Sustainable Cleveland 2018: Asking Great Questions and Getting Great Answers
Alex Romanowski, Fowler Center Scholar, MBA Candidate 2020
Once again this year, the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit had the honor of participating in Sustainable Cleveland 2018. It was the summit’s ten-year anniversary, and the focus topic was promoting neighborhood-level sustainable value and equity.
Since June 22 of next summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the burning of the Cuyahoga River, there was also a focus on water-related concerns. The keynote speaker for the first day of the conference was Radhika Fox, the Chief Executive Officer of the US Water Alliance. The second day featured businesswoman Rue Mapp, who founded the organization Outdoor Afro to help reconnect African-Americans with the outdoors. Brigadier General Stephen Cheney from the American Security Project discussed the effects of climate change on national security concerns and Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado spoke about both the unique and similar challenges faced by his state and Ohio.
The appreciative inquiry process began on the second day when the subject matter experts at the conference discussed the various challenges to the implementation of Cleveland Climate Action Plan. These challenges were framed as questions such as, "How might we create awareness of Cleveland's recycling systems?" and "How might we better connect people to Cleveland's Green Treasures?”
Over the course of the day, participants worked with facilitators to discuss these topics, to brainstorm and visualize ideas and then to create models that might work to address these challenges. Participants came up with concepts such as a Sustainability Passport to establish more connection and engagement among the various groups promoting sustainability around Cleveland. Other ideas were more conceptual and sought to prepare for the question of the 2019 summit.
The co-creation process is imperfect and emergent, and this was visible throughout the design day. These questions are complicated, and there are no easy answers. It was precisely the difficulty, however, that brought out the passions of the conference participants. When people feel strongly about an issue, they tend to be willing to put their enthusiasm to work not only to defend their points, but also to make their creative nature a chief player in the game. The Sustainable Cleveland Summit poses difficult but essential questions; its hundreds of leaders and stakeholders are ready with compelling answers.
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