8th November 2017

10 TED Talks to inspire Sustainability Professionals


Everyone needs a bit of motivation and inspiration at times, at home and in the workplace. Even sustainability professionals. If you ever feel overwhelmed during a busy day, why not put your workload on hold for a few moments, take a quick breather and listen to good old TED.

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talks are influential videos from expert speakers, covering education, business, science, tech and creativity. The discussions are free to watch and the videos should only last up to 18 minutes. That’s slightly longer than the average tea break but TED talks are packed full of idea generators who can shed light on a vast range of topics in a different way.

If you ever feel like you need a deeper insight when it comes to helping to make the world a sustainable place to live, for us and our future generations and you need fresh ideas, turn to TED. Whether you own a company with its own sustainability agenda or your role makes you socially responsible for the business, TED can help you discover new possibilities and perspectives.

The media organisation has been going for some time now, starting as a conference in 1984. There are currently now two TED conferences a year and a large number of satellite conferences across the globe. This means there are oodles of talks to watch on your chosen topic but where do you start?

Well, what with Acre being a kind and thoughtful company, we’ve done the hard work for you, by handpicking ten TED talks on social responsibility and sustainability.

Some are recent talks, others are a few years old but still doing the rounds due to their thought-provoking content. Thank us later. You’re welcome.


“Magical houses made from bamboo” by Elora Hardy

The sustainable designer is founder of Ibuku, making bespoke bamboo homes in her native Bali.

Elora wanted to cultivate the power of sustainable materials and shares the potential of bamboo as a sustainable resource and a spark for the imagination.

Out of 1,450 bamboo species, the firm only uses seven and the timber is sustainable in three years due to the speed in which it grows.

“Bamboo will treat you right if you use it right,” Elora points out.

It has the tensile strength of steel and the compressive strength of concrete, yet is lightweight to carry.

Elora’s father built the Green School in Bali and choose bamboo as a promise to the children: “It’s one sustainable material they will not run out of,” Elora explains.

The houses are stunning structures, dreamy, allowing cool breezes to flow through and yes, there is a bathroom (although as Elora points out, the walls aren’t yet soundproofed).


“The case for optimism on climate change” by Al Gore

The former Vice President of the United States has been involved with the environmentalist activist movement for decades. The Nobel Laureate regularly speaks about sustainability and the future of the planet and took to the stage at last year’s conference. He asked three powerful questions about the man-made forces threatening to destroy our planet — and the solutions we’re designing to combat them.

He summarised: “So the answer to the first question, “Must we change?” is yes, we have to change. Second question, “Can we change?” This is the exciting news! The best projections in the world 16 years ago were that by 2010, the world would be able to install 30 gigawatts of wind capacity. We beat that mark by 14 and a half times over.

“Last question, “Will we change?” Paris really was a breakthrough, some of the provisions are binding and the regular reviews will matter a lot.But nations aren’t waiting, they’re going ahead.”

He also points out that when any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is fore-ordained because of who we are as human beings. “Ninety-nine per cent of us, that is where we are now and it is why we’re going to win this.

“We have everything we need. Some still doubt that we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”


“The surprising thing I learned by sailing solo around the world” by Dame Ellen MacArthur

Dame Ellen is a circular economy advocate following a lightbulb moment during her sailing adventure.

During her TED talk, she explained how she felt at sea: “Your boat is your entire world. What you take with you is all you have, what we have out there was all we have. There is no more. Our global economy is no different. It’s entirely dependent on finite materials we only have once in the history of humanity.”

Her passion for what she does shines through in this compelling talk where she shares the highs and lows of her experiences at sea and how she has developed her ideas.

“What inspired me most about the circular economy was its ability to inspire young people.When young people see the economy through a circular lens, they see brand new opportunities on exactly the same horizon. They can use their creativity and knowledge to rebuild the entire system, and it’s there for the taking right now, and the faster we do this, the better,” she said.


“The four fish we are overeating – and what to eat instead” by Paul Greenberg

Writer and researcher of fish, the ocean’s future and aquaculture, Paul hated sport as a child and spent his spare time fishing on the shores of Connecticut. After leaving to go to college and then returning home, he discovered a huge number of fish had vanished and went on a mission to find out why.

“First place I started to look was fish markets. And when I went to fish markets, in spite of where I was — whether I was in North Carolina, or Paris, or London, or wherever — I kept seeing this weirdly repeating trope of four creatures, again and again (on the menus, on ice) shrimp, tuna, salmon and cod. And I thought this was pretty strange,and as I looked at it, I was wondering, did anyone else notice this sort of shrinking of the market?

Paul talks about how it has happened over the years and notes that we consume too much tuna, shrimp, salmon and what the industry calls ‘white fish’. So far the most consumed seafood in America and in much of the West, is shrimp which are incredibly fuel inefficient to bring to the market and are one of the most carbon-intensive ways of fishing that you can find.

This TED talk explores other avenues, include eating more mussels and seaweed, but Paul fears people tend to go with their appetites, rather than their heads.


“Cradle to Cradle Design” by William McDonough

The green-minded architect and designer explores what our intentions would be if we were to wake up in the morning, with designs on the world and what would our intention be as a species now that we’re the dominant species?

He said: “There is no endgame. There is an infinite game, and we’re playing in that infinite game. And so we call it “cradle to cradle,” and our goal is very simple.

“Our goal is a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy and just world, with clean air, clean water, soil and power – economically, equitably, ecologically and elegantly enjoyed, period.”

He uses an example of a rubber duck and why designs are created for us, when they are so damaging.

“What is a bird? Well, in my world, this is a rubber duck. It comes in California with a warning – “This product contains chemicals known by the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.” This is a bird. What kind of culture would produce a product of this kind and then label it and sell it to children? I think we have a design problem.”


“The route to a sustainable future” by Alex Steffen

Alex is the founder of and his talk looks at how we can change things to make sustainability more effective.

The author and frequent public speaker says: “Unfortunately, while this society is, without a doubt, the most prosperous and dynamic the world has ever created, it’s got some major, major flaws.

“One of them is that every society has an ecological footprint. It has an amount of impact on the planet that’s measurable. How much stuff goes through your life, how much waste is left behind you. And we, at the moment, in our society, have a really dramatically unsustainable level of this.”

He points out that the tools we use to change the world, ought to be beautiful in themselves but that it’s not just enough to survive and that we have got to make something better than what we’ve got. And Alex believes we will.

“Just to wrap up, in the immortal words of H.G. Wells, I think that better things are on the way. I think that, in fact, that “all of the past is but the beginning of a beginning. All that the human mind has accomplished is but the dream before the awakening.”  He hopes that turns out to be true.


“When we design for disability, we all benefit” by Elise Roy

Profoundly deaf since childhood, Elise believes that losing her hearing was one of the greatest gifts she’s ever received. The global thought leader has delivered keynotes all around the world, focusing on how designing for disability benefits everyone. She has spoken at Microsoft, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Institute for Peace and many more.

Her firm, Elise Roy & Associates, supports clients in approaching their design practices differently. Her company believes in the power of leveraging a deep understanding of the ways in which people with disabilities and other excluded communities experience the world. This helps to impact people’s lives and drive business.

Her deafness helped her overcome daily hurdles and she stumbled upon a solution called “design thinking” which is a process for innovation and problem solving and ensuring the solution to the problem is sustainable. Elise believes unique experiences that people with disabilities have is what is going to help make and design a better world for everyone, both for people with or without disabilities.


“Climate change is happening. Here’s how we adapt” by Alice Bows-Larkin

The sustainability enthusiast and climate researcher suggests we need a whole system change.

Her TED talk gives us a choice. We either start to significantly cut and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and have to adapt to less of the climate change impacts in future OR continue to ignore the problem and choose to adapt to more powerful climate impact in future.

But she reiterates, the one choice we don’t have is a no climate change future.

“We really need to do things differently. This is not just about incremental changes, this is about doing things differently, about whole system change and sometimes it’s about doing less things and this applies to all of us.

“It could be writing to our local politician to talk to our boss at work. Or being the boss at work, or talking with our friends and family or quite simply changing our own lifestyles because we really need to make significant change.”


“Let’s go all-in on selling sustainability” by Steve Howard

Steve is chief sustainability officer for IKEA, and a member of its group management team. He is responsible for the group’s sustainability strategy, environmental and social performance. Former CEO and co-founder of The Climate Group, an non-profit NGO, Steve talk as about how sustainability has shifted from being a “nice to do” to becoming a “must do” and that businesses must take full responsibility for the impacts of the supply chain.

He emphasises that it’s about what we do right here, right now, when it comes to changing things for the future. He’s committed to developing innovative ways to make sustainability attractive and affordable for everyone.


“The business logic of sustainability” by Ray Anderson

Sadly Ray died back in 2011 but many still turn to his inspirational TED talk. The sustainable business pioneer was founder of Interface, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of modular carpet.

His legacy lives on with the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the concepts of sustainable production and consumption.

Ray wanted to spur other business leaders to “climb Mount Sustainability”. In his TED talk, he said: “We’ve set 2020 as our target year for zero, for reaching the top, the summit of Mount Sustainability. We call this Mission Zero. And this is perhaps the most important facet: we have found Mission Zero to be incredibly good for business.

“A better business model, a better way to bigger profits. Here is the business case for sustainability. From real life experience, costs are down, not up, reflecting some 400 million dollars of avoided costs in pursuit of zero waste — the first face of Mount Sustainability. This has paid all the costs for the transformation of Interface.”