3 lessons I have learned about sustainability from Greta Thunberg

Written by Caoilainn Scouler - February 12, 2019

Lately, I’ve been feeling very inspired by Greta Thunberg. If you’re the kind of person who keeps up with the latest news on climate, you probably know who she is – or at least have heard her name.

Greta Thunberg is a sixteen year old climate activist from Sweden. She made headlines last year when she began striking from school and protesting in front of the Swedish parliament in a bid to inspire urgent action on climate change.

Since then, Greta has become a well-known figure in the realm of climate activism. Her straightforward approach is refreshing and has helped highlight some of the most important issues of our time.

Image of Greta Thunberg, wearing a white wooly hat and looking directly at the camera


Here are three lessons on sustainability I have learned from her in the past few months.

#1 – Stand by your values

In both our personal and professional lives, it is important to stick by your values. Greta Thunberg travelled to COP24 in Katowice in an electric car, a 1,600 km journey from her hometown in Sweden. She also took a 32 hour to train to Davos earlier this year. Contrast that with the 1,500 private jets that travelled to the summit, all carrying delegates who attended talks on man-made climate change. Her commitment to setting a good example – often for people who are far older than her – is setting an amazing precedent.

I believe we should always stand by our values and set the best possible example. Thinking is one thing, but acting is another.

That is why we should turn our values into actionable ideas. This can and should be a big challenge. Sometimes, living by your values can take extra effort. In some cases, it might mean giving up something you once enjoyed. But what we lose from giving up unsustainable habits, we gain back in integrity.

It’s also an interesting challenge to see how well your business lives up to your values. A great way for businesses to do this is to assess themselves for B-Corp certification. This will help you evaluate the true impact your business has on the environment, your customers, your employees, and more.

#2 – The power of an individual

“You are never too small to make a difference,” remarked Greta at the UN climate summit. This phrase is thrown around a lot, but in my opinion, it shouldn’t lose its weight.

Living sustainably can be taxing at times. It’s easy to question yourself when filling up jars at the bulk store, or during that long cycle into work. What difference can I really make?

Small differences are more tangible than we think. For example, by swapping cow’s milk for oat milk every morning, your breakfast requires roughly ten times less land to produce*. This alone makes a massive difference over time.

As a business owner, you can reduce your environmental impact by travelling as little as possible. You can order in plant-based food for meetings, or design a sustainable website for your business so that it uses significantly less energy. Your colleagues are likely to pick up on these efforts, which in turn can inspire others.

#3 – Be compassionate

“Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created, but that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame.” This is another snippet from one of Greta’s speeches that really made me think. She is right. Blame for the climate crisis cannot be divided up equally; in fact, it is inherently unequal. And of course, it’s very easy to blame large corporations and governments for the state of the planet.

Yet what I have begun to realise is that if I am able to comfortably watch her speech on my laptop from my flat in London, it’s likely that I am contributing more than I realise to climate change.

In response to this, I can take action. I can avoid products that contain palm oil, or get a bike and cycle to work. But some people cannot, for financial or accessibility reasons, make such changes.

The poorest people in the world face the most severe consequences of climate change – yet contribute the least harm. Environmental inequality is also a reality closer to home. New research has found that residents of London’s poorest neighbourhoods often have the poorest air quality. “It’s shocking to see that these inequities are also clear even within one of the richest continents in the world,” said Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, the World Health Organization’s climate change and health team leader.

That’s why I believe it is important to stay humble. When it comes to sustainability, it can be tempting to shirk the blame from ourselves, or resort to chastising others for “not doing enough”. In our efforts to live more sustainable lives, we should never lose sight of our compassion. After all, approaching challenges with a compassionate, collaborative attitude always yields the best results.

*Source: BBC News