Eight reasons why sustainability is like Madonna

Can Madonna help us understand sustainability, asks Zoe Hanks.

Sustainability explained through songs

‘The queen of reinvention’, ‘80’s fashionista’ and ‘controversial pop-star’ are all phrases that you associate with Madonna, but not necessarily with sustainability.

So how on earth did I make this tenuous connection you may ask yourself?…

1. Vogue

A few years ago, if you asked Joe Public what sustainability meant to them, you would be met with responses of “it’s a buzzword”, “a flash in the pan” and “people will soon get bored of it”. It was certainly seen as ‘in vogue’ and people questioned its longevity. Thankfully, sustainability has found its place and individuals are beginning to understand their own impacts more than ever before.

2. Live To Tell

The whole thrust of sustainability is the feeling of wanting (and needing) to protect what is important to us for generations to come. As I have got older and now have children of my own, I want my kids to be able to have the resources they need to live a long and healthy life. My 7 year old son often asks me what life was like ‘in the olden days’ (sadly he doesn’t mean pre-decimalisation) and in so many ways we have come so far. But we must ask ourselves what has that been at the expense of?

3. Like A Virgin

When you take your tentative first steps into the world of sustainability, you really are like a sustainability-virgin. It’s all new, you are unsure of what it’s all about and you don’t even know if it’s worth doing. Bear with it. It does get more enjoyable!

4. Borderline

To start with you may feel uncomfortable about what you are doing and have a foot in both camps. For many, a more sustainable way of operating doesn’t necessarily feel like the right way of operating to them and so many stay on the periphery for a while looking for some external validation. My advice is to jump right in. You can spend months thinking about whether what you are doing is the right thing to do. Far better to get started and tweak along the way than to be paralysed with the fear of what could go wrong.

5. Papa Don’t Preach

If you’re anything like me – you will hate being told what to do, regardless of whether or not it’s the right thing. And many people feel this way about sustainability. It shouldn’t be about being preached to, more about trying to create that ‘epiphany moment’, where the penny drops, suddenly it all makes sense and people are compelled into action

Sustainability programmes can easily become quite unwieldy in a short space of time.

6. Material Girl

When it comes to identifying your own sustainability priorities, you should first start to think about what your organisation’s key business impact areas are - your material issues. Material issues are the areas where your business has, or could potentially have, the biggest sustainability impacts on people and the planet. There are many ways in which you can do this, and I suggest starting by getting your hands dirty and doing some good old fashioned digging into your own practices. You may be surprised at what you find!

7. Into The Groove

Once you have fathomed out what it is you should be doing, how you should be doing it, who needs to be involved, and what the business benefits are, you can really find your groove. Sustainability programmes can easily become quite unwieldy in a short space of time. They tend to cover many issues and span many departments. However, once you get started you will soon find that your plan will evolve and you will soon start reaping the rewards that a sustainability programme will bring.

8. Express Yourself

There are so many different campaigns and ideas that I come across every day that are new and innovative and really engage with their target audience. Don’t assume that your stakeholders know what you are doing. If you are doing great things in the field of sustainability that have the potential to be game-changers in your industry then for goodness sake shout about it!