IST 2019: Reflections from TRANSFORM

It’s already been one month since the International Sustainability Transitions Conference (IST) at Carleton University, Ottawa. While we were there, we had the opportunity to learn from and engage with talented researchers from across Canada and around the world. We thought we’d share some thoughts, reflections and insights on what we’ve learned, what we hope to achieve, and some of the challenges that lie ahead.

This year’s conference focused heavily on knowledge integration, experimentation and the acceleration of sustainability transitions within our communities. We had several exploratory discussions with students, researchers, practitioners, business leaders and indigenous community leaders about what this means for sustainability transformations, and the spaces they occur in.  It became clear from this work that we are standing at the precipice of transformative social, economic, political and environmental change.

Dr. Sarah Burch and Dr. Niki Frantzeskaki explored how small business and urban experimentation might be part of a much broader transformative change, as opposed to the many attempts at incremental changes we’ve seen previously. Alex Mercado and Lynda Westman also demonstrated opportunities for mass market transformation with sustainability entrepreneurship, highlighting the role of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and their unique ability to engage in transformative change. Given that the number of SMEs in Canadian economy is far greater than the number of large organizations, the untapped potential of SMEs as actors in transformative change towards sustainable business modelling is becoming increasingly clear.

There was also much needed discussion surrounding the issue of adaptation in the global south. Increasingly, countries in the global south are facing numerous uncertainties and complexities (political, social, economic and environmental) which are amplified by extreme weather in a changing climate. This means we need more insight into how we manage and accelerate transitions in the world’s most vulnerable regions, and particularly, how SMEs may be part of this conversation and process.

IST 2019 was also an opportunity to debut the TRANSFORM project. So far, we’ve received lots of feedback, support and enthusiasm for this global project. So we’ve been hard at work building partnerships and piecing together the database that will create pathways to sustainable futures for communities and SMEs alike. Now that IST 2019 is over, we’re looking ahead to the Earth System Governance Conference (ESG) in Oaxaca, Mexico where we will be talking about sustainability and justice in the context of urgent transformations. As TRANSFORM grows, we look forward to the opportunity to teach, share and contribute to this vibrant community of researchers and practitioners.

For more information on IST 2019, the full program and video recordings of the keynote presentations are available here.


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