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September 2014: Communicating Sustainability from the HE-art!

The End of an Ice Age, David Partridge

Neural Detours, Jessica Holliland

“Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” 
- Leonardo da Vinci
Much of what I focus on at the ISSR is about Communicating Sustainability.  Whether it is communicating sustainability events to our internal network, the fantastic breadth and depth of sustainability research to our external stakeholders or communicating the possibility of multi-disciplinary research to funders.  Communication is important to me.

One new communication activity that we have introduced this year is our 2014 sustainability research review which highlights a small selection of the world changing research undertaken at the ISSR (to read the review click here).  As an institute, we have achieved a lot this year – embedding healthcare sustainability into the curriculum, furthering the understanding of the carbon capture potential of peatlands, investigating the role of the media in covering global environmental challenges, investigating the energy performance gap between design and operation of buildings, and supporting over 100 million eco journeys……….  to name just a few……

Using the art of photography has been important to us at the ISSR to help communicate the breadth of research expertise (as outlined in a previous blog).

Also within the research review, we try to use the art of photography to make the publication interesting and engaging, as well as academic. 
Let us know what you think !

Whitsand Bay PortraitRosanna Thorn-Lees

Hive, Kelly Soper

"The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web." 
- Pablo Picasso 

I feel that if we, as a planet, are going to develop lasting solutions to Sustainability challenges, then we need a significant proportion of society to be engaged (and passionate) and pushing ahead – not just University academics and students ?! 

I am passionate about the ability of art to communicate sustainability.  I feel art can be a route to inspiring and engaging people in a different, emotional way, a way of being provocative and making people think – (perhaps a better way of getting the message across than graphs and figures ?!!).  A way of communicating from the heart !  A way of connecting with people !

The publication of the 2014 IPCC report, outlining the latest climate change science, has recently been criticized for its failure to connect with people.  The Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) recently reported (see here)  that facts are not enough when it comes to climate change science and that more facts and more information is unlikely to convince the public in the future.  Instead their key recommendation is that the IPCC must use human stories as well as science. Human stories that illustrate the impacts of climate change. And the IPCC authors and key figures should also allow the public an insight into their work, motivations, fears and hopes. 

What Killed the WhalePaul Wright

Mutagen, Alice Cole

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” 
- Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“i thank You God for most this amazing”
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes 
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth) 
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You? 
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened) 
e.e. cummings
As well as human stories, I also like other art forms; metaphors, poems and quotes (you might have guessed this by now?!).  I think that they have a special quality that enables people to engage at a deeper level.  I recently came across a website that had a project developing metaphors for Sustainability. Various eminent artists, writers, and researchers were asked to outline their own metaphors for sustainability. It is worth a look ! (Click here for the website)

My own personal favourite metaphor is by Neal (aged 10) below:
The world is big plank of wood and it’s on fire. The only thing to save it is water. Sustainability is water – that’s what it is.

Marliso Exhibition – My Sea, Your Sea – keep it litter free
Photo: Kirsty Andrews (

Marliso Exhibition – My Sea, Your Sea – keep it litter free
Photo: Kirsty Andrews (

To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science. Learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.’
- Leonardo da Vinci

“After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.” 
- Albert Einstein

For me, the area where there are exciting opportunities is where good science is combined with good art (of whatever form).  The ISSR team recently went on a trip to see an art exhibition being run by the Plymouth University School of Psychology – “My Sea, Your Sea – keep it litter free”   This was a great example of combining an engaging and thought provoking exhibition (please see the pictures above) with hard hitting facts and figures.

I also recently attended this year’s Faculty of Arts degree show (HOT 14) and I was impressed at how many art pieces had a Sustainability theme.   Since going to the degree show we have worked with the School of Art and Media to develop an ISSR Sustainability fine art prize that rewards excellence in research and art practice leading to works that raise public awareness of issues related to sustainability.

The six pictures on the previous pages are the highly commended pieces from the ISSR Sustainability fine art prize 2014 – which I think is an exciting start and shows the fantastic Sustainability art talent that we are developing - and I can’t wait to continue to develop collaborations between the fantastic ISSR scientists and fantastic ISSR artists.

Dr Paul Hardman, Manager of the Institute for Sustainability Solutions Research (ISSR)

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