Why is Sustainability boring? Thinking Tank 22.10.2009

In this lively debate featuring participants from the World Bank, Insead, green organisations and business, joined together to identify their shared views on sustainability. The debate centred around turning sustainability into something for everyone.

The issue is described as boring, complex and confusing rather than inspiring or motivating. There are lots of words around the need for a change of approach.


The following two statements got the highest level of support:

  • I think the issue is less that it is “boring” and more that it is “confusing” because it means so many different things to so many different people.
  • The language is all too academic and easy to feel remote from… we need real down to earth stuff that people can get their head around and feel inspired to make the change

Based on this output, we will be building on the last debate in the November Thinking Tank—we hope you can join us to start to work out some ways forward on this challenge.

See the report The Thinking Tank Report Sustainability is Boring

Key Issues
1. Low levels of engagement in the issue across population as a whole

  • It’s not just the perceived sacrifice, or injustice,  – it’s the likelihood that 95% of the rest of the population won’t do it!

2. Too many issues wrapped up under one umbrella making it very difficult to communicate

  • Sustainability is a BIG word and means many different things: environment, social wellbeing, social justice, etc

3. Even if the issues are communicated, the need to make changes, some of them uncomfortable, makes it unlikely

  • It is maybe more difficult then boring.. fundamentally it is about changing way of doing things and that is never easy
  • At an intellectual level we can understand Sustainable Development but at a personal level, if it involves hard choices, it is much more difficult

Next steps
So there was general agreement about the scale of the problem… Now how do we move forward? The most popular suggestion was

  • I’m all for picking a couple of key issues, making it simple, widely understood and causing change (think drink-driving and how that shifted its social acceptability

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