Tongue-tied for change?

So I’ve always felt a bit of a weirdo in that I studied art and design, but have always been a stickler for correct spelling, with a passion for language. I love words and I’m fascinated by the power of story telling and using the right (or wrong) words to convey a message, to elicit feelings and actions in others.

So when it comes to telling the stories around climate change and system change for sustainable business (or is it regenerative or responsible, ethical or conscious??) Why do we get so tied up by language? Are the words we are using creating barriers to change and action?

Credit: Think Circular 2023

If we don’t understand the language and we don’t have universal understanding of what good looks like, how can we get there? It’s like a pre-Google world with no map or tools to lead us and multiple or undefined ideas on what the destination might be.

We are confused, as consumers, as citizens, as people in organisations trying to sell stuff or trying to be part of driving change. Whether through deliberate or ill-informed messaging, the words accompanying a product, a campaign or a news story are powerful and often convey unintended messages. Take ‘carbon negative’ for example, this is a good thing, but does everyone necessarily get that? Typically scientists are less good at selling a compelling message than a marketeer – for instance ‘climate positive’ sounds way more sexy, but what does it actually mean?

My thoughts are echoed in a Scientific American piece I came across by way of Lubomila Jordanova on Linkedin on the language of climate science. However my fear is that whilst accuracy is helpful, we could just end up replacing words and engaging in semantics battles, without moving towards the destination of what good might look like, (as you can tell I’m a big fan of simple words like good and better!)

Credit: Scientific American February 2023 edition

If we want to create a post fossil-fuel, sub 1.5C, fairer world, it kind of sounds obvious, but we need to visualise the world we want, what a good or better world looks like, what it smells like and we what it feels like. Not in some utopian dream-like state, but practically what needs to happen, to be in place and what needs to change, in order to move towards (or rather back from it). And importantly we need to believe we can get there and take everyone with us, and it all starts with the words we use or rather the stories we tell.

Out of all the sustainability reads out there, one of my favourites is The World We Want, by Jonathan Porritt. It is written from the future, sharing the journey of how we overcame many of the challenges we face today to create a better world, pulling on robust scientific data and learnings from today, reframed into positive stories of tomorrow, using the marketeers language to tell the climate scientists story.

Credit: The World we Made, Jonathan Porritt

So what world shall we create?…

What world do we want to live in?
What does good or better look like?
What does it feel like?
What words could we take from the story of nature or other cultures?
What are the stories we want to tell?

Please let me know your thoughts, keep the words simple and the stories positive!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *