Happiness and sustainability

At the UK Aware show on 17 April 2009, a key theme amongst speakers, both amongst the London Leaders, people working in London on sustainability projects, and the panelists for the Big Carbon debate, was the need for creativity in tackling issues around sustainability. Alan Knight, one of the Commissioners of the Sustainable Development Commission, raised the issue that we need to improve the quality of the narrative around sustainable lifestyles in order to make them attractive to the public. He posed the question of what does a sustainable lifestyle look like that is cool, hip, trendy, sexy. 

I agree that there does need to be improvement in the quality of the narrative, or storytelling, around sustainability which really begins to capture the public’s imagination. However, I don’t think that it can be sold as another product, as another consumer option. The answer may lie elsewhere and may actually have been given at the event itself, although I didn’t recognise it as such at the time.Mukti Mitchell, who hosted the panel, has been living a low carbon lifestyle for the last ten years, and he said that he ‘has never been happier’ and he would be hard-pressed to meet a person happier than himself. 

Maybe Mukti is blessed with a predisposition towards happiness. But it seems to me that this would be an avenue worth exploring. If we are truly talking about sustainable lifestyles, then we need to be talking about quality of life. And it is not just a question of the government talking about it to people, it is about engaging people, asking them to think what would improve the quality of their life, what would make them happier – and it may well be that many of the options involve more sustainable living. It is not such a ‘glossy’ sell, but one which has to be more ‘sustainable’, in many senses of the word, in the long run. And what is more sexy than happiness?

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