Our Top 10 Favorite Ted Talks on Sustainability - Public Goods

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Our Top 10 Favorite Ted Talks on Sustainability

“Sustainability” is one of those vague, daunting terms that can have a million definitions.

group of people sitting in chairs watching a TED talk

To break down what it really means to go green, check out our favorite TED Talks that cover subtopics under the large umbrella of sustainability. Whether you’re into popular trends like reducing plastic use, or niche subjects such as converting mushrooms into packaging materials, at least one of these lectures will scratch your itch for knowledge.

1. Olivia Tyler: The Complex Path to Sustainability


As a sustainability practitioner with 17 years of experience, Olivia Tyler believes that everyone, no matter their role in society, can make decisions that help create a better future. She joined the financial services sector after a 10-year career in manufacturing and retail. With her MBA, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Environmental Engineering, she leads the creation and adoption of responsible, sustainable, and inclusive practices across the supply chain and identifies ways to reduce the environmental impact of an organization’s operations.

In this Ted Talk, Tyler explains how sustainability is complex and how the manufacturers making the labels for their products don’t go into detail about whether that product is sustainable. She also talks about how technology can help us become more sustainable in the future.

2. Ray Anderson: The Business Logic of Sustainability


Ray Anderson founded Interface, a company that makes carpet tiles. He had a passion for carpeting, focused on building his company and making great products.

Then he read Paul Hawken’s book, “The Ecology of Commerce.” Anderson realized, with his company’s global reach and manufacturing footprint, he was in a position to do something very real — very important — in building a sustainable world.

Anderson talks about how his carpet company has increased sales and doubled profits while turning the traditional “take / make / waste” industrial system on its head. He also shares his vision for sustainable commerce.

3. Chris McKnett: The Investment Logic for Sustainability


Chris McKnett helps institutional investors put money toward sustainable and socially forward assets at State Street Global Advisors. He thinks deeply about how investors, like banks, pension funds, and endowments, can invest their money in creating a better world, not only profiting. In McKnett’s role as the head of State Street Global Advisors’ Environmental, Social, and Governance Investing (ESG), he develops strategic products that are sustainable and integrates sustainability thinking directly into the investment process.

In Mcknett’s talk, he argues that large institutional investors are the best groups to make environmental progress for our future. He also shows how strong financial data isn’t enough, and reveals why investors need to look at a company’s environmental, social, and governance structures as well.

4. Alex Steffen: The Route to a Sustainable Future


Alex Steffen is a Planetary Futurist who tells powerful, inspiring stories about the hard choices facing humanity and our opportunity to create a better future. After working as a journalist on four continents, Steffen co-founded and ran the online magazine, Worldchanging.com, from 2003-2010.

In those 7 years, he made Worldchanging one of the world’s leading sustainability-related publications, with an archive of almost 12,000 articles and a large global audience. He also edited “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century,” an internationally best-selling book surveying innovative solutions to the planet’s most pressing problems.

Steffen uses real-world examples and big-picture research in his talk to show us that a brighter, greener future is ours to choose. He argues that reducing humanity’s ecological footprint is incredibly vital right now, as the western consumer lifestyle spreads to developing countries.

5. Steve Howard: Let’s Go All-In On Selling Sustainability


Steve Howard is a corporate innovator and a chief sustainability officer who lead the sustainability effort at Ikea, helping the low-price furniture store bring sustainable products to millions of people. The improvements he’s made so far include helping farmers grow more sustainable cotton around the world, remaking classic products to use fewer parts, and investing $1.6 billion in 2015 in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

In Howard’s talk, he tells us how the buildings of Ikea have sprouted solar panels and wind turbines on the outside and inside, and the shelves are stocked with LED lighting and recycled cotton. He continues to sell eco-friendly materials and practices both internally and to worldwide customers, and he challenges other companies to do the same.

6. Catherine Mohr: The Tradeoffs of Building Green


Catherine Mohr is the VP of Strategy for Intuitive Surgical in Silicon Valley, faculty at Singularity University, and advisor to med-tech startups in the UK, the U.S., and her native country, New Zealand. Mohr follows her admittedly geeky passions wherever they lead her, as she designs and travels all over the world. She is always on the lookout for new technologies to help improve people.

Mohr explains the decisions she made when she built a greenhouse. She also illustrates how we can make choices to save energy and build a sustainable future.

7. Kamal Meattle: How to Grow Fresh Air


Kamal Meattle has a vision to reshape commercial buildings in India using principles of green architecture and sustainable upkeep. In 1990 he founded the Paharpur Business Centre and Software Technology Incubator Park in New Delhi to provide “instant office” space to technology companies. In the 1980s Meattle assisted India’s apple industry with the development of less-wasteful packaging to save acres of trees. He then began a campaign to help India’s millions of scooter drivers use less oil.

In Meattle’s Ted Talk he shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

8. Michael Pawlyn: Using Nature’s Genius in Architecture


Michael Pawlyn created the architecture firm, Exploration, in 2007 to focus on environmentally sustainable projects that take their inspiration from nature. Before he established the company, Pawlyn worked with the firm, Grimshaw, for 10 years and was central to the team that radically re-invented horticultural architecture for the Eden Project. In 1999, he was one of five winners in A Car-free London, an ideas competition for strategic solutions to the capital’s future transport needs and new possibilities for urban spaces.

Pawlyn talks about his Sahara Forest Project, which creates salt water-cooled greenhouses, research facilities, outdoor vegetation zones, and solar power plants. He also explains how architects can build a new word that is sustainable. Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.

9. Mike Biddle: We Can Recycle Plastic


In 1992, Mike Biddle, a plastics engineer, set out to find a solution to recycle more plastic instead of throwing it out. He set up a lab in his garage in Pittsburg, California, and began experimenting with complex-plastics recycling, borrowing ideas from such industries as mining and grain processing.

Since then Biddle has developed a patented 30-step plastics recycling system. Today the company he co-founded, MBA Polymers, has plants all over the world.

In Biddle’s Talk, he explains his 30-step plastics system and how it includes magnetically extracting metals, shredding the plastics, sorting them by polymer type, and producing graded pellets to be reused in industry, a process that takes less than a tenth of the energy required to make virgin plastic from crude oil.

10. Eben Bayer: Are Mushrooms the New Plastic?


Eben Bayer is the co-founder of Evocative and co-invented MycoBond, a technology that uses filamentous fungi to transform agricultural waste products into strong composite materials. It’s based on mycelium, a living, growing organism, and is an organic adhesive that turns waste into a foam-like material for packaging and insulation.

In his Ted Talk, Bayer discusses his idea for a new, fungus-based packaging material that protects fragile items such as furniture and plasma screens.

Talk the Talk

Do you have a favorite TED Talk that we missed? If so, please comment below. We’d love to learn more!

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