The webinar objective is to explore and explode sustainability myths to activate people for healthier and more sustainable living.
14 August 2020
  • Sustainable Lifestyles and Education
Eddie Pan - Unsplash

'Dispelling myths on sustainability and people: If it’s the right thing to do why isn’t it happening?' is the fourth webinar from the broader series: ‘Sustainable Living 1.5: Empowering People to live better and lighter’.

DATE: 25 August 2020

TIME: 13.00-14.30 Central European Time

The registration link can be found here .

CONTEXT: Evidence and awareness have grown on the sustainability challenges we face as a planet. So why isn’t change happening? COVID-19 has affected how we live, showing us that we can change and that concerted action is possible. ‘Build back better’ initiatives underscore the need for people-centric approaches. What do we need to understand and do to unleash and tap the energy of change for more healthy, inclusive and sustainable living for all? The webinar will debunk myths and help unleash needed energy to engage effective action.

Speakers will address: Why sustainability information is not enough? What motivates effective (more sustainable) behaviour change? How can connected urban (youth) fuel global movement? What are new forms of engagement are already changing the landscape?


Dispelling Myths on Sustainability and People

Access webinar presentation here 


13.00-13.05 - Welcome to the Living Better and Lighter Series – Garrette Clark, UNEP

13.05-13.10 - Introduction: Why isn’t Sustainability happening? – Solitaire Townsend, co-founder of Futerra

13.10-13.20 - How to effectively communicate sustainability - Reducing Plastic Pollution: Campaigns That Work - Ellie Moss, Consultant

13.20-13.35 - Global trends and local realities - Vimlendu Jha, founder of Swechha

13.35-13.50 - Surfing the sustainability wave: Colombia’s Youth - Carlos Trujillo, Associate professor at the Universidad de los Andes

13.50-14.05 - From Sustainability Conferences to Conscious Festivals: Co-creating in Sustainability - Paula Miquelis, Co-founder of Green is the New Black

14.05-14.30 - Moderated discussion and Conclusions: Solitaire Townsend, Futerra


Key messages from webinar

Why isn’t Sustainability happening? Well, reality is that people do not wake up in the morning and strive to save energy or resources, thinking about the environment. People make daily decisions about their lives. What they eat, how they move, what they need to procure, money and fun. Hence,  the broader webinar series Sustainable Living 1.5: Empowering people to live better and lighter explores people centric approaches to building back better and shows us that change and concrete actions are possible!

While many people say they care about the environment and believe that changing our lifestyle habits is important for the planet, they may act rather differently when shopping, consuming, travelling or cooking – a phenomenon also called value-action gap. In this webinar, four leading experts were invited to debunk common sustainability myths and to share their insights on how to better activate people for healthier and more sustainable living.

1. How can we effectively communicate sustainability?

The first panelist Ellie Moss (Consultant) showed us how sustainability campaigns can be designed to actually change people’s behavior and what we can learn from campaigns tackling plastic pollution that have worked well and those that haven’t. As research shows, “raising awareness is necessary but not sufficient to create behaviour change.” In other words, while people usually know about the harmful effects of plastic, they don’t necessarily translate this knowledge into action and change their behaviour automatically. For this reason, awareness raising campaigns should relate to specific, actionable and meaningful steps people can take! Another myth is that feelings of guilt and fear change our behaviour. On the contrary, “when we have campaigns that are shocking, terrifying and that make us feel terrible they often backfire” as people become dismissive, numb or stop listening over time. “What does work are appeals to positive emotions like pride, optimism, hope and even love” and also the use of humour has proven to be more effective. “The third myth is that people will change their habits for the greater good.” People act when problems feel personally relevant and near-term and thus, local and customized campaigns that create a human connection, emphasize immediacy and reference tangible impacts work better than altruistic appeals to save the earth for the benefit of future generations. “Myth #4 is that one size fits all.” Actually, turns out that one size doesn’t fit all, and people are motivated differently and hence campaigns should be designed with a specific audience in mind! Lastly, overwhelming, systemic global problems such as climate change often feel unsolvable and while the massive scale of a problem is expected to compel us to change, this is not the case. So, what does work? Using positive social norms and showing the significance of individual actions and that we are all part of a group that is taking action!

2. Global trends and local realities

The second speaker, Vimlendu Jha (founder of Swechha) dispelled the myth that lockdown is supposedly good for the environment since the positive environmental effects are mostly temporary. According to Vimlednu Jha, “repair has to be sustainable and we need permanent solutions instead of a forced lockdown” to address our environmental problems! Another myth is that cycling is a sustainable mode of transportation all around the world: In New Delhi, for instance, cyclists and pedestrians account for almost half of all road fatalities, so “if you really want to make cycling a sustainable trend, then you’ll have to invest in that infrastructure needed for cycling and in the people who use that mode of transport in the third world, who are the poorest of the poor and don’t have access to good cycling tracks and cycles!” Hence, when we talk about sustainability, we should ask ourselves: Who can actually afford to live and consume sustainably?  Last but not least, its was time to bust another myth: “Private cars, however electric they are, can’t be a sustainable mode of transport. Sustainable mobility is about efficient, effective and safe public transport!” All in all, keep in mind that sustainability is not just about knowledge about sustainability but also about practicing it and should also always involve a discussion around justice and equity.

3. Surfing the sustainability wave: Colombia’s Youth

Next, Carlos Trujillo (Associate professor at the Universidad de los Andes) addressed the question of whether the urban youth is really more sustainable and how it can be an engine for achieving sustainable low carbon lifestyles. As some data suggest, young people (<35 years old) often seem to be more ready for sustainable living “because they are usually better educated than their parents or grandparents, they are clearly better informed and aware of ecolabels and much more concerned about climate change.” Also, they are well connected through social media, have fewer children and earn more money (which is important since affording sustainable lifestyles is still expansive). In short, young people usually have all the prerequisites for living healthier, better and lighter lives- but is this also reflected in the way they consume water, energy and food and how they recycle and move around? Surprisingly, the answer is NO. As data shows, young people do not always consume more sustainably, “and the overall picture is that they may have the will, but they don’t have the right focus.” The main obstacles are connected to young people displaying more egocentric values, less consumer wisdom and their perception of being disempowered and having less influence in the world. Hence, successfully activating young people should, on the one hand, “built upon their connectedness and education to promote pro-social values and concern for wise consumption!” On the other hand, “they should be empowered as decision makers outside their reference groups, that is outside of their social media network!

4. What are new forms of engagement that are already changing the landscape?

The final speaker Paula Miquelis (Co-founder of Green is the New Black) left the audience with two important take-aways: “First, sustainability is a journey which starts from within and never ends and secondly, build impactful communities and raise awareness using the art of story-telling and pop culture codes.” By telling her own story of discovering social entrepreneurship and co-founding the organization Green is the New Black, Paula Miquelis shows that true dedication to sustainability is a journey and that nobody is perfect right away! Today, Green is the New Black organizes conscious festivals that are almost zero waste and entirely plant based, yet, this journey came from far as each additional event taught the organization some valuable lessons: for instance, to ban all single use plastic and to use real crockery instead; to upcycle decorations and signs and recycle what can’t be avoided; or to offer vegetarian or vegan for food, post a sustainability event report and to go carbon neutral. Another interesting insight is that “we have all heard, read, watched about climate change, plastic in the oceans and overconsumption, yet, we don’t act fast enough. The reasons for this include that people tend to feel paralyzed and don’t know what to do or they want to maintain their standard of living and convenience. So, what are some of the ingredients to make a change and to start a micro-revolution? Make conscious living mainstream, accessible and thought-provoking!


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  • Sustainable Lifestyles and Education
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