Interview with Lela Mélon

“My hobby is changing the established societal structures”

  • 23/03/2021
  • 7 mins reading time
Lela Mélon
Photo: Lela Mélon

Lela Mélon is a new professor at ESCI-UPF, where she will teach Culture and Business in Europe besides Sustainability in Business Law. She is also Executive Director of Planetary Wellbeing Institutional Framework at UPF. She comes from Slovenia.

Lela Mélon is a new professor at the Bachelor’s Degree in International Business and Marketing of ESCI-UPF. She studied Law and Economics in Slovenia and is very concerned about sustainability, circular economy and climate change. She came to Barcelona to work at Planetary Wellbeing Institutional Framework at UPF as Executive Director.

 1. You are part of the team of ESCI-UPF, what would you like to do in this new stage?

Seeing how the whole team is forward looking, innovative and very knowledgeable as regards sustainability, I am very excited to join forces and knowledge with them and creating the new reality in higher education and research, moving from the marginal role that higher education started to play in the modern society towards the traditional role it had in ancient times when it was a guiding light and the expression of the highest values and knowledge. Creating synergies, innovative higher education products, bringing back the proximity with students, alumni and the professional community and creating impact research. There is ample opportunity to be harvested in terms of this open and welcoming attitude towards research and teaching innovation, which is inspiring and it is something that I was searching for when deciding about my future professional endeavours.

2. What subjects are you going to teach at GNMI and in which context are they inserted?

Aside from the master’s classes related to sustainable business, I will already be taking over the course of Culture and Business in Europe, which I am super excited to do as it allows for the discussion of very pertinent issues of global changes that are happening with regards to the quest for sustainability in social and environmental terms. Understanding the principle of common but diversified obligations regarding sustainable future is of high importance and the richness of European cultures allows to apply that principle, and contrast it in global terms. I am very much looking forward to co-create that class with students. But in general all the courses I will be teaching at ESCI-UPF will be closely related to my expertise on sustainability topics at the crossroads between policies-laws-economics and management.

3. Can you tell us what Planetary Wellbeing is and describe its relation with UNESCO Chair of ESCI-UPF?

Planetary wellbeing as a concept is something that we struggled quite some with the UPF team while trying to define it appropriately: giving it a holistic and all-encompassing definition that will not have to be substantially revised in the future and will simultaneously reveal the core aim of our efforts to create a sustainable institution inside out. It ended up being defined as the highest attainable standard of wellbeing for human and non-human beings and their social and natural systems, as the wellbeing in, of, and for the planet. Now the way things currently stand, the anthropocene brought about incredible human egocentrism that is pretty rapidly wiping out biodiversity, putting the whole planet in overdrive and blatantly neglecting the fact that without healthy ecosystems there is no human wellbeing.

The relationship between the UPF institutional framework of Planetary Wellbeing and the UNESCO Chair on Life Cycle and Climate Change at the ESCI-UPF is one of symbiosis. The two are complementary as the UPF has strong standing and background in sustainability in social sciences, while the UNESCO Chair gives it substance with its extensive knowledge, empirical research and application as regards environmental sustainability. As a matter of fact, the UNESCO Chair has been the guiding and informing force behind UPF’s declaration of climate emergency and the related carbon footprint assessment, which represents the basis for future UPF actions on the matter. By staying actively involved in both, it allows me to understand the UPF’s position and progress on the matter, as well as use the knowledge and expertise of the UNESCO Chair to propose actions to be carried out at the level of the University and its adjoined centers.

4. Why is sustainability so important? What do we have to change in order to be more sustainable?

Sustainability is a concept inherent to the natural systems, as is circularity: I believe that detaching ourselves from that understanding means detaching ourselves from our true nature and the nature itself. Sustainability, at the individual and collective level, is a thing of respect, awareness, collective consciousness and inherent humble attitude as a small part of the natural systems.

The overconsumption and overproduction that we have created through modern economic structures oftentimes does not allow an individual to be aware of her/his consumption practices, neither does the hectic lifestyle allow for an individual to make informed choices in his capacity of a consumer on a daily basis. While the corporate world would like to persuade us that sustainability is a matter of individual choice, those same corporate entities seldomly offer sustainable alternatives to facilitate consumer responsibility. So in the given circumstances it is definitively not sufficient to appel to individual responsibility. The issue and challenge is multifaceted and cross-cutting: corporate action is needed in terms of providing sustainable alternatives while simultaneously changing their core business practices to be sustainable as well; regulators need to be more willing to support this transition through a more stringent and precise legislation of sustainable corporate conduct, while ensuring broader policy coherence; and consumers themselves should understand the consequences of their consumption habits and the concept of a true need and true price.

The latter means that as consumers, we need to distinguish between our true and false needs (the ones created by skillful marketing that accompanies current linear economy), while also understanding the environmental and social impact of the products and services we are using. The latter was very difficult in the past, yet today there is substantial and relatively easily accessible information on the market that facilitates responsible consumer behaviour.

Lela Mélon Barcelona

View of Barcleona city. / Photo: IPER-UPF

5. European Green Deal wants to achieve climate neutrality in the EU on 2050. Do you think it is feasible?

The ambition is a necessity, given EU’s international obligations, yet as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions: judging by the challenges we are currently facing (globally and at the EU level) already with policy coherence for sustainability; the fact that we have only 6 years left to keep the global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, coupled with the understanding that we are currently on trajectory of a warming of more than 4 degrees Celsius by 2050 and the legislation as well as changing behaviour and practices is very slow, the goal is at the same time ambitious and not timely enough. Given the fact that there are some important pieces of legislation in the pipeline at the EU and national levels, which (if passed in the proposed form) will be truly groundbreaking, as well as the fact that the science has significantly progressed in finding solutions with modest trade-offs for many environmentally sustainable challenges, I am moderately optimistic that climate neutrality can be achieved before 2050. But I do strongly believe that for resolving the pertinent (un)sustainable issues, an even more ambitious (or better said timely) objective needs to be set, which shall incentivise substantial revision of the existing economic system(s).

6. You studied Law and Economics, were you always sure about being a professor and doing research?

To be completely honest, no. Actually while deciding for what to study, I was in between acting, journalism and law. Economics never crossed my mind. Law won as I was always, since a very young age, driven by this wish for a just and equal world, understanding rather early on that despite the fact that law has been created to level the playing field in terms of societal power, it actually entrenches the existing distribution of power in society, as it (involuntarily) sometimes excludes from its enforcement the most vulnerable groups due to their lack of financial resources or knowledge on their rights in the light of the extremely complex legal systems. Companies as these powerful societal actors always had an upper hand as regards the distribution of powers between them, workers and consumers and they shortly after I became a law student drew my attention. By attempting to understand their functioning, drive and impact, I quickly understood that for having a correct understanding of the corporate world I would need to have a very solid base in economics and management. That prompted me to start studying (in parallel) also economics and management, allowing me to truly understand the corporate business environment and thereby create my own opinion as to where the corporate impact on the society could and should be more positive.

Now whether I always knew that I will be a professor, that I guess was at the end of the day not a decision but more of a calling. I have been ‘re-explaining’ materia constantly to my colleagues in high school and at the universities, and I enjoyed it deepy: it came so naturally to me that it never felt like work. Also the experience of teaching per se has always been extremely enriching (personally and professionally) for me: the exchange of ideas that happens in a classroom is an extremely rewarding experience. Therefore what started as occasional help to colleagues ended up being my profession. Research, on the other hand, allows for creation of a new reality, especially when it informs future policy making, translating the scientific findings in practice and thereby enhancing our wellbeing. That aspect of research, serving to a higher good, is something that I cherish and have always found very rewarding.

7. Why Barcelona and the UPF?

Well I wish I could be more romantic, or answer to this question with a reason that would speak in favour of Barcelona in particular, but the truth is I have been overworked in Slovenia, I needed a break that would also allow for finishing my management studies abroad and through external funding, so I decided to apply for an Erasmus exchange in the year 2011. At that point in time the bilateral agreements of the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana were modest and I was never a fan of colder climate, Spain was a logical choice. By knowing Madrid relatively well, I decided to go to Barcelona, without even knowing much about the city of the Pompeu Fabra University. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, and I would not have changed my current position for nothing in this world.

8. What do you like to highlight from Slovenia to encourage us to go there on holidays? What do you miss the most?

Funnily enough, there are quite some common traits shared by Catalunya and Slovenia: going from the seaside to the mountains in an hour drive; great wine, warm people, incredible cuisine and many pristine corners of almost untouched nature. If I would have to try to persuade you to visit, it would definitely be through a discourse on the natural beauties of the country and the minute size of the country that allows for visiting the entire country in 3-4 days and the exceptional cuisine that makes me homesick just by writing about it. A must-see would be Ljubljana, Bled, Postojna caves, Soca valley, Piran: all of that can be done in 2 days.

What I miss the most is the people; my people: friends and family, and the city of Ljubljana as my adopted home-town, as well as the relaxed pace of life that is still present in Ljubljana, despite it being the capital of Slovenia. The little homey-habits I guess we develop only in our hometown. And the language. Definitely the language. Working in 3-4 different languages daily, none of them being my mother-tongue, makes you miss your language a lot.

9. Rapid questions to Lela Mélon:

  • Potatoes omelette or paella: paella without a doubt.

  • Sea or mountain: sea, that is not even a question!

  • Sweet or salty: ugh, depends on the day… But more often salty.

  • Ljubljana or Barcelona: Barcelona, albeit Ljubljana kept some of my favourite people.

  • Pending trip to: Maldives. Definitely on my bucket list.

  • Have you learned some new recipes during confinement?: Well I ate a whole lot of patience given the fact I was locked up with a hyperactive 3 year old. Actually I’m ashamed to say but we haven’t learned any new ones.

  • Your hobby is: changing the established societal structures I guess.

We also recommend you