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Business and sustainability

 Learning programs, research opportunities at ESA

By Katerina Kapernarakou

When you use green materials to build a nicely designed bioclimatic center for sustainable business learning programs and research within a protected natural environment, it means putting theory into action.

I have taught business ethics and sustainability in Tasmania, Shanghai and France, said Sharon Jackson, who along with her husband Alan recently set up the continents first European Sustainability Academy (ESA) among the olive groves at Drapanos, east of Hania on the island of Crete.

I chose Crete because it lies at the meeting point of three continents and, at the same time, it has a close relationship with the narratives and thinking of the ancient world which are all key references in my teachings. The place is ideal for attracting managers from all over the world who get a chance to discover the meaning of responsible and profitable entrepreneurship and leadership, Jackson said.

ESA recently held its first international meeting covering a wide range of subjects such as sustainable buildings, corporate responsibility and renewable resources. The gathering drew a strong crowd of Greek and international academics, civil group representatives and experts in corporate responsibility.

A large number of people who work for Greek and foreign companies need time to grasp what we are really doing, Jackson said.

I am English and I came to Greece at a time when trust in institutions and systems was on the wane. But there are pockets of resistance that are looking for a way out of the crisis via sustainable entrepreneurship firms such as the Biolea organic olive oil producers or Fisika, a company that makes handmade soap using organic Cretan olive oil, herbs and essential oils.

Sharon spent 15 years working in global commerce. For the past 12 years she has taught sustainable entrepreneurship (Cranfield School of Management, Cambridge University and the Athens University of Economics and Business). But she also applies the same principles at her own company, EKE Carlton CSR.

She and her husband have put all their savings in ESA. Our core investment is nearly 500,000 euros but we are aiming at a long-term legacy, she said.

I came with international know-how and connections and I am not interested in competition but in synergies with Greek companies, universities AUEB has been very helpful NGOs and other institutions, she said.

Jackson made the Drapanos community a vehicle for her vision. That has won her the locals acceptance and trust. The people here give me psychological and practical support while the ESA building is made available without charge for local community events, she said.

The building, a bioclimatic structure designed by architects Antonia Siamantaki and Zeta Chrysafaki, relies on the areas climatological and geomorphological data for lighting, air, cooling and heating. It is a self-sufficient building that makes full use of its construction materials: wood, straw, soil and stone.

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