Sustainability versus Climate Change

20130905-084231.jpg A quick post on my recent experiences in the different perceptions of climate change and sustainability.

I recently ran a sustainability workshop in a town located in Northern NSW, beautiful town, on a river prone to flooding, near the ocean but low lying and in an area most hit by the global financial crisis. So while we were setting up for the workshop I asked a few of the local community a couple of questions.

Is climate change an important issue for the community? No, not really. The majority of people don’t really believe in climate change, we have natural weather cycles. OK I thought a fairly common response, that’s ok.

What about green buildings, building green and such? No, not really. We don’t really see a need for that where we live.

OK keep pressing I thought. I left it a couple of minutes, talked about politics and such and then asked.

So, what about sustainability? Their eyes lit up, their heads lifted, body language changed. Oh yes, absolutely, it’s one of our key issues. Wow, OK so…

Sustainability means lots of things to many people, in general what does sustainability mean to your community? Well lots of things – energy efficiency, renewable energy – a lot of people have those solar panel things on their homes, energy security, food – food costs and availability are a big issue, transport – the cost of fuel is huge here, and flooding – we live in a low lying area on a flood plain and our house insurance is going up.

The lesson from the story, just because someone doesn’t believe in one particular aspect of our future challenges doesn’t mean they don’t believe in all of it.

Climate change has been made political and a belief. Your either a climate change believer or a non-believer, like religion. It’s not safe to talk about it at the dinner parties anymore.The very mention of the world polarises us immediately but talk about sustainability and you can engage anyone in a conversation as to how we need to adopt, adapt and align the different aspects of our lifestyles.

Climate change is an outcome of our unsustainability, so shift the talk to the more palatable ‘sustainability’ and we will solve climate change anyway.

10 Comments on “Sustainability versus Climate Change”

  1. Reblogged this on Decarbonising Life and commented:
    Here I am shamelessly stealing Simon Wild’s content again! Simon has a great blog which covers sustainability as opposed to climate change specifically. Enjoy the post and go follow him – it’s a great read!

  2. Great post, Simon. As far as I’m concerned, this topic defines the misstep that the environmental lobby has taken over the course of the last decade: putting all energy and focus into climate change. I happen to be among those that consider climate change a very real and very serious problem, but as you said, it’s not the unifying notion that clean air or clean water is for people (certainly Americans). It’s a complicated topic with a very long outlook and loads of large, but indirect consequences–not something that society is great at wrapping their hands around.

    What we need is more people talking about sustainability instead of only climate change, and not sustainability as a technological fix to supplement a wasteful lifestyle, but recognizing sustainability as the lifestyle. Sustainability should be pitched as a concept that revolves around the idea of balance and dynamic equilibrium. The beauty of it (aside from being the backbone of natural life on our planet) is that it has something for everyone. Cleaner water, cleaner air, preserving resources, increased efficiency… all of which probably end up reducing carbon emissions anyway.

    Hopefully we can steer things back into a broader view that might allow us to move away from buzz words that put people on the defensive and towards a time of global environmental progress.

    • Hi Tyler. Thanks for the comment. Luckily sustainability has something for everyone and also something that everyone can do. Eat less red meat or fly less or turn your ac off or …..

      Also, loved your blog by the way. Lots of great posts in there.

  3. It’s a valid approach however, sustainability is supported by several pillars – only 1 of which is economic. By and large it seems this focus is at the expense of the others…

    • Hi Pip thanks for the comment. Sustainability is indeed supported by many pillars. Which ones do you think are the most forgotten?

  4. Pingback: Eco-jargon versus common sense « Pip Marks

  5. Spot on Simon. However, from my experience, business (especially small business) raise their eyebrows when you mention sustainability – just another buzz word to them. Most small businesses are just trying to make ends meet and do not have the time, staff nor finances to invest in sustainability. When I was with the Queensland State Government we administered a number of sustainability programs, (e.g. ecoBiz Queensland – website, assisting business incorporate ecoefficiency in their business operations. However, whilst these programs were free and we also had officers available to help business, it was still a hard gig. Businesses’ main concerns are “resilience”, (i.e. am I still going to be in business in 2, 5 years time?) and “return on investment” (what is the payback on my investment in…..).

    • Hi Greg. Thank you very much for the comment.
      I agree with your views on ‘sustainability’ turning people off, it tends to have the persona of sustainability costs money.
      I am passionate about changing this view – my favourite saying at the moment is “if sustainability is costing you money, you are getting the wrong advice”.
      Sustainability goes hand in hand with cost savings.
      It just needs another name!

  6. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for your commentary. I tend to agree that we all have points of similarities and concerns, which we need to find in regards to the future survival, whether as individual, family, business or an institution. I am not convinced, however, that calling that concern “sustainability” is a way to attract more people and to address the concerns. I agree with Greg above, that it does turn people off and not only in business, but also people who might already have “green” interests. The term has been simply used too many times in too many ways. Let’s talk about everything else but sustainability – let’s talk about human survival, getting on with each-other, having a lifestyle, that doesn’t cost the Earth-you name it!

    I welcome your idea that we need a new word. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

    Best of luck, and tanks again from Western Australia,


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