Blog Post: Why Sustainability Cards facilitate the dialogue about the future we want

Card Connectedness, part of Sustainability Cards

by Matthias Mueller – founder of Sustainability Compass mobile app

In a series of three articles this is article No. 2. First article was about "Why we all should act smart based on our sustainability compass"

As a sustainability enthusiast you might have experienced this when you were asked to talk about sustainability and the future-fitness of society: What is a good point to start with? How can a fruitful discussion be launched without steering it towards a war of arguments?

This is where the Sustainability Cards will help you. Show them to a group of friends, co-workers or to your family and ask: What are the important drivers that make our project (whatever it is) more sustainable? I did that for instance at a conference workshop in Reykjavik where the participants defined sustainability drivers for a project like implementing a bike strategy in Reykjavik or introducing entrance fees for natural beauty sights in Iceland. Some groups chose the obvious criteria like reducing the use of fossil fuels or protecting health. Others thought that it would be more helpful if they focused on “Connectedness with Nature” or on “Participation”. What could these criteria give to a project like implementing a bike strategy? So thanks to the cards there was a good flow of dialogue and a sense of co-creation started to grow.
 Matthew, Wikimedia Foundation, 24th January 2012.
Vivid dialogue stimulated by the Sustainability Cards. Picture: Matthew, Wikimedia Foundation, 24th January 2012.

The content of the Sustainability Cards are the criteria, information about them and the questions asked in the Sustainability Compass mobile app – plus four joker cards. The cards are available in all the languages of the mobile app. The joker cards are the four system conditions of the Natural Step framework. If a group can’t agree on a criteria it can select one of the system conditions and research how the alignment with the condition would influence their action.
You will get the cards for free once you have downloaded the app. The link to the form is in the additional menu. There you will order a pdf. and then print out the cards so you can use them offline. Instructions about how to do that are given.
Card Connectedness
Card Connectedness, part of Sustainability Cards.

Joker Card
Joker Card with a system condition

The role model for the mobile app and the cards are the IDEO method cards. They are very famous among designers because they can be studied on screen and used directly in discussions and group facilitation. I have to admit that I even like the visual design of the IDEO cards. On the one side there is a page filling picture – on the other there is the text. So there are two levels of information that speak to you.
To show how the cards can be used we launched a website with several “playing” tipps which we tested. And we created a video that shows the story of Leo. He wants to re-organize the office space of his team and needs some inspiration to make it happen. So the little wizard arrives and gives him the Sustainability Cards which help Leo and his team to define and structure how their new office shall look like. Yes, I don’t exaggerate: the cards can be used in nearly every context!

Story of Leo
Thumbnail of youtube video: "Story of Leo".

To finish this article I’d like to present two other cases where I worked with the Sustainability Cards. One was in an innovation workshop in Zurich for the organization “Danach”. I asked the participants to name me a problem they would like to solve. Then I invited them to randomly select one of the cards – which couldn’t be recognized – and I asked: what would happen to your idea or action if this criteria was the most important one? It was amazing to see how these drivers of sustainability quickly added value even to ideas that seemed quite ordinary and everyday style. We hope that something similar will happen when we will use the cards to instruct product design students of the University of Lucerne this fall.
The last story started as a funny one. I am part of a group of facilitators and moderators who meet once a year to discuss cases they work on. For our evening entertainment we decided to play a storytelling game with these rules: The storyteller selects one of the Sustainability Cards and tells a story about the effects that happen when a driver is completely turned into negative. The listeners have to find out which of the criteria is completely neglected. In a way this was a funny exercize because every story ended up in a massive blockbuster movie like desaster. In another way it was a bit frightening because the stories clearly made the worst case scenarios obvious.
So the Sustainability Cards are meant to ease and facilitate dialogue and discussion about the future we wish, they can add a playful touch to the these talks and sometimes they even spark new smarter thinking and innovation!