Stop Making Communications Difficult! It is easy really.

448 page report on Sustainability? I’ll pass thanks.

As someone who does communications work in sustainability, I find this important.

Take the latest Committee on Climate Change Report. It set out the UK climate targets, our carbon budget and a lot of ideas.

Well, I think it did. I didn’t read it. It was 448 pages. It had a summary but, that too was 24 pages long.

There is a place for these reports (probably?) however we need clear communication on what is in it as only a fraction of people read these things.

Another group sent me a 148 page report on sustainability yesterday. This is not unsuual. It is however, very unhelpful.

It’s fine to write reports for experts that are long and complicated. But if we want any of the messages to be understood then we need to explain them. Not just in words. Graphics, videos, infographics etc all can be used. No two people learn or see the same content. Now, in fairness, the 448 page report did have an infographic, but it was hard to find and is not being used on social media despite it being ideal for it.

It’s true of all things. What can you recycle where you live? Was it ever explained to you? I doubt it, yet authorities complain people recycle poorly.

Do you know what products have the lowest carbon footprint? No, but we are told to reduce it.

Do you know what net zero emissions means? Did you know there is no standard currently? Everyone is defining it themselves so commitments between countries are not comparable.

If you stopped someone on the street and asked them to explain climate justice, could they do it?

Concepts are just voiced and left for people to debate or buried in text no one will read bar a few high level experts. I have huge respect for these people but often (not always), specialised experts are not good at explaining things.

Sustainability has many problems. But not nearly as many as people think.

When I worked at an environmental regulator and they were in financial trouble, the communications team were made redundant first as they were “least important”.

We have this all wrong. Solutions are not solutions if people don’t know them. We need to be clear, stop showing off with jargon and acronyms to make things sounds pretentious or “business-like”.

Simply say interesting things simply.

Net Worth Linked to Bailouts?

There is talk in the media about Covid bailouts and the rules. Not paying tax is a good reason to exclude, along with climate targets.

There is a lot of “their CEO is worth $50 billion, he should pay” comments too.

This is flawed.

Firstly, moral point, should we impose different laws on people with different amounts of money?

Secondly, net worth is not money. The way it is reported in the media is designed to mislead, outrage is a talking point, logic is dull.

Take Elon Musk (Tesla), net worth of $30 billion. If Tesla needed a bailout, would he pay his staff? No. A recent court case showed he had less than $75k. The rest of the worth is in stocks and assets. He isn’t poor, he can sell things but owns little now. The only way to raise those funds is to sell his company. Either losing it or ending up losing the staff in redundancies as the company is split into pieces. The same is true of all billionaires. No one got rich with cash and no one has a billion in a bank account.

Are there loopholes? Yes, Jeff Bezos (Amazon) eans $75k a year in cash. Why? Because it is enough cash to have handy but keeps tax low. The rest is in shares in Amazon. If it collapsed, his billions on paper disappear and those staff end up unemployed. That “money” is only valid if someone buys his shares. Would you buy a company that was bankrupt and needed a bailout? No, in addition the share price would plummet if word got out and then the billions on paper vanish.

The claim was made about Richard Branson (Virgin), mainly as it is an airline which people dislike and people don’t like him as a person. Both fair points but to pay the staff without a bailout would mean selling company assets (like planes), thus putting people out of work. At which point the claim would be “billionaire makes staff redundant”. The story is made to annoy and inflame, not reflect actual finances which is a dull area.

Your net worth right is not what is in your bank account.

Selling off a company and making people redundant to raise enough money to keep your company and staff doesn’t make sense. This is why they have asked for support.

Rules on climate and tax is great. Totally support it. Expecting the person who owns and made the company to sell everything, including the company itself, is flawed.

It’s a hard situation but abusing “rich” company owners is not actually very helpful.

Organic Farming?

Disclaimer: I’m not for or against, just don’t like how people are misled.

I follow a lot of plant scientists and it’s interesting to see their organic evidence vs the media.

Organic farming can be better or worse than non organic. There is good and bad. It’s hard to understand with few rules which vary in different countries.

Several claims though are clearly false despite being prevalent.

For example, “Organic doesn’t use chemicals or pesticides”

Yes it does, there is a list of approved chemicals. It’s not a secret. There are fewer, but they aren’t safer. Also, everything is a “chemical” so it’s not an accurate claim. Soil Association (SA)(who make organic rules) found 95% of people buying organic think there are no pesticides, which is untrue. Farmers acknowledge this happily, advertising does not. SA says pesticides from “natural sources” are acceptable.

Copper sulphate is a common natural pesticide but is very nasty. Harmful to humans and animals, lethal to pollinators but kills fungi and is heavily used in organic farming, particularly wine. 

By weight, organic farms sometimes use more pesticide than non organic (source: National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy). If used well this is fine, if badly it will be devastating.

Organic farming can do a lot of good things, proper field margins, rotations, avoiding monocultures, nature based solutions etc. But then so can non organic. Those are farming practises that vary widely between all farm.

Non organic can be pesticide free, organic can use tonnes. Organic is not more environmentally friendly or safer. That depends on the farmer. You could well argue it is worse as non organic pesticides are very specific in their action. Targeted to one species or issue. Organic are more broad brush, more like a generic poison.

Organic animal rearing is complicated with some refusing antibiotics when animals are sick and some not. SA rules say try “effective homeopathy” (clearly nonesense) before asking a vet. Many argue this is animal abuse as it causes unnecessary suffering.

Is it healthier? Organic marketing says yes. Scientific studies don’t have a consensus.

Advertising organic as somehow better, more healthy or more environmentally friendly is misleading. Organic also has a lower yield per hectare so to feed more people it will take more land area, land that may be providing ecosystem services already.

Depending who is labelling, “organic” can mean anywhere between 50% and 100% made up of organic ingredients. Like how “recycled plastic” can be 5% recycled and 95% new.

Summary: eat whichever you wish but don’t be misled by false advertising claims. Farming is a scale from good to bad, organic is just one aspect. Just because you favour one over the other doesn’t mean everything about it is better than the other.

Don’t confuse the words “organic” and “natural”, and don’t trust anything that says chemical free.

The New Green Deal?

So Biden won.

Unsurprisingly this is pretty good news for climate change. The bar was pretty low to be fair.

In the short term the US will rejoin the Paris agreement having only just left it officially. This essentially pledges them to reduce emissions. A good step but meaningless on its own with the rest of the world failing their Paris targets.

Biden has talked about a Green Deal. He wants to invest $1.7 Trillion into climate policies to get the US to net zero by 2050 and US electricity be be net zero by 2035. Combined with other countries, like China, pledging this it brings global goals back on target and would potentially avoid a 0.1C temperature rise by 2100.

This is good. Competition spurs action, the US don’t want beaten to net zero by China, the EU, South Korea etc. It’s a little sad that world politics still has bragging rights but perhaps it is more effective to use this than fight it.

Bad news? Opposition in the US is strong, the election showed how divided the country is. With the senate being close and the Supreme court being Republican (ok technically “unbiased” but, you know..), legal challenges could drag on for years. 

Biden winning is good for the climate on paper, although in a normal year his climate policies would be around average. Factions of the US are onside, California for example, the 3rd biggest economy in the world, refused to drop the Paris targets when Trump came in. As one of the biggest economies they hold a lot of power in this economy vs climate battle that will no doubt be brought out again. It’s a terrible argument but one that the media and opposition will persist on using. 

Even the media showed a shift with US media turning strongly against Trump, no doubt part of the reason so many of his own spoke out against his actions, many for the first time in 4 years. A sinking ship simile comes to mind. 🐀🐀🚢

The plans are good which is all you can say at this point. The Republic Senate will probably try to block a lot of these ideas though, winning Georgia in the runoff vote would ease this problem.

Perhaps the hope alone is enough for now. It could be much worse. Indeed it was.

Men in Sustainability?

So I recently did a podcast with @honestlyconscious (go give her follow on Instagram and come back). I was asked about the male/female balance in sustainability as my own Instagram followers are 84% female, a trait shared by most people in this sector and the question was, why is that?

I remember being at school and being told biology (which I did) was “a girl’s subject”, fortunately I ignore a lot of advice and carried on. Is that a reason? Are men put off more by the perception that sustainability is feminine? My biology class was mainly female, my job in conservation was mainly female and currently my colleagues in sustainability are almost entirely female.

In the university and college sector that I work in it is close, probably more male though. These people do not have “sustainability” roles though. They are things like “energy” “estates” etc. Does the word sustainable in the title put people off? Like how men don’t like to apply for jobs entitled “secretary”? There is an age thing here too with those studying engineering etc in the 80’s/90’s getting these jobs, mainly men.

A colleague of mine works with Asian female immigrants and points out they wouldn’t go for sustainability jobs despite already doing all the actions. They don’t relate to the word.

Neither do many, I was 18 before I heard the phrase “Sustainable Development” and found out about the “Sustainable Development Goals”. Whilst these can be useful terms (can be awful too) they have caused confusion. I remember a sustainable development course at uni that featured basket weaving at some point. That was definitely the target of ridicule and I’m sure it put some people off, likely more men.

It’s typically an arts subject too. Woman usually outnumber men in the arts so does that help explain it? It’s only sprung up recently as a field and maybe it needs time? Or, like the immigrant example, some men don’t relate to the word and focus on specifics like energy or travel instead a more holistic approach?

What are your thoughts? Are men less interested in sustainability? Is the word confusing? Do men care less about the world?

Let me know!

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