Category Archives: Culture and Consciousness

What is Sustainability?

The 1.2M citizens per month* searching Google on the term, sustainability, very often ask, as we do here, What is Sustainability? It shows we have some work to do to raise awareness by starting with the basics. The definition I use most frequently comes from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations:

Look and listen for the welfare of the constitutionwhole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.

Here are thirteen other voices, some you may recognize, others, until you listen, are strangers, but all are sustainability advocates.panel1 We begin with Dr. Stuart Hall of Cornell University, Sustainability Has Many Definitions, 1:37

Larry Merculieff (Aleut), Alaska Native Science Commission, Use of the Term Sustainability 4:52. This is one interview of a series conducted by Dr. David Hall on Native Perspectives of Sustainability.

Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt of The Natural Step, Defining Sustainability:Business panel2Insights, 1:39 and The Responsibility of Civic and Business Leaders, A Personal View 5:56. No better source for sustainability than Dr. Robèrt.

Dassault Systemes, Definition of Sustainable Innovation, Elementary Style, animation, 2:50

Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism Solutions, What is Sustainability? A Nest of Issues 9:26

RealEyes, Definition of Sustainability, animated feature 2:02. More videos on their YouTube channel such as Sustainability in Turkish.

panel3Dr. Albert Bartlett, Sustainability 101: Exponential Growth, 59:12 Even the first 3 minutes is worth the listen especially about percent growth rate, but this is really stuff we should have all learned in arithmetic.

Chris Farrell, Being Frugal: The Original Sustainability, 5:34 He makes a good point.

Christoph Lueneburger of Egon Zehnder, Definition of Sustainability by Corporations, 3:01. Biggest barrier is just starting with the definition.

People 4 Earth, Consumer Awareness of Sustainability, animation, 2:50. More of this kind of education and we further consumer and sustainability awareness.

Allison and Bud McGrath, R&K McGrath & Associates, What Is Sustainability? (audio only) and a father-daughter team.

Professor Julian Agyeman, Tufts University, What is Just Sustainability? 38:11. This is Julian’s keynote speech before the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Professor Nikos Avionas, What is Your Vision for Sustainability, 4:56

sastampThese voices of sustainability on will give you more to talk about, new people to reference, and great quotes when the topic of sustainability comes up as it does often. We hope you will be inspired to do your own definition and “broadcast yourself.”  When you do post it to YouTube to let us know about it and we will add it to our special collection, What Is Sustainability?  If you want to do more online video around sustainability to increase sustainability awareness for you and your business, call us. With over 1,000 voices now in our collection, all curated for relevancy and quality, we have learned a bit about sustainability and online video.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, March 12, 2012, Portland, Oregon, 415-377-1835.

Note: *This is about the same number for those searching on corporate social responsibility and those wanting to know the price of an iPhone.


To Scientists: It’s Not About The Climate

Sustainability>Planet>Climate Change>deniers

I think the debate around climate change (see two previous blog posts, Advancing Science and Serving Society) reflects a lack of confidence in scientists coming in part from the health sciences where false claims and misrepresentations, not to mention theft, spill over and sully the reputation of all scientists. The result is increasing doubt and distrust on the part of citizens. It shouldn’t work that way, but it is with studies showing “trust in science is decreasing.”

Doubt: False Claims and Misrepresentation

The fact that scientists are closely allied with big Pharma on and off the campus is no big secret. Marketing drugs that generate billions in sales, year after year, by making unsubstantiated claims with mouse type disclaimers is often news and has been for years.   Such was the case with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) at the time a real money maker with $2.75B in revenues (2001). It supposedly prevented heart attacks, offered only a slight risk of breast cancer, and, making it the Viagra of its day, “improved the mental health, sex lives and overall well-being of older women.”  Wow.  Small potatoes compared to the statin Lipitor, the best selling drug of all time with 2009 revenues at $27B. And the effect of long term use of statins? Diabetes maybe? Wow again.  And it really isn’t about health is it?

Forty two percent of Americans distrust the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and 39% gave poor ratings to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for failing to serve companies in 2007.

Instances of fabricating, falsifying, or misrepresenting research data are not uncommon, unfortunately, and tend to be what the reading public remembers because often the individual or someone in their community, even a close family member, have had direct experience with an undelivered “brand promise.”  And it is about the scientists.

A 2007 Harris Interactive poll found that among 1,726 US adults, 27% of the public distrusts- ‘somewhat’ or ‘very strongly’- the Food and Drug Administration. More

Then there’s The New York Times report yesterday on a “scientific reversal as dramatic and strange as any in recent memory, the finding (possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome) has been officially discredited…a legal melodrama erupted, dismaying and demoralizing patients and many members of the scientific community.”

75% of U.S. clinical trials in medicine are paid for by private companies

Distrust: Theft

Cancer Center, in Suit, Claims Ex-Official Took Research

In Monday’s business section the New York Times reports on the theft allegation by the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn against its former scientific director, Dr. Craig B. Thompson, now President of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  “At Penn” is the revenue angle for the University, an increasingly compromising factor that turns discoveries into gold.   The overall take away: follow the money, not the science.  Mr. Abramson is “one of Penn’s biggest donors” with a major source of his wealth coming from the sale of the company he founded, U.S. Healthcare, to Aetna in 1996.

From the drug scene to natural gas

Screen shot 2012-02-08 at 3.33.45 PMWhen you hear this story, Game Changer from the radio show This American Life about Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State University and Dan Volz, director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, you will hear the sound of big money talking at the intersection of environment, community, health, and climate change as natural gas is the hot “alternative clean energy investment.” We prefer to think of it as a high risk energy alternative and encourage credible advocacy from scientists on helping citizens determine just how risky to ecosystem services, especially the nation’s clean water supply, fracking really is.

Antidotes to distrust and doubt


Dr. Chappell

In a recent lecture Dr. M. Jahi Chappell of Washington State University referenced research that shows most of us don’t even know a scientist making it difficult to balance what one reads and sees on TV with personal experience.  Dr. Chappell as a political ecologist cultivates and collaborates with a diverse group of scholars and practitioners.

Add to the isolation picture the following state of affairs in many universities and you can see opportunities for scientists to address distrust and doubt by developing personal relationships, speaking to the community directly, partnering with practitioners, and being activists for change (credible advocacy is how Dr. Chappell put it):

  • academic research centers reliance on turning discoveries made on their campuses into revenue – a tide that needs turning with a firewall or two;
  • scientists rewarded for writing for each other, not for citizens and credible advocacy organizations, a practice unattractive to younger faculty who understand the need to regain trust and respect while migrating from print to the world of social media and “broadcast yourself.”
  • a belief on the part of the scientific community that so-called objectivity is compromised by exercising responsibilities as a citizen needs to be debunked by the leadership of educational institutions; and
  • silos of belief systems organized to fly under one flag, sustainability science, designed to
… bring together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicineit can be usefully thought of as “neither ‘‘basic’’ nor ‘‘applied’’ research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs; it serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two.

Video Resources

To spark interest and seed conversation among scientists who recognize the need to address trust and confidence in their institutions and community these resources are helpful, some of which have been referenced above.

Video excerpts from Dr. Chappell’s lecture at Portland State University, Social Sustainability Colloquium, the podcast, Responsibility of Intellectuals, from the program, To the Best of Our Knowledge; Gas Land by Josh Fox; Examined Life by Astra Traylor; and an interview with Al Bartlett, Professor Emeritus, Physics, Colorado University, entitled My Trust Was Misplaced.

Dr. Bartlett’s advice seem particularly apt for the citizen we all are: “You have to do your own thinking.”

Ruth Ann Barrett, February 8, 2011, Portland, Oregon

Sustainability: Not Any One Issue

Screen shot 2012-02-08 at 11.30.29 AMThis is a quick look at the results  of the 2011 CONE/ECHO Global CR Opportunity Study that is available here at the Cone site and looked at through a sustainability lens. The takeaway cited by the authors is that  “consumers globally believe companies have an explicit responsibility to help change the world.”

Can there be but one issue anymore?

Screen shot 2012-02-08 at 11.38.03 AMOr put all the wood behind one arrow.

whole picture

This same information, with a shift in the lens to a sustainability perspective rather than pieces and parts, unifies and integrates moving us toward the requirement of an interconnected holistic approach, using the integrated elements of sustainability strategically.

The lens we use to ask for opinions and present information about those opinions can’t be the same one we’ve been using for the last thirty years . How we use information to motivate and inspire citizens and organizations of all stripes to change their consumption habits is the challenge for all of us who accept “explicit responsibility to help change the world” and who are marketers and communicators.

Can we agree on this?

Here’s some examples of messages that educate, motivate and inspire while addressing the whole, not pieces and parts:

Rethinking the Economy by Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

disConnected Consciousness by environmentalist Julia Butterfly Hill,

and John Marshall Roberts on the Science of Inspiration.

By: Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate,, February 8, 2012, Portland, Oregon.

Advancing Science, Serving Society in a Hostile Environment

In Friday’s post about climate change I referenced four videos, one of which features Prince Charles denouncing the climatePrince Charles change deniers.  What I didn’t refer to is the public Statement of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Regarding Personal Attacks on Climate Scientists. “We are deeply concerned by the extent and nature of personal attacks on climate scientists. Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public.”

Prince Charles notes, so clearly and directly it takes your breath away, “the corrosive effect on public opinion of those climate change skeptics who denounce the vast body of scientific evidence that shows beyond a any reasonableroulette doubt  that global warming has been exasperated by human industrial activities” and then asks, “Will such people be held accountable at the end of the day for their absolute refusal to continence a precautionary approach? For this plays, I would suggest,  a most reckless game of roulette with the future inheritance for those that come after us…”

The role of associations, like the AAAS, in educating the public and alerting citizens to issues not covered in the mainstream press (they express it as “advancing science, serving society”) needs to be increased if we are to hear the unfiltered voices of sustainability above the din of ignorance, self interest, and disinformation, information intended to mislead. Here’s a popular video, How It All Ends, on thinking it through for yourself; using risk management to end the debate;  and how YOU can help make things happen.

Sustainability Advocate, Ruth Ann Barrett, February 5, 2011, Portland, Oregon.

Announcing the Sustainability Information Diet (SID)

Introducing the Sustainability Information Diet (SID)
heatmapSID is all about increasing sustainability awareness on the Web which is awash in information resulting in search results running to thousands of possibilities and our eyes seeing but the first three or four listings. Here’s a heat map of the results page, Google search. A listing of a YouTube video on page one of the results catches attention as shown in other heat maps.

Low Awareness What search does tell us is that sustainability awareness is low. And very low in the United States.  The U.S. ranks in the bottom of the top ten on sustainability search estimated at 1.2M per month globally. This is about the same number for those searching on corporate social responsibility and those wanting to know the price of an iPhone. This relates to the majority of search traffic that uses English, but does not exclude search traffic being highest on sustainability from countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Singapore and Hong Kong who along with Australia (#1), New Zealand, United Kingdom, U.S., and Canada make up the top ten regions.

ConsciousAwareness4GLow awareness adversely affects those selling green products as awareness is the first step in the consumer buying cycle. It makes educating, inspiring, and motivating our citizens to make changes at home and work less effective as well as it’s also the first step in the learning cycle. Awareness is very important. Many talk about it in terms of consciousness such as Julia Butterfly Hill who talks about disconnected consciousness.

Tagging and Linking The more the term is used in the news, the more people use the term, the more people search, wanting to know more, the higher awareness. Equally important is connecting, through tagging and linking as sustainability, to other more popular search terms such as human rights (2.7M), climate change (2.2M), and global warming (2.7M). This is the stuff of search engine marketing a topic guaranteed to put most people to sleep yet key to increasing sustainability awareness. I’ve just touched on it here.

Yet the very thing that increases awareness (more stuff) contributes to the problem of information overload as first introduced in 1970 by Alvin Toffler in his book, Future Shock, and now best expressed in numbers. When you search on sustainability there are 31M results. Blinkx the video search engine produces 354,000 videos, up from 121,000 since we first did this query four years ago, video still a small percentage of the content out there, but growing in leaps and bounds.

A Diet for Excess
The stuff we are buried in is a sea of text – reports, opinions, programs, organizations, initiatives, campaigns, projects, news, debates, speeches, panels, events, and PR releases. Not so when it comes to online video. This diet isn’t about less, but more targeted, linked, tagged video to meet the information needs of those already searching and increase awareness.

Portion Control For our SID readers we will use portion control based on our collection of over nine hundred videos, aggregated then curated for relevancy and quality, to bring to your attention to how corporations, non-profits, educational institutions, and individuals are using video to help answer some basic questions, what is sustainability, a supply chain, sourcing, a for benefit organization, or concepts such as natural capitalism through speeches, panels, documentaries, art, animation, and interviews.

What’s Next? February 16, 2012
The primary question to be addressed in Month One, February 16, 2012 of our diet plan of mostly video is What is sustainability?

Videos will feature Prof. Julian Agyeman, Tufts University (38:10); Christoph Lueneburger, Egon Zehnder (3:01); Larry Merculieff (Aleut 4:52); Prof.Stuart Hart, Cornell University (1:37); Allison interviews her father Bud McGrath, CORE (audio only 10:09); Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt, Natural Step (5:56); and animated personalities from People 4 Earth (2:50), RealEyes (2:02), and Dassault Systems (2:50).

Tune in.

Reach Out and Educate with Your Voice

And make sure you are on YouTube.


In October 2011, 201.4 billion videos were viewed online, with the global viewing audience reaching 1.2 billion unique viewers age 15 and older. Google Sites led as the top global video property with nearly 88.3 billion videos viewed on the property during the month, accounting for 43.8% of all videos viewed globally. was the key driver of video viewing on Google Sites, accounting for more than 99% of videos viewed on the property. Source is comScore Video Metrix as reported in MediaPost’s Research Brief, Media Research Center, Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

Of course putting content out on the Web regardless whether it is text or video requires seeding the Web to increase page rankings and the probability of your content being found, viewed, and judged as relevant and of quality.

Lots of work ahead of us in 2012 to get the voices of sustainability out there and heard. We will exceed the 1,000 voices mark this month and look to 2,000 in 2012.

Sustainability and Occupy Movements

John Friedman, CSR-P, in his Sustainable Life Media blog post asks the question, Is the Occupy Movement a Call for Sustainability? His response is  well thought out and makes for excellent reading.  The article spurred me on to express my thoughts on Why the Occupy Movement is a Call for Sustainability. This is a perspective gleaned from having reviewed hundreds of videos based on a Web-wide query for sustainability voices; being at the Occupy Portland event as a video documentarian, and writing several blog posts.



As John points out “The initial media stories were somewhat dismissive; focusing on the lack of clarity and focus as the movement grew, perhaps forgetting that democracy is inherently a messy process…” reinforcing my belief that mainstream media folks are suffering from what activist Julia Butterly Hill calls “disconnected consciousness.”

From my perspective, the occupy movement reflects connection and consciousness, especially around issues, programs and actions that may be legal, but are immoral as well as those that are illegal and immoral.  It should come as no surprise that those in Abolish-Corporate-Personhoodseats of power and leadership who have chosen to see and profit from the world only through the green lens of consumerism (and also suffering form disconnected consciousness) are shaking their heads, mystified over what exactly it is that these folks are doing out there and where, for heavens sake, is the deal, the offer, the ROI, the plan for fixing every little thing.

It has taken sometime for our citizens to wrap their heads around the concepts that corporations are individuals, big money is to be made from caring for the sick and the dying, and mothers and children who are poor are the scammers out there we need to be protected from, especially if they come from Mexico to work in our fields and contribute to food production.  I hear the voices of sustainability in the signs and speeches at Occupy events and who now join hundreds of others in the sustainability movement such as Julia Butterfly Hill or Raj Patel who advises us generosity is the



antidote to greed or author Sharif Abdullah who explains economics in terms of criminality and morality or economist John Perkins who rightly points out we – producers and consumers – have “looked the other way” to social and economic costs in order to maximize profits and buy more and more cheap stuff or or any of the thousands of voices of sustainability out there who if they not on the street (yet) are at least online and in our libraries, accessible to all.

Sustainability and the other inconvenient Truth

Jonathan Foley in TEDx speech on the “other inconvenient truth” at the intersection of land, food, nightviewand the environment and how much of our resources we use for agriculture.  The images presented in this video are extremely informative, worth a thousand words each.

river1950Colorado River Photos

Jonathan Foley is director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of the Minnesota and leader of  the IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative. Foley’s work focuses on complex global environmental systems and their interactions with human societies.

rivernowWe typically think of climate change as the biggest environmental issue we face today. But maybe it’s not? In this presentation, Jonathan Foley shows how agriculture and land use are maybe a bigger culprit in the global environment, and could grow even larger as we look to feed over 9 billion people in the future.  We need to move towards the concept of Terra Culture.

User Generated Content Fit to Publish – Part I

There’s the New York Times as content maker, the role we are all familiar with, and channel, the role we assume, but do not label, especially with the tv-like word, channel.

In the last week the New York Times demonstrates a shift that’s going on with user generated content from all bad to, well, interesting. Let’s take a look.

Front page New York Times – photography with cell phone. Video example is of pepper spraying police officer which was all over the news this last week.

New York Times Cellphone PhotoAnd then there was the “homemade” video that made it on to their video channel (page) for a series about love and relationships which while not political, is social and cultural and a good start to incorporating citizen-powered online video into a mainstream channel.

Screen shot 2011-10-02 at 6.25.07 PM

And the video by the Times  (not clear if producer is on staff or not) that’s news about a performance art piece featuring naked performers has the look and feel of user generated content and addresses, er, transparency.

Screen shot 2011-10-02 at 6.31.19 PM

Hope the schools of journalism and communication are paying attention to this because writing it is not, fact checking it need not be, and when it comes to citizen-powered, video content it’s carpe diem or, well, get left behind.

We see the opportunity to pair a sustainability channel with sustainability-related social networks and subscriber bases for kick starting citizen-powered online video as part of the sustainability movement.   Cause marketing will never be the same. And journalism?

Core Values of an Interdependent Community

tn_21027This last week had the opportunity to interview Jim Corcoran who along with the help of Gary Marschke and other volunteers in Portland, Oregon founded the Aging Artfully Initiative (AAI). This interview focused on Jim talking about the four core values or promises of the AAI, all of which can serve as an excellent example for others in the planning stages of building an interdependent community around the concept of aging artfully. Visit, voices of sustainability.