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July: Climate Change and Health: The big issue

Climate Change and Health: The big issue
On 17th June we (Jane Grose and Janet Richardson) joined the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Campaign for Sustainable Healthcare, and healthcare professionals at The Climate Coalition #forthelove of climate change lobby at Westminster.

Our banner, supporting the University logo and the slogan ‘Climate Change is a Life and Death Issue’, had been carefully designed and made during discussions about what politicians and healthcare professional bodies should be doing about sustainability and climate change.

Approximately 10,000 people lined the streets around Parliament to lobby their MPs to take action on climate change. Meanwhile, discussion in the House of Lords focussed on the Climate Change Act and steps the Government would need to take in order to decarbonise Britain by 2050. At the lobby we managed to talk with Ben Bradshaw MP about the need to be proactive, and to address climate change and health in a positive way, stressing the links between good health promoting activities (reducing meat consumption, being more active - cycling etc) and the associated benefits to the environment.

Before the Climate Change lobby we had a meeting with Policy Advisors at RCN HQ to discuss possible action the RCN could take to support its members to become more active on sustainability issues.

Jane and Janet outside RCN HQ with Mark Platt (RCN Policy Advisor), Rebecca Gibbs (The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare), Alice Monro (nurse, climate and health activist).
The RCN is moving this agenda forward through a number of initiatives, for example they are members of the Climate Health Alliance, have responded to and are signatories to both NHS Sustainable Development Plans (2010-2015, 2015-2020). Through Bernell Bussue’s good offices (RCN Director London Region) they made a public intervention in support of the proposals for London’s segregated cycle highways, citing pollution reduction and its associated health benefits as one of the key reasons for doing so. The RCN Congress this year provided an opportunity for a debate submitted by the Welsh Office on Climate Change and Health. The resolution: That this meeting of RCN Congress urges Council to lobby governments within the UK to take all actions to prepare the UK health services for the effects of long term climate change was passed (448 (98.53%) for; 31 (6.47%) against, 3 abstained).

The interest the RCN and its members are taking in climate change and health are very timely. The Lancet Commission report on Climate Change and Health published on 17th June shows that climate change is already having significant health impacts, and calls for co-ordinated action for health professionals and Government. The launch of the Lancet Commission report included discussion on twitter. Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN commenting on the Lancet Commission report said climate change:  is an issue that our health services cannot afford to ignore. Our over stretched health services are already straining, and unless we reconfigure them to be sustainable they will find it hard to withstand the increase in demand that climate change will undoubtedly bring.

On the same day as The Lancet report was published, a summit took place in the US at the White House on climate change that included leading environmental health nurses and healthcare professionals. President Obama talked of the need to find out how medical and healthcare schools were integrating climate change issues into education!

The recent publication of  the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ and the Lambeth Declaration on Climate Change highlight issues of social justice and inequalities (including inequalities related to health), and further add to the need for societies to take action.

So what can we do? Climate change and sustainability present an urgent and pressing challenge to healthcare. At Plymouth University we have already embedded sustainability topics into our nursing curriculum  using an evidence-based approach that draws on our own research as well as that of others. However there is more to do to raise awareness and develop mitigation and adaptation strategies. We can continue to support this agenda through inter-disciplinary research and education, collaborating with other organisations, such as the RCN and Centre for Sustainable Healthcare policy-makers and sharing the sustainability and health training tools we have already developed. Our work with other Universities across Europe, and in particular the NurSusTOOLKIT project will enable us to develop and share educational materials to nurses and other health professionals to deal with the current and future challenges  of maintaining a sustainable healthcare system within a changing climate.

For more information see: Sustainability, Society and Health Research:

Janet Richardson 
Professor of Health Service Research, Faculty of Health and Human Science, Plymouth University

June: Deal or no deal: the influence of political risk in global climate decision-making

As the clock winds down on current efforts to avert an impending Greek default, it seems timely to consider the role of deal making in decisions that have far-reaching consequences. The Greek situation has produced extraordinary volatility on stock and bond markets through May and June 2015. Whilst the macroeconomic outlook for many European stocks would seem positively bullish, cognitive attention has been drawn to a relatively minor contributor in terms of GDP and anticipation of future risks from the no-win scenario of Grexit. In psychology, this might be referred to as perception narrowing; enhanced focus on a more immediate problem than the overall picture.

So, this prompts the question more generally of how, in a game when there are at least some certainties of a negative outlook, players can be drawn to act in the short-term interest. There is, of course, a wealth of literature in this field, but the parallels to the international negotiations on climate change are perhaps worthy of some note.

It was interesting to see the business-focused media outlet, Bloomberg, publish on June 24th an infographic ( that spelled out more clearly, and in a format accessible to all, the overwhelming case that greenhouse gas emissions from the activities of global society are the cause of recent global warming. It is interesting because this is not an article hosted by the left-wing press. It makes reference to NASA-GISS based data produced by Kate Marvel and Gavin Schmidt as part of the Coupled Model Inter-comparison Project “Phase 5”, where climate models are being tasked with attempting to reproduce climate trends of the past 150 years or so, to see just how well they can do it. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear: climate change is happening and human activities are having an effect. The models reproduce recent changes convincingly and those same models estimate truly astonishing change for the future if emissions are not curtailed.

Deal making is currently taking place in the run-up to the next annual UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Paris in December. As with Greece, once again, eyes will turn to the international political negotiating teams for the hope of some sort of deal that might allow our global society to take on a more certain trajectory and allow better anticipation of future climate change. I choose those words carefully. Global warming through to the end of the century is a near certainty. Past emissions from the burning of fossil fuels remain in the atmosphere for considerable time, continuing to heat the planet, even after activities below may have changed. Climate models have often come in for criticism from some for the ranges of “uncertainty” presented. It is taken that this means there is little certainty in the trajectory of future climate. This, however, reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what climate models do. Like an expensive calculator, they tell you what climate is likely to result from a set of instructions they are given as to how people are living their lives. If we burn fossil fuels wildly and move things (and ourselves) unsustainably then we provide those instructions to the model and it tells us a range of future outcomes. Those instructions are known as “scenarios”. What this means is that the importance of the negotiations in Paris this year is not that a deal to cut carbon emissions is achieved for its own sake, but rather that it provides far less uncertainty in terms of the likely future “scenario”. Climate models should then be able to provide a narrower range of forecasts, allowing for better potential to make long-term cost-saving adaptations.

Political decision making, however, is obliged to consider more than scientific output. It must consider, among others, the influence of lobbying groups and the broader interests of the constituencies its selected few represent. I was recently fortunate enough to enjoy an assessed presentation from a masters student on our MSc in Sustainable Environmental Management, studying for the module on Climate Science and Policy. I was struck by the truly excellent representation of ideas that the student had learnt through sessions with Prof. Iain Stewart on the role for appropriate channels of communication of climate science. The argument made was that, despite the overwhelming evidence from science, many people are too distant from the process of science to really believe its offering. Instead, our responses are informed by our values and attitudes, themselves informed by our experiences through childhood, our parenting and our current situations. To that end, the argument presented was that religion and faith structures have a vital role in both ultimately shaping values and attitudes towards environmental management but also in terms of driving political settlement.

How timely it is, then, that just last week (June 2015) Pope Francis released his keenly anticipated Encyclical on climate change. In the text, he describes the moral obligation on political leaders to find agreement given that the poor and vulnerable are likely to suffer most from its effects. Through the Encyclical Pope Francis is calling upon not just the political representatives, but also 1.2 billion Catholics to respond to climate change. Whilst, of course, some will find the instruction a hard buy to reconcile with more individual or immediate concerns, the intervention should undoubtedly prove more influential than another academic text on the climate science.

The religious intervention is simply another voice in the chorus of opinions by which international negotiators will necessarily be influenced in the coming months. The short-term interests of some must of course be recognised. In a similar frame to the situation with a potential Grexit from the Euro, where overwhelming evidence points towards the negative effects of a no-win scenario, those voices will be heard and pose general risk. Perhaps the most uncanny parallel between the two deals is that the short-term will always pose volatility that overrides the fundamentals. Notwithstanding, the deal to be struck in December 2015 in Paris, will provide greater certainty in the future climate scenario, and perhaps, therefore model projection, regardless of whether the outcome limits or accelerates the rate of climate change.

Dr Tim Daley
Director of Plymouth University’s Institute for Sustainability Solutions Research and Lecturer on Climate Science and Sustainability through the Department of Geography.

Follow Tim on Twitter @DrTimDaley 

May 2015: Sustain-a-fable: Sharing Inspiration for a Cracking Earth

"Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever." 
Native American proverb

I have had an inspiring (and tiring) few days.

We have just held our ISSR event – “Cracking Earth 2015:  Building Sustainability Research with Foundations”.  With 23 Plymouth University speakers, 16 external speakers, 21 exhibition stands and about 240 delegates, the event was a fantastic success with most importantly – lots of good conversation and connections.

There were a whole host of things that I found interesting, informative and useful – too many to mention here.  However, looking back, for me, it was the stories, poems, pictures, jokes, anecdotes and quotes that I found inspiring and it is these that stick in my head.

This got me thinking.

In my previous blogs, I have included a short story that influenced my thinking – “The Blind men and the elephant” – December 2011, a collection of quotes that have influenced my thinking (from Winnie the Pooh to Aristotle)  (Jan 2014) and also poetry, quotes, metaphors and artwork that communicate sustainability to me (Sept 2014).

This also got me thinking – what do other people find inspiring and would they be happy to share this with others?   Hence, on the back of this blog, in the next few months, we will be launching a call about Sharing Inspiration for a Cracking Earth.  The call will be open to staff, students in the first instance and external partners who are connected to the ISSR.  It will not be an academic call for papers but rather a call for Inspiration.  Have you ever been to an “American supper” or “potluck supper” as it is sometime called, this is how I would like it to work, i.e. you bring your own inspiring story, anecdote, joke etc and share it with other peoples inspiring stories.

Inspiring short stories, quotes, poetry, jokes, anecdotes, metaphors, artwork, anything really – just aspects that inspire you and may also help to inspire others around aspects of sustainability.  Depending on the response we get, we would like to share this inspiration far and wide.  If you would like, we would also like you to explain in less than 150 words, what this means to you.  Although you can also submit items to be printed anonymously as well.   This doesn’t have to be life changing inspiration, just something that makes you think!

For example, a colleague recently recommended that I read the book, “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.  I really enjoyed the book and it is a short story from the book that I recently found inspiring:

The Secret of Happiness – an extract from – “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world.

The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world.

The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention. The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness.

He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. “Meanwhile I want to ask you to do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. ‘As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. “Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man.

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the tasted with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you.” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

Cracking Earth: What this means to me

This story reminds me of the two meanings of Cracking Earth.  For me, I am definitely more like the first time the boy went around the palace.  Focussing on an earth that is cracking, falling apart and the responsibility of finding solutions.   Unfortunately, this sometimes means that I forget that we live in a cracking earth.  The story shows me that as well as focusing on the task of finding solutions, it is also important to enjoy the natural beauty of our cracking earth and to have a cracking time whilst we are here.

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

ps – if you can’t wait for the call to be launched, please feel free to email me with your inspiration –

April: Your creativity is the only limit

Your creativity is the only limit

In the book ‘Goodvertising: Creative Advertising that Cares’ Thomas Kolster selects 120 innovative ‘do good’ campaigns. This book shows how the advertising industry can use its creative powers to change behaviours and to inform; from saving water to using less paper and eating healthy to quitting smoking.

The campaigns are organised around 10 guidelines for ‘goodvertising’, so I’ve taken my favourite from each area in a hope to inspire creativity and install hope in the advertising and marketing industry, which so often gets blamed for “getting us neck deep in today’s climate and humanitarian crisis”.

Some of the companies listed below aren’t known for ‘good behaviour’, but for this blog I want to focus on the campaigns, not the company.

Nike: Bottle t-shirt
Nike found an innovative way to make one football t-shirt from seven plastic bottles, meaning that each t-shirt is made from at least 96% recycled polyester. They prevented around 13 million plastic bottles from going to landfill which could cover 29 football pitches. See a video here.

QUIT: Lungs x-ray
London based QUIT, an anti-smoking charity worked with Saatchi and Saatchi to create this stop smoking campaign. Cigarette bins had a clear image of lungs on the front, and as cigarette butts were thrown away the lungs fill up showing smoker’s an image of what they were doing to their lungs (Image credit)

Lotus Light Charity Society: Umbrella bags
The Lotus Light Charity Society wanted to highlight the water shortage in Northwest China – and did so in an incredible way. Shoppers could grab a free bag to put their wet umbrella in and printed on the bag was a message about water shortage. The campaign saw an increase in donations, so much so that 5,300 water cellars were built helping over 20,000 people. (Image credit)

Mc Donald’s: Nature Trays
Mc Donald’s, instead of the usual paper inserts on trays, put beautiful environmental scenes on them, showing customers exactly what their rubbish would look like if left on the ground. This campaign, by working with local residents and customers, reduced complaints from local people about litter from Mc Donald’s by 25%. (Image credit)

Volkswagen: The Fun Theory
Volkswagen encouraged people to walk up stairs instead of taking the lift, recycle bottles, put litter in the bin and drive under the speed limit – how? With four creative interventions. Stairs played music as people walked up them, a bottle bank turned into an old school game arcade machine and the litter bin played a the sound of litter dropping down a tunnel miles long. The fourth was a speed camera lottery: every person who drove past the camera under  the speed limit would be entered into a lottery and speeding on that particular road dropped by 15%. See the videos of the Fun Theory here.

WWF: Save as WWF
A campaign started by WWF to save more paper. An app enabled people to save .PDF files as .WWF files which saved the file as an unprintable PDF. Not only does the file name change but so does the file image – to that of a tree. The app has had more than 50,000 downloads. (Image credit)

The Metropolitan Police: Choose a Different Ending
The Metropolitan Police, in 2011, launched a campaign to tackle knife-crime. A series of YouTube clips allowed the user to choose their own fate by choosing to ‘take the knife’ or ‘don’t take the knife’. The videos show consequences of the users choice on a teenager. See the YouTube advert here.

Innocent: The Big Knit
Innocent smoothie started a great campaign to raise money for Age UK. They asked people around the UK to knit hats to go on the tops of their smoothie bottles and for every bottle that was sold, 25p was donated to charity. The campaign was a great success, and between 2003 - 2011 Innocent raised over £1m. (Image credit)

Bolthouse Farms: Eat ‘em like junk food
Bolthouse Farms started to advertise carrots like junk food. They were packaged like junk food in vending machines and had a TV advert made to look like a junk food ad to accompany them. Within one month sales of carrots increased by 12%.  (Image credit)

Kimberly Clark: See You later
Kimberly Clark wanted to let the public know that their new toilet paper was made from 100% recycled paper. Their humorous printed ad simply read ‘see you later’ with their toilet paper logo in the bottom corner. See the full size image here.

So, there they are. My top 10 favourite campaigns from the ‘Goodvertsing book’ by Thomas Kolster, which demonstrates that the advertising industry and brands really can do some ‘world-bettering’ things – with creativity being their only limit!

Kirsty Andrews
Kirsty Andrews
Marketing and Communications Administrator for the Institute for Sustainability Solutions Research, Plymouth University

March: Should topics about sustainability and climate change be included in the nursing curriculum?

As someone who could be considered an IT dunce I was surprised to hear myself suggesting using a ‘twitter chat’ to raise the issue of sustainability in nursing education. Social Media is not really my forte but I am prepared to embrace new technology in an effort to push forward sustainability issues in healthcare. I think this is really important for a number of reasons. First, we need to engage with educators, practitioners and students in new ways, so that we can reach a broader constituency, and secondly it is important to reduce our own impact on the environment when disseminating innovation. A paper published in the BMJ in 2007 suggests that there is limited learning to be had by attending conferences with is limited evidence to suggest that attending conferences leads to more effective medical practice. The paper goes on to suggest that online distance learning and new technologies to overcome travel need to be explored.

I did think about the paper and consider the issues of carbon emissions etc before deciding to go to the Royal College of Nursing Education Conference in Nottingham early in March. In the end I thought that it was probably important to be there to raise the profile of the sustainability education in nursing we are delivering here at Plymouth. At the conference I was allocated a ‘concurrent session’ which was not as well attended as other sessions! This is, I think, a sad reflection of the interest and priority climate change and sustainability are given by my profession. All the more reason to find different ways of raising the importance of the subject. In spite of the limited attendance at my session, those present really engaged and were enthusiastic about what we are doing, which was very reassuring. They were particularly interested to see how we engage our student nurses in a way that is relevant to clinical practice, and they were excited about the collaborative teaching and learning we have embedded in the curriculum. Whilst my presentation could have been conveyed as a webinar, and indeed, in June I will be delivering a webinar based on the work that won a Green Gown Award for Learning and Course one of the benefits of attending a conference is the networking and discussion that can happen over lunch and coffee. So my view is that we do need to very carefully consider whether it is really necessary to travel to conferences and be mindful about the impact on the environment, whilst at the same time thinking about alternative methods for dissemination and discussion.

This leads me on to the idea for a Twitter chat. Our NurSus Project team are keen to engage a wide community and specifically student nurses in the development of a framework for sustainability literacy and competency in nursing. We know from the literature, networks and professional organisations that climate change and sustainability, whilst important in healthcare are not topics that feature in nursing education so we wanted to get some discussion going about this. We were fortunate to be able host a wenurses twitter chat on 24th March with the aim of reaching a ‘younger and technically savvy generation’! The topic for discussion was: ‘Should topics about sustainability and climate change be included in the nursing curriculum?’ this was a fantastic opportunity as it is the first time the ‘wenurses’ community (with over 30,000 followers) has run a chat on sustainability. Our chat session coincided with NHS Sustainability Day on 26th March and a Twitter chat associated with that event. 

The build up to the Twitter chat event began a few days before the event with tweets going out to our followers to tell them it was going to happen and provide the background information for the chat. By 7pm on the night I was getting very apprehensive;  lots of tweets were going out about the chat to get us ready for the 8pm start. Then it all kicked off with a quick introduction from the @wenurses team and the NurSus team began with the question: What is sustainability? Followed about 15 minutes with: What topics about sustainability and climate change could be included in nursing curricula? The first 5 – 10 minutes of chat involved people joining in and saying hello and then the discussion began at a phenomenal pace! We had 969 tweets in the hour (over 16 tweets a minute!) devoted to this discussion and tweets continued following the official closure of the chat session. One hundred and nineteen people participated with a reach of 3,306,296! Many participants were students and we also engaged other universities, educators, and environmental activists. Key themes in the discussion about sustainability in nurse education were: curriculum, resources, waste, plastic, practice, clinical (see Word Cloud) at the bottom of the archive page.
I am now convinced that social media is an important way to engage a community in discussion about things that matter. It enables academics to test out ideas and get feedback, and can help to influence our research questions and educational approaches. If you run a Twitter chat, do remember to have a large cup of coffee by your side as you will need to react quickly to catch all the threads, I think I managed about 15%! But all is not lost as the whole chat is archived.

Special thanks to the NurSus team and all the Plymouth and Jaen University students who participated.

Professor Janet Richardson
Janet Richardson 
Professor of Health Service Research in the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences and member of the ISSR Management Team

February: Fairtrade – Does it matter?

Fairtrade Fortnight speaker at Plymouth University
I have just been to one of the Fairtrade Fortnight events, where after a short film, in an animated Q&A session, a small but inquisitive audience learned about what the Fairtrade Foundation is doing and how they have promoted some of the many wonderful and life-changing achievements.  They also placed the film ‘Fairtrade Matters’ on their website. Fairtrade has been around for 20 years, and in the UK over three quarters of people recognise the logo, and sales of certified products continue to rise, as does the range of Fairtrade foods available.
You may not have noticed some of the changes on availability of these products over time, unless you are –also- obsessive with labels, and keep an eye for new or alternative products in shops and supermarkets, and look for quality assurance marks, ethical credentials, and health claims.
OK, I DO work on food quality, and besides lecturing and having projects with food companies on that subject, I also like my food and I would like to know what is in it, and where it comes from.
I do wonder if it is my personal or professional bias, but most people (or at least those that talk to me) seem to be interested in some aspects of food quality… What is not always so clear is how far we go beyond talking about it when it comes to change some of our ways; for example in choosing local produce over foods that have clocked many food miles, or cooking from scratch, instead of picking something ready-made, or cooking a dish lovingly, instead of watching TV celebrities in kitchens doing their stuff.
It appears to me that the amount of time that people spend watching cooking programmes is inversely proportional to time that people spend cooking…. And probably we buy recipe books and ready meals as a surrogate for the effort, care and time that may take anyone to develop their cooking skills.
And it is not just about cooking, but also about eating.    Food does not need to be understood to be appreciated, but it could be appreciated more if we understand it… and if we take the time to do it.
How easy it is to for people to describe the flavours and aromas of what they are eating?  Can we tell which herbs and spices a dish has?  Or tell the difference between a cup of tea that has been brewed for 3 minutes, for 10 or for a few seconds (and squeezing the bag!)?
Children from Freshlings Nursery learning about Fairtrade
As part of my teaching, we set up some experience-based learning activities in Lab+ which aim to understand how our senses work. In answer to my previous question, typically my university students (for example those on BSc (Hons) Dietetics or similar food courses) find it hard to identify (name) aromas of things that they may know, or won’t be able to tell the differences between 2 products. Taste education should be something that starts from childhood, and is developed in families and elsewhere, in events, with friends, or clubs and societies. Practice, attention, and much enjoyment could go a long way.

In many places in continental Europe, people would be very familiar with food specialities of their region, or their village, down to crop varieties and seasonality.  I am sure that many people in Plymouth cannot tell the difference between Cornish and a Devon pasty (besides the origin and looking at the label?), or if the clotted cream should go on top or below the jam on the scones.
But leaving aside cross border controversies, the point is that unless we know and learn to appreciate our foods, we may not have the skill and conviction to choose better. And when I refer to choices, the options and possibilities are endless – which is a good thing, but one which brings responsibility.
Food connects us to nature. Food is basically chemistry (down to what their natural components are), but most food is also biology - most things that we eat are, or have been alive. Whether if it is an apple (probably still breathing and exchanging gases), or yoghurt (still teeming with beneficial microbial life), most probably our foods were parts a plant or animal. Those organisms needed an ecosystem to sustain their life, and those ecosystems needed resources from the planet. And then we have a long and complex chain that typically involve farmers/producers, transport, importers, processors, retailers, catering and someone to cook and eat the stuff.
Fairtrade coffee
By buying or choosing any food (whether we are aware or not) we are making a statement, but we are also connecting to nature, in a direct or indirect way - and we may be contributing to the loss of biodiversity supporting industrial farming of monocultures by global; corporate-driven systems; maybe when we eat more unsustainable meat, we are using more of a fair share of usable land and fresh water, and producing more gas emissions than if we go meatless for a few days… Do we know which fish is in season, locally and from sustainable fisheries?  We may be contributing to improve the livelihoods of those in small-farms; or by buying the result of unethical food chains that squeeze producers, we may be driving farmers into poverty and desperation. 
As an example, European sugar trade reform is anticipated to grossly affect sugar cane producers across the world as detailed in the Sugar Crash Report by the Fairtrade Foundation. While sugar seems to be the same for most people (when sprinkled over pancakes!), if beet sugar takes over cane sugar, that would be a step back for those communities that depend on this cash crop and that have benefited from the Fairtrade premium income - and indeed for all those at the Foundation that have contributed to build links between producing communities and UK consumers.
Fairtrade bananas
It has crossed my mind, that Fairtrade is just a certification scheme that just scratches the surface, with small worldwide coverage, just a few pence from the price in the UK going to the producers while typically retailers take a bigger slice, and also, may be susceptible to unsavoury issues such as those exposed for other certification schemes (Organic-Soil Association, Farm Assured-Red tractor). On the other hand, they have a tried and tested system to influence and benefit producers’ communities, they have very capable campaigners and a run successful programmes. The recent developments are also very positive, and having read some of the plans for taking the movement further, forming partnerships (a recent link with  ‘uppermarket’ Waitrose, expected to combine expertise in retail, ethical trading and supply chain); expanding the range of products (textiles, mining, etc.), and promoting improvements on  product quality and safety (another one of my interests).
Over the years I have been influenced by meeting some of the inspiring producers, enthusiastic staff and hard-working volunteers. So I am convinced that Fairtrade Matters.
There are alternative ways of promoting fairness, cleanliness and goodness of the food that we eat, with many of the global networking and local action examples to be found on the Slow Food Movement. You can get involved from growing your own crops, to talking to those that prepare the food on the restaurants that you visit, from educating yourself about food provenance and ethical credentials to volunteer in a project or suitable campaign. And yes, and we may want to continue buying Fairtrade products… we are a Fairtrade University

Dr. Victor Kuri
Dr. Victor Kuri
Food scientist - lecturing in Food Quality at the School of Biological Sciences
Member of the University Fairtrade steering group

January: Don’t tell me you know what sustainability is, it won't be pretty!

After spending 18 years exploring various dimensions of sustainable development, and its less specific cousin sustainability I adhere to the old adage – the more you know the less you understand.  What I will say about sustainable development is this. It is a contested, ambiguous and fuzzy concept, it means different things to different people, communities, regions and nations – and in a wonderfully and sometimes tragically diverse world – so it should.  This is both its strength and its biggest flaw, I personally like the term, constructive ambiguity and let's leave it at that.

And with that in mind I am forever weary of the person that comes to me professing to know what sustainability is and even more weary of those that tell me what it should be.  This type of prescription is a dangerous precedent to set and history repeatedly supports this assertion.

But with that necessarily sceptical assessment behind us  there is little doubt that sustainable development  has become one of the 21st century's most important issues and if it does nothing else it identifies that the current path of development that we are on is most certainly not sustainable. And as we move through 2015 and wave goodbye to the Millennium Development Goals and firmly shake the hand of the Sustainable Development Goals, the concept will be increasingly in the spotlight, as, and forgive me for repeating myself – so it should be.

Indeed, the starting point to building solutions around the principles of sustainable development is to ask the simple question, what does it mean in any particular context?  I have asked this question a number of times.  I asked this question within the context of the United Nations – the organisation that has been central to embedding the concept in the global cultural zegeist.  I have asked this question in local government and community levels and now I ask that same question of the surfing industry. Yes you heard correctly surfing – So for a  moment set aside your preconceptions and your stereotypes, dismiss the image of the blond haired teenager and the  WV Camper Van.  But what am I saying I know this audience is more sophisticated than that!   So consider this: 

Surfing sells a dream of a simpler life, one connected to the ocean, connected to nature and once it’s sold you that it’s going to sell you a t-shirt, some board shorts,  pair of shoes, a car, a holiday, some interesting smelling after shave, insurance and my personal favourite – a pint of Guinness.  This list is far from exhaustive.  And you will notice I have not included a surfboard or a wetsuit, and that is because the majority of surfing goods are not bought by those who actually surf.  

The surfing industry is a multi Billion dollar selling machine. Estimates have put it at US$ 8 billion in the States alone  and recent academic studies have estimated that overall economic, environmental and social impacts closer to 130 billion.  To our South West economy the figure I conservatively   £100 million.

And like any industry it has many social and environment negatives none of which I am going to talk about now.  But the surfing industry is beginning to reflect on its own practices and the term sustainability is beginning to emerge from within it.

So again I have asked the question what does sustainability actually mean in the surfing world?  I asked this question of over 40 of the surfing world’s leading minds from CEOs of multinational corporations, heads of surfing NGOs, politicians, activists, celebrities, journalists, entrepreneurs and more.  The answers to this question are contained in a book due to be published late next month by University Plymouth Press, ‘Sustainable Stoke: Transitions to Sustainability in the Surfing World’. This is the first time so many different voices, in the surfing world have come together to discuss a single topic.  But this is not definitive, nothing relating to sustainability can be,  it is the beginning of a conversation, the way I see it the first of many that will help set this particular industry on  more sustainable path. 

This work has been translated into an educational output here at Plymouth with a new module on the BSc (Hons) Public Management and Business Programme in the School of Government that has already received endorsements from many of the people included in the book. And  expanding this I am now in the process of writing two more books for Routledge titled Sustainability and Surfing and Surfing and Sustainability respectively, so whether the surfing world likes it or not – I’m going to be asked that question a few more times. 

Oh and don’t forget, if you see me walking around campus - Don’t tell me you know what sustainability is, it won't be pretty!

Dr Gregory Borne is a Lecturer Public Management and Policy, Programme Leader for MSc Public Management and BSc (Hons) Public Management and Business at Plymouth University