Sustainability Institute Welcomes New Executive Director

Bas De Leeuw

Big news everyone! We at the Sustainability Institute (the co-creator and organizer of Climate Interactive), founded in 1996 by the late Donella Meadows, announced today the appointment of Bastiaan “Bas” de Leeuw as our new executive director.

Mr. de Leeuw’s move from his current position, leading the United Nations Sustainable Resource Management Program, will help the Institute strengthen our global support program for Climate Change negotiators, our modeling and outreach work addressing other key environmental challenges and our leadership development program, the Donella Meadows Fellowship.

We’re particularly thrilled to be adding such depth in international issues and the United Nations as we address the highly international and global issue of climate change.

During his 12 years with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Mr. de Leeuw launched various programmes and initiatives, in particular UNEP’s Sustainable Consumption Programme, the Advertising Initiative, YouthXchange, SC.net, the Life Cycle Initiative and the Wuppertal Institute’s Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production. Early on, de Leeuw was instrumental in promoting and designing the UN’s “Marrakech Process”, aimed at building an international ten-year framework of programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production. Most recently, he played a leading role in developing the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, a think-tank on global resource use chaired by Dr. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker, with Mr. de Leeuw as Head of the Secretariat.

Regarding his time with UNEP, de Leeuw had this to say, “Throughout my time there, one of the most rewarding aspects was working with a young team of diverse nationalities (Australian, Austrian, Brazilian, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Kazakhstani, Kenyan, Korean, Mexican, Norwegian, Peruvian, UK and USA), all eager to make a difference, while respecting various cultures and values. We all learned to have patience and make compromises where necessary for the greater good. The UN’s greatest assets are their junior staff. I am grateful for that experience and now look forward to working with SI’s dedicated multidisciplinary team of scientists, writers, project managers and trainers, who are currently gearing up for the UN Climate Change Conference [COP15] in Copenhagen.”

The Sustainability Institute (SI) and its partners, Ventana Systems and the Sloan School of Management at MIT, have developed a scientifically-grounded system dynamics model (C-ROADS) to help decision makers achieve more effective national and international climate policies. In partnership with the Global Observatory, C-ROADS will be used to provide real-time analysis of the implications of the Copenhagen summit to global media and to civil society groups lobbying for a strong, science-based agreement. The SI and partners also provide easy-to-use, open-source climate change support tools on the Internet, suitable for schoolteachers as well as technical advisors.

“The current climate crisis demands a global solution: nations must collaborate and they must act fast. National leaders and their negotiators must see clearly how their positions interact strongly with those of other nations, to either facilitate or obstruct the global solution required to avert environmental catastrophe”, said de Leeuw, who will take up his position in November. The December Copenhagen Summit, tasked with agreeing to a framework for climate change mitigation beyond 2012, is only a few months away.

Mr. de Leeuw notes that climate change is not the only pending crisis. “We must also deal with global natural resource scarcity, increasing prices, worsening labor conditions and environmental degradation, all intensified by global interdependence and financial instability. But these challenges also provide opportunities to break old habits and develop better patterns of production and consumption, respecting nature and humanity. We need to find solutions based on the same science-based systems thinking that the world is now applying to climate change.”

To help grapple with these issues, SI’s Donella Meadows Fellowship Program trains sustainability leaders from around the world in systems thinking and organizational learning. Currently, 74 Fellows apply these skills to their high impact work in corporations, government, foundations and civil society organizations in over 16 countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and The Netherlands. The Fellows Program reinforces the Institute’s commitment to ensuring that a diversity of voices and experiences will help shape policy at every level, from global to local.

From his 12 years of service at the UNEP, Mr. de Leeuw brings to the SI a wealth of experience in resource management and strong relationships with sustainability leaders around the world in government, non-profits and the private sector. Mr. de Leeuw looks forward to strengthening the connections between his networks and the work of the SI. A January 2010 International Symposium on Sustainability in Mumbai, India, where Mr. de Leeuw is a member of the organizing committee and an invited speaker, will provide an early opportunity to develop those connections, which are so critical in addressing complex international sustainability issues.

The Chair of SI’s Board of Directors, Jeanne Veatch-Bragdon, noted that one of the great strengths Mr. de Leeuw brings to the Institute is the far-reaching network of individuals with whom he’s worked and who speak highly of him, his leadership and his commitment to creating a sustainable future. “Mr. de Leeuw’s personal mission is closely aligned with that of the Institute. We are indeed fortunate and look forward to helping him build the Institute’s capacity to impact the momentum of the global movement toward sustainability.”

The Sustainability Institute specializes in addressing complex, multi-stakeholder sustainability issues, using systems analysis and modeling methods (evolved from Donella Meadows’ work in the Club of Rome’s report “Limits to Growth” nearly 40 years ago) in combination with techniques for engaging diverse stakeholders in collaborative problem solving. Meadows’ latest book, “Thinking in Systems” (Chelsea Green 2008), will be published in several languages, including German, Russian and Japanese.

What do you think?