Originally featured at the blog iSustainability

I met Thomas during Sustainable Brands Istanbul 2015 (#SB15Istanbul), and visited his master class on advertising and sustainability. Luckily we had the chance to talk also outside of the official agenda. I got impressed with his way of explaining the complicated issues of sustainability in a simple and action-inspiring way. I didn’t want to pass the opportunity to have him talk for my blog and give you some inspiration to pursue your sustainable life style.
Summer 2 ways
While I was in Istanbul at 37°C, Thomas talked to me from his home in Copenhagen where they have the worst summer in years with 13-14°C temperatures. You may realize if you watch the full interview recording, that he is sporting a sweater, while I am trying not to melt in my short sleeved shirt. That was kind of symbolic reminder about the climate changes, and the fact that we are all affected by the consequences.

Is sustainability just a hype?
We started off our talk with a discussion around sustainability as a trend, but also hype. Thomas shared with me, that based on his experience things are moving in a positive direction, and more and more companies, are actually spending real efforts to be more sustainable, but there is also still a lot of “stupid buzz” out there. What is important in the long run for consumers is to have transparent choice be it through governmental certifications, or the companies will decide to regulate themselves over time. It’s a learning curve and we are all still in the beginning of it, that’s why not everything is set and clear. And here is the role of the customers – we should use our common sense, and challenge the companies. Especially if we  believe the information on the label is misleading. Internet and social media are giving us a great option to research and be vocal, if we need to guide companies towards more sustainable future.

Empty calories and common sense
Our society is in a strange era of recognizing many issues, but not accounting for the consequences. It’s really hard to understand why we continue buying products, which use harmful chemicals in their production or even contain them. Choosing the right set of values will be the most decisive battle. Because nowadays we prioritize beauty over health, comfort over clean environment and basically short term over the long run. He said something I liked a lot – we are buying too many “empty calories” in our lives – not only in food and drinks, but also in fashion, cars, homes. What we need very much in these days is “common sense on micro scale” to fight complexities and push companies and institutions by choosing not to support the ones who built a fortune on ill business practices.

Better word than “Sustainability”
I asked Thomas if he can come up with a better more telling word that sustainability to make the communication easier (you know my opinion about the word “sustainability”). What he told me, I think was quite accurate – we should stop inventing conceptual complex words without meaning, and try name the topics with their names. It will remove the complexity of the subject, and it will make the issues much more actionable. Instead of coming up with another word, we should try to talk about sustainability in a way that 5 year old could understand, and this will be a better solution according to him.

Collaboration = individuals working together
In sustainability may be the most important element is the collaboration between all stake holders. Even if it’s easy to overlook households and individuals play an important role in the conversation for sustainability. It’s easy to throw the white towel and not do anything, but what would be really productive is everyone to take their responsibility. Like in a democracy – you have the right to voice up if you don’t like something and try find other people to support the idea and change things. And if you think about it collaboration is actually a “bunch of individuals working together”. There are many like minded people, non-profits, civil society organization, but also companies who are really willing to change the status quo. If you collaborate with them, if you use your money in super market as a vote to support them things can move in the right direction.

How to become more sustainable today?
I asked Thomas, what shall I do if I want to be more sustainable starting from today, because I am sure many people are looking at the whole lot of issues behind the label of sustainability and feel overwhelmed. Of course you can start by saving water or electricity but you might as well be more creative. As Thomas put it – you can approach it technically by looking at your environmental impact and concentrate on the biggest issues like international flights etc. But more working approach is to think about something you are passionate and start there and then take on a bigger battle. Changing habits is not easy, and starting with a topic you care for wholeheartedly increases your chance to succeed and be motivated to go further. Thomas gave me an example with food – as he is a big foodie. He found a local producer who is supplying him fresh farm produce. And what is even nicer – the products are coming in a box with a recipe for a specific meal – so in that way all products are getting used and he doesn’t waste food. At the same time he is eating more healthy, tasty and supporting the local community. What a great idea for a viable sustainable business.
The best part about his approach is that you can chose anything to start with – sport, fashion or anything you feel passionate and comfortable. In any case don’t take on too many goals at the same time, as change is hard and trying too many different things can be impossible to manage.
Thomas told me something very interesting – once you are done with your goal – you can take something bigger, but you might as well start including more people in your cause for example your family and make the project bigger. That’s a great way to multiply effects of change. In addition to that you may be willing to put gamification into it, by following who is where on their goals and do a friendly competition. Basically sustainability needs to be common practice and it needs to be fun, otherwise it won’t happen.
You can see the whole interview here. 

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Thomas Kolster © 2017
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