Q&A with Pooran Desai on sustainability in Russia

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In early July Bioregional co-founder Pooran Desai OBE was in Tarusa, near Moscow, at the EcoTektonika festival. There he shared learning with architects, engineers and activists on how to implement sustainability

Tarusa’s most famous historical resident, writer Konstantin Paustovsky (1892-1968) said: ‘It’s necessary to apply our common effort to protect Nature from devastation and disfigurement. The beauty of the Earth must be one of the powerful drivers in the nurturing of a new human being. Our Nature has to flourish for a new life in all its light and magnificence…”

I asked Pooran about his trip and if he thinks Russia has the potential to meet Paustovsky’s call to action.

Why did you go, who did you meet, and what did you talk about?

I was invited to speak at the EcoTektonia festival, a grassroots event for engineers, architects and activists interested in sustainable development. It was held at Welna ECO SPA Resort in Tarusa, an hour and a half’s train-ride south of Moscow.

The British Embassy in Moscow heard about the festival and invited me for breakfast at the ambassador’s residence overlooking the Kremlin. There I met with business leaders in green building and construction in Russia, including CEOs of two of Russia’s largest housebuilders.

Thanks to Guy Eames from the Russian Green Building Council, which supports the festival, I was also able to give a lecture at Skolkovo Moscow School of Management – attended by Russian companies and MBA students – and meet with Moscow’s city manager and energy innovation cluster at Skolkovo Innovation City.

The whole trip was a great opportunity to speak about One Planet Living and our lessons from BedZED.

What key thoughts did you take away from the festival?

The main thing is that sustainability is a hard sell in Russia. The majority of Russians believe it will mostly benefit from climate change: melting permafrost may free up land for agriculture, and melting ice in the Arctic is already opening up new shipping routes and oil and gas reserves.

But given that we live in such an interconnected world, climate change will be a problem for Russia. While it may not be as badly hit in the short term as the rest of the world, ultimately it’s still part of the global economy. If that starts to suffer, so will Russia.

The sell needs to be how Russians will live in the 21st Century with cleaner energy and healthier living. Russia has a great history of global leadership, and I do believe it will start producing global leaders in sustainability.

It is great to see a growing grassroots movement and to see that the British government is promoting the sustainability cause and UK expertise.

What struck you the most about your time in Tarusa?

That the people are very friendly. And that once you get out of Moscow and off the main roads, infrastructure is hugely deteriorated. But that also gives a great opportunity to rebuild in a sustainable way.

What were your observations on the potential of building One Planet Living in Russia?

There is a great opportunity to create a One Planet Community there, and we’ll be following up with some of the people I met.

We’d also like to run a training course to teach people about how to use the One Planet Principles – the ten principles that underpin the concept of One Planet Living. As we look forward to launching our new digital platform oneplanet.net, we hope that it will start being used in Russia.

What else did you do on your trip?

Tarusa is a well-known cultural centre and I had no option but to drink a lot of vodka with the mayor. I did drink more than I should have done.

Pooran extends his thanks to the organisers of Ecotektonika: Svetlana Duving, Alexander Andrianov and Ekaterina Stepanova, and to the British Embassy and Guy Eames from the Russian Green Building Council 

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