The Berkeley Beahrs ELP: A Stepping Stone to My Career in Sustainability

by Alexander Belyakov (ELP 2001), Toronto, Canada 

Image iconBelyakov-Alexander_2.jpgMy career path in sustainability started with environmental journalism and communications. The environment has influenced my entire life. Even as a child, I knew I should do more for our planet. Mines with red smoke spewing over factories and dust-loaded air… This was a typical picture from my childhood in a small town in Debaltseve in the Doneck region in Ukraine. I grew up in the family of a disabled miner who survived a clinical death after an accident in the mine. My dad’s mine was closed with flooded shafts after the economy collapsed. Besides the mine, I knew that there was quite a different natural environment not so far away from our town – with pheasants in spear grass and the freedom of grassland plains. However, this place has become devastated with time and I was afraid it would die despite all my love. Unfortunately, I will never see the same Debaltseve again. I moved to Canada before the undeclared war in Eastern Ukraine began. It destroyed Debaltseve completely. Unfortunately, my parents are internally displaced persons now. My dad still cannot believe that our family lost everything. Both my parents were in a hospital in Kyiv this spring.

Another life-changing experience was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that took place in 1986. Working as an environmental journalist in Kyiv later in life, I had to visit the Chernobyl zone in Ukraine and Belarus many times. This experience resulted in many journalistic and academic publications, as well as the recent presentations at Yale University, Pace University in New York City and the University of Toronto. I welcome any opportunity to explain consequences of nuclear disasters. Please read about my ongoing research at http://fromchernobyltofukushima.com.

At that time in my career, I had discovered that academia had more opportunities for free speech than mass media. Nevertheless, this window was small. Therefore, I did research on freedom of speech with an understanding that this issue affects environmental communications as well. I also was a pioneer in developing and teaching courses in environmental journalism in Ukraine.

Later, I decided to learn more from the established democracies. I have been to many countries (mostly in Europe) and in the USA. The Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at Berkeley became a life-changing experience for me. The course in Sustainable Environmental Management in 2001 became an excellent foundation for my career in sustainability. I worked on projects with the United Nations Development Program (Urban Environmental Governance & Sustainable Development Programs) in Ukraine, on international projects with German governmental institutions, and USAID in Ukraine. Furthermore, I did academic research in sustainability communications. I have been a visiting scholar at the Institute for Environmental and Sustainability Communication at the University of Lüneburg in 2008. My study and travel abroad have enriched my mindset and helped me improve my knowledge that I am eager to share with others. What my colleagues learn from me is how to thinkoutside the box,” become generalists in system thinking and share a passion for sustainability.

I strive to apply my knowledge about sustainability through consultancy. The Global Sustainability Community of Practice of the Project Management Institute (PMI) valued my expertise. I was one of the presenters at the webinar “A 'Triple-Bottom-Line' Sustainability Project Evaluation Methodology” for 1116 registered project managers worldwide. Our webinar filled a gap in PMI training by connecting sustainability to project management processes with an emphasis on project management outcomes. The webinar was focused on the methodology of evaluating projects based on sustainability criteria covering three areas – social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability. This was also a summary of our group project at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada). I would be interested to discuss this methodology with experts from other countries. More about this and other my projects are on my website: http://alexbelyakov.com.

Another trend that inspires me is e-learning. I am looking forward to specifically developing an educational course in Integrated Sustainability / Sustainable Development for an Interned-based educational platform, which will be offered to the broad public in governmental, and non-governmental organisations, and within the private sector. This will be a professional and interactive course in sustainable development and also cover "how to” write sustainability reports.

The sustainable development philosophy is already a big part of my life. I believe that creating consensus and helping society be sustainable is the root of true meaning and purpose in life, but it is not easy to achieve. I hope that I can be a part of the process that improves the quality of life everywhere. I believe in making a living by making a difference. I enjoy working with people and helping them learn something new that makes not only transitional, but transformational changes in their lives.