Challenge norms and create beauty

Grace Kyne-Lilley

Senior Sustainability Knowledge Specialist, Bain & Company

If you’re at all involved in ‘sustainability’, then I expect there is a part of you that is terrified. I know I am!

A few years ago, I researched the climate crisis for a performance I was making – and found myself mourning for our lost futures. As I learnt more of the pollution and warming of our oceans, the catastrophic rates of deforestation and the unprecedented rates of extinction we are experiencing, I decided I needed to commit my time to somehow making a positive impact on the planet. I started to turn the oil tanker of my career in a new direction and focus on sustainability.

But what could I do? Where – in an NGO? In government? Would I need to study climate science, get another Masters?

How could I contribute?

Let’s skip the periods of existential crises, self-doubt and hesitation for the benefit of this article, and let me tell you about what has kept me going:

Kate Raworth spoke at De Balie in Amsterdam in 2018 and it changed my life. She was someone who was an expert in her field, innovative, determined to make a difference – and not completely depressed with the burden of knowledge of the state of the world. Raworth was promoting her book, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Her holistic approach, systems integration and challenges to the way we perceive value was truly inspiring. It taught me that we can do things at scale, and operate differently.

John D. Liu has been working in the field of ecosystem restoration for a number of years, and I discovered it via a Tegenlicht episode about his work. It was another early exposure to a practice which worked – which brought life to barren land. There are myriad ways to improve the health of our ‘natural’ environments; many of them have simple techniques, with a deep understanding of the interconnected relationships across species and systems. An online course called Ecosystem Restoration Design has evolved from an organisation Liu set up, Ecosystem Restoration Camps. Both intend to educate, create community and ultimately improve the health of the planet.

Justdiggit is my last example – an exciting, very well-marketed land restoration NGO (look at the image above! Tells a story so beautifully). They work with local partners to engage the communities in their projects to create new livelihoods from restored land, increasing biodiversity, improving water systems and nourishing the soil as they do so.

I don’t now work in land restoration, in case you were wondering. But this kind of work – work that has a holistic approach, integrates various systems, challenges norms, provides workable solutions while tackling various issues AND creates beauty – is what gives me the optimism to believe we can meaningfully change things. As Dr Cowie eloquently puts it: “We are not just another species evolving in the face of external influences. In contrast, we are the only species that has conscious choice regarding our future…”