On a recent flight I watched a documentary about the health care system in the US. I had heard before that the US spends more money than the rest of the world on health but still has the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer etc. The documentary also goes into details about how in the US medical professionals prefer to treat using drugs so most Americans are taking a cocktail of pills every day, many of which they don’t need. The first fifteen minutes of the documentary was focused on convincing you that there is a problem with how Americans look and deal with their health and they do an excellent job. You are easily convinced that something is wrong and something needs to be done about it and soon. So you keep watching the show, anxiously awaiting the solution. What can I do to make a difference in my own health, to take control of my life? The solution proposed? Stop eating meat and switch completely and immediately to a 100% plant based diet. They then go on to show many pictures and videos of meals made solely of plants. They all look terrible and mushy, and frankly quite boring. So in the end the documentary is a complete waste in my opinion. After convincing me that something needs to be done, I felt let down when they proposed only one solution – one that is so far away from most people’s realities that the chances of them doing anything about it is slim to none. No in-between solution was provided, such as limiting meat intake and having one day when you don’t eat meat.
This happens a lot in the field of Sustainability. The media, NGOs, business are very good at telling us what is wrong and why we need to urgently act on different issues whether it is as a consumer, as a citizen or as a society as a whole. The problem is that the solutions that they often propose are so extreme that it is very difficult for people to get involved, to get engaged, to do their part. The solution to sustainability and overconsumption is not to buy nothing. This isn’t a solution that consumers could ever take on board. Buying less yes, buying smarter yes, but buying nothing at all – never.
If we want to see change come about, in any part of sustainability, we need to work on how we communicate not just the background information about the problem, but more importantly the full range of options for individuals in terms of solutions to allow everyone to be able to get involved.