education marketing media

Sustainable messaging

Every student needs to understand that no matter what their life passion is, they can find a path to sustainability through what they’re doing.


Ferris Kawar is Sustainability Project Manager at Santa Monica College.  With a background in marketing, Ferris offers an insight into sustainability messaging both on and off campus.


Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, and me Samuel Mann. Shane’s not here because I’m in Santa Monica, at Santa Monica College, indeed. Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference. We try to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Ferris Kawar – who is the Sustainability Project Manager at Santa Monica College. Thank you for having me.


Ferris: Thanks so much. I’m glad you’re here.


Sam: What a pretty amazing building.


Ferris: Yeah. Thanks. It’s a unique little space here on campus that we’ve had for over 20 years because a set of professors really recognised that environmental issues were important enough back 20 years ago. They wanted a hub on campus that we could really talk about these things, and cultivate interest with the students, and build it into curriculum. A few years ago they were able to get some funding to make it as sustainable as possible. We can demonstrate energy efficiency, and reuse, and recycling. It’s a zero waste office. It doesn’t have air conditioning or heat in here. We have some very innovative ways of keeping ourselves comfortable and making it a very useful space with a lot of people coming and going. It’s a very effective place to work. It’s great to show off all the time.


Sam: It’s a retro-fit in 1920’s bungalow.


Ferris: Yeah. Something like that. Maybe 1940’s. Yeah. It was old, draughty, bungalow that is actually replicated down the street. It’s nice to be able to look at our energy, gas, water bills. Then look at the one next door that really houses the same number of people working for the colleges. It’s apples to apples. Yet, our electric, water and waste bills are so much lower than everyone else’s. It’s a great model to show off.


Sam: We’ll come back to what you do in your job. Let’s do some bigger picture things first. Where’d you grow up?


Ferris: I grew up actually in the Middle East originally. In Amman, Jordan. Moved to the United States when I was 11 years old up to Northern California San Mateo. Went to college in Sacramento. Did my studies in business marketing. Then moved to the Bay Area shortly after that. Worked for an advertising agency for a number of years. Before I realised a really wanted a change. Didn’t see myself in advertising for the long term. Started to look around to what else I might want to do.


Interestingly enough, 15 years ago when I moved to Los Angeles to think about what I really wanted to do. I found myself here in Los Angeles. I ended up taking a workshop at Santa Monica College that was a sustainable living workshop. That was funded by the city. Taught you really how to reduce your foot print in every area of your life. I ended up taking that workshop. It blew me away. Opened up so many doors to possibilities. I said, that’s what I want to do. That’s where I want to focus my attention, and use my knowledge for creating messaging. I come from a marketing advertising background. I said, “That’s what I really want to do. To get the word out about sustainability.” That was 2001.


I actually ended up teaching the course here on sustainability. I outreached it to residences in Santa Monica. Then I went on and did some other work around Los Angeles in other areas. A year ago, I had an opportunity to come back and be the Sustainability Manager for the college. It was a nice full circle story. To be able to come back and see how the college has grown. Really built on it’s sustainability credentials. It’s fun to be back.


Sam: Let’s step more slowly through some of those shall we.


Ferris: Sure.


Sam: John.


Ferris: Right. Now they did go way back.


Sam: I’m going way back.


Ferris: My father’s Jordanian. My mother’s American. They met in college here. My father was a hospital administrator. He had an opportunity to open up a hospital in Jordan, and return to his home company. They thought, well, what an opportunity to raise our children there. Have work for him. I went to an English speaking school. That’s why you don’t detect much of an accent. I never really had one. I lived there until I was 11. I think it is such a great opportunity to live in another country. Learn that other people learn different ways. That’s really helped me be patient with people. I realised everyone really wants the same things. They might not have the same background, and social norms. They may not understand the value of recycling the way we were brought up to once I came to the United States. I know that doesn’t make them bad people.


When I go back to Jordan I notice that the recycling is not something that happens. There’s no system set up. That doesn’t make them bad people. They also reuse the heck out of everything. Far better than we do in the United States. I get to have that view from both sides. That view helps me understand people within the United States and my LA California. To see how different cultures see sustainability or don’t see it, but that they’re still probably interested in it. You just have to make it accessible to them. Introduce it to them in a way that makes sense.


Sam: It’s interesting how America, in particular, has jumped to the lowest form of the reduce, reuse, recycle pyramid.


Ferris: Yeah. That-


Sam: It doesn’t mean you can get away without reducing your consumption.


Ferris: That’s right, but recycling has been the best thing that people can really do. My last job actually was a Recycling Specialist for the city of Burbank, here in Los Angeles. I did that for six years. I was constantly surprising every group I spoke in front of saying, “Recycling should be synonymous with trash.” That’s the worst thing that you can do. You really want to focus on reduce and reuse. That’s why those two things were first. When you ask people, “Well what does that mean?” So few people really understand how important it is to not create the trash in the first place, even if you go and recycle it. They don’t understand the long journey these items have to take to get recycled. The amount of embodied energy it takes to create this thing in the first place. It’s going to create all sorts of pollution in the processing of the material. It’s quite a task we have to educate them.


Sam: From Jordan back to Northern California.


Ferris: That’s right. When I was 11. Went to finish my schooling there.


Sam: Had you been coming backwards and forwards until then?


Ferris: I had. Every two years we would come to the United States. I knew a little bit about American culture. Back in Jordan, my school was filled with expats and their kids. It wasn’t too much of a culture shock coming here, but it still was.


Sam: As you were a young teenager. What did you want to be when you grew up?


Ferris: That’s the problem.


Sam: Young teenager get you past wanting to be an astronaut and whatever else …


Ferris: Honestly, sadly, I didn’t have any strong calling. I went into business because my dad was in business. It just seemed like a nice, safe thing to go into. You can apply it to anything. I really didn’t have any strong calling. It wasn’t until I was 30 when I stopped and said, “You know what? I don’t see myself in advertising.” This was fun for a while. Was really interesting. It made me feel like I was contributing. It wasn’t until I took the Sustainable Living workshop that I realised, oh my gosh, how much damage I had created? Creating ads to some things that people don’t need. That are just fueling the consumptive society. I always say this is my penitence for all those years.


Sam: I’ve talked to some people in advertising and marketing who are quite defensive of their role in sustainability. That their role is actually not necessary to sell more stuff, but to add value to stuff.


Ferris: They’re telling themselves that to make themselves feels better. Certainly there are some products, more and more are making their way onto the shelves, to give people options from the conventional products. I know the industry. I worked in it. I know that we all tell ourselves things to justify what we’re doing for a living. I think it’s important that we understand how powerful advertising is, but media as well. Not just advertising. They are very skilled practitioners in understanding the human psyche to make sure that they are getting people to buy a product even if they don’t really need it.


I think we saw, if you look back just after World War 2 the idea of modern day consumption really took root in this country. Before that people really purchased things on how sturdy was that product. How long was that going to last you? Not, how does it make you feel as a person. How does that product give you some kind of a value in terms of how you feel? Does it make you look good or not? Modern marketing has made people forget about how well made is this? What was it made with? How does it benefit my community? Now it’s just use it up, tosses it out, get the next season’s cover and repeat. They’re very masterful.


Sam: For someone with a background in advertising, who is not going to be defensive of marketing and advertising then…how real, how blatant is green washing?


Ferris: Green washing it’s definitely out there. You have to be very careful with it, but there are plenty of places to go to find products that have been vetted by organisations that you can trust. I mean, for me Environmental Working Group is an organisation that vets cosmetics, suntan lotions, underarm deodorants. All sorts of other beauty products. I will turn to them, because I am not a scientist. I am not going to be able to really look at … It’s too time consuming for me to try and figure it out on my own. You have to sometimes trust others, but really turn to ones who you can trust. Just be cognizant of it.


Even with green washing there is some value in it. It pushes that company. They’re always running the risk that they’re going to get caught. If they do, people are pretty diligent to call them out on it. Then force them to live up to the expectations that they put out there. 10 years ago, no one was even trying to green wash. It’s actually progress that we’ve got green washing, unfortunately. That’s sad to say. At least, it’s now part of the conversation and something we have to watch out for.


I find it interesting. I helped start a guide of green businesses. We started on Los Angeles. We researched every single business in Los Angeles that was consumer focused, not business to business. We had to walk in as secret shoppers. Figure out who was offering some kind of a sustainable alternative to your conventional products. When I first did it, this was 2005. Sustainability just wasn’t part of the conversation in the media. Every business owner was just completely honest whether they had something or not. You didn’t have to be really guarded about were they going to try to sell themselves as green. We did that guide, and released it.


Then we redid the guide two and a half years later. It was really interesting. In just that period of time. From 2005 to 2007, 2008, businesses had realised, wow, people really care about this stuff. I want to be a part of this movement. They were willing to embellish and to misrepresent or over represent how green their product lines were. You had to really start to pick through who was being honest and who wasn’t. It was a good sign. It made us have to be far more vigilant.


Sam: Somewhere between marketing, and you didn’t call it an epiphany, maybe you did, a workshop you went to here…


Ferris: Yeah.


Sam: Did you just stumble in through the door or was it something that was niggling or something?


Ferris: I knew that I enjoyed the outdoors. That was as close to an environmental direction that you can get. I had been thinking, well, what can I be doing? Where do I want to spend my energy? I just happened to read this course list. I think I was going to take Spanish and something else. I saw, oh, a sustainable Living workshop. I thought of myself as a pretty green guy. Lived in San Francisco for eight years. I recycled. Really once I took this workshop realised how little I knew. That’s really true of most people. We all think of ourselves as pretty environmental. Really, I’m doing everything I can. I don’t want else I can possible be doing.


That’s just human nature. People see themselves in a more favourable light than most people see them. Studies show, especially if you talk about recycling. If you asked the average person, 70% or 80% of people think that they recycle everything, all the time. Then you go through their waste bin. You realise, okay, only 30% are actually doing it right. Only, maybe 50% are actually doing it. Then only 30% are actually doing it right. That’s just human nature.


Anyways, I realised how much I had been missing. How deep this rabbit hole goes. I always say, “It’s like peeling back an onion.” You find out oh, I didn’t know about this issue. Then you peel back that layer and oh, there’s a whole other level of issues below that. You keep peeling it back. I’m not even half way through the onion right now. I’ve been working in this field for 15 years. It makes decision making really difficult. My wife looks at me and goes, you can’t just make the simplest choices. I said, “No!” There’s consequences to every choice. Once you know you can’t go back. I would rather be an informed citizen then to be blindly going through life, and creating damage. Not willing to address it. I think that’s what we kind of do. It’s better to hold that stuff at arms length so that you can just plead ignorance. Not feel guilty.


Sam: That’s the deal isn’t it? There’s the catch. The ignorant choice, let’s just carry on having a party and buying stuff, is a simple choice. We’re not offering people a simple choice.


Ferris: No. It’s complex. It is. I wish there were a way to bottle this, and/or package it in a simple term. One catch phrase. We’ve been working on cracking that nut for a long time. It just, we’re not there. No one’s really done it very well. Yeah. I deal with that all the time. I do messaging for the campus. For the students. In terms of transportation. To professors in terms of the curriculum. After a while, they start out and they’re pretty interested. Quickly their eyes can glaze over and they’re overwhelmed. It’s frustrating.


Sam: We’ll skip over some of the things you’ve been doing between now and then. Focus on what you’re doing now. You mentioned that you were at the City of Burbank and other things. Now at the Santa Monica college. You’re a Sustainability Project Manager.


Ferris: Correct.


Sam: Is it just you?


Ferris: I have an assistant. I have 14 student workers who really run five different eco-clubs. Those clubs range from a gardening club, a bike club, a plastic free SMC trying to get disposable plastic off campus. One that’s looking to get more vegetarian and vegan options in our food service. Each one of those, one runs a garden where it’s students teaching other students how to plant and be self-sufficient with your food. We have a bike club that’s really helping students become self-sufficient with their bikes. We hold a bike repair clinics. We fix bikes a couple of times a week at no charge. Constantly trying to get people back out on those bikes. Just because the chain comes off they don’t use that as an excuse to start driving again.


We have another one called Eco Action. Where we hold events. It’s using week long events to teach about sustainability. Like Earth Week. On sustainability week, we do massive beach clean ups where we have 600 plus people come down and clean up our beaches. You know? During these weeks we’re holding workshops. Do it yourself workshops. Debates. Movies. Events where we hold a free farmers market for students. Give away 1,000 pounds of produce.


These students are really my outreach arm. They re using their clubs to introduce sustainability to students in all sorts of different way from, like I said, transportation biking, to growing your own food, to food in the cafeterias and this such. It’s not really just me and my assistant. We have our minions.


Sam: That’s quite some commitment from the institution.


Ferris: It is. That’s not something that most universities really have. It’s been fantastic to have them supportive and allowing us to cultivate it over the years. The student association which is the student governing body, they have a sustainability director. It’s terrific because their president, vice-president, and treasurer…among their top leaders they have created a sustainability director position which is quite another commitment from the college. That they want to see sustainability infused throughout the campus.


One of their biggest coups I thought, was they hold the purse string for a lot of college departments. Through the year, as departments want to hold an event that is focused around students. They go to the student association and ask them for money to hold it. Generally thousands of dollars. They said, “It’s now our policy, if you hold your event it has to have recycling and composting. You have to use compostable materials for your servings.” From your folks, cutlery, to plats, and cups. It all has to be compostable. That’s, I think, overnight changed the way that people thought about throwing an event on campus. It caused all the departments to stop and think how they spend their money. When you throw an event it doesn’t just mean you’re going to create a massive amount of waste that day. All of that material can either get recycled or composted. Just with the stroke of a pen, there power as a leverage point to get the whole college to really think differently about events and waste.


Sam: How high up in the Santa Monica structure, physical structure or in terms of policies and mission statements and whatever, where do we go to see sustainability?


Ferris: Well, we have a brand new president. Only a couple of months old. Our previous presidents have been big supporters. The president, two presidents ago, signed what we call the ACUPCC American College President Climate commitment. That person signed this letter saying that our college will make every effort to reduce its carbon footprint over a period of years. That was 2009. That is really driving what we do for the years forward. Since then, we have been able to have one of the five ILO’s, which is Institutional Learning Outcome. Those change every few years. They are kind of also our guiding principles of what our college wants to have our students get out of these years that they’re with us.


One of them has to do with sustainability. That they will become sustainable in their actions. They will learn to live as sustainable citizens. We talked a little bit earlier about global citizenship as a requirement for graduation. It’s a series of classes students or a set of classes students need to take to be able to graduate with an AA degree here. They have offered at least some of those classes their sustainability focused. They recognise that to be a global citizen you should be knowledgeable about sustainability.


Sam: Is that all students have to do a compulsory sustainability course?


Ferris: No. Not all students. They have a choice out of a set of classes to take. A few of them are sustainability oriented classes. They could take classes that deal with other cultures. They don’t have to just take sustainability classes. They are offered as an option. You’re talking about-


Sam: It’s alongside, things like social justice…


Ferris: Correct.


Sam: They can’t avoid this sort of thinking.


Ferris: Yes.


Sam: It might not be specifically sustainability.


Ferris: Yeah. I would like to see it infused as a mandatory lass across the board everyone needs to take. There’s so many other courses that are mandatory. How hard it is to get to add another one to the list. There’s really three ways that we have sustainability in our curriculum. One of them is we have a Sustainable Living workshop. Very similar to the one that I took 15 years ago right here at this college. It’s still being taught here. It’s an eight week workshop that teachers students how to reduce their personal footprint. It’s a non credit course. It’s just for extra credit. We have about 70 professors who offer that to their students.


It’s really great because you get students who are not self-selected environmentalist. Typically, when you say hey, we have an environmental course. Why don’t you come and take it. Most of the students who show up are the ones who already know this stuff, who just want to go deeper. Well this particular course, you’re getting students who may be getting a C, and they just want to make sure that they pass. They’re taking the extra credit. It is a life changing opportunity because they’ve never heard this material before. It’s an hour and a half each week. We talk about energy, water, waste, chemicals, transportation, food, and shopping. We have experts come and talk. We have films and field trips. It’s a really, really robust course. That’s one way. You get a lot of professors who support it by offering extra credit.


Then you have a whole subset of professors who are weaving sustainability into their curriculum. Such as english professors, business professors, art, anthropology, psychology, sociology, public policy. That’s terrific. I’m constantly trying to expand that. Get other professors to recognise that they can use sustainability as examples in whatever course it is. We have a fashion design course, and a cosmetology course. Those professors just recently came to me, because I held a green career fair recently. They were actually interested in having some speakers come to their classes that they have never thought about. Oh! Nontoxic nail polish. Wouldn’t that be interesting to talk to our students about. Fashion design that took into account the damage that seasonal changes in fashion create.


It’s actually expanding quickly. That’s the subset. Then there’s another area that we call it the Sustainable Technology programme. We have an Energy Efficiency certificate. A Recycling and Resource Management, and Photovoltaic Installation certificate that you can get. This is more for students who really want to change careers. Who know exactly, they just want to get into this field of work. They can come. They can get a certificate from us. We help them get out into the working world. This is one of those, we call it CTE programmes. Where they are certificate, technical, education. Try to get them out into the workforce. Then we also have an Environmental Science, and Environmental Studies degree that students can take, and to transfer with.


Those are all the areas of curriculum that we offer.


Sam: Do you think that students coming through now getting it?


Ferris: More and more. Definitely. They are getting it. They’re getting it from other areas. There are plenty of studies that show that this is what students are really interested in. I wish that the professors would get it. That there students are getting it and they’re looking for those examples. They really are. I think the students have heard it long enough. They just need it to be applied in a way that’s accessible in each programme. Whether they’re a business student or in fashion design. They need it to be made accessible so that they can say, “Oh! I see now.” Because, yeah, sure recycling. Great. Well, that’s bottles and cans. When you talk about recycling in dollars and cents. How much it can save a company in an accounting course. Then you go, oh! Okay. These things really do matter. Waste is not just the cost of doing business. It is an opportunity to make the business more money by being smarter about it. I don’t know. I’m constantly fighting to get more professors to embrace these examples. They’re usually the hardest to change the minds. They’ve been doing this for years.


Sam: With a background in advertising, how are you using those skills in this job?


Ferris: Well, it’s was using what I know about messaging really. It’s a lot of promotional material we create. Understanding that you need to simplify your message as much as possible. It’s a complex message, but as much as we can we try to break it down so that it lands. Most people are overwhelmed with emails and messaging all around them. When we put out any email, or brochure, or posters, or banners, all that kind of stuff, we try to distil the message down as simply as possible. That they can get our top line message and then if they need to drill down offer them the website to go to.


Sam: That works when the message can be simplified. Can you simplify wicked, complex, messy problems? Which is the essence of sustainability?


Ferris: No. It’s very difficult. It’s not easy. Say for our transportation campaign, we have 12 different options that we offer for getting to campus without your car. From apps, to bus, and trains, car-pooling, websites. All of these tools that we give people. We really focus the message on reduce stressed, and time, and money. That’s what people really care about. I don’t really mind if take a bike, or carpool because it actually saves them money, not the environment. The end result is they are saving both. That’s what matters to me. I try to play down the environmental aspect of it. I know that 80%, 90% of the people really care more about how long does it take me to drive, and fight traffic, look for parking. How expensive is it to fill up my tank every week. Be the one responsible behind the wheel. I try to focus the message on those things that I know people care about universally. Rather than, hey, this is better for our air, and for our kids, and for our future. That’s just too amorphous.


Sam: Does it matter if they’re changing behaviour for the wrong reasons?


Ferris: At this point, no. Ultimately, I would like them to change for the right reasons but I feel like we have tried to get them to change for the right reason. People really are not responding that much more than they were 10 years ago. A little bit more. We’re making some gains. There’s some other things that need to happen in society before we get to wholesale, real, tangible changes. You almost need to do it in other ways. Get them to change for other reasons, or to just institute mandates. Just go that route. Say, well, okay, we’ve used the carrot forever. We have to use the stick a little bit. You know? Maybe. I don’t know. I actually can’t think of an example that we would use on campus here.


The City of Santa Monica has an example where they said, by mandating that residents can’t put in spray irrigation anymore. They have effectively gotten rid of any new lawns going into the city. You have to have spray irrigation for lawns. You can’t drip or these other targeted irrigation techniques. They pretty much just said, “You can’t have a grass lawn in our city anymore.” Or they said, “You can’t use plastic bags.” We tried to get people to let go of plastic bags for a very long time. At one point, they just said,”Well, that’s enough.” If you want, to pay for a bag. You will get a paper bag, but you will have to pay 10 cents for it. They mandated getting rid of styrofoam. All of these things. After a while, you can try to educate people about the dangers of having all the stuff in our environment.


At the end of the day if they are just not going to make those choices on their own. Sometimes just having to mandated it just works very well. In each one of those cases that I mentioned, the sky didn’t fall. Business adjusted. It didn’t really cost anymore to your meal or to your shopping trip. People started to remember their bags. Get used to other packaging materials. That was that. It all passed very quietly.


Sam: Putting in place systems that offer a better alternative, so that people aren’t able to use the…


Ferris: That’s right.


Sam: This is better life not a lesser life argument.


Ferris: That’s right. They’re doing it in transportation by narrowing streets. They call it street diets. Widening bike lanes. I agree with all those measures. We’ve for so long made it so easy to drive. Where parking was free. Streets were wide. We’ve filled up all those parking spots and those streets with cards. It was so convenient. Gas was cheap. Now they’re saying, well, let’s not make it so easy for people to make that choice. Let’s incentivize other options. People are finding other reasons to love getting out of that car. Being freed of the constraints of just having cars as your only option to get around. Now that people are forced to try other options they’re realising, wow, this is great. I don’t have to be the responsible one behind the wheel. Deal with parking tickets. Paying for parking passes and all that kind of thing.


Sam: Is all that enough? When you said that you opened a door, went through a rabbit hole, are we challenging ourselves far enough? I’m thinking of the student events that require to have compostable cookery. Wouldn’t we be better off having china?


Ferris: Yeah. We do that here at our office. It does become problematic when you have an event for 2,500 people. That can be a big cost to rent all of that. Yes. That is ultimately where we need to go. Every department on campus should have place settings for 20 people. At least everyone in their department. There’s always going to be a birthday party. An event that they have throughout the year. They should have their own. You’re absolutely right.  We are still taking baby steps when we need to be moving in leaps and bounds. We are not moving fast enough to keep up with the pace of the closing window of opportunity to keep the climate somewhat stable. We know it’s not going to be what it has been for so many generations. To keep it livable by our standards.


Sam: what’s it going to take to move an institution, or society, or even a family, to that leaps and bounds side?


Ferris: I think it comes back to media having a responsibility for their messaging. I think that most people get their cues for living from the media they consume. Whether it’s magazines, TV commercials, the news, music videos, films, TV shows. They are all putting out the message that life is fine. Everything we’re doing is fine. Continue as you have been. Even though, once in a while, they’ll do a news segment on ocean acidification is a real problem. They’ll cover that topic. Then they’ll be a commercial for a seafood chain. Or Oprah will talk about a real important environmental issue. Then turn to the audience and say, “Now for Oprah’s favourite things. Look under your seat and see all the things you get to go home with today.”


We put 2% into, hey, here’s some really important issues happening to us. Then 98% of the time, people are lulled back into a sense of security that everything is going to be fine. No one has changed their tune anywhere else in society. I’m surrounded by the message that things are fine. Don’t worry about it. Let government take care of it. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry your pretty little heads. People are constantly lulled back into that feeling about how I don’t really need to make any changes. I think media needs to realise they have a real responsibility to society to work into their TV shows, into their messaging, actions that represent where we want to be. They’re always trying to represent exactly reality.


Unfortunately, the people who are writing the scripts are not, what I think. are the most conscientious people on the planet. Most of them live here in LA. You see them in a coffee shop writing their next script. They are very, you know? I don’t think they are who we really want to be emulating our life after necessarily. They want the next big car. They want a big flashy house. They think everyone can live in a 5,000 square foot mansion. Everyone now aspires to the live a life of the rich and famous. Instead of having what really matters to people. I think when you get down to people really want time. They want their health. They want time with friends and family. That’s not what people seem to be going to work for. They tend to take on extra jobs because they have to pay for the extra house. The condo they have in the mountains. The boat that they bought. The accumulation of things.


Instead of reflecting the way life is, well, let’s try to reflect the life we should be living. Put some ethics back into our journalism, and the media that we produce.


Sam: Has the switch to social media given us a window to catch up that fast moving window that you talked about before?


Ferris: Yes, it has, because people are not just limited to the corporate owned news giants. Just even the regular TV shows that are produced by NBC, CBC, ABC. We have the opportunities to be entertained by a while new range of people. Which is good and bad. We have the potential for being able to be exposed to better messaging. Is that what we’re actually getting? Not necessarily. Sometimes. I use my Facebook page to constantly enlighten my friends about issues that I think are very important to me. I’m not taking pictures of my meal and posting them. I’m using that to hopefully get through to some people.


Sam: With the exception of people that are your friends, and probably mine, the danger of social media is the ability to tailor your feed. To only stuff that you want to hear about.


Ferris: Yeah. That’s true.


Sam: It’s not challenging us at all.


Ferris: That’s true. Even in news, they’ve shown that if you’re interested in this range of politics they will tailor your news feed to that. That is dangerous.


Sam: Do you think it’s important that students on campus are challenged?


Ferris: Yes. Absolutely. Up ‘til now, we’ve been coddling our youth. Protecting them. They are going to be living in to a world that is very different than the world you and I grew up in. They need to be ready for the realities of that. Be proactive in helping to change their future. I’m sure every commencement speech has had similar words. I feel like it’s never been so true. Everyone, this is the most important decision in their life. How are they going to contribute to, get involved, in the decision making for their future. If they want to have the easy living that they had growing up? They’d better get active. We have not set them up very well for a nice, easy life. I’ve got two young kids. It really hits home for me. It’s a distraction. Knowing that they are not going to have the same opportunities that I had.


Sam: What’s your go to definition of sustainability?


Ferris: Being able to take care of your needs without sacrificing the needs of future generation. Pretty basic.


Sam: If you could have a sustainable superpower, how would you like your sustainable superpower to be described? What is it that you’re bringing to this hero action?


Ferris: Are you saying like a sustainable super hero or a … got you. Well, I’d say that person was able to, with a single blow, knock the senses into all media giants. Knock the money out of politics. Those two are to me some of the biggest hurdles. Those are the heart of the problem. The reason that we don’t make more headway is because of the money interest in power that don’t want things to change. People don’t see it because the media doesn’t give it much credence. The majority of the people don’t really see the connection. I think that if those two were addressed we could actually make some quick progress. Everything that we need to survive into the future is off the shelf right now. We’re not waiting for a magic bullet to be created. We don’t need a super hero to come and save us. It’s off the shelf technology. We just need the political will. To have the political will, those two things really need to change.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Ferris: I’ve seen in California, the biggest success we’ve had are some new laws that are mandating organic recycling. There are two laws that said, first of all, businesses of over a certain size and apartment buildings over a certain number of units have to start recycling. Then there was a compositing law that said if you are a business that generated a certain amount of organic waste, you have to start composting as well. There’s a third one actually said for all cities and municipalities who had been taking the green waste, you know? The green cart … Up till now, that all had been used as cover for landfills.


This sounds asinine that people would take the time to separate their garden clippings, grass, and leaves. Put them in a greet cart. A separate truck would pick all of those up. Put them all together. Then they would take them to a landfill. Instead of turning them into compost, they were being used as what we call alternative daily cover. They would be used as covering on a land fill. It would keep down smells, birds from landing and picking up trash and carrying it off into neighbourhoods. That was somehow okay. They would get credit for they diverting that green waste from a landfill, but it was being used. They said, “Well we have to cover the land fill with something every day.” Instead of tarps, they used green waste. That’s still stuff that turned into methane and leachate.


Anyways, they now have to find a way to compost all that stuff. In just a couple of years, those have been the biggest wins for me. Composting to me is one of the most elegant solutions to so many different problems that we have. It’s the quickest way to get from a stack of negatives to creating something positive in the environment. They are now going to have to create a whole bunch of jobs, and composting facilities throughout California that are really going to change the amount of Methane gas that’s being distributed. All sorts of other things.


Sam: Have you got the food waste from the food halls on campus sorted?


Ferris: Not completely. We compost 250 pounds of organic waste from our cafeteria through the digestive tract of about 40,000 worms on campus. We have compost piles that are organic learning garden. Here in our office we use worms to eat through our food waste. Now we have a green waste collection system also for all the other campus green waste that goes to be composted. Still some is making it into the garbage, but it’s relatively small now.


Sam: Your building’s got lots of clever things like the solar tubes for the lights. You don’t have the actual lights turned on. You’ve got a very, very clever heating system. Powered essentially from the heat of the CPU’s from the computers.


Ferris: Yeah.


Sam: Are you seeing those things leaking out into the rest of the campus?


Ferris: No. I’ve only been here a year. I focused most of my tours on students. Just figuring that most of the campus had experienced this building. Now I realised over the last year, that every time a new faculty or administrator or facilities person came through here, they were looking at it like it was the first time they were seeing this. I really need to focus on getting open houses happening here, so that they really realise what the potential is for their offices. Especially in terms of zero waste. What they could be doing. Yeah. There’s a lot that we could do. Although, every new building on campus is going to be LEED Gold. Which is one down from Platinum. One down from the highest rating. That’s our commitment. At least the shell of the building will be built pretty sustainably. There is how you fill it, and how much paper you use, and all of that stuff can be done better. I think I can have more influence there. Our facilities in our college has committed to building green. Every new building from here on out.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Ferris: I do.


Sam: In what way?


Ferris: Well, I am not just doing my job and fulfilling my stated goals for the year. I really think that the students can be a big influence. I can be a big influence on the students and how involved they get in the politics on campus, or the politics outside of campus. I definitely have my opinions, as I stated, about campaign and finance reform, and media reform. That those are two real key areas that need to change for my job to get easier. Even though those two areas are well beyond the scope of my job. I think, well, wait a minute. Why continue to nibble around the edges of this problem when the real heart of the matter is we’re being stopped by too much money in politics. People not learning about any of these issues because of the failure of media.


Sam: You have students on campus that are right across the political spectrum.


Ferris: Sure.


Sam: How do you message it so that it’s, not down the middle, but clearly, particularly if you’re seeing sustainability as including things like social justice it veers it off to the left. How are you not disenfranchising the right from the sustainability thing you’re trying to do?


Ferris: Well, quite honestly, first of all … This is something I want to do. I have not been really been an activist and putting this into my messaging out there. Having said that, I think if I just plainly said to people there’s too much influence on our politicians by organisations. Almost, everyone will nod their head. Some people would be saying, Yes! Those unions have way too much influence on our politicians. Yes! The corporation gives the $100,000 cheque has too much influence. They both agree with my statement. My statement is still true. Then I say that those unions and corporations shouldn’t have that much influences on a politician. A politician should be freed up to make their own decisions. Vote from their heart and their minds, rather than from whose going to give me the next campaign contribution. I think that it’s possible to have a message that is a political and be true at the same time, and you will strike the chord with everyone across a political spectrum.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Ferris: I am blessed that I get to come to work. Get paid for the work I would be doing anyway. I get to have the best conversations from facilities people, to the students, to faculty. Then interviews like this. Obviously, I can talk forever on this topic. I frequently do. It gets me up everyday. I would be out there doing this for free if someone wasn’t paying me for it.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Ferris: I’m done with challenges. Okay. In terms of my job, one of the biggest challenges is transportation. Getting people on and off this campus. Doing it without a single person, in a single car. I’m really excited actually to see some new things developing. We just got the new train that came to town. That is serving all the way into Santa Monica and taking people downtown. Have never had that in the last 60 some odd years. We have just a whole new array of technology and services that have just surfaced in the last year. That are filling the gaps of what we call the first last mile. That has kept people from using an alternative form to get to campus. You know? So many people remain tethered to their automobile.


They drive it because they’re afraid. Well, what if I get to campus and I have to leave unexpectedly? My kids gets sick or I have to leave early or stay late. I just want it as a safety measure. Now we have car share parked right on campus here, so that people can rent a car. We have bike share. They can use it to go to lunch or go to another campus for a different class. Go down to the beach. Go to the bank. We’ve got new apps that tell you exactly when the bus is coming. It takes the guess work out of am I just going to waste part of my afternoon waiting for the next bus.


It’s all these little things that have popped up and are making it really easy to say, you know what? I’m just going to leave that car at home. Make it a bit of an adventure. If something comes up, which 98% of the time it doesn’t, but if it does, I got options. I can take an uber home. I can rent one of the cars if I need to. They’ve even got a car on the street that is an electric car. Doesn’t cost anything to drive for the first two hours. You can get most of your errands done in essence for free. You’re driving around in an advertising wrapped car which I have a little bit of a problem with. But, hey, that’s the only kind of advertising that I’m really supportive at this point.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur tomorrow morning. What would it be?


Ferris: Okay. It would be to have the President say, “Every professor has to use some kind of sustainability examples in their course work.” I think that it’s easy enough to do. There’s plenty of great examples out there. Every student needs to understand that no matter what their life passion is, they can find a path to sustainability through what they’re doing. They don’t have to give up feeling good about what they do just because they love to design clothing. The days of leaving your values at home while you go to work are over. We can do both now. We need to show our students that it’s possible. That they need to just get a little bit more creative. Continue to follow their heart, but also their mind. The ethical part of their mind.


Sam: That’ll be an interesting Presidential directive. Some people would argue you couldn’t do it because of academic freedom reasons.  But you couldn’t get away with teaching in a racist way, or in sexist way.


Ferris: Right.


Sam: How can we let them get away with teaching it in an unsustainable way.


Ferris: Right. I’ve been saying the same thing. We don’t allow people to yell fire in a crowded theatre. Yet, we can allow a news channel to call itself a news channel when they have an agenda. They are omitting facts, or cherry picking facts, or manufacturing facts. You know? How do we allow one thing under our first amendment right, right to free speech, and say, oh, we can’t limit people’s speech? Yet we do. We do it for good causes. I think this is a good cause. I think we have to change our … Well. Let’s see. We have to really consider how much damage our current system creates. How we can best address it in the quickest way.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Ferris: My advice is always vote with your dollar. Every single dollar counts to help drive the right kind of investments, but think bigger. Don’t just think of the things that you buy at the store, but your investments. Then think even bigger than that. How is your local government spending its money? Up to the national level. Where are we putting our incentives? Is it for things that are truly beneficial to society or not?


Sam: Thank you very much.


Ferris: Thank you.


Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, and me Samuel Mann. We are broadcast on Otago Access, and podcast on  On we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are playing their skills for a sustainable future. In our conversations we try to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see a world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Ferris Kawar who is the Sustainability Project Manager at Santa Monica College. You can follow the links on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens for iTunes and other places for free. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.




This conversation was recorded in May 2016 at Santa Monica College.

education local government

Lively communities taking sustainability seriously

Alexa Forbes

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

Alexa Forbes is a researcher and development and sustainability advisor for Otago Polytechnic’s Centre for Sustainable Practice. She is a District Councillor for the Queenstown Lakes District Council. She is a musician, a journalist and founder of a successful communications business.

We open the conversation with her context – where did you grow up, what did you want to be when you grew up? It turns out that Alexa has a colourful background with a lot of stories so it takes longer than usual to get to what she is doing now.

Talking points

Going to Vermont as an AFS student – shaped a lot of my future thinking

I’ve never really been on much of a mission – things just happen.

Where did sustainable practice come from? I’ve explored that recently – I’m studying for a Master in Professional Practice – it comes from my childhood. An interesting childhood, I come from a doctor and an activist, artist musician mother. A lot of environmental concerns built in really early in my life. We were always in the bush, camping, tramping, learning to fish, to hunt – learning to be careful of the environment, to respect it, and to try not to damage it and to be part of it – that was always important.

Sustainability was a spearhead for me – I was working as a journalist, and watching tourism grow…exponential growth…impact on the Queenstown environment

I thought I would love Queenstown to start thinking about the impact of tourism

There were campaigns – take only photos, leave only footprints – and I thought these were feel good, but a lot was being left, damage to our ecosystems that was not being acknowledged, not being addressed.

There’s something in this…

Tourism and the environment is a major tension in Queenstown – most of my job is drawing attention to the tension

I’ve sat in rooms with tourism leaders when I’ve challenged them on environmental impact, and they’ve looked at me like I’m mad and said “we love this environment, we make a living from this environment, we would never hurt it”, which tells me something about the massive amount of ignorance. But I wouldn’t get very far by telling them that, clearly, so I have to be quite careful and unpick some of the knots in people’s thinking.

I’ve never considered myself a greenie – I just think I’m sensible, and a good mother.

Do I need them to vote for me? We if I don’t, I don’t get in and I can’t continue my work, but that doesn’t really concern me either, because if I don’t have their buy in then I can’t continue my work anyway.

I feel that I’m better off on inside than outside.

If I can’t gain the trust and respect of the people that don’t understand how they are harming the environment, then I can’t do the work anyway.

(Compromise?) I operate from a set of values.

I don’t know – none of us know – whether we’ve gone past the ability to retrieve or regenerate ecosystems to a level that they are still friendly to humans, we don’t know if we can managed that or not. But concentrating on recycling schemes and changing lightbulbs is pretty much just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

I’m operating within a value system, I would get nowhere by holding a firm activist position, I do view myself as a bit of an activist, certainly an environmentalist,

I’m an activist in that I try to get people to recognise and to question what they are doing.

I don’t expect the helicopters to close down, but I do expect them to accept that they are externalising costs onto a future community

That’s what I want people really understand – when you are doing what you are doing, how are you thinking about mitigating the costs that you are putting onto your grandchildren? That’s a line in the sand, people should know that I won’t move from that.

I follow the Natural Step System Conditions. (see previous SustainableLens conversations)

We’re still very head-in-the-sand in New Zealand, we still believe the 100% Pure. We can still pull that wool over our own eyes.

None of us has come up with how we can do this quickly enough to make a difference.

I have to operate from my values in the most pure way that I can.

It disappoints me that our government refuses to take responsibility – I don’t know what they are thinking. Making it worse in so many ways. Allowing the dairy industry to externalise its costs. All over the country ratepayers are paying to clean up after the dairy industry – it’s not good enough.

It appals me, I can get really angry, or I can go back to my own values, and say I’m not going to allow traffic to increase in Queenstown under my watch.

(Can Councils deliver intergenerational equity?) It’s the only vehicle we’ve got.

You have to take that into account when you are voting, what are you voting for? Are you voting for peoples’ values? We have to get away from a from popularity contests

We (with Ella Lawton) stood for Council because we thought it was a place we could make some change. I think we’re making headway – enough for me not to have thrown up my hands in horror.

I don’t concern myself with whether I’ve got a job tomorrow – I’m quite capable of going back to my old job – and frankly, Council pays a lot less – so it’s not about that.

Here we are, sitting in this amazing nexus of change – exponential change in technology and exponential change in our environment, and in that nexus we face exponential social change. Every thing is changing so fast technologically, everything is changing environmentally much faster than we expected, much faster than we ever thought it would, so it is making us socially incredibly uncomfortable.

I’m one of those people that think that technology will save us if we let it, but we have to change – we have to understand our true natures.

Part of that for me was understanding our waste.

(Success?) I just got a distinguished alumni award from Otago Polytechnic. Selling my business and being willing to embark on a new Masters and a a new career.

(Motivation?) I love life. I really do love life. I love my work with Otago Polytechnic, and I love my work with the Council.

(Activist?) I’m starting to be. I didn’t think I was, but I am starting to think that I am now. I try to keep it low key. I’ve only just realised that my opinions are a bit more radical than most people. I though that most people thought like me until quite recently, so now I’ve become a bit more outspoken – I didn’t realise that it was unusual. So I’m comfortable with that box – I’m an activist on the inside really. I like to stir people up and challenge their thinking. I don’t want to hurt them, and I don’t believe that I’m always right. My own thinking needs challenging, and I don’t want to take hard and fast positions that force people into corners because it’s not helpful and I might not be right.

I go for a consensus model, but I’m not sure that’s right. Looking back on the last three years we’ve always gone for consensus…but I think it has watered some things down too much. That’s a hard one. When you vote against something, personally you’re counted as voting against that and that may have some personal benefit, but – and this is why I’ve gone for consensus, are you better to just go a little way along the way, to put the shot across the bow, planted the seed, let’s move on. So in the past…once it is lost…let’s make this the best it can be, but I’m not sure that it is always right.

(Challenges?) Moving my projects on further. Transport Strategy…would positively affect so many people’s lives. And in education, the programme we offer really on the edge we need to mainstream sustainability – or the education for it

(Miracle?) People will have woken up to the environmental challenges and to their externalisation of costs to the next generation, and that the y want to educate themselves to stop doing that.

(Advice?) Please wake up, look at what you do and ask “am I putting costs onto my children and grandchildren by doing this? How could I do thins properly? And it’s not just about recycling. Look at yourself, look at the way you live, look at why you are, how you are – that’s a most enjoyable thing to do. Give yourself time to reflect properly on where you’ve come from, why you’re here, and what you want to leave behind.


Placing sustainability professionals

James Irwin

Take time out to think about what you are doing, and once you’ve set that goal the world will conspire to help you.

Acre is considered the global market leader in sustainability recruitment and related services. We turn the tables on manager James Irwin to talk about his own career, and where he sees the future of the sustainability professional.

Talking points

0:02:51 I thought the two go hand in hand, and still do, sustainability and commerce

0:03:08 Without understanding peoples’ motivations it is extremely hard to think about and to get change

0:03:18 To me that’s the key to sustainability – to make people care, and if they care they’ll do something about it.

0:03:30 The world we live in, a lot of people are driven by capitalism, the commercial side, so understanding both sides is critical

0:04:17 Everything turned out to be the complete opposite of what I thought it was, economics wasn’t precise answers, it was this is what people think and this is what the drivers are, whereas ecology, that I thought would be more subjective, was completely objective – facts, figures and scientific study

0:09:03 I really wanted to combine sustainability with sales, and business development…Acre kept on popping up

0:10:00 Acre…recruits across the sustainability space

0:10:06 The term sustainability means so many different things to different people, often for two people in the same company

0:12:11 Somebody who is, say, a marketing manager in a renewable energy company, are they sustainable, or just doing a job in a sustainable company, and does it matter to us? And does it does matter to us.

0:12:34 So we define two roles… dark green – that you can only do if you are sustainability professional, and light green

0:13:00 (can you be a sustainability professional in an unsustainable company?)….Yes…We’ve put sustainability professionals in tobacco companies, arms manufacturers, alcohol companies… from our point of view, if we can put a sustainability professional in that completely changes the landscape…

0:13:47 If we can put in a sustainability professional that completely change the culture in these companies…then that’s a really positive impact.

0:14:07 If we can make a positive impact in companies that might might be perceived as less sustainable, then that’s a good thing.

0:15:28 We’ve haven’t turned down anyone…but definitely we are prepared to take that call.

0:15:41 (what if it is clear it is just greenwash?)…We’re not privy to internal decisions…but from a candidate perspective an important question is where does the role report to? For a lot of people that’s the key to unlock if it is greenwash or genuinely a role where they want change to happen…We also get asked if the company is looking for greenwash or looking for genuine change to happen. But for me both those questions are null and void. Sustainability, health and safety – this whole space that we are in is about change

0:16:35 …making change happen. For me it doesn’t matter if the company is getting forced to recruit a sustainability CR team because of their shareholders or whatever the reason is, but if you can get the foot in the door, if you can go in there and create some projects and really show the business that it’s not one or the other – its not business performance or sustainability, they’re symbiotic, they go hand in hand.

0:17:05 Demonstrating that more sustainable business perform better, that’s the only way that sustainability is going to get a true foothold in the business world.

0:18:10 go with that…once you’re in there you have the opportunity to influence the board room, for us that’s the making of the best sustainability professional – t’s not “can they influence other sustainability professionals?”, it’s “can they influence the CFO, the CEO, the head of operations ?”

0:18:44 As the market matures, the influence and engagement is absolutely what’s important.

0:21:06 As you get into the top end…the technical skills become less important, and the soft skills become important, influencing, engaging, leadership and change – change is the big one.

0:22:33 Embedding sustainability in supply chains is a current trend

0:22:52 A core sustainability team might create ideas…but then the business has to own it. Unless they influence, engage and drive change then nothing will really change.

0:23:42 Acre365 is all about impacts… in the first year of their role.

0:25:14 (Common feature of success) Making ideas happen, making change happen

0:27:45 Sustainability is perhaps about doing itself of a job, making sustainability and corporate responsibility business as usual. But that’s only to a point, we need to think, we’re here now, what’s next…? And having that core hub of excellence sustainability is set to continue.

0:28:29 Another trend, that has been a surprise it has taken this long, is leveraging core business around sustainability

0:29:19 (Definition of sustainability) has to include business world, environment and people. Sustainable for business and ethical and environment

0:30:40 Such a big challenge (timescale of return on investment), something might have a return on investment of ten years, but those businesses want to operate at fast pace – they want to see a return tomorrow.

0:31:18 I’m hoping that we’ll see more data sustainability/profitability (like the McKinsey report on diversity and profitability)

0:32:41 Being a change agent has to be primary core linking people together, the best candidates we place

0:33:23 How do they influence the boardroom to change the perspective from the next quarterly report, to the next year, five ten, to 500 years- its huge challenge, possibly one of the biggest challenges in sustainability

0:33:46 It will happen when businesses understand that its not mutually exclusive

0:33:52 How do you link short term profit with long term sustainability?

0:43:55 We’ve never been busier, so hopefully, if we’re reflecting the market it’s a great sign for sustainability – we’re a bit of a litmus test.

0:44:46 We’re seeing some inspirational business models…where we need to get to as a sustainable society, looking as supply chain, social equity – Im not seeing in my lifetime those all being overcome, but as with any goal you have to put into bite sized chunks.

0:45:47 Compared to the 1990s, businesses are more sustainable

0:46:53 Good things happen in local communities, one of the challenges of sustainability is big cities

0:49:35 (Success) Growing the business

0:50:06 (Activist) I my own way I think I am, I have a vision of where I’d like society to be, I I’d hope that I’m using my skills at the moment…the best to influence people and in some part make that vision a reality

0:50:47 (Motivation) Helping to grow the business, being part of something new, sustainability, ideas, action…we embody all that at Acre and we place people that embody that.

0:51:20 Challenges: Keeping in tune with the market, what does sustainability mean – and it moves so quickly and we have to stay at the front of that, that’s hard to do – we have to be out there leading but also taking a step back to reflect and know what you are doing.

0:52:24 (Miracle) to give people the opportunity to understand the impact of their buying decisions. I think people are good people, but there’s a lot of forces out there that influence them. I’d like to see a product that could show people every time there are looking a buying something, this is the impact…

0:53:27 (Superpower) Time travel , taking people through time to see what impacts decisions had, seeing beaches covered in plastic in 20130 because of that thing you bought on holiday

0:54:37 (Advice) Spend time to think about what drives you and what motivates you.

0:54:44 I’ve had the benefit of talking with people throughout their careers, and I tend to find those who are truly happy…so seldom are those getting paid the most amount of money. Take time out to think about what you are doing, and once you’ve set that goal the world will conspire to help you.

This interview was recorded in London in mid-September 2015.

Fair Trade food marketing

Fostering positive change

Will Watterson

With every dollar we spend, we vote for a certain kind of world.

Will Watterson works in advocacy and public engagement for Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand. Will was in Dunedin accompanying Fair Trade coffee grower Daniel Kinne. We discuss the role of Fairtrade, and explore the role of the story in fostering change, especially in ethical consumerism. We ask what is fair? and how to engage people in this process? (notably though campaigns such as the Great Kiwi Fairness Debate).

Talking points

Passion for social change and environmental change

I got involved in volunteering at the beginning of high school, I thinks that’s where I got my first taste of how it made me feel good to give to others and see other people’s lives improve and transform – and I’ve chasing that feeling ever since in the work that I do.

The idea of taking information and transforming that information into a story…to understand that human beings are story people. Our lives, and those of others around us inform our story.

Being able to take information…to distil it and shape it into story form, so that it is more easily digestible, and people are more easily able to connect it to their own lives and their own value systems, that’s what I learned in my undergrad (English Literature and Theatre).

The industrial revolution was very helpful in many ways – to mechanise as many things as possible, to remove us from the sources and human side of the things that we wear, touch and eat…what attracted me to Fairtrade…was not only the Fairtrade premium…but that I could pick up the coffee packet and read about Daniel and his cooperative in Papua New Guinea…and feel a little bit more connected to the human beings who are doing an incredible amount of work to grow and harvest the coffee.

What is the future that we are wishing to create? What is our utopia, where are we heading as a society? And we know that if everyone in the world lived the way Americans do, or New Zealanders, and consume the way that we consume, we’d need 4 or 5 planets to do that. It’s about acknowledging the fact that we do consume – we do take things from the planet, so if we can reduce the amount we consume, and the energy we use, fantastic..

It’s about acknowledging that every day we spend money, and every dollar we spend is like a vote. We’re voting for a certain kind of world with every dollar that we spend.
When you spend a dollar, are you spending on things that empower the people who produce that product? Are you spending your dollar on things that are supporting sustainable practices rather than unsustainable practices? It’s about becoming aware about where the things that we consume come from, and what kinds of practices and mentalities that we want to support with out consumer dollar.

I like to take a simple approach. I like it but do I really need it? Will it really make my life more fulfilling? Not necessarily – so we can reduce the amount of things we consume.

The things we do buy, need or want – do I need coffee? I love coffee, I’m going to keep buying it – so I’d like to know that the coffee I buy is grown sustainably and is empowering for the people who grow it.

It’s about creating platforms.

(Live below the line) A way of being to put ourselves in the shoes, however inadequate the metaphor is, for a few days, a week, of our brothers and sisters living in extreme poverty – I find that really powerful.

We are indebted to half the world.

The genesis of Fairtrade was the injustices, imbalances and inequities in global trade practices. Fairtrade has developed alternatives, but we want to move back into a space where we are protesting again. Still proposing the Fairtrade alternative, but working with the other players in the Fairtrade movement to protest those injustices that are still occurring in the global trading system.

In an ideal world, Fairtrade does itself out of a job as consumers demand transparency right through the supply chain system.

By buying the Fairtrade mark, you are supporting the infrastructure of being able to audit the transparency of the supply chain.

(Great Kiwi Fairness Debate) Exploring the notion of fairness…stealing people’s parks when they are about to turn in, or taking the last chocolate biscuit…then segway from everyday fairness to interacting with our global neighbours.

A lot of things we consume are made far away, but why should our ethical attitude be any different?

There’s no reason why Fairtrade should be more expensive if you accept that more of the value is going to the growers than to the other players in the supply chain.

The consumer has the ultimate say

As a consumer, I just want to know, is what I’m buying sustainable and ethical? And that’s what is great about the Fairtrade mark.

(Activist?) Change agent. People think of activist as an angry person who is walking down the street throwing things or carrying a big sign. I think there is a time and a place for getting angry. But at the end of the day, being an advocate for change, I’m an advocate for change there all kinds of levers you can pull on for making change, I’m a big fan of working alongside people, and working within to change policies.

It’s important to get messages out there, to continually have conversations at multiple levels of society about what is and isn’t working, and what needs to change and how we can do that.

People aren’t necessarily interested in the run of the mill, the average product any more, people are interested in the remarkable – things that have a story, that are special.

Being special, remarkable is the way of the future, and that doesn’t preclude have sustainable practices.

(Motivation?) Fairtrade coffee in the morning. Little things…inspired by impacts of stories.

(Challenge?) If you spend enough time, it’s easy for your friends, society to put you in a box “you’re that guy”. My challenge is to avoid being stereotyped. Constantly reconnect as mainstream kiwi whole just happens to be concerned about social and environmental issues.

I love New Zealand and our culture and the way we do things so much, I can’t not leave it alone. I can’t not be part of the group of people who are always looking at ways to improve it.

(Miracle?) If I was to wake up tomorrow morning and know that as I potter around my house, everything I am wearing and touching and interacting with, was produced with love, by someone who loved what they were doing and was living a happy thriving life wherever they were.

(Advice?) Look out for the Fairtade mark. Whenever you encounter these kinds of things, just take it one step at a time. Just change one little thing. I like my coffee, so I change that. Just take those little steps, because as you take one step and that becomes regular, it becomes a habit – and habits don’t take effort to maintain. As we build up those habits, suddenly we’ve transformed the way that we live and we’re far more sustainable and happy.

Other resources:
Global Focus Aoteoroa

Global Poverty Project

business marketing values

Valuing value

Phil Osborne

If you can be a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Phil Osborne teaches and researches marketing at Otago Polytechnic. We talk about the role of marketing and the relationship between values and value, before exploring what the sustainability agenda can learn from marketing.

Talking points

At the heart of marketing is exchange, it connects producers with consumers

Products become redundant in a new view of marketing

Value is subjective

Things only become valuable when we use them.

In the 60s-80s we had this surplus to get rid of, and we didn’t think about why customers wanted to buy these products.

I see value as in economic value with a little v, and Values with a big V. Values is what society or individuals are starting to see as worthwhile.
So, value in terms of a market exchange comes from the Values of society.

Marketing is a child of the industrial revolution which privileged the view of the firm – they made massive gains in the factories and efficiencies. Look, society is must better off because we can produce these things. And because society was supposed to be better off, the production view was privileged. But now this has flipped, the service dominant logic asks “is it products we want, what do we do with those products?”. So service dominant logic is still about exchange, but exchange of service.

Marketing had a lot of currently useful generalisations, and at present, a lot of those are no longer useful.

At heart of marketing ethics is a satisfied customer.

How do measure satisfaction, I think there’s an ethical way of doing that. If they are getting their product or service delivered in an unethical way, it’s likely to impact on their satisfaction. The ethics of marketing becomes very transparent. The snake-oil salesman is a generalisation for a reason – people don’t like that approach.

Ethics in business school has become a much larger and more obvious subject to deal with since Enron example, and what happens when you let businesses run away with the efficiency model.

In developing sustainable practitioners, that ethical transparency is gives to sustainability – ethics in the end is an individual choice, organisations don’t actually make decisions, individuals within the organisation make decisions.

If you are in a organisation and you feel like they’re about to do something unethical, it’s only individuals who can make that change.

“Is it legal?” has been the standard in business, but that is changing, I say “if your grandmother knew you were doing it, how would she feel about it?”

Students find it hard to think about their great grandchildren, so my analogy allows them to plug into the understand of their grandmother – but this is really about getting them to think about the future.

We’re on cusp of dawn of the end of dinosaurs of organisations. Questions being asked: How do we create organisations that allow employees behave ethically. How do we reward whistle blowing? This is a positive thing, an age of these questions being asked. And they’re not being asked around the water-cooler any more, well they are but water cooler is the internet and the boardroom.

Marketing has always been about sustainable business, the heart of marketing is about relationships. And those relationships can only be sustained when we are doing things that we each like.

Marketing can bring to the table the role of representing the customer at that table – the marketer is the customer’s voice in the organisation. The voice of sustainability among customers is becoming larger and larger – and the marketer is the one that is going to carry that voice into the organisation.

So how to we value sustainability? It typifies the dominance of the paradigm that we want to value it somehow, to put a number on it. And we can put a number on it in that customers are starting to think about maybe I’m not going to buy that thing because it is cheap because I don’t know what their organisational practices are like.

Brands indicate a level of trust. In the future I think we’ll see that the brands and trust value will enable us to understand the value that customers are putting on sustainable practice.

(how do we wade through the marketing greenwash?) Greenwash was the marketing response when we still had that sales response – let’s trick our customers into thinking we’re green by putting dolphins on there. The can’t do that anymore. We might have gotten away with that in the 70s or even the 90s. Nowadays you put a dolphin on there and someone is going to go and track why that dolphin is on there.

Customers have a role in not falling for greenwash. And call it out

(Are you an activist?) Yes. I’ve had 7000-10,000 students over the years. If I’ve made even half of them consider their practices differently and decide not to stuff a leaflet in your letterbox without any understanding of what that is doing, then I’ve made a few changes.

I think we’re all activists as consumers, we all have the chance to be activists. If all you take from understanding marketing is being a better consumer, then we can change the world.

Marketing is no longer a simple relationship. Society’s conversation about sustainability is influencing consumers’ beliefs, which then has to influence the marketing conversation. It is not longer a delivery of products – a monolithic dyadic conversation dominated by the marketer to a dialogical, learning together, thinking about what is best for society.

(Motivation) Making a difference.

(Challenge) Changing the perception of marketing.

(Advice) Become a more conscious customer, every time you spend money with an organisation you are voting for its continued existence. So think about whether you condone it.

behaviour change

Flipping behaviour change

Michael Daddo

No matter what role we have in life, we all have the ability to contribute to changing the world for the better – so we should always look for opportunities to do that and go for it as hard as we can.

The Shannon Company is dedicated to Behaviour Change. Michael Daddo is the Managing Director of the Shannon Company. Before this interview we asked around for some background. “He’s the flipper” said one. So we asked Michael about flipping.

We discuss the application of behaviour change techniques honed in campaigns such as Victorian Worksafe “Homecommings” campaign to wider issues of sustainability.

Talking points:

hope and obligation

I’m just a person with a conscience who can make a difference

Inspiring people to make a change willingly and for good, the more we can do that the better.

The greatest thing we can do is change the world in some shape or form for the better. If we can all find ways to contribute to that, in whatever way we can, then we should do that and seek those opportunities.

behaviour change energy power

Dr Paul Thorsnes and…

Energy Cultures – do they exist, how would we find out what they are and how can we change them?

We talk with Paul Thorsnes, Maria Ioannou and Daniel Gnoth about this new area of research.

The three-year Energy Cultures research project has recently begun. Based at CSAFE (Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment) the study aims for a better understanding of household energy consumption behaviours and encouraging behaviour change to more energy efficient technologies.

Headed by OERC members Prof. Rob Lawson, Prof. Gerry Carrington, Dr. Janet Stephenson, and Dr. Paul Thorsnes, the project combines a variety of research specialisations for a multi-disciplinary, multi-method research approach.

Shane’s number of the week: 80% – for just the cost of 1% of GDP the entire world could move to meet 80% of its energy needs from renewable energy resources.


education food organics permaculture

Michelle Ritchie

Michelle Ritchie is an organics and permaculture edcuator with a background in resource management (she holds a Masters in Regional and Resource Planning).  Michelle is responsible for the ongoing development of Otago Polytechnic’s LivingCampus.    Michelle describes the transformation of Otago Polytechnic’s campus into an integration of community garden and focus of sustainability education.  People come to the garden, ask questions “how do I plant a bean?” but quickly move on to realising “something bigger is going on here”.  The LivingCampus then becomes a prompt for questions like “how did I get here today?”, “what is it I’m eating?” and “how do I make changes to my life?”.

Shane’s number of the week: 120 is the number of kakapo left.

Sam’s joined-up-thinking: How could we promote not-buying stuff?  Sam explores three options: trying to be impervious to marketing; removing all marketing; and recognising the value of marketing (full text here).