Author Archives: Sharon

26. Food for thought campaign

I have been a bit neglectful of this blog, but maybe with the end of semester and the quiet period which usually happens around Christmas-time (for my work) I actually may be able to get the pile of reading done and get some more ideas down on this page.

My reading list includes (but is not limited to):

  • Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything
  • Paul Ehrlich: One with Nineveth
  • Russell Brand: Revolution
  • Simon Sinek: Start with Why
  • Jared Diamond: Guns, Germs and Steel
  • Jared Diamond: Collapse
  • Mark Lynas: Six Degrees
  • Clive Hamilton: Growth Fetish
  • Helena Norberg-Hodge: Ancient Futures

…plus anything else I have listed here earlier and not got to 😦

And I still have to finish the Yale Online course by Kelly Brownell: The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food (see: http://oyc.yale.edu/psychology/psyc-123)

So, in the meantime, here is the essay: the communications strategy that I wrote for my last assignment for this semester. I have taken the liberty of slightly editing it (to my horror, after it was submitted and marked, I reviewed my work and found at least three literals 😦 )

I hope you find something that inspires you!

Task 3: Communications Strategy SUS 202

To develop an effective trans media communications strategy that informs public action, it is best to devise a holistic approach that touches on the facts of, debate about, and action for the sustainability issue at hand (Newig et at. 2013).

By combining the principles of social marketing, (French 2009), psychological and behavioural change research (Reynolds 2010, Sharp et al 2010, Cialdanni et al. 1981, Crompton & Thogersen 2009 and McKenzie-Mohr 2000) and sustainability communication theory (Cox 2007, Futerra 2005, Moser 2010, and Nisbet & Scheufele 2009) it is anticipated that the following strategy will deliver positive behavioural change within the target group: making them more food aware and less wasteful.

The Food for Thought Campaign

The issue: Food waste

According to the Food Waste Avoidance Studies 2010 ‘People waste food because they buy and cook too much, don’t finish their meals, and don’t store food correctly’ (Sustainability Victoria 2011). Other contemporary studies show that landfill comprises up to 62% of organic materials (Closed Loop 2014), with significant contribution coming from Australian households—only 33% of the Australian adult population composts or recycles food waste all or most of the time[1] (ABS 2007). Domestic food waste has significant environmental, social and economic implications, which can and should be addressed.

Communications goals

The ultimate goal of this communication strategy is to change attitudes and behaviours of individuals towards food and food waste and further to influence individuals’ actions and decision making about the foods they buy, cook, consume and discard. Modelled on the work reported by Sharp et al. (2010 p 257)—specifically the NLWA campaign, it is predicted that attitudes and behaviours will change in a meaningful and measurable way.

While it is planned as a seeding project, it is hoped that resources developed and made available both at delivery (guest presentation) and mirrored online, will endure over time, enabling the target audience to use and distribute the resources and in effect become messengers in their own right.

Target audience

Research has shown that a significant proportion of Australian adults (41%) are unaware of the impacts of organics in landfill (Closed Loop 2014). While it would be desirable to design a campaign to connect with all Australians, this strategy proposes to engage at the community level with service groups (Rotary, Lions and Apex). Perhaps this group can become what Kevin Allocca (2010), Trends Manager at YouTube, describes as ‘Tastemakers’: those who will introduce the insights of this campaign to a larger audience.

According to surveys and audits conducted by the Victorian Government (Sustainability Victoria 2011), three of the top four groups of food wasters include households with incomes more than $130K per annum, households with incomes of $65–80K per annum and families with children. The service group demographic captures all three of these identified segments.

As service group members, the target audience is already one receptive to ideas of improvement, positive, lasting change, and social justice. This group will include men and women who range in age from 18 to 80+.

Framing

Reynolds (2010) echoes the assertions of Newig (2013) when he states that ‘telling people what to do is, usually, not enough. Nor is informing them why they should do it’ (p. 42). Further, ascertaining beliefs, motivations and behaviours, understanding the environment in which the audience lives, and building a package of opportunities, services and support that responds to their real-life wants and needs, enables the adoption of new, socially beneficial behaviours (Kotler & Zaltman 1971). For this service-based oriented audience, the framing of the ‘Food for Thought’ campaign will be based on social progress lines: highlighting positives the audience can use in their daily lives, that can be shared with others and that will deliver ‘triple-bottom line’ benefits (social, economic and environmental) for all.

Key messages

According to Warde (2005) consumption patterns are seen as embedded within social practices and not seen as a result of individuals’ attitudes, values and behaviours. The issue should be framed in a way that informs and empowers the audience: for them to take control and to question the status quo (do we even recognise that we are wasting so much food and what the implications are?). To know and to do and to effect change will be powerful. By focusing on enabling action through practical and achievable lifestyle tips rather than as an exhortation or instruction simply about waste (Sharp et al. 2010) should convey a sense of helpfulness in the presentation.

A personal narrative journey will be woven around three key messages that will create a strong focus for the campaign, and allow for extra, reflection within audience. The chosen messages are:

  • ‘Knowledge is powerful and transformative’
  • ‘Every little bit counts’
  • ‘Be challenged: look for the improvements’

The beauty of these messages is that they can be transposed onto other sustainable lifestyle issues for example energy and water use, and single-use plastics.

Messengers

As detailed in Sharp et al. (2010 p 256), ‘engaging enthusiastic champions as part of the process early on is deemed a key success factor…to help develop social norms’. The ‘Food for Thought’ campaign hinges on the delivery of information by a food waste evangelist who can be identified by the target audience as ‘one of their own’—chosen from the same general demographic. According to Fenton (2001), a trusted messenger will be the most persuasive. The material has core messages and will follow a narrative arc, but the presentation, by its very nature will be able to be tailored by any individual who is passionate about the issue and wants to share their own journey.

Modes and tools

As studies have shown (Sharp et al. 2010) behaviour change is most impacted by a campaign based on a collection of tools and measures. While this campaign has a guest presentation at its core, supporting, ancillary materials will also be made available.

Conducted over five weeks for each group, the campaign takes the following form:

1) Pre-presentation survey: Week 1

An information-gathering survey will be designed and distributed a week in advance for audience members to complete and bring along on the night. This will help inform the presentation and prepare the audience.

2) Presentation 1: The Introduction and Challenge: Week 2

The core component of the strategy is a guest presentation, as per the time and format of the chosen service club. Typically this is a 10–20 minute timeslot with a further 10 minutes for questions and answers. Depending on the presenter and the facilities available, the following is a list of presentation aids that can be used:

  • a quick ‘Go Soapbox’ session designed to include the audience via smartphone participation in real-time data gathering on pre-presentation attitudes and opinions.
  • Powerpoint or Prezi presentation — a narrative based on personal experience and practical advice for addressing food waste supported by sourced food waste facts and figures.
  • Point specific info graphic postcards which include blog/website details and Twitter hashtag information.

3) The challenge: Weeks 3–4

Willing participants register to participate in a two-week challenge to monitor their ‘normal’ base-line food waste for a week and then to implement thoughtful food practices for a subsequent week and report their responses. The challenge will be delivered either as hard-copy or online survey thus catering for audience preference and access. Participants will be prompted via email to help manage the process. A dedicated blog/website will serve as a focal point for ongoing questions and answers.

4) Presentation 2: Revelations, insights and discussions: Week 5

As this campaign is designed to inspire and engage on a personal level, it is only fitting that results from the challenge and insights gained by the participants be shared with the group. It is essential that issues of privacy be observed, but both quantitative data from the challenge be graphed and presented, and with permission, qualitative observations shared. What is hoped is that participants will be inspired to seek answers to bigger picture questions involving legislation around food labeling and opportunities for waste collection.

5) Online and other resources: From Week 1 and ongoing

All info graphics will be designed into a set of postcards that will be available at the presentation and also distributed via Avante Card (if, for no other reason, than to reach a wider audience). These same graphics will be made available for distribution as individual graphics on FaceBook and attached to the blog/website where all info graphics will be available (to download and print or to share). This blog/website will also serve as a central hub for useful links to other resources on food waste and other relevant sustainability topics. These will include, but are not limited to, book reviews, courses, documentaries, TEDTalks and websites.

PDFs of the info graphics could be further used to illustrate a series of ‘Letters to the Editor’ for local newspapers and/ or made available as part of a feature article in the organisation’s newsletter or magazine.

Monitoring and evaluation

Because of the design of the campaign which includes feedback at the time of the presentation, and data as gathered in the form of the challenge, it should be easy to see the impact of the campaign on the core target audience.

Data will also be able to be monitored as to impact based on the number of hits on the blog/website, the number of tweets on the presentation and also the tracked as distribution of single-issue info graphics as shares on FaceBook and beyond.

Reynolds (2010, p. 45) suggests that ‘engagement in a new behaviour can fundamentally alter how we perceive ourselves’. This is surely the enduring hope of those who work to promote sustainability issues. It is anticipated that through the ‘Food for Thought’ campaign, real and lasting new behaviours will result—and maybe from that, engender a greater understanding of ourselves as thoughtful citizens—open to tackle other sustainability challenges in ours lives.

References

Allocca, K ‘Why videos go viral’ 2011 TEDYouth Filmed Nov 2011 http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_allocca_why_videos_go_viral/transcript?language=en

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007). 4102.0—Australian Social Trends, 2007 Household waste Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/
E1E64A4DB813BC8BCA25732C00207FF7?opendocument

Cialdini, RB, Petty, RE & Cacioppo (1981) ‘Attitude and attitude change’ Ann. Rev. Psychol. 32, 357–404

Closed Loop (2014). Australia’s attitudes to compost—survey April 2014
Available via download from http://www.closedloop.com.au/uk/news-and-events/australian-attitudes-towards-composting

Cox, R (2007). ‘Nature’s “Crisis Disciplines”: Does Environmental Communication Have an Ethical Duty?’ Environmental Communication, 1 (1) 5–20, DOI: 10.1080/17524030701333948

Crompton, T, & Thogersen, JB (2009). ‘Simple and Painless? The Limitations of Spillover in Environmental Campaigning’. Godalming: WWFUK, Available at http://www.wwf.org.uk/

Fenton Communication (2001). Now hear this: the nine laws of successful advocacy communication [online] http://web.undp.org/comtoolkit/whycommunicate/docs
/Tools/NowHearTheNineLawsofSuccessfulAdvocacyCommunications.pdf

French, J (2009). ‘The nature, development and contribution of social marketing to public health practice since 2004 in England’ Perspectives in Public Health, 129:262
DOI: 10.1177/1757913909347665

Futerra Sustainability Communications Ltd. (2005). Communicating sustainability: how to produce effective public campaigns. UNEP/Earthprint.

Kotler, P, Zaltman, G (1971). ‘Social marketing: An approach to planned social change. Journal of Marketing 35, 3–12

McKenzie-Mohr, D (2000). ‘Promoting Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing’ Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 543–554

Moser, SC (2010). Communicating climate change: history, challenges, process and future directions. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 1(1), 31–53.

Newig, J, Schulz, D, Fischer, D, Hetze, K, Laws, N, Lüdecke, G & Rieckmann, M (2013). ‘Communication Regarding Sustainability: Conceptual Perspectives and Exploration of Societal Subsystems’ Sustainability, 5, 2976–2990 doi:10.3390/su5072976

Nisbet MC & Scheufele, DA, (2009). ‘What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions’ American Journal of Botany 96, 1767–1778 doi:10.3732/ajb.0900041

Reynolds, L (2010). ‘The sum of the parts: Can we really reduce carbon emissions through individual behavior change?’ Perspectives in Public Health, 130: 41
DOI: 10.1177/1757913909354150

Sharp, V, Giorgi, S & Wilson, DC (2010). Delivery and impact of household waste revention intervention campaigns (at the local level) Waste Management & Research 28, 256–268 DOI: 10.1177/0734242X10361507

Sustainability Victoria (2011). Victorian Statewide Garbage Bin Audits: Food, Household Chemicals and Recyclables Available online via http://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/

Warde, A (2005). ‘Consumption and theories of practice’ Journal of Consumer Culture 5 (2), 131–154.

[1] while the same study showed that 84% of Australians sorted recyclable from no-recyclable waste all or most of the time

 

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25. Documentaries

We are up to Week 10 in my course and we have looked at all sorts of ways sustainability has been communicated, and currently the focus is on film and documentaries.

So, over the last few days I have watched my fair share of documentaries on sustainability issues and today I posted a small list of my favourites…so far… We were supposed to post one, but I put up six and they are:

AS AN OVERALL VIEW:

The Century of the Self (TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_YLy6yZeaw)
The Crisis of Civilization (TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7Oq_J__ouc)
 
ON FOOD:
 
ON WASTE:
The Clean Bin Project (TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhBBziXFrNQ)
 
…and I am anxiously anticipating the release of Just Eat It (by the people who did The Clean Bin Project: TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkASAZGIuu0)

There are many more that I want and need to watch including all of the Years of Living Dangerously TV series, The Economy of Happiness, The Corporation, Trashed, Baraka…and there are others…but I shall revisit those here, if warranted, as I get through them.

The documentary I watched today was The Age of Stupid (TRAILER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZjsJdokC0s).

If I had watched it in 2009 when it was produced I would have been very moved and indeed probably agitated into commencing my sustainability journey earlier.

Two things.

1: What rock was I under in 2009 that I did not even KNOW about this movie?

2: We have done very bloody little in the past 5 years to seriously address climate change, and here in Australia we have probably retreated in our efforts to fight climate change in any meaningful way. This doco is well worth watching—pitched as if looking back to the turn of the 21st Century, it reports from 2055 as to how things unfolded, following a number of story lines in parallel from different parts of the globe.

I have to say I had total WTF moments where I just could not believe the irrationality of some of the real life participants. Highly commended, albeit a bit on the depressing side if you, as I, feel frustrated and cranky about how sustainability issues including climate change appear to still be without any tangible traction.

 

 

 


24. Plastics rant

My second assignment for Sustainability 202 was to create an info graphic. I could have stuck with my core faves (food and food waste, or coal seam gas) but I decided to branch out, push the envelope and do some research on plastics. I ended up in a world of hurt as I kept designing posters that were interesting and informative, but did not address the brief as an info graphic per se. I started with a timeline idea, progressed to a pseudo taxonomic classification thing and then ended up with a poster to help dissuade people from using plastic and encouraging the use of ‘no packaging’ (go nude with your food, I say!) or alternate packaging. I shall include all of the things I designed here, starting with the one I ended up submitting. A small rant follows…

The unintended consequence of convenience

1_CONSEQUENCE

It occurred to me that we are surrounded by plastic…every time you go to buy something, you get a free plastic bag, or your meat is popped into plastic and rolled inside a neat paper package, or it is pre-cling film wrapped onto a plastic tray. I do not wish to discuss the plethora of shampoo bottles and lotions and potions in either a ‘Chemist Warehouse’ type establishment or just the personal care aisle of your favourite supermarket. It is its own potential oceanic gyre singularity 😦

I remember as a young lass that meat from the butcher’s was wrapped in greaseproof paper and then maybe in butcher’s paper and then popped into a brown paper sack. I remember cheese was cut from a block and also wrapped in paper. I remember mum had string bags and we used those when we shopped, but I also remember that the fruit and veg man used to drive around and home deliver from a truck as did the milk man. Food was more local back then I guess and so packaging was not as necessary to keep food fresh for long haul distribution.

I found it fascinating that my mum was born in the year that they discovered/invented cellophane, but before that there had only been a handful of plastics developed—most notably Bakelite which had all sorts of industrial and then later, domestic applications. My parents had an old Bakelite radio that they gave to me and I cherish to this day.

Tupperware came out in the 1940s and was a bit of a hit because of its distribution method—AKA the party plan. I remember my mum bought into it—we had various configurations of Mr Tupper’s containers in the cupboards, and I recall being intrigued through my life, how Tupperware seemed to be timeless… The company survives to this day, but the iconic green sculpted jelly mould is a stand out in my memory. I can’t remember eating any jelly made in such a mould, but I knew several people who had that particular piece.

I was born in the year Bubble Wrap was invented. That made me smile. Like many people I love popping bubble wrap so that we share a birth year is nice, but for me it almost marks the beginning of the end, because around this time (the 50s and 60s) the first plastic disposable cups appeared and in the 70s plastic bags proliferated in supermarkets. Ah, convenience! In fact, there is an iconic article published in Life Magazine about ‘Throwaway Living’ (see: http://life.time.com/culture/throwaway-living-when-tossing-it-all-was-all-the-rage/#1). The key idea was that the convenience of plastic would obviate the drudgery of having to clean anything—you could just simply throw it away. The sad thing, on closer analysis is that there is NO away…(AKA this planet is a closed system…think about it).

Back at the timeline, CAD CAM made it possible during the 80s for the types, sizes and design of plastic bottles to only be limited by imagination. I blame CAD CAM for my least favourite aisle in the supermarket. That and consumerism…and marketing companies… Sigh.

In the mid 80s somehow we developed a love affair with being hydrated and what had been an exclusive line of water e.g. EVIAN in glass (and that IS naive backwards BTW!) was now available for us, the unwashed masses—in plastic bottles. Up until then we had bought many beverages in glass and aluminium and I guess soft drinks came out in plastic bottles as well, but at some point we started this insane obsession with water in single-use bottles. If you are at all vaguely interested in this, Annie Leonard and her crew do an outstanding animated piece on bottled water in the Story of Stuff  Project (see: http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-bottled-water/).

Don’t get me wrong, I think plastic is amazing and has been put to some incredible uses—prosthetics, all sorts of single-use medical applications which ensure better infection control; plastics has been employed in all sorts of commodities—from commercial and domestic use, including bits and bobs in cars, etc etc. BUT SINGLE USE PLASTICS? Arghhhh. Among these are the plastic shopping bags, the bin liners, the plastic coffee and drink cups and any and all plastic plate and cutlery combinations—NONE of which is recoverable or recyclable on any meaningful scale.

While I am on recycling, here’s my beef. You know that little trilogy of bent-arrows that indicates recycling. That has been adapted and adopted by the plastic industry in an effort to make plastics look more green—pretty much the best example of greenwashing you can imagine. The statistics bare out that most plastic waste is not recoverable. This can be down to contamination (contact with food, faeces or other—remember that baby and adult nappies have a high plastic component) or that the plastic itself is not recyclable (e.g. Vinyl at 0%). According to some sources, the highest recovery rate for this group is the PET plastics (1) that come in around 20% with all others at 10% or way less. Polystyrene (6) comes in at 0.8% (the American Chemistry Council’s figures are much higher).

The reality is that the plastics industry would prefer not to deal with degraded plastics, but some is recovered and reused and shows up as clothing and wood alternatives and in other imaginative ways. But, for the most part, plastic and plastic waste is buried or bundled. When buried, plastic can potentially last for forever as plastics don’t biodegrade like metal or organics—they incrementally break down under the sun (so photo degrade). When bundled, most of the plastic it seems gets shipped from countries that can no longer afford the space for a growing amount of waste as landfill, to poorer countries for ‘processing’. This is a disgusting thing to do—to strap into large blocks, squashed PET and HDPE bottles along with any and all contaminants to be picked through by people who earn less than $2 a day as a salvage operation. I sit here clenching my teeth in anger that this is some sort of acceptable ‘solution’.

When plastics escape (sounds like the title of a good horror movie), as they are lightweight, they tend to blow around and float. It should come as NO surprise that plastic has  become one of the biggest environmental hazards in our waterways and oceans. The statistics are shocking but there are various sites that are worth checking out (see: http://www.cleanup.org.au/au/; http://www.plasticoceans.net; http://www.marineconservation.org.au/pages/plastic-pollution.html; and http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/fit-for-the-future/pollution/trash-vortex/).

Two points worth a mention. 1: Plastics interfere with wildlife by either being mistaken as food and ingested, or as a choking/survival hazard. 2: As plastic floats in this marine environment and photo degrades to smaller and smaller pieces, these pieces act like mini magnets to any heavy metals and toxins in the environment. They become POPs (persistent organic pollutants) and, mistaken as food by fish, are ingested. These metals and toxins then become part of the food chain, and accumulate as bigger fish eat the smaller fish which have eaten the even smaller fish. This is one hell of a health hazard as you consider we are atop that food chain.

One other health issue is the potential harmful side effects of additives—specifically Biphenol-A (commonly known as BPA) and phthalates. These chemicals are used to harden or soften plastics for various applications. It has been shown that there is potential for these to leach into food and beverages from the plastic containers, and as endocrine disruptors, they affect the normal hormone function in humans. In peer-reviewed studies, BPA and phthalates have been implicated in the development of certain cancers. Another BIG sigh.

Statistics that I found on the United States EPA website are so interesting (see: http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/report-00.pdf). In 1960, plastics comprised 0.4% of the total volume (by weight) of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the USA—the grand total of all waste coming in at 88 million tons. By the year 2000, MSW had almost tripled in size (up to 232 million tons) but two things stand out to me: the population of the USA had, over the same time, only increased by just over 50% AND (here’s the kicker) the amount of plastic in this now even bigger per person waste load, had increased by a whopping 260% (from 0.4% to 10.7% in 40 years). This is even more gobsmacking when you consider that plastics, as they have been developed and refined over the years, have become lighter and lighter—one of their ‘selling points’, so the volume of that wasted plastic, as a physical blob, is incomprehensible to me.

So (rant almost over) what I guess I am getting at is that we just don’t think about this. To question the convenience that surrounds (most of us) from birth is to poke at our comfortable lifestyle and possibly question our own morality. Not knowing is a good place to be, because you don’t have to deal with it. Guilt is something most of us do not want to deal with. I even struggle with the concept of ‘guilt’ as on any one day, none of us would deliberately go out of our way to pollute the environment, endanger marine wildlife or increase the ever widening gap between the Global North and Global South countries. But by our simple ‘not-conscious’ actions we do…

I don’t feel like I am a bad person, and yet my house is FULL of plastic. I can’t change it overnight, but little by little I am changing my approach to what had become a lifestyle of plastic-wrapped convenience.

And to those of you who have read through this to the end and are concerned that I do go on these rant adventures, take heart that it is a cathartic process for me. I need to get it down and if in the process it helps someone else, or brings clarity to another then that’s a plus.

When asked by a friend recently, why I had to keep on about the things I am learning, my response was: ‘I can’t un-know what I now know’. I cannot un-see the elephant that now stands in the middle of my consciousness.

OTHER SOURCES (not an exhaustive list):

  • WEBSITES: My Plastic Free Life;  American Chemistry Council: ‘Plastics Make It Possible’; http://www.cleanup.org.au; http://www.environment.gov.au
  • MOVIES, BOOKS and RESOURCES also consulted in research: Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (1997); Cradle to Cradle (2002);  The Story Of Stuff Project (2007); Bag It (2010); The Clean Bin Project (2010); The Men Who Made Us Spend (2014); various TEDTalks.

And to end…the other two ‘woulda-beens’ that I did not submit…I hope you find something of use among my words!

2_TAXONOMY

3_RPS

 

 

 

 


23. Some interesting quotes

Just a few of the really interesting quotes from the materials I have read over the last few weeks:

“Since 1950 alone, the world’s people have consumed more goods and services than the combined total of all humans who have ever walked the planet” (Tilford 2000)

“Sustainability isn’t hard; it’s just not simple” Jedička 2010

“Nobody wakes up in the morning calculating how to trash the planet. Instead our daily lives are a series of choices, each minuscule in its daily impact. But when multiplied billions of times, day after day, year after year, the impact is enormous” Jedička 2010

“Human wellbeing does not require high levels of consumption” Jedička 2010

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little” Edmund Burke

One of my other really favourite quotes is rather longer and comes from a paper I read by Bob Doppelt in Semester 1, but it sticks with me as I think about what comes next, and what is really important to us all…

It comes from a paper entitled From me to we: The five transformational commitments required to rescue the planet, your organisation and your life [Systems Thinker Vol 23 No 8 Oct 2012]. It goes like this:

Imagine, for a moment, that a genie suddenly whisks you away from your everyday life and makes you the world’s most powerful decision maker. At your fingertips is the most up-to-date information about the planet’s economic, social and environmental conditions. You can use that data to make any type of decision you want about how resources and wealth should be allocated and how things should function.

But there is a catch. The genie has also given you amnesia. You cannot remember your social status, nationality, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, how much money you have, or even who your parents are. Consequently, you don’t know what the effects of your decisions will be on your loved ones because you don’t know who you are or where you live.

Under these conditions, what decisions would you make? Would you use as much energy, consume as many resources, or generate as much solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions as you do today? Would you seek to to accumulate as much personal wealth or power?

We need to shift the focus of ME to WE: to treat others as you would want to be treated—to stop focussing on personal wants and needs and choose to see things through the eyes of others.


22. Letter to the Editor—getting my cranky on o_O

Week 4 and we have to submit a Letter to the Editor.

At 250 words it’s not a big task but it has to be engaging, pithy and talk about a sustainability issue.

No surprises that I wrote two. Both reproduced below, but the one I ended up submitting was the one on food—just because the consensus in our workshop was that it was probably more interesting.

Dear Mainstream Media

How do you disappoint me? Let me count the ways!

You disappoint in the way you ignore the environment and yet promote the economy. Were you out of the room when we all worked out that without a suitable, equitable environment you can’t have a society, and without a society there is no need for an economy?

I did a review of online news sites, both newspaper- and TV-based—mostly Australian, but some international—and out of twenty, only three of you have a dedicated tab for the environment on your main page! So, brick bats for most of you, including The Age, The Australian and the Daily Telegraph[1] PLUS Aunty ABC (now that’s disappointing), SBS and all the other Australian TV-channel websites. Bouquets for Deutsche Welle, The Conversation and The Guardian.

I am interested in which came first: do you choose to present what you think readers want; or does your content drive public interest? Whatever the case, you are kidding yourself if you think that what is happening with the DOW is more important than rising CO2 emissions.

It’s clear from the IPCC, NASA and other scientific bodies that environmental issues including climate change, species loss and over consumption (to name but a few) should be part of our daily dialog. In my opinion you have a duty of care to all of your readers to inform and promote debate.

It’s time for you to step up and create a space for the environment on your main sites and not bury such vital content on some sub-directory, out of sight and out of mind.

[1] According to Onlinenewspapers.com these are the three most accessed Australian online newspapers.

Full-frontal on food

Here are a few ‘fun facts’ first up.

According to Foodwise, Australians discard up to 20% of the food they purchase —that’s one in every five bags of groceries—gone…in the bin!

An estimated 20–40% of all fruit and vegetables are rejected before they reach the shops because they are ‘not pretty enough’ aka they did not reach consumer or supermarket cosmetic standards.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-third of the global food supply doesn’t even get to people.

Sadly, the environmental implications of such waste are bigger than you think.

Just to produce this food requires great volumes of water, energy and other inputs. Try to imagine in your mind’s eye the progression from paddock to plate, and account for the fertilisers, the pesticides, the storage, the packaging and the transportation. All. Wasted.

And when the discarded food is dumped—mostly as landfill—it decomposes anaerobically to produce methane, one of the most potent of all greenhouse gasses. In the USA, the EPA estimates that nearly a quarter of all methane produced is from uneaten food.

Since the industrialisation of food we seem to have been overtaken by an overwhelming attitude of super-sized profligacy.

Right now we need to strip things back—become more ‘food aware’ and show some respect for what sustains us. Here are seven simple ways we can all reduce our food waste: buy local produce; choose fresh over processed; cook less food; use up any leftovers; shop for only what you need; understand the use-by/best before labelling system and resist the temptation of take-away.


21. Communicating sustainability…in the beginning

OK Dear Reader, I am back to the blog! And yes, I know it has been a while, but this semester I hope to keep on top of things a bit better on a weekly basis, as a journal of stuff that is my passion: sustainability.

Since my last post I have had three amazing experiences. The first was to do a small presentation to the Innovation and Sustainability Centre at USC on our backyard veggie garden and aquaponics system. It was a bit nerve-racking but the PowerPoint held together and people asked questions at the end, so all good. As part of the presentation I developed a systems diagram of the inputs, outputs, throughputs and loops that happen in the backyard of our small suburban block. It looks messy (you should see the actual garden!) but it shows how we blend and interface, where we can, all component parts.

Backyard sys diagram_4

The second amazing thing was that I was asked to help critique the first semester course I had just completed: SUS101. What a privilege! The course was such an eye opener  in so many ways and has encouraged me to pursue some of my bigger (sustainability) passions, which include food and consumption. But being asked to feed back into that course (which had just been reworked and rewritten) allowed me an opportunity to ‘play it forward’: to contribute so that, I hope, the next cohort gets even more out of the course than I did.

The third, but certainly not the least, was the opportunity to attend a lecture by Tim Flannery at USC. Tim is an amazing man who is so knowledgable and so generous with his time. His half hour lecture was followed by a one-hour Q&A! For a bit more on Tim Flannery check out these links [http://www.claxtonspeakers.com.au/speakers_profile/752 and https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/contributors/tim-flannery]

So onto this semester and what it holds!

SUS202 is Communicating Sustainability. It’s a big area and I am hoping to find some answers. Why are we still having the global warming ‘debate’? Why, when Rachel Carson wrote and published Silent Spring in 1962 are we still poisoning our planet (in more ways than I can even conceive) 50 years down the track? Does the allure of money make us mute to speaking for our environment: that which will sustain us? Is there a silver bullet, a way that what should be heard, will be heard above the almighty din of disinformation?

In this first week we have been set reading tasks and also invited to watch a TEDTalk: Mark Pagel, a biologist whose topic is ‘How language transformed humanity’ [20 minutes: see: https://www.ted.com/talks/mark_pagel_how_language_transformed_humanity]. It is indeed interesting stuff, but I get it, that we have language and have been able to cooperate and communicate and refine ideas is peculiar to our species. That language divides and unites us at the same time is confounding. That language can be used to subvert and empower us is equally perplexing. Would one language solve everything? I go with no, but will let you be the judge.

Another TEDTalk I found (stumbled upon) is by Keith Chen, a Behavioural Economist from Yale. His talk is well worth the watch, but I ask you to substitute the idea of ‘saving money’ with ‘saving the environment’…now there’s an interesting area for study: that the language you speak has an impact on your ability to project: to live sustainably now to have a better future [12 minutes: see: https://www.ted.com/talks/keith_chen_could_your_language_affect_your_ability_to_save_money/]

 


20. Food, inglorious food

I’ve been away for a while, but it has had a lot to do with study and work and volunteering and all that stuff.

It you were wondering, it’s all going fine 🙂 but trying to find the time, and dare I say it, the enthusiasm to blog as regularly as I used to, had been hard.

And today I cheat! Today, I am just going to paste, holus-bolus, my last assignment here (for my SUS101 subject—I am studying Sustainability at USC) —it’s on food waste and had to be written as a magazine article. I agonised over this as there is SOOOOO much to say about food and how we waste it—I hope I have nailed it, and it is easy-to-read, informative and entertaining.

As an assignment for Uni it has all the requisite citations of materials embedded—so if you want to follow anything up that I quoted, you can. What I must commend to you, however is the book written by Tristram Stuart called Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal. It was published in 2009 and is the go-to book for this topic (see the reference list).

I am also waiting on the documentary Just Eat It (by the Canadian film makers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer) to come out, but in the meantime, check out their webpage and the trailer 🙂 http://foodwastemovie.com

I hope the following is food for thought (all puns intended)!

Food, inglorious food

There are numerous ways to describe food—fast, slow and comfort quickly spring to mind. Much of our world can be defined by food—from the distinctive flavours of regional cuisines, to the one-size-fits-all-tastebud offerings of many a fast-food chain.

But why or how could food—that which is essential for sustaining life—be inglorious?

That food is so unevenly distributed around the globe is in itself scandalous—that almost half of the food produced by, and for the Global North is wasted, is shocking, disgraceful, and definitely inglorious.

How did we become so wasteful, what are the impacts and what can be done about it?

Periods of feast and famine have been well documented since biblical times, so having an excess is nothing new, but profligacy of food is definitely a phenomenon rooted in 20th-century Western culture.

Waste-Not-Want-Not

In 260 BC the Chinese philosopher and poet, Lao Tsu wrote in the Tao Te Ching: “He who knows he has had enough, is rich” (Naish 2009)—possibly a comment on the attributes of frugal living? Almost 2000 years on, “Wilful waste makes woful [sic] want” was first cited in an American text in 1576 (Titleman 1996), and in 1835, Lydia Maria Child addressed methods of sorting food waste in her book The American Frugal Housewife, recommending to readers that “… nothing should be thrown to the pigs which should have been in the grease-pot … and see that nothing is [in the grease-pot] which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one”. (Strasser 1999, p5–6)

If you examine the childhood of your parents or grandparents you will probably uncover stories about food that are both quaint and bizarre. In the 1950s, in rural and regional Australian towns, it was commonplace for dairy products to be delivered in glass bottles to the doorstep, to shop at a greengrocer (for fruit and vegetables), a butcher shop (with real sawdust on the floor) and a general store, where bulk flours and grains were measured into brown paper bags, and cheese cut from a wheel, weighed and wrapped in grease-proof paper. Children were encouraged to clean their plates at meal times, often prompted to be thankful and eat every morsel, as there were “starving children in Biafra”.

But during this post-war era, food production went into overdrive, with the excesses processed (canned, frozen and dried) and heavily marketed, giving rise to the industrialisation of food (Bittman 2007). During the mid 20th-century, all sorts of faddish foods emerged, including TV dinners and Vesta Ready Meals.

Vesta_65912021_advertisingarchive624

In Australia, supermarket shopping became the norm in the 1970s, where a rich array of all sorts of commodities could be found. Today, these same supermarkets are packed full, with an even larger variety of foods—many imported.

One could debate the reasons behind the creation of such excess, from the psychology of ‘having enough’ (Naish 2009) to the neo-Capitalist drive for greater profits*, but the implications across the sustainability spectrum of producing and allowing a large proportion of this food to go to waste, are significant.

Just producing food for a Global North diet has many negative environmental impacts, including loss of biodiversity (as forests and natural habitats are stripped for cropping and ranching), land degradation, air and water pollution and consumption of precious water resources (Bittman 2007). In many Global South countries, demand for native foods for foreign palates—as food fads come and go—is making staples for locals unaffordable (Blythman 2013).

Food processing, packaging and transportation further add to economic, social and environmental impacts. Even greater impacts come when this food is wasted and ends up as anaerobically decomposing matter in landfill—resulting in the release of methane gas into the atmosphere.

GHG

Australian households throw out more than $5 billion worth of food each year, with over 40 per cent of household food wasted (Thompson et al 2010 ). According to OzHarvest, an Australian not-for-profit food rescue service, 3.28 million tonnes of food is driven to landfill in Australia each year, and an estimated 20–40 per cent of fruit and vegetables are rejected before they even reach the shops—mostly because they don’t conform to strict supermarket cosmetic standards (OzHarvest 2014).

Globally it appears that the situation may only get worse, as large sections of the Chinese population move to adopt Global North eating habits. According to Xin et al (2014), current food waste in China comprises 70 per cent of the country’s total garbage, which looms as a major problem, as the country currently lacks a national policy, scientific management or processing methods for sorting and disposal.

But it’s not all bad news, and to coin another proverb “Where there is a will, there is a way”!

Many good things are being done to address food waste at international, national and local levels. UNEP, FAO and Messe Düsseldorf launched the international campaign Think Eat Save—Reduce Your Footprint in 2013, which seeks to galvanize widespread global, regional and national actions against food waste (see http://www.thinkeatsave.org). Their website is a treasure trove of inspiring stories and practical examples of how to make a difference.

On a national level, in many countries, it has been identified that a lot of good, edible food is unnecessarily sent into landfill from supermarkets, restaurants and corporate functions—food that could be fed to the food insecure. In America, collection and distribution agencies are covered against potential litigation, in many States, under the Good Samaritan Act (Stuart 2009), while in Australia, food rescue organisations such as Food Bank and OzHarvest, are covered under various state legislations (see http://www.ozharvest.org/donatefood.asp?pageID=618). Intriguingly no similar legislation exists in the UK (Stuart 2009) making food recovery problematic.

Processing and treatment of food waste disposal is gaining strength—from the exemplary large scale bio-digesting operations at NFL matches in the USA (Casey 2013), to worm farms at airports (Lammers 2011) to trials of local government-run home-composting systems by the Leichhardt Council in Sydney’s inner west (Mitchell 2014). In the National Food Waste Data Assessment: Final Report (Masson 2011) indications are that there may be great value in harnessing food waste not only for energy generation, but also for soil enhancement as conventional fuels and fertilisers become more expensive.

Other campaigns include Love Food Hate Waste (http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.nsw.gov.au), the Glad Company Waste in Focus website (http://www.glad.com/trash/waste-in-focus/)and the recent push by EU countries to examine and revise the confusing food labelling systems that see a lot of food being binned needlessly at the supermarket and at home (Kaye 2014).

But what can be done on a personal scale? Most of us don’t have the time or the space for a worm farm, let alone a flock of chickens or a hungry pig to take care of the peelings and scrapings from our plates! According to the Foodwise site, small changes in individual behaviour can have significant impacts from the home front. These include cooking less food, eating what is cooked (ie using all the leftovers), buying what is needed (check the fridge and shelves before you shop, and never shopping when you are hungry), understanding the nuances of the food date-labelling systems, and resisting the temptation to buy take-away instead of cooking the food you have at home (Do Something 2014). As individuals, as consumers, making informed choices and starting a conversation about over-production and wanton waste is a good place to start!

Food think

Maybe it’s time to revisit our relationship with food. Perhaps the last word should go to Louise Fresco, Professor at the University of Amsterdam and international advisor on sustainability: “Food is about respect … food is something holy—it’s not about nutrients and calories, it’s about sharing, it’s about honesty and identity.” (Fresco 2009)

 

* In the Journal of Retailing (1950),Victor Lebow, a 20th-century economist and retail analyst, stated:‘Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption a way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction in consumption.’ (Naish 2009)


REFERENCES

Bittman, M. 2007, What’s wrong with what we eat, TED Talk. http://www.ted.com/talks/mark_bittman_on_what_s_wrong_with_what_we_eat Viewed 3 June 2014.

Blythman, J. 2013, Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa? The Guardian, 16 January 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/16/vegans-stomach-unpalatable-truth-quinoa Viewed 4 June 2014.

Casey, T. 2013, Cleveland Browns roll out new food waste-to-energy system, Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit, 18 November 2013. http://www.triplepundit.com/2013/11/cleveland-browns-rolls-out-food-waste-energy-system/Viewed 29 May 2014.

Do Something, Foodwise: Your site for sustainable food http://www.foodwise.com.au Viewed 29 May 2014.

FAO, 2011. Global food losses and food waste—Extent, causes and prevention, Rome.

Fresco, L. 2009, We need to feed the whole world, TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/louise_fresco_on_feeding_the_whole_world Viewed 5 June 2014.

Glad 2014, Waste and recycling at home, http://www.glad.com/trash/waste-in-focus/ Viewed 3 June 2014.

Kaye, L. 2014, To combat food waste, EU seeks change of ‘best before’ dates, Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit, 19 May 2014. http://www.triplepundit.com/2014/05/european-union-seeks-change-best-dates-combat-food-waste/ Viewed 29 May 2014.

Lammers, L. 2011, Charlotte to install first airport worm composting system, Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit, 29 November 2011. http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/11/charlotte-install-first-airport-worm-composting-system/ Viewed 29 May 2014.

Mason, L. Boyle, T. Fyfe, J. Smith, T. & Cordell, D. 2011, National Food Waste Data Assessment: Final Report. Prepared for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney.

Mitchell, N. 2014, Food Waste, Radio National Life Matters, 9 April 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/food-waste/5375576 Accessed 19 May 2014.

Naish, J. 2009, Optimisation (Chapter 3) in Stibbe, A. (Ed.) The handbook of sustainability literacy: Skills for a changing world, Green Books, Dartington. http://www.sustainability-literacy.org/ Accessed 2 June 2014.

New South Wales EPA, 2014, Love Food Hate Waste, http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.nsw.gov.au Viewed 5 June 2014.

OzHarvest, 2014, Food waste figures, http://www.ozharvest.org/ourimpact.asp?pageID=611 Viewed 5 June 2014.

Strasser, S. 1999, Waste and Want, Metropolitan Books, New York.

Stuart, T. 2009, Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal, Penguin Group, London.

Titleman, G.Y. 1996, Random House Dictionary of popular proverbs and sayings, Random House, New York.

Thompson, K. Dawson, D. Boland, J. Coveney, J. Ward, P. & Sharp, A. 2010, Zeroing in on Food Waste: Measuring, understanding and reducing food waste, ARC Food Waste Project, Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project 2010–2013. http://www.cqu.edu.au/research/research-organisations/institutes/appleton-institute/research/current-projects/arc-food-waste-project Viewed 5 June 2014.

Xin, Z. Kaihao, W. & Anqiet, C. 2014, Waste not, want not, China Daily Mail, 5 June 2014. http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-01/19/content_14477508.htm Viewed 5 June 2014.

ILLUSTRATIONS

a  http://www.writeonnewjersey.com/2009/10/waste-not-want-not/

b: http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/

c: original graphic based on information from the Do Something Foodwise website http://www.foodwise.com.au