Mathis Wackernagel - Founder, President, Global Footprint Network - World Sustainability Award Winner


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Mathis Wackernagel is Co-founder and President of Global Footprint Network. He created the Ecological Footprint with Professor William Rees at the University of British Columbia as part of his Ph.D. in community and regional planning. Mathis also earned a mechanical engineering degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Mathis has worked on sustainability with governments, corporations and international NGOs on six continents and has lectured at more than 100 universities. Mathis has authored and contributed to more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, numerous articles, reports and various books on sustainability that focus on embracing resource limits and developing metrics for sustainability. Mathis’ awards include the 2018 World Sustainability Award, the 2015 IAIA Global Environment Award, being a 2014 ISSP Sustainability Hall of Fame Inductee, the 2013 Prix Nature Swisscanto, 2012 Blue Planet Prize, 2012 Binding Prize for Nature Conservation, the 2012 Kenneth E. Boulding Memorial Award of the International Society for Ecological Economics, the 2011 Zayed International Prize for the Environment (jointly awarded with UNEP). He was also selected as number 19 on the en(rich) list identifying the 100 top inspirational individuals whose contributions enrich paths to sustainable futures.

"So by looking at the effect of Earth Overshoot, which we think is the second largest risk for humanity, it actually becomes easier to address because all things come together, and you start to see the self-interest to act. Because if you're in a world of overshoot, and you're not able to be resource-secured, really it's going to hurt you. So it's not just being nice to the rest of the world. I mean, that too, but primarily, it also becomes really essential. If you're not ready for that world, it's going to be very difficult for you. So by bringing this story out, make it resonant, people then also come to us, companies approach us and say, “Let's work with each other.” And it may not be that important how big they are, because we are impressed by stories to a large extent, so the more we can show examples where people build their own success by thinking about the world from that perspective, that's probably convincing others in some ways. So it's very hard to work effectively with institutions who deeply believe that the information is inconvenient because they come up with excuses and you try to overcome the excuses. And by the time you've overcome these excuses, they have invented seven other excuses. Like the hydra, chop off the head, and seven more heads grow. So I think that's really the big tragedy we find. And I think it actually would be so simple if we had a better narrative. We're so in love with the narrative of pointing fingers that we don't see the obvious.

So it's like we are on a boat, and we see a big storm approach. And we realize our boat is not too seaworthy. And then the first thing we do is we go to an international Boat Owners Conference to find out who needs to fix their boat first. Doesn't make that much sense to me, you know?

And then we complexify the story rather than saying, 'Actually I am exposed.' And so when you say, 'Oh, the poor Maldives,' we take ourselves out of the game. 'It's about these others'. It's actually about each one of us in some ways.”

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