Tuesday 20 December 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: include the craft of great design

Following Solitaire Townsend's suggestions for metaphors - teen-aged sex, Shakespeare, and advice to the dude - Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra, emailed us to add a crucial component to the art of sustainability. Ed writes: 

To add to Soli's suggestions I would include: craft.

Sustainability is really all about craft - artful, considered, creative solutions that work for people and planet.

Sustainability is also the crucial third component of great design, building on William Morris's 'fit for purpose' (functionality) and 'beautiful to look at' (aesthetics). I add to these 'sustainably produced, reusable, durable, recyclable'. Sustainability turns good design into truly great design.

photo above of William Morris
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Thursday 15 December 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: teenaged sex, Tatiana's 'Weather Speech' and advice to the dude

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.  Photo: Copyright 1989 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Solitaire Townsend, co-founder and director of Futerra, the sustainability communications agency, draws on sex, Shakespeare and the party spirit for three new metaphors for sustainability.

I’ve heard hundreds of definitions and metaphors for sustainability. For a decade my company Futerra has been communicating this precious, complicated, simple idea in communities, through brands and across continents. So I’ve picked three favourite metaphors which sandwich the sublime between two moments of the ridiculous.

The first is courtesy of my co-founder at Futerra the guru, professional comic and activist Ed Gillespie. This one comes with humour warning...

“Sustainability is like teenage sex. Everybody says they are doing it, but very few actually are. And those which are doing it – are doing it wrong.”

Ed loves opening conference speeches with that one.

The second isn’t really a metaphor but rather a poetic description of climate change. It’s the famous ‘Weather Speech’ by Titania from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 2, Scene1):

The winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter cheer;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

That in the 1590’s Shakespeare wrote the most chilling description of climatic upheaval inspired Ed and I to shoot a short film of the speech. Called ‘The Season’s Alter’,  it stars a young Keira Knightly.

The final example is my most often used. When asked to define or explain sustainable development I don’t call upon the great Bard, but rather upon Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan:

“Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes.”

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Thursday 8 December 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: the Spanish Dehesa

Our series on new metaphors for sustainability continues with Alison Turnbull's 'Spanish Dehesa', a sylvopastoral system that marries production and nature conservation.  Alison was born in Bogotà, lives in London and exhibits her artwork there.  

I first saw the Spanish dehesa on a trip to Extremadura some twenty years ago. We drove for over fifty miles without passing another car and the temperature soared to 53º C. It was difficult to believe we were in Western Europe and not in the plains of the American west or crossing an African savannah.  I’ve been back every year since, walking and experiencing this unique eco-system in all kinds of weather, under all sorts of light.

Rather like the evocative Spanish term duende, used in the performing arts to mean ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, dehesa is a difficult word to translate. Meadow, wooded pastureland and grazing operation, it is a sylvo-pastoral system that covers 20,000 square kilometres, mostly in southwest Spain but also stretching into Portugal and Morocco. It is one of the oldest created landscapes in Europe – a cultural landscape if you like - just how ancient no one quite knows, but certainly several centuries, and it remains an outstanding example of intelligent husbandry.  It is beneficial to the needs of human beings but also hospitable to a whole variety of other creatures, including many rare butterflies.

The grassed zones in between the oak trees are famously home to acorn-fed Iberian pigs that produce the most wonderful ham in the world. Honey, cheese, cork and charcoal are all products of the dehesa. It is an area of exceptional bio-diversity - for instance it is the wintering ground for most of Europe’s population of Grus grus, the common crane.

The dehesa is special in that it is an area where maximum exploitation sits side by side with maximum conservation. It’s man-made and it’s right here in Europe.

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Monday 5 December 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: a stranger's compass

Our co-editor Wallace Heim continues our series of new metaphors for sustainability with a guidance system that changes hands. 

Walking an unfamiliar Cumbrian fell with a compass, often without a map, links me to the land in a special way. The invisible, magnetic north that spins into place on the device is often perplexing and counter-intuitive. However reassuring it is to know there are vast forces of geology beyond any I can see, forces that co-ordinate my safe passage, I still have to negotiate the land right in front of me: that granite face, that swamped mire, that fast river. There is no picture in which to find myself, only wit, the land and the pull of a distant polar force.

A few times, I've come across a dropped compass. There's a moment when clearing the mud from its face when I wonder whether it was left behind because it was broken, or not believed. Is the north that was found in a stranger's hand the same as in mine?

I don't think sustainability can be likened directly to a compass, as if there was a pole of certainty to it. There are orientations that guide, but they fluctuate with a landscape that is continually shifting. The incremental decisions made in response to immediate conditions themselves change the situation, alter what is possible to do. I see sustainability as a response to change, one that keeps alive the capacity to respond to further change. What kind of compass would show this light-footed improvisation that makes sure those in the future can navigate their own way?

Walking with a stranger's compass comes closer as a metaphor. The compass is given, handed over, and it connects me to those I will never know, while helping me cross the land that I am in. The instruction is not reliable; maybe not safe. Or maybe it is, and the coordinates are sharper than on my own compass, signalling a clearer route. Is it pulling me in a direction I couldn't have imagined? This uncertain magnetism invigorates the walk. One day, I'll leave my compass behind. 
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Thursday 1 December 2011

New metaphors for sustainability: the surprises

Wallace Heim writes:

When we’ve asked people to think of a metaphor, we tried to present the idea of ‘sustainability’ in neither a positive nor a negative light, but to leave it as open as possible for people to interpret it in their own way. Even for the DVD, we filmed the four people without knowing ahead of time what their metaphors would be. We didn’t want to promote any one idea of sustainability.

It’s been surprising how positive the metaphors have been, even from those people for whom sustainability is not a strong idea, or from those who acknowledge its ambiguities.

It's also been surprising to see how people have found something, maybe not the grand conceptual metaphor, but something in their lives that relates to their view of sustainability. This is as important as the encapsulating metaphor, like the 'iron curtain' or the 'glass ceiling'. The metaphors have not been about a concept imposed from the outside, but about a relation between the idea and something from one's life that makes sense.

We'll be presenting more metaphors in the next two weeks. 
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