Communicating Sustainability. Thinking Tank 21.11.09

There were clearly two camps in November’s Thinking Tank and many statements split the vote.

Some overlap though on the issues and the challenges – and the wordcloud below shows the importance of changing people’s minds through costs / taxation, making sustainability affordable and increasing impact of information via clear labelling.

The following two statements got the highest level of support:

  • Its easier to agree that “something should be done” than on what that something is or who should do it
  • It is a moment for inspiring leadership. If whole countries cannot get their act together then at least transition towns can lead the way. Then counties? States?

Maybe then the issue is not so much to agree on the technicalities (definition, scope etc) but to gather support for the concept. After all many broad ideas such as love, good citizenship, decency are not easily pinned down — but widely accepted and worth pursuing nonetheless.

30% of participants classified themselves as “mostly sustainable” or “activists”. The majority  self-classified as “I try to do my bit”.

Key Issues

Participants identified a set of conditions for effective action on sustainability

1. Clear up the confusion

  • I think the apathy is partly because people are unsure about what they should do
  • labelling that makes impact clear, tax to increase the cost of things that use up resources, and increasing general awareness

2. Improve the offer

  • make sustainable products look and feel like other products, same quality/same price/same comfort
  • Another seems to be to make it easier, more convenient, more fitting into normal life either at no cost or the same cost ( rather than charging extra)

There is recognition by some of this unrealistic position given current economic models. Non-sustainable products are artificially cheap as the true costs are not passed on to the consumer. Therefore penalties may be required to level the playing field.

3. Improve the motivation

  • better to motivate people and reward them for their good behaviour instead of punishing them

Divided opinions

The following comments split the group and may point to potential difficulties for getting sustainability across to the population as a whole.

1. Communicating sustainability

  • Most people just don’t think about tomorrow
  • It’s not that people don’t think about tomorrow, just  that we are busy getting through today
  • It’s just common sense. It’s the non-sustainable approach that has been imposed on us.
  • My kids respond best to the “Hole in the Sky” concept (their language not mine). They can see the sky. A hole would be scary. Easy to say to each other  “don’t do that or you’ll make the hole in the sky bigger”

2. The business of sustainability

  • Sustainability is big business for many, many consultants and advisers
  • Overcomplicated, elitist greenies making it too hard to understand

3. The economics of sustainability

  • At the moment, behaving unsustainably is “free at the point of purchase”. We could change that with a “damage tax”
  • Develop an i-phone app that keeps track of my ecofootprint, rewards me when I reduce it, makes cool suggestions etc

If you would like to see a full list of statements please email me

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