Taking into account your scientific and teaching achievements, but also life experience, how do you understand sustainable development?
Thank you very much for inviting me to this interview and to the meeting, because the topic is very important. So thank you also for enabling me to share my reflections. From the point of view of science, many different definitions of sustainable development have been formulated. Its understanding is very broad, therefore it’s interpreted a little differently by different researchers and experts. When I think about what sustainable development means for me, the most important thing, in my opinion, is to pay attention to the necessity to think about others, about future generations, so that meeting our needs won’t reduce the chances of meeting the needs of other people in the future. However, the point is also that meeting our needs here and now can’t limit the satisfaction of the needs of others here and now. Both on a local and global scale. As we know, the world is an area of contrasts in access to various goods, and the most striking examples of this are access to food and water, where some have a surfeit of them, others have and will have limited access. Sustainable development for me is justice in the distribution of food and water resources, it’s about sharing food with those who need this food and, above all, not allowing food to be wasted. The main sin of modern man is that, having food and water on a daily basis, he doesn’t respect them and wastes food on a large scale. Although the fight against hunger has been a priority among conscious societies for years, we’re still not on the right track to deal with this negative phenomenon. Currently, 700 million people suffer from hunger, and this problem doesn’t only concern the regions of Asia and Africa. It’s escalated also due to the pandemic, as hunger has occurred all over the world. It’s also a serious issue in Poland. It’s a terrible pity that such serious agendas as WHO, i.e. the World Health Organisation, FAO, i.e. the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, as well as other greats of this world, are still unable to effectively associate and connect with each other those people and entities that have an excess of food and those people and entities that need it so much. It’s not about any luxury, but about human dignity, health and food security, that is a situation in which no mother in the world is worried that her child has nothing to eat. In summary, for me, sustainable development is a situation where people care about the fair use of the right amounts of food and water.
It is also worth emphasising that the problem of hunger also results from the fact that many species of plants and animals disappear irretrievably as a result of human activity, because their living areas are appropriated on a massive scale. Man, by satisfying his often excessive needs, contributes to the destruction of these resources also because economic activity causes serious climate changes. According to UN experts, a million species of flora and fauna may soon disappear from the earth, and it can be said that the sixth mass irreversible extinction of organisms is taking place on the earth. This is a catastrophe equal to the extinction of dinosaurs. At the same time, insects and bees, without which there are no plants and life, die. Of course, there are various pro-ecological organisations, especially non-governmental ones, that do everything to publicise these problems, but we, individually, should also take care of this common good on a daily basis. I’m very happy that beehives were put at our campus. I was outraged that they were destroyed. The fact that it happened results not only from aggression, but also from many years of educational neglect of the whole society. It can be said that it was an act of specific eco-murder. Therefore, I’d like to raise another issue that is similar to this fact. I mean, among others, eco-terrorism, that is, wilful, deliberate destruction of the environment in order to undercut competitors. An example is the poisoning of entire apiaries, fields with honey plants, but also, among others, fish ponds, so that one competitor can oust another from the market. The effects of such actions are felt not only by the market, but also by the entire society and individuals.
That’s why it’s necessary to publicise the need not to waste, respect food. Unfortunately, both Europe and Poland are doing poorly in this respect, and we take the infamous fifth place among other European countries in terms of throwing food away. I’d like to emphasise that wasting food, in light of prevailing hunger, is a serious ethical problem. Therefore, we should learn, firstly, not to waste it, and secondly, to start sharing it.
These are activities in line with sharing economy, which, of course, is not only about food, but also about sharing various goods – cars, clothes, financial resources, means of transport. It’s also connected with broadly understood philanthropy and it’s good counterbalance to overconsumption, which focuses on meeting often short-term needs. Sharing food can be an answer to excessive consumption.
I’d like to say that in my scientific work I’ve been dealing with such issues for years. As a specialist in food quality and safety management in terms of systems and consumers, I work on issues related to such organisation management that the final consumer receives food that fulfils his requirements and meets his needs. As this is a very broad issue, I also conduct research on sustainable food consumption as part of my interests. At present, in cooperation with colleagues from other research centres in Poland, I’m carrying out research on freeganism and food sharing. The first phenomenon consists in obtaining, preparing and consuming thrown away food, considered as waste. I’d like to add that in Poland, households are responsible for 60% of wasted food. Freegans are people who describe themselves as dumpster divers, dive in garbage, but also call themselves cleaners of food, because they prevent food wasting through respect for food, a specific lifestyle and philosophy of life. They obtain food from rubbish containers placed next to hypermarkets, restaurants or other similar points. This phenomenon is becoming more and more widely accepted in Poland, as evidenced by the fact that some restaurants conclude unwritten agreements with these groups, providing them with information when and where such food will be available.
During our conversation, I’d like to put the greatest emphasis on the other phenomenon, i.e. sharing food. It functions under two names, as food sharing, which means the act of sharing food products, and as foodsharing, which is a social, grassroots movement in this field. The latter term is also associated with a refrigerator, shelves, where you can safely leave food you don’t need, e.g. after holidays, after family gatherings, to pass it on to those people who need it more. These places are created with the consent of the sanitary and epidemiological station. It’s very easy to set them up, all you need is the consent of the mentioned office, and then a group of volunteers who will clean, organise and maintain the place in a proper condition. It’s also about selecting and removing food that is past the sell-by date. This movement has come to us from Germany and is developing relatively dynamically. We already have about 80 such community fridges in Poland. One of such points is located at the Faculty of Social Sciences of our University.
The ideas you mentioned are noble, necessary and sensible, but they stand in opposition to the adopted economic model based on consumption. What do you think is the possibility of reconciling, balancing, or even pushing the economy towards sharing, despite lower profits?
In my opinion, balance and cooperation on many levels are necessary. Every new initiative, initially considered extreme, brings problems and stirs up controversy. Therefore basic education is necessary in primary and secondary schools, at universities, especially at economic departments, to show that there’s counterbalance to the predatory economy and consumption. Especially that no one needs to be explained that excessive production, consumption and exploitation of goods contribute to the destruction of the environment, that is the world in which man and animals live. Of course, the economy has its own rules. Thanks to it we have prosperity and we develop. The profit generated by the economy is often transferred to science, to meeting various social needs. But we also know that the economy will not always develop as intensively as today, because we already clearly feel that there’s a shortage of raw materials for production and their sources are depleting. It is necessary to find a balance, to keep a simple cost-benefit calculation in mind, listen to the voices of experts, scientists, a young generation which isn’t indifferent to what is happening, develop an internal self-limiting mechanism. We are obliged to pass on to the next generations as many values as possible that we now use and appreciate.
So, is it time to change the development indicators, not based on the annual growing wealth of the society, but also on the development costs, taking into account the long term environmental impact?
Yes it’s true. Research that I conduct independently and with the help of my team covers also lean management. This management consists in avoiding waste in the process, it’s the identification of activities that generate losses for the organisation, the environment, for the surroundings, for the employee and for the quality of the product. Lean management in the green lean version consists in low-emission, waste-free management. It means focusing on respecting the materials, resources used by a given organisation. If we pay attention to these areas in the organisation, and then to those points in the economy where such losses can be avoided, we can also take actions in advance to prevent these losses. Then it will be possible to spend these savings on, for example, subsequent pro-ecological investments allowing the organisation and the country’s economy to achieve the adopted indicators of sustainable development in the in the long perspective, or in the perspective of 2030, or other goal set for distant future.
Do you raise the topic of wastefulness in your didactic work?
At our Faculty, I manage the Quality and Environmental Management Department. These two aspects – quality and the environment complement each other, also in terms of teaching. We tell our students, future managers, that the concept of quality is very broad and is associated with good, with something noble or even with operational excellence. Losses occur when this quality is not adequate. We are then dealing with deficiencies, defects, product withdrawals from the market, which often cause problems related to waste, wasting energy, raw materials, supplies, human effort and labour. From the very beginning, the concepts of quality management and the management models developed in this area, among their basic pillars, include not only customer satisfaction, but also the good of all, social good. Contemporary quality management in an organisation also means ensuring good working conditions, respect for the natural environment, work ergonomics, and ensuring that the employee feels good in his or her position, because this well-being of people in their place of work has been noted as the source of success. For this reason, in the so-called models of excellence that I’ve already mentioned, criteria for the need for sustainable development began to gradually appear, obliging the organisation to care not only for profits, but also for the employee, the society and the environment in which the organisation operates. The same can be said about the well-known ISO 9001 standard that deals with quality management. Our students are prepared to obtain the qualifications of an internal auditor in this field. When assessing an organisation that wants to have a certificate of compliance with this standard, they should know how to check whether it’s defined the context within which it operates. This context is the company’s physical environment, its stakeholders, its impact on the environment and the development of local communities. During our classes, students, not only from the Faculty of Management, but also from the Faculty of Chemistry, Biotechnology, for example, learn about the role of another important standard – ISO 14001, strictly related to environmental management. As I’ve mentioned, we also teach many classes on food quality and safety. The topics discussed there are strictly in line with the issues of sustainable development. As an example, I can mention the issues of sustainable agriculture and the GlobalGAP standard, aimed at ensuring good agricultural practice, guaranteeing food safety at the stage of plant and livestock production, as well as other important groups of standards applied by large retail chains (e.g. the BRCGS standard), which include the need to care for food, its quality and safety throughout the entire life cycle. In fact, each of these standards fits in with the idea of food safety and food security. Food safety is the assurance that food is free from physical, chemical and microbiological hazards that threaten the consumer’s life and health. Whereas food security means that in a given place and time, mankind has access to food with appropriate nutritional values. Personally, I’ve devoted 85% of all my scientific works to these topics, including a doctorate, habilitation thesis or the so-called professor’s book. As far as teaching is concerned, I and my colleagues from the Division have done everything to make these and related aspects more and more visible in our Faculty and outside it, also in the process of popularising knowledge. I also led to the creation of a specialty that functioned for 10 years and educated many professionals, including environmental management system auditors, food safety auditors, who are greatly appreciated in practice. In our Division at the Department of Business Economics we teach various subjects, such as, for example, environmental protection, ecology, green business, environmental impact assessment, auditor of the quality and environmental management system, economic aspects of environmental management. In my work I’m inspired by the thought of our famous Polish praxeologist Tadeusz Kotarbiński that the homo sapiens species deserves only good quality. This maxim unites everything that we offer in teaching and research on the broadly understood quality of products, taking into account aspects of environmental protection, decent work, wages, and the lack of modern slavery. The latter issue concerns, for example, food processing, in which children in Third World countries work from an early age.
As long as the price determines the interest in the product, producers will look for cheap products. This part of the conversation was extremely interesting, especially the holistic understanding of sustainable development. Please tell me what activities you would like to propose that could be introduced at our university.
I will come back to the topic of sharing food. If we humbly look at what is happening in our pantries, in our refrigerators, many of us will admit that we could better plan our purchases and then manage the food stocks that we have. Many of us could share food that is sometimes thrown into the garbage bin without reflection. I’d be very pleased if not one, but several community fridges were established at our university campus. I think this initiative should expand for the good of our academic community, but also the environment in which we live, the inhabitants of the Tri-City who may also be in need. It would certainly motivate both students and employees to consider whether and how we can help in this matter. As I’ve mentioned, the costs of such an initiative aren’t big, and it can bring benefits – from the basic one, consisting in sharing with the needy, to educational – because in this way we will promote pro-social and pro-environmental attitudes, so that in the spirit of sustainable development contribute to the reduction of food waste. You can start from small steps, as was the case with waste segregation years ago. Today, colourful litter containers are present in every department. I also think that there would be students, employees and volunteers who would join the food sharing initiative locally. Students should only be encouraged to develop an application that allows them to provide relevant, updated information on where and what food is available for those in need.
Thank you very much Professor.