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[Photo Caption] Philip McMaster promotes sustainability, three fingers at a time
GIVE ‘EM THE FINGERS!
Philip McMaster, Founder of the World Sustainability Project
Activist Philip McMaster is giving China three fingers, and through this little gesture, he is changing the world. Agenda met with McMaster to discuss how his Peace Plus One – World Sustainability Project promotes environmental sustainability in a holistic manner.
What did you do before you started saving the world?
I am very fortunate to have “flowed’ through many interesting careers, working in television, publishing newspapers, developing satellite launch facilities, consulting on sustainable tourism in the Brazilian Amazon, running a sports-and-adventure consulting company, and teaching MBA students in Canada and Hong Kong. Life is an adventure and I’m interested in so many different things that I just allow the world to propel me along the great wave of experience.
So my life as a Sustainablist and the Peace Plus One – World Sustainability Project has been forming with every experience and every place visited on this lonely planet.
Tell us a bit about Peace Plus One.
I see China regaining its position as the “center of the world” and being the leader of what’s meaningful and important – sustainable human culture and sustainable business within a balanced and healthy environment.
We created the Peace Plus One – World Sustainability Project to achieve this.
When I was teaching business, it occurred to me that there is no such thing as corporate social responsibility (CSR). The only reality is Individual Social Responsibility (ISR). All business students know that corporations are “fictitious persons” and are limited in terms of their liability, so by definition a corporation cannot be responsible.
The only reality is that each individual within a corporation is responsible for their own actions, and responsible for the communal performance of their place of employment. So we focus on promoting sustainability at the individual level.
Our objective is not to re-invent the wheel. We support, promote and participate with all NGOs and organizations that are making an effort to train their members to be CSR and ISR. It’s all about balance, and balance lies in the decisions of the individual.
What projects have you undertaken?
Most of our projects involve communicating ideas or philosophies, building individual selfesteem, and helping other NGOs, social enterprises and LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) companies to promote environmental, economic and social harmony. One project is our Three Finger Wednesday initiative, a weekly reminder to think sustainably and modify our habits in support of the planet for at least 24 hours. Participants are requested to not eat meat, and thereby stop contributing to the 20% of greenhouse gasses produced by it, and unplug unused appliances for the day.
On Wednesdays, we also have LOHAS lunch, where participating restaurants offer their delicious nonmeat dishes in special promotions.
Similarly, our LOHAS shopping expeditions introduce participants to environmentally sustainable stores.
We also have a project that involves donating goods and services to underserved communities, and matchmaking parties.
We are currently producing the Win On Wednesday TV show, which features games, fashion, interviews, social networks, and contests that promote a sustainable lifestyle. And we’re working with many open source IT professionals on online games, Three Finger phone apps, and other digital projects that share the sustainability ethic in an entertaining and engaging way.
What is the story with the three finger salute?
The Three-Finger “Peace Plus One” sustainability symbol is like a virtual seed of happiness. It makes me happy to plant it in the conscience of everyone I meet, and watch others become happier when they share it too. Our objective is to encourage millions of “Three Finger Johnny Appleseeds,” first in China, then as an open source gift from China to the world, sharing the new symbol of sustainability and its Chinese
origin. People can flash the 3 Finger symbol, or put it up as their social media avatars when they are participating in one of our initiatives.
Are Chinese people receptive to your ideas?
Chinese people from all walks of life are very receptive to these ideas, because the values are already in their DNA. The core concepts actually come from Chinese culture itself. For thousands of years, peace, harmony and balance have been at the center of Chinese thought, so now it’s time to innovate and refresh those old but valuable ideas. This is what we want to share person-to-person, sustainable values that are above language and culture, which everyone on the planet has the opportunity and responsibility to share.
My ideas are simply the application of those fundamentals to the current situation in China and the world.
Does networking play a big role in your profession?
In order to find and match talent and resources, it’s all about networking. Last year I attended over 80 conferences and meetings.
What are the three keys to getting people motivated and involved, especially Chinese people?
Every individual is motivated by slightly different things, so the first key is to ask what actually motivates them, and usually making money tops the list among Chinese people. Second are working conditions, and third might be the appreciation, recognition, praise and loyalty of the boss to the company and employees. This is quite different from my experience in Western organizations, but understandable when considering the different social safety net, or lack thereof, in China.
We don’t pay our volunteers, so we motivate them to do a good job with benefits like career development, professional success, LOHAS health, balance and energy, the opportunity to influence and experience leadership, and exclusive learning, knowledge and discovery. What we’re doing is challenging, and only the best and most passionate are up to the challenge.
How do you see the concept of sustainability evolving in China?
Sustainability is not being taken for granted as much as it has been in the past. The strange paradox is that China has continuously sustained itself for several-thousand years, but it is only in the last few years that the issue of sustainability and the conceptualization of the problem have come to the forefront. It is evolving from the perception of simply an environmental problem to the truth of it being a relationship problem between society and its values.
What are some of the least sustainable practices in China, and how do you see them changing?
The new love affair with the automobile is unsustainable. Also, the pressure on young people to make the money necessary to pay huge mortgages is unsustainable and leading to an overworked and unhappy generation.
Interview by Jennifer Thomé and Phoenix Tso
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THU, APR 21 – WED, MAY 4 AGENDA 35
McMaster Institute for Sustainable Development in Commerce