“Sustainability issues have entered the daily language in Brazil and, unlike other countries in Latin America, here one can find a tremendously stimulating context for bringing sustainability into the public agenda,” wrote Fabián Echegaray in an article for The Guardian early last year. “But attentiveness and positive attitudes towards sustainability issues are being overshadowed by long-standing barriers.”
He emphasized his point in numbers. While 90% of Brazilians perceive air pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss or water availability to be very serious problems, only 20% take ethical consumer action, and most still utilize non-biodegradable plastic bags when shopping and mix batteries and e-waste in residence garbage.
To put it short, Brazilians know that sustainability is a vital issue, but they’re not exactly doing much about it.
Out of Santa Catarina, ACATE is tackling the sustainability issue head-on with a division dedicated to developing and promoting solutions by way of technology. Its Sustainability Vertical gathers businesses and entrepreneurs dedicated to addressing environmental issues through innovation.
Gerson Zimmer, Director of the ACATE Sustainability Vertical, echoed Echegaray’s conclusion that awareness and action are two very different things and discussed how technology can make the difference.
Emily Stewart: The organization encompasses companies in two areas: environment-focused tech businesses, and companies focused on sustainable management. Can you talk a bit more about each category and how they interact?
Gerson Zimmer: In the ACATE Sustainability Vertical, all companies are in the area of technology. Some develop technologies directly to solve environmental problems, and others are focused on internally developing sustainability in their organizations through the structure of sustainable management.
The companies developing sustainable technologies belong to the Vertical in order to generate synergies with companies focused on bringing their products to market in a sustainable manner. Companies that handle their management in a more sustainable way look to exchange experiences and information and generate knowledge, encouraging discussions on the topic.
ES: Sustainability is a big issue in developed countries, but to what extent can it be a real point of focus for developing nations?
GZ: Today, sustainability is a focal point in any country. World leaders have a long-term vision and are concerned about the continuity of life, and natural resources are limited.
This type of management is absolutely necessary, regardless of the level of development. But it depends on the understanding of managers and leaders – something that often comes not only with economic development but also with the hardships suffered by the people, a fact that generates knowledge and a shift in consciousness, driving the needed change.
ES: What role can technology play in promoting sustainability? What can’t it to?
GZ: Technology creates opportunities for a solution. It alone does not create awareness. That comes from the will of leaders and the education of the public. It all comes down to political willingness and popular consciousness for alternative solutions to be developed to address problems caused by human actions.
ES: Where do you see Brazil in terms of environmental focus? What measures are being taken? What still isn’t happening?
GZ: Brazil is a big country, and enforcement is difficult. Many actions have been taken to prevent deforestation. Currently, we’re facing a serious problem regarding sewage treatment, and we have a lot to learn when it comes to basic sanitation, an issue that’s closely tied to water conservation. All countries are going to suffer from a lack of water, so we all need to develop ways of managing solid waste.
Companies need to reinvent the way they do business and the way labor relationships are developed. With Generation Y, businesses will need to change their management systems, expanding their visions of leadership, becoming more sustainable and humanizing relations.
In terms of measures, environmental legislation is becoming more stringent, but only with more efficient enforcement will we pay more attention to environmental questions. I perceive the need to strengthen basic work in schools and raise awareness about sustainability. It’s a broad term, and the entire sphere of society must be involved in and aware of the importance of joining forces to ensure a better future that is more fair and balanced.