Why sustainability is perhaps bad for sustainability…and the pledge

I recently spoke at a conference where the audience was all top tier MBA students. The conference had nothing to do with sustainability and the audience had no particular interest in the topic. They were, in a sense, forced to listen to me. Some of the best moments for me are when, after speaking at an event like that, students come up to me saying ‘I had no idea this was what sustainability was all about. This makes a lot more sense”.

I hear that a lot. I blame the polar bears and climate change (to a certain extent). I blame them because when you speak to people about sustainability they generally believe that it is only about saving the planet. They are sympathetic, agree it is important but that it generally has nothing to do with what they do in their lives or at work. Nothing to do with me.

Sustainability is about so much more than that. It is so much more concrete and tangible than that. It is so much more relevant to individuals than that. It is so much closer to us than that. It is so much more exciting and full of opportunities than that. It is a fascinating and vast world that I love to explore and share. It is so much more relevant to our daily lives, both at home and at work, than what most people think.

There are an increasing number of sustainability related events around the world full of speakers who are, generally, speaking about how to save the planet. That is great, of course, but the problem is it doesn’t really help anyone to actually do it. We all know that there are a lot of bad things happening and that things are urgent. Starting a speech with “we need to do this if not we will all die” or “everything we are doing is wrong” is just not an effective way of communicating or engaging with an audience.

However, many sustainability professors, professionals, activists that I have heard speak this way to their public. (Of course not all, there are many fabulous speakers in this space).

We need to empower individuals to act as opposed to continuously reminding them what the problems are. We need to re-open the minds of all those people out there who already think they know what sustainability is all about and have decided that it has nothing to do with them.

So this is my humble request to sustainability speakers as well as to those who attend their presentations…

Speaker/presenter
1. I will communicate sustainability in a way that makes it relevant and useful to the particular audience I am speaking to
2. I will provide a balance between negative and positive with a focus on the positive
3. I will provide a balance between theory, examples and stories, with a focus on the stories
4. I will empower my audience with information that will enable them to move forward to do something rather than get frustrated
5. I will communicate all sides of the story as effectively as I can
6. I will remember that people are listening to what I am saying and respect that I have the power to open or close their minds to these issues
7. I will finish off by thanking the audience for their time and attention
8. I will based my presentation on actual experience (own or that of others), not on speculation and wishful thinking.
9. I will openly address challenges and trade-offs around sustainability, especially on any approaches I propagate.
10. I will be engaging and interactive, breaking conventions in my presentation style as sustainability requires breaking conventions in the “real world”.

As a participant
1. I will choose to sit in sessions that I wouldn’t usually go to just to see if I can learn something new
2. I will listen to what the speaker says with an open mind
3. I realize that what they are saying is part of the story
4. I will ask questions that help put this into perspective for me and others
5. I will turn off my phone and pay attention to what they say, nodding and getting engaged when appropriate
6. I will smile and clap when they are done and let the speaker know if I enjoyed it or was inspired by something they said
7. I will think about what they said and how I could take some of it into my daily life/routine

Anything you would add? Who’s with me…

3 Responses to “Why sustainability is perhaps bad for sustainability…and the pledge”

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  1. 8. I will based my presentation on actual experience (own or that of others), not speculation and wishful thinking.
    9. I will openly address challenges and trade-offs around sustainability, especially on any approaches I propagate
    10. I will be engaging and interactive, breaking conventions in my presentation style as sustainability requires breaking conventions in the “real world”.

    helpful

  2. Let’s phase it – sustainability presentations can be as bad as traditional business presentations 😉

    three more “rules”:
    8. I will based my presentation on actual experience (own or that of others), not on speculation and wishful thinking.
    9. I will openly address challenges and trade-offs around sustainability, especially on any approaches I propagate.
    10. I will be engaging and interactive, breaking conventions in my presentation style as sustainability requires breaking conventions in the “real world”.

    I hope it’s helpful!

  3. I agree very much with what you’ve said — the important thing is to integrate sustainability into our daily lives and also into the world’s ways of doing business. What you’ve written reminds me of Joel Makower’s article “Green Marketing is Over. Let’s Move On” which made quite a splash a few months ago, as well as OgilvyEarth’s “Mainstream Green” report; definitely check them out if you have a chance.