Michael Stanley-Jones, member of the UNEP Ecosystem Integration Branch and Secretariat of the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is the guest in this new citiesabc series interviews. Led by Dinis Guarda, Michael Stanley-Jones discusses the role of the United Nations in achieving the SDGs and how the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion can help promote a more conscious fashion industry.
Michael Stanley-Jones Interview Focus
An introduction from you - background, overview, education.
When was the moment you decided to change your life in Silicon Valley towards a sustainability activism career?
Can you tell us about your career highlights so far working in the UN, Sustainable Fashion Alliance, as an environmentalist in Silicon Valley, etc.?
Can you tell us more about the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?
As part of the UNEP Sustainability Work Group, you supported the development and adoption of the UNEP Environmental, Social & Economic Sustainability Framework, which provides review, transparency, and grievance procedures. Can you tell us about your vision and how to put it in practice?
You have been the inaugural Secretary and the first Chair of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, an inter-agency coordinating group (from Dec. 2018, as the Alliance's co-Secretary with Simone Cipriani, Head of ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative) since July 2018. Can you tell us about that role and your work done so far?
How can we create a more sustainable world, focusing on two major topics - fashion and textile industry?
Can you tell us about your work as author of "Reward and Renewal: The Poverty-Environment Initiative Final Project Report (2014-2018)" and co-author of J. Gupta et al, "Re-imaging the driver-pressure-state-impact-response framework from an equity and inclusive development perspective" (Sustainability Science, June 2019)?
What advice do you give to individuals and organisations at the time of Covid-19 and on how to cope with the present challenges specially with advent of Society 5.0 - 4IR and all areas of digital transformation when it comes to UN SDG and your work with UN, at large?
About data ownership and technology. What are your visions on data ownership and the UN’s approach to it?
You are a poet and a standup comic. Can you tell us more about this creative side?
Michael Stanley-Jones Key Takeaways
Here are some of Michael Stanley-Jones’s main takeaways from the interview. Do view the video above to find out everything Michael, and the UN organizations he is part of, are working regarding sustainability and the achievement of the SDGs.
About Michael Stanley-Jones’s background. I thought of myself as a community organiser when the UN approached me and invited me to come to Geneva. I then joined the Aarhus Convention Secretariat to launch the web platform The Aarhus Clearinghouse for Environmental Democracy for the Aarhus Convention. I had also helped, as a community organiser, to negotiate the Aarhus Convention’s Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, to address toxic chemicals in our backyard.
When I first joined the UN, I brought the whole experience of living in Silicon Valley during the dot.com boom and the high-tech frenzy that came before that. Beginning in the 1960s, this massive digital transformation changed the entire landscape: from a fairly agricultural place to the world's digital Mecca. This transformation had a lot of benefits as it promoted wealth, knowledge, etc. but it also had its darkside, as this rapid transformation brought environmental challenges such as polluting the groundwater in the cities I grew up in as a child. So I understood pretty quickly that we needed to create measures to prevent the environmental consequences in the San Francisco Bay area.
And I found out that there were what the US called Superfund sites right where my children went to school, and I told myself I had to do something about it. So from there I started to work with United States-based organisations and international organisations too, which ended up supporting the UN’s Aarhus Convention.
I was an angry parent who used technology to map these toxic hotspots. And use other databases to understand how these were produced and which companies did it. And then used the internet and digital mapping so everybody could see it.
And since then I have been collaborating with the UN. First it was in specific projects and now I am working in a new branch, the UN Environment Programme's Ecosystems Integration Branch with UNDP−UNEP Poverty-Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals. This integrates the best of operations and knowledge to help countries make the best decisions to strengthen management of natural resources to support elimination of poverty. I am also a part of the leadership team within the UN which launched UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, fashion being a very problematic industry when it comes to its social and environmental impacts.
About Michael Stanley-Jones’s vision and work at the UN. Most of the poorest people in the world are heavily dependent on natural resources: fisheries, agriculture, forests etc. That natural capital is decaying, making the poverty challenge much harder. So that is what the UNDP−UNEP Poverty-Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals is all about, we want to help governments up their game in natural resource management, in order to eliminate poverty.
To do so, and through our extensive network, we approach ministers and government officials from the areas of economy and natural resources and we aid them in policy-making and keeping the environmental conversation always open.
About the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Adopted in 2015 as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are the ones I have nothing but good words to say about. There are 193 countries members of the UN and they all have their own problems and difficulties but they all came together and approved the 17 Sustainable Development Goals showing a strong commitment to eradicate extreme poverty and protect natural resources by 2030. They also agreed on 169 targets for measuring the achievements of those goals. The takeaway is that the entire globe agreed on those goals.
The way the United Nations approached it was also innovative. We used ICTs and technology for reaching out and engaging with more than 3 million people participating in hundreds of events at a global scale to give them the opportunity to express themselves regarding what kind of future they wanted. And those opinions became the 17 goals. There are no other documents in the history of the world that have had that kind of participatory democracy in its preparation.
Are we achieving those goals? Not as much as we hoped, unfortunately. We are behind schedule and this pandemic has made things even more difficult. We need to redouble our efforts to achieve those goals. In my view, we have a lot of work to do. For example, we have to feed more people than ever, and we have to do it efficiently and it has to be sustainable looking to the future. That idea of being mindful of the future is what I think is at the core of the SDGs.
About the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. I have to give credit to 3 women-led communities in Kenya. They came to me and they asked me how they could be involved in the UN’s 2030 Agenda. And we had an upcoming global assembly, UNEA2, where we staged the first dialogue on fashion and sustainable development. When they shared their stories about working in agriculture for the fashion industry, we were all very touched and concerned about their life conditions. Until that moment I didn’t see the dimension and impact that the fashion industry has on the environment and on the communities and they opened my eyes. That started a dialogue within the UN Environment Programme that led us to call for the creation of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion.
In fact, everybody loves fashion in one way or another and it is shared by all people worldwide, especially young people. And among environmentalists this industry has a lot of critics for being the opposite of sustainable. So I thought that through fashion we could draw people in and make them more aware of the SDGs. In July 2018, we agreed with 10 UN agencies gathered in New York to create this Alliance and we started a global campaign that touched multiple assemblies across different countries.
The UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion is not only about publicizing the issues but also providing solutions. As we see it, governments need to step up to tackle this problem. Technology solutions can help too and businesses need to have an extra incentive to move to sustainable ways. Among our different actions, we have tried to promote sustainability in the fashion industry showcasing the best products and entrepreneurs and, thus, it is a profitable business model.
How can we achieve a sustainable fashion industry? I will state the facts to start with. Fashion produces $2.5 trillion in value in the world. In Africa, it is predicted that the creative economy will become the second-largest economic sector, largely driven by the growth in textiles and apparel. So what measures can we take to make it more sustainable? We are working on circular economy approach for textiles and garments; the use of more sustainable fabrics - maybe polyester and the microfibres they shed are not the most optimum to use; we also do know how to reduce carbon footprint; we can increase the longevity of our clothes, and not wear them 1 or 2 times, etc. All these issues are in the agenda and we are working towards solutions.
About "Reward and Renewal: The Poverty-Environment Initiative Final Project Report (2014-2018)" and "Re-imaging the driver-pressure-state-impact-response framework from an equity and inclusive development perspective" (Sustainability Science, June 2019). From 2014 to 2018, Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) delivered full poverty-environment mainstreaming programmes to some 20 countries, and provided technical advisory services in an additional 9 countries. The story told in the pages is one of reaping the rewards of this multi-year, complex effort to mainstream poverty, environment, climate, gender, and equity into the heart of government. Results have been achieved through the provision of an integrated approach to mainstreaming the poverty-environment nexus in 24 national and 4,214 local development plans for 17 countries, 93 sector strategies in 13 countries, 84 budget processes in 10 countries, and 56 monitoring and evaluation systems in 12 countries. PEI has substantially contributed to the integration of pro-poor environmental mainstreaming approaches and tools in United Nations and partners’ strategies and programmes at the country, regional and global levels — including 24 United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks and 24 UNDP Country Programme Documents over the life of the Initiative, 23 of which were concluded during Phase 2. With lessons Learned on integrated approaches to poverty-environment mainstreaming for sustainable development.
The other paper, “Re-imaging the driver-pressure-state-impact-response framework from an equity and inclusive development perspective” is about the Driver–Pressure–State–Impact–Response (DPSIR) framework that has been used by environmental agencies and others to assess environmental challenges and policy responses. However, in doing so, social justice or equity issues tend to come as an afterthought, while there is evidence that environmental challenges and policy responses are not equity (including gender-) neutral. Hence, this paper addresses the question: why should, and how can, equity issues and environmental justice be incorporated into the DPSIR framework? It presents a structure for including equity within DPSIR and applies it. It reviews the literature to bring together data that demonstrates that there is a clear equity perspective along the entire DPSIR analysis. It concludes that although individual environmental policies may succeed to achieve their specific goal in the short term; if they ignore the equity aspects, the policy strategies as a whole may be environmentally unjust, and lead to exclusive and unsustainable development, which, in turn, could further exacerbate environmental challenges. This highlights the need for an integrated approach in efforts to achieve environmentally sustainable development.
What advice do you give to individuals and organisations in the time of Covid-19 and could you tell us how to cope with the present challenges especially with the advent of Society 5.0 - 4IR and all areas of digital transformation when it comes to UN SDG and your work with UN at large? From the UN perspective, COVID-19 pandemic’s newest factor is digital transformation: big data, observation, new ways of captivating them. Digital is coming on strongly within the UN system. How does that provide opportunity? Under COVID-19, we saw fashion companies with no online presence have really suffered and even shut.
Thus the focus on digitalisation is the future, and that will radically change the labour force, we won't over-produce, and eventually toss away clothes and stock what we did not want and never sold. In that sense, we will see a pluralisation of value chains, from the market to the consumer household. We are going to squeeze out all these inefficiencies.
This might trigger the beginning of virtual fashion, which is expected to explode and become a $160 million market. Creative people are thinking about it. One example of this virtual economy is the huge boom in online gaming: consumers are going online and entrepreneurs and brands are making clothing for their characters and making them move in the virtual world. That may seem bizarre to people my age, but to consumers 30 or younger, that's the future.
About poetry and personal development. Poetry came up in a rough patch in my life, when a family member was suffering from a serious illness. Being a middle-aged man, dealing with trauma can lead to making unhealthy lifestyle choices. Instead, I decided to write, to distract myself and cheer myself up, to help me get through what was a difficult year for me. I gave myself a challenge to write 100 poems in 1000 days. One poem every 10 days roughly, which created pressure to be productive. As these poems took shape, I began to share them with my friends around the world.
I was also invited to do an open mic at a coffee house, where I would read poems. There I met comedians and eventually we launched the Nairobi International Comedy Festival last year. It got a few laughs, I wrote jokes with my standup comedian friends - professional performers much funnier than I am.
Michael Stanley Jones serves in the UN Environment Programme's Ecosystems Integration Branch with UNDP−UNEP Poverty-Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals (2018-2022) based in Nairobi. As outgoing co-Secretary and a founder of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion (July 201-September 2020), Michael Stanley-Jones has advocated for engagement with the textile and apparel industries on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. From 2009 to 2014, Michael Stanley Jones served as Public Information Officer and Press Liaison with the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, the three leading global treaties addressing hazardous chemicals and wastes. Michael Stanley-Jones served with the UN Economic Commission for Europe in the Secretariat of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention 1998) from 2004 to 2009. Michael Stanley-Jones worked to bring the Kiev Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (2003) into force and managed the Aarhus Clearinghouse for Environmental Democracy.
Outside the United Nations, Michael Stanley-Jones has served in academia, business, civil society and the public sector. In 1993-1994, he assisted the 10-nation Danube Environmental Forum with negotiation of the Danube River Protection Convention (1994). As chair of the Santa Clara Basin Watershed Management Initiative in 2001-2003, he developed Silicon Valley California region's watershed management plan and historic pollution prevention plans for copper, nickel and mercury contamination of the San Francisco Estuary. The Initiative established the Emerging Contaminants Work Group, now affiliated with the San Francisco Estuary Institute.
Michael holds a B.A. in Government from San Jose State University (California State University) and a Master of Arts of Politics from The Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. His passions include comedy, nature and poetry.
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