Updated: Dec 21, 2020
This journal was an experiment in collaboration. We sent an open invite to our mailing list, inviting contributions from anyone who wanted to add to it. These are the results - a guide on talking about sustainability, written by Kate Monson, a freelance writer and researcher, farmer Sam Leach, Lizzie Rivera, writer and founder of Live Frankly, Kara de los Reyes, Architect and Trustee of Land is Life and Sophie Chatziapostolou, Co-Skipper of Earthly.
GENERATIVE VS SUSTAINABLE.
Sustainability has come to signify percentages, numbers, auditing and reducing impacts. Actually, we need to do a little more than reduce impacts given the decline we have already seen in the world - we need to leave things better than we found them. If the context is right, consider talking about what's generative/regenerative, which by design should not only be sustainable but also world-improving. It’s also good to think about what’s nature-led, designed with nature’s principles at the heart.
ASK HARD QUESTIONS.
I've worked for people who want me to find a way to shoehorn sustainability into their work in order to improve sales. I always asked them awkward questions. What exactly makes this product sustainable? How can you back up a claim that it's the greenest in the UK? Who benefits? At what costs? Have we made an honest distinction between what you want to do and what you’re doing?
SEEK DEEP HONESTY.
Your product, service, or offering may not be completely evolved. Be deeply honest about the process of evolving. Get uncomfortable in seeking the truth, while creating a safe space to draw out answers. It is in that tension between discomfort and safety that the most innovative solutions can emerge, and shining light on “What Can Be” or “What Is” is more empowering than shining light on “What’s Not”.
Almost nothing is 100% ethical or green, unless it's produced using a genuinely regenerative model. It might have been made using recycled materials, but what about the water and energy footprint of its creation? It's a sliding scale or a spectrum, not a binary choice between sustainable and not. Rather than say something is sustainable, be specific... is it printed with vegetable inks onto 100% recycled paper, with printers powered by renewable energy? At Good Energy, everything that we printed was exactly that; so we included that statement on each leaflet. Also, explain why it’s important. Connect the dots for people. This will also help them to ask questions of other brands.
TELL THE STORY.
Facts and figures can only do so much to engage people. Capture imaginations by telling stories, speaking about what it means to be human, and exploring the felt experience of co-existing with other life on this planet.
Driving force. Pioneering. Drilling down. Joining forces. Rallying the troops. We use metaphors to add extra weight to our words. They can bring thoughts to life, making them sensory, exciting and provoking. But it’s important to think carefully about where the metaphors we use come from - too often they reinforce prevailing norms, values and narratives that are fundamentally at odds with the sustainability goals we’re striving towards. Seeking metaphors that welcome inclusion, emergence, ambiguity and diversity can not only transform and enliven what we write, but can actually bring us closer to achieving a more ecological mode of existence. For some inspiration, take a look at the Ashden Directory’s list of “metaphors for the continuation of life”.
ENLIST YOUR IMAGINATION.
Credentials only mean something if they truly embody an understanding of what it means to be connected and plugged into our living system, seeing and understanding the role we play in it, moving away from a human-centred view point. Water, soil, minerals, metals - these are all part of our living system. They have their own energies, their own language, their own time. Before taking, or doing anything with them, have you thought about what they might say if you asked them?! Imagine their answer. Before you start your day, imagine yourself to be a raw material of anything that you use, sell, or specify. How might that exercise change how you think and communicate? Read up on Joanna Macy’s Council of All Beings for more on this practice.
Sophie Chatziapostolou, Co-Skipper @ Earthly
Kate Monson, Freelance writer, researcher
Sam Leach, Farmer
Lizzie Rivera, writer and founder of Live Frankly
Kara de los Reyes, Architect, Trustee of Land is Life
Photograph: Padstow Kitchen Gardens, by Benjamin Pryor for Earthy / Porthilly Spirit Distillery