactive dialogue, speakers engaged with each other about what today’s “crisis of value” means for their respective cultures, countries, and industries. Can Bhutan’s GNH be applied within International Geneva? Where do the Bhutanese and Swiss approaches to s diverge, or alternatively, converge?

This panel aimed to facilitate dialogue between two countries with a long-shared history, and provide an opportunity for shared learning.

Featured speakers:

  • Jane Carter – Senior Advisor, Natural Resource Governance, Helvetas
  • Phuntsho Wangyel – Senior Policy Analyst, Gross National Happiness Commission
  • Thinley Choden – Social Entrepreneur, Center for Sustainability Studies; Founding Curator, Global Shapers Thimphu Hub
  • Kasmira Jefford – Geneva Solutions, Editor-in-Chief; Sustainable Finance and Business, Editor
  • Sonam Deki – Environmental Health Specialist, Gyaltshen Consultancy; Youth Climate Ambassador, Global Youth Climate Network
  • Silvano Lieger – Executive Director, Sentience Politics; Catalyst, Collaboratio Helvetica; Board Member, Global Shapers Zurich

Access the recording here: 

Agents of Change for Sustainable Organizations

In the face of overwhelming global challenges like climate change, can individuals in organizations make a difference through the implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility and other sustainable organizational practices?

The speakers helped the audience understand these concepts and share their professional experiences on how their organizations are at the forefront of sustainable organizational practices. They gave an insight into how the landscape of corporate social responsibility is changing, what the role of organizational leadership is in this and what improves this leadership.

This event was meant for students and other interested individuals to understand the opportunities and challenges faced by individuals within and outside the organization to push for sustainable organizational practices and our speakers’ personal motivations for being the sustainable champions in their fields.

Featured speakers: 

  • Lise Van Long – Corporate Senior Sustainability Manager, International Olympic Committee 
  • Roland Widmer – Co-founder of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Geneva and Sustainable Finance Geneva initiatives

Environmental Racism 

The destruction of the world’s biodiversity and the effects of climate change are disproportionately felt by people of color living in developed and underdeveloped parts of the world. Environmental racism is connected to a continued, violent legacy of colonialism, slavery, and exploitation of land, resources, and peoples around the world.

The panel on environmental racism invited speakers to discuss their perspectives on the most detrimental effects of environmental racism today, what work is being done to combat environmental racism, hold systems, leaders, and companies, and communities who contribute to environmental racism accountable, and how to push for equitable, just sustainability efforts.

Organised in collaboration with Black Conversations, Latin American Network Initiative (LANI) and Student Initiative on Asia (SIA).

Featured speakers:

  • Emilie Ferreira, Climate Strike
  • Stacey Vigallon, Baldwin Hills, Greenhouse Program alumni. The youth program helps urban youth have access to nature.
  • Bezwada Wilson, National Convenor of Safai Karmachari Andolan; against the practice of manual scavenging
  • Rafaela M. Molina Vargas, Affiliate Member of the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD)

Access the recording here: 

‘Thank You For the Rain’ Film Screening & Discussion with Film-Makers 

Thank You For the Rain highlights that those who have contributed the least to climate change, are often suffering the worst consequences of global warming. The film portrays the issues surrounding climate justice, as it tells the story of how a Kenyan farmer struggles because of the impacts of climate change. This same farmer, Kisilu helps mobilise his community to find solutions. His story has since been used as a springboard for policy advocacy as it provides an example of how a personal climate story grounded in unique experience can engage audiences and inspire action.

At this event, we collectively watched the film, followed by an open discussion with the panelists and the audience.                                                                                                                   

Featured speakers:

  • Hilary Heath – CJRF’s Program Associate
  • Julia Dahr – Lead Filmmaker
  • Kisilu Musya – Co-director and ‘star’

Read the Graduate Press review: 

FRIDAY 26th March 2021

Food Waste Workshop by Lightblue Environmental Consulting

“The global food waste issue and innovative solutions to achieve Zero Food Waste to Landfill” 

One third of all the food produced for human consumption is wasted every year. These 1.3 billion tons of food would be enough to feed 3 billion people. Food waste has also a huge environmental impact, knowing the carbon, water, chemical and land footprint of agriculture. From an economic perspective, the BCG estimates that this global food waste issue is worth $1.2 trillion but also represents a $700 billion opportunity yearly.

8 years of practice is encapsulated into this workshop designed for food industry leaders, lecturers and researchers, higher education students, government officials, UN officers or CSR executives. Participants were equipped with new skills, in-depth knowledge, and practical methodologies to tackle one of the biggest global challenges of this century: food waste.

The workshop was given by LightBlue Environmental Consulting and organised in partnership with the IHEID Alumni Office.

Speaker:                                                                                                                                Benjamin Lephilibert, IHEID Alumnus (’05), Founder & Managing Director of LightBlue Environmental Consulting

Read the Graduate Press Review: 

Democracy? Experiencing a People’s Assembly      

We collaborated with Extinction Rebellion Geneva and Switzerland to bring an experience of a People’s Assembly!

Discussing our future together? Brainstorming ideas to prevent upcoming catastrophes? Democratically deciding on the planet our children will live in? The concept of the citizens’ assembly tackled exactly such processes, most known from France’s Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat deliberating recommendations on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent by 2030 “in the spirit of social justice.”

Participants had the opportunity to experience first-hand the new democratic processes evolving around a provocative question which will blur the line between academia and action on climate.

Read the Graduate Press review: 

Sustainable Food Systems 

The Sustainable Food Systems panel invited panelists to speak on the topic from their different positions in the food system, as producers, traders, and researchers. The panel aimed to learn more about what people working across the food system see as the largest challenges to overcome for the food system to become overwhelmingly more sustainable. Moreover, panelists were guided in a discussion on what they see to be some of the most impactful shifts that the global food system needs to make to achieve sustainability – climate reliance, and feeding the world’s population equitably. Sketchy Solutions also provided us with an amazing artwork to illustrate the issues raised in discussion -check it out below! 

In collaboration with IHEID Water Initiative.

Features speakers:

  • Devinder Sharma – Award-winning Indian journalist, writer, thinker, and researcher, well-known and respected for his views on food and trade policy, trained as an agricultural scientist
  • Anne Saab – Assistant Professor in International Law at the Graduate Institute
  • Timothy A. Wise – Senior Advisor at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
  • Delfina Porras Solis – Coffee Producer, and facilitator for bean voyage, an organization working to eradicate the gender gap in farming community

Access the recording here: 

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