When the world is not only watching, they are following.

When I was younger, my father worked in the Printing industry. I sometimes thought he was obsessive compulsive in the way he would assess each sheet of paper that crossed his path. Binding was an art form, and embossing of admirable quality was enough to separate the men from the boys. I often wonder if this is a genetic trait as I have become the neurotic woman who notices (read: looks for) all sustainability elements with every city, event, mall, footpath, car…anything, I come across. Sometimes I find this ‘treasure hunt’ more exciting than the main event, which I found true of my print-enthusiast, perhaps not so much media stimulated, father. (P.S. This is an official apology to my father for thinking you were insane. I am sorry).

On Sunday night, I attended the Australian Open, in my adoptive town Melbourne. I have always felt that Melbourne has a nice sustainability undercurrent, which possibly is a reason for my deep affinity with the city. As I walked in the gates to the Open, I suddenly went into Sustainability scanning mode. You know the movies where robots (or robocops?) scan people, and identify age, gender, likes and dislikes in a neon glow – it was akin to that.  I noticed the co-mingled recycling bins, and their lack of landfill counterpart (which lead me to believe everything was recyclable onsite – but upon further examination it was revealed people could bring in their own picnics…hmmm); I noticed the drink bottle refill stations, but the sponsorship from Mt Franklin of Coca Cola ownership (and the mountains of bottles this entailed); I noticed the open roof of the arena to let in natural light, but the lights were left on (and potentially the air con too). Contradictions appeared almost everywhere I looked. You could tell the event staff had made an effort, but was it merely tokenistic? As I watched Wawrinka repetitively rip plastic bags off his new tennis racquets, I almost had a panic attack. As an event that was on the world stage, I wondered what it’s responsibility was to be, well, for lack of a better word, responsible? I am not a tennis connoisseur, and there are probably absolutely justifiable reasons for having tennis racquets in plastic sacks. But in the dire age we live in at the moment, do we not have a responsibility to innovate and create more sustainable ways for us to do the things we need to do, but in a better way? Especially when the world is not only watching, they are following.

The London Olympics in 2012 hailed themselves as a ‘Sustainable Event’. This was different to the Australian Open, which has made no such declarations. I was lucky enough to be included in a web-based Q&A session with the Sustainability Coordinator following the celebrated event. Prior to asking questions, we were treated to a quick powerpoint presentation, going over the sustainability policy and expectations of the event. Quickly we were under the impression that sustainability was practiced at all costs; public transport, availability of water fountains, segregated waste streams, energy technology, responsibly social practice, health and well being – you name it, the 2012 Olympic games had ticked the box. I had been ‘scanning’ the games from the comfort of my chair, but this evidence of sustainability wasn’t picked up via broadcasting. However, I did pick up on naff headlines like ‘London Olympics wins Sustainability Gold’ plastered across sustainability bulletins across the world, and the contradictory environmental and social impacts that characterized the sponsors of the event. A question I asked during our cyber Q&A was “given that the games are aiming to – and I quote ‘inspire healthier, happier lifestyles across the UK and beyond’ why and how can the games be sponsored by Coca-cola and McDonalds?”. The response I got back in return to my, in hindsight, impossible-to-answer question was ‘we weren’t involved in the sponsorship process’. I absolutely applaud the games for bringing sustainability to the forefront of peoples minds, but in ‘using the power of the Games to inspire lasting change’ was McDonalds and Coca-cola appropriate? Especially when the world is not only watching, they are following.

So I have inherited a horrific gene, which takes away from the successes of these masterfully orchestrated events. I overanalyze, critique, and a successful effort in sustainability separates the men from the boys. Events that are being broadcasted to the world need to be responsible, and sustainability needs to be embedded every step of the way, from sponsorship to whatever the tennis racquets are wrapped in. We have expectations for our leaders to follow a certain code of conduct, and events, cities, universities that are intending to be leaders should not be an exception. I will continue to scan these events and hope that the contradictions will become less noticeable, that sustainability will be celebrated rather than ‘embedded’ and that we will all eventually follow suit and start doing the things we need to do, but in a better way.

Understand to be understood

A mere 7 years ago, I was a student of Environmental Science, constantly astounded by how our actions could influence the world around us. What was even more unnerving was the perceived ignorance of the world to this delicate symbiotic relationship. Something seemingly so clear and acceptable wasn’t even close to tracking on another’s radar. Friends with similar interests outside of environmental academia were excited by the prospect of Climate Change. “An extra 3 degrees”, they would gush, dreaming of Winter tanning excursions and an endless Summer.

My frustrations lead me to an obsession in learning how others ticked, and why they didn’t assume an action – even if they were well aware of the eventual repercussions. I became immersed in the research world of Behaviour Change and Social Marketing, a field that (unwittingly) married well with my Environmental Science background. I engaged more with Corporate Social Responsibility, and the notion of environmental accounting. Through an intricate balance of psychology, science, business, politics, social studies, and communications, along with keeping up to date with sustainable advancements in the technological and built environment, not only meant a well-rounded perspective, but a diverse and engaging curriculum. It was well suited for adopting different points of view, and the ability to frame my precious science in a way that any individual would relate to.

The field of Sustainability is where I want to be, as it is a field that has no barriers or limits, and is ever-changing. It is the ideal field for those who need diversity and have a thirst for problem solving. Recognising the multiple ways in which different people understand a complex problem, and how solutions are developed is a universally indispensable skill. The field consistently allows me to exercise this skill on a daily basis. A key learning is that Sustainability should never be posed as a ‘new’ and ‘arduous’ way of doing things, rather a way of accomplishing the things we already do in a better way. Essentially, it is doing something good, to do goodsocially, economically, and environmentally.

John Muir said: “Most people are on the world, not in it – have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them – undiffused but separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate”. But the question must be posed – how can individuals make sense of the world and be in it, rather than on it? Is it a matter of understanding different parts of the ‘environmental issue elephant’ as I fondly call it, and communicating this? One of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is to ‘understand before you are to be understood’. My career choice has sent me on a journey to understand the motivations of those I want to encourage to do better, in light of the science. And what I am finding, time and time again, is that I never need to shout to be understood. The simple act of understanding opens doors for others to understand my own perspective and journey.