Sustainability Action Blog


Overwhelmed by sustainability? Reflections on Interdisciplinary Research Week and why you don’t need to know everything.

By Julia Kendal |

Guest blog by Amy Nicholass, Student Sustainability Champion

Do you ever feel that sustainability is an overwhelming concept? No one can really be expected to know the environmental, social and economic impacts of their activities, you can’t possibly be good at all of those disciplines simultaneously to make an informed decision on action, right?

Well, in short, no, no-one is expected to know everything.

idr_logoEvents during Interdisciplinary Research Week have continued the fostering of connectedness that TEDx encouraged last weekend so we don’t have to know everything to still achieve change.

Monday included the Keynote Speech for Interdisciplinary Research Week by Simran Sethi academic turned journalist, and frequent Oprah Winfrey guest. For me, her talk used our everyday relationship with food as a lens through which to explore the themes of sustainable living.

Food is the most direct link our environment and each other. We need an agricultural system that is bio-diverse and adaptable to enable us to thrive in a changing climate. Simran highlighted how 75% of crop varieties have disappeared since 1900 and the cultural erosion of indigenous knowledge of how to grow and process foods is inserting vulnerability into our food system.

Add to this the consolidation of seeds (not just genetically modified (GM) seeds) by the likes of Monsanto. The top ten companies own 73% of the market for developing, growing and selling seeds.  Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready maize seeds in the USA, bred for yield potential are also most vulnerable to bacteria wilt which is now threatening the harvest. Simran said that we are not learning the lessons from mono-cropping and asks ‘at what cost do we need cheap food’ and ‘does our current food system really serve us?’ With growing obesity and micro-nutrient deficiencies globally the answer as surely no. So what can we do about all this?

Simran advocates ‘in vivo conservation’, eating food in a diversified way and celebrating culinary diversity. I’ll add to that teaching others how to cook with raw ingredients, or maybe grow your own heirloom varieties of vegetables.

On Tuesday Tim Benton, UK Champion for Global Food Security addressed the issue of our ‘just in time culture’ due to our reliance on food imports. Shockingly he also said that in the UK we throw away food equivalent to 91% of the area of Wales per year and each family is effectively paying a ‘fat tax’ to cope with the NHS demands from diabetes and obesity caused by what we eat. We are more likely to be able to change consumption patterns than find a magic techno fix for increasing food production he said. Reminding us that we give legitimacy to supermarkets and governments Tim advocates that we as individuals can demand the world we want we.

If you’re in the mood to make a change however big or small do look up Embrace The Change at This was an online live webcast from Solent University on Thursday night. Speakers included Kate Raworth, creator of the donut economics model for a ‘safe and just operating space for humanity’ who said we need to change how economics is taught in universities; Seán Dagan Wood from Positive News who said we need to have a ‘more balanced information diet’ to reduce our ‘learned helplessness’ from reading mainstream newspapers; Tim Macartney from Embercombe gave a powerful speech encouraging us to ‘act on what we know to be true asking ourselves ‘why am I alive and ‘what do I have to give’?; Polly Higgins international environmental lawyer talking of our trusteeship and not ownership of the planet; Charles Eisenstein guiding us to our ‘heart logic’ where ‘actions beyond our edge of courage become conceivable’ and Alice Cooper Stroud convincing us that Zero Carbon Britain is entirely feasible with the technology and know-how we have right now, we just need collective will to get on a make change happen.

So, go on, go for it…..