The space that I work within is highly complex and shifting constantly. Sustainability for me, is an all-emcompassing phrase that touches every aspect of humanity. My work requires I live in a space that is both a curse and a blessing. Here, I am fully aware of the severity of damage that we have done and continue to cause to our planet, and also privileged to be part of an emerging narrative for a thriving future.
In this space there are significant challenges. I spent a morning last week with a couple of people, a film maker and academic, who are wanting to drive change but feeling small. This is quite usual in my circles — sustainability people working in organisations, with a widescale remit but without the teeth (or budget) to deliver the necessary change. It is often an approach to bring in a coordinator post, yet this often means that existing roles see sustainability as an other, something external to their role. This needs to change for sustainability to be effective — organisations have to make it an objective for every employee, using their skills and knowledge to up the sustainability game across the business and deliver frontline transformation.
Language and culture have particular impacts on the way we can frame sustainability, making it resonate and tangible. Sometimes that means ignoring sustainability as an objective, using instead the corporate talk of value, agility, innovation and future positioning as the starting point for action, to reduce resource use, increase wellbeing across a workforce and engage more deeply across the value chain. I never mind using this language, whatever floats the boat and moves us in the right direction is fine by me. I accept that each of us live a different worldview based on our culture and we hold deeply seated values as we age. I believe that we can always find common ground upon which to build shared visions.
We also need to break out of siloed thinking and organisational culture norms. A project I’ve been working on recently, a rail infrastructure interchange that will unlock a new development of 4,500 homes, typifies this. This highly complex project, involves multiple contractors and sub-contractors, with one over-arching client, itself a consortium of statutory authorities. Each of these organisations brings their own priorities and policies, their own guiding principles and their own outcomes for the future. They each have some sustainability guidance, both within and externally that they practice, but they have not explicitly discussed how sustainability can be delivered across the whole project between each. They are missing so many possibilities and convergences.
Another interesting example recently, came via a community of which I’m now a Director. Fellow colleagues were asked to review a new organisation, led by some high-profile and possibly, controversial figures. This new organisation may or may not be greenwashing, have it’s own agenda, and/or deliver some sustainability thought processes to an audience we don’t ordinarily connect with. The responses were strong and limited in their scope, both for and against engagement with this new group. As someone who trys to see and accept the views of others, it provided an interesting tangent within my week. It led to the resignation of a fellow Director, and provided a perspective that we tackled at my first Board meeting.
In this meeting, I listened with interest to more experienced folks. One commentator provided the perspective that we have within our community, people who believe in engagement with these differing views and others who think that is immoral and counterproductive. Which of these is correct is anyone’s guess, but we can hold and appreciate both views within the community. Both may well be necessary and important in shifting the landscape towards a sustainable future, they are neither right or wrong, just as the world is not black or white.
Another colleague talked about how we need to mobilise the energy of the future to move and shift mindsets towards this goal. For me, this is a really important place to start. As I’ve written about previously, what my future looks like, but not be the same as others. Just as the present is not the same and our histories are defined by culture, place and opportunities taken or not. We agreed that it is how we are writing this future that is important. If we are only utilising our past and embedded ambitions, the future will be catastrophic. Now the energy of the future demands a deeper love and respect for our living planet. Whether that is through the correct valuation of goods and services provided by ecosystems in economic models, or an awakening of our humanity through art and culture, or the myriad of views in between, each has value.
The convergence of the future will be collective. I only wish to inspire and empower others to play their part. My views and my little life is no more or less important than others. When we can listen and respect others, even if that is difficult, then we have the best opportunity to thrive and ensure our fellow species also regenerate.
If you like this article, please give it a clap — you can clap up to 50 times! I write irregularly but around every couple of weeks or so, follow me to be notified when I do. I’m a artist, activist and sustainability guide, building a new life in Portugal and growing trees. See more of my sustainability work at https://futurecologic.co.uk/. To support my work as an artist, visit — https://www.patreon.com/Postcards_from_Portugal or buy me a coffee https://www.buymeacoffee.com/GClaws. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy it, and get the conversation started below if you fancy.