International Sustainability Conference

Basel, Switzerland, 29-31 August 2012.

Event website.

By Kristy Revell, Agent and PhD student, University College London.


  1. Talk by Dr. Christian Christensen on Wikileaks
  2. The panel session which included watching John Bee, the Head Corporate Social Responsibility at Nestlé trying to present a positive image of Nestlé’s environmental performance and the many audience questions that followed to challenge this image
  3. Presentation on the potential of IT for environmental sustainability (supporting my view that IT will play a significant role in the future of the field - always a good sign when other people are thinking the same!)

Conference report

The International Sustainability Conference (ISC2012) took place at Basel University in Switzerland at the end of August. Basel University is the oldest university in Switzerland and was founded in 1460. The conference was very useful for networking and leaning about all the different sustainability research that is being undertaken across Europe. Due to its geographical location, there was obviously a good level of representation from Germany and Switzerland, which for a sustainability conference, was a positive.

The conference aimed to provide a platform for trans-disciplinaryand inter-disciplinary researchers, working within the field of sustainable development and the programme included many topics including sustainable consumption and lifestyle, governance and economics of sustainable development, measuring and evaluating sustainability, energy systems, corporate social responsibility and the role of information and media for sustainable societies. The conference therefore attracted a wide range of people, including researchers from within the fields of social science, software and technology, environmental science, and economics, amongst others.

My presentation at the conference was entitled Encouraging Pro-Environmental Behaviour Change through Local Authority Sustainability Projects and took place on the second day of the conference. It was well attended and the audience asked lots of questions. I ended my presentation on the SSI slide. The main conclusion of my presentation was that the reduction in environmental impact of resident populations, as a result of local authority environmental sustainability projects, is largely unknown because there is a lack of rigorous evaluation projects. Therefore more rigorous (and non-intrusive) monitoring and evaluation of objective measures is essential in order to understand the actual the impact of these projects.

I suggested that smart meters and the use of smart environments may be a starting point to obtaining this data. This idea was discussed in the panel session at the end but with no real conclusions. None of the attendees (as far as I knew) were working on smart environments at the conference and as another conference attendee noted to me, ‘there was less empirical analysis in the presentations, than I’d hoped for’, which has lead me to the conclusion that objective measurement of sustainability indicators to measure the impact of behaviour change interventions, on the public is a new concept. Though measurement and reporting of indicators, overall, is not a new concept with many large corporations, governments and local authorities undertaking work to measure and report key indicators.

As for the two most interesting presentations of the conference, one was on the topic of Wikileaks and the other was on the potential of IT for sustainability. The Wikileaks presentation seemed like it had nothing really do with the whole conference but the conference organisers explained that they had invited the speaker in the interests of inter-disciplinarity and in hope of widening the discussion. It actually worked really well and everyone really enjoyed it and it got people thinking about the role that ‘agents of change’ can play in leading the way to a more sustainable world. The other very interesting presentation, on the potential of IT for sustainability, discussed how real time information is essential for sustainability reporting and how IT can provide this by giving access to relevant and accurate data streams that can then be used in calculations. Something that is presently not possible for my work because of the lack of robust accurate data. The presenter also spoke about how IT can be used to optimise and automatise processes to reduce consumption and increase efficiency, for example, in supply chains.