How do we grow sustainability?

Yesterday afternoon project participants convened at the beautiful Living Desert Museum to begin crafting the TEDActive sustainability project action. The group was a good mix of both North and South Americans — but unfortunately, at the moment we have little representation from India, Africa and the Middle East. We’d love to expand our group to incorporate more representation from those regions, and we have a place for you at the firepit tonight if you’re interested in joining!

Our discussion was a microcosm of many current sustainability debates: What is the most impactful place to put our energy? Should traditional environmental organizations work with (or against?) corporate partners? Should we focus on personal or systemic action? How are global financial and investment systems responding to opportunities provided by large-scale shifts in energy production, and the need to scale for development in the global south? Is growth always a good thing? 

It was enjoyable to watch the group coalesce and work as a team … our first successful consensus was to agree that our core question was the title of this post — How do we grow sustainability?

We agreed that there were essential components to any successful action: It must be measurable, and data and transparency are necessary to any accountable plan or system. It must motivate people using positive engagement — not fear or shame. It must incorporate the sense of wonder, play and reward that drives us as people — the reasons we’re here at TEDActive.

We’re still in the process of gathering ideas and thoughts on what our core action will be — our team is discussing sustainability with other conference participants, as well as using Twitter (#TEDActiveSus) and other social media to get input beyond the participants here in Palm Springs … please comment on this post or on Twitter and tell us what you’re doing to make your professional life more sustainable and what you’ve been thinking about doing, but haven’t yet implemented.

I thought that Luis Cilimingras’ presentation at TEDYou about Fiat’s creative interventions to change driving behavior was a great model of the type of action we should look to — creating significant impact on carbon emissions with a fun interactive system to change driving behavior using best practices from gaming, incorporating hard metrics and constant data monitoring. Of course, it probably took Fiat several years to create that program — and we only have until Thursday to create our action.

Given the depth of experience on the team, I’m looking forward to the info gathering we will be talking about tonight — we need an action that is significant and appropriate to the level of influence that the TED community wields. I’d argue that we need to challenge TED community members to lead on sustainability in their corporate sectors and investments — and make sure they’re using their lobbying resources to talk about key policy decisions like carbon pricing with their governments. The time for changing lightbulbs is over — we need to spur leadership and get to scale.

See you at the firepit!

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