The word “sustainable” is a very general concept that gets thrown around a lot. We will focus on food, health, and environmental sustainability and how these three specific concepts intersect.

What really is sustainability? According to the United Nations Brundtland Commission, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In simpler terms, we can visualize sustainability as a balancing act. Sustainability consists of three interdependent pillars: the social, economic, and environmental pillars. Check out this video explaining sustainability.

Food Systems

Much of the foods you find on the shelves of your local supermarket, such as processed foods and feedlot beef, are the products of a conventional food system that has become highly industrialized. Conventional food systems maximize efficiency to increase output and lower the cost of food to consumers. The production, processing, and transportation of these foods use a lot of fossil fuels and fossil fuel-based fertilizers that are harmful to the environment and to the public’s health. Click here for more information on food systems.

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture is the production of plant or animal products using techniques that help protect the environment, public health, animal welfare, and farm-workers’ rights. Farms that use sustainable agriculture techniques protect the environment by growing crops and raising animals with minimal to no use of chemical pesticides, fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds.

Monocropping is a technique in industrial agriculture where a plant is grown on the same land year after year such as corn or wheat. It is a harmful practice that leads degrades the soil, reduces biodiversity, and leads to a high dependency on fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, sustainable farmers use techniques such as crop rotation or polyculture to protect biodiversity and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

“I like to say that sustainable agriculture is a production system that’s good for the environment and for people, that’s humane to animals and to food and farm workers, that supports thriving rural and urban communities. In other words, it’s the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare. It’s a way of food production that generates abundance while ensuring future generations can do the same.” – Anna Lappe, Author and Sustainable Food Advocate [Source]

Lexicon of Sustainability


How the Lexicon of Sustainability is Creating Change

For change to happen, there has to be common knowledge of the issue at hand. People need to be united under one goal and understand what that goal is. Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton founded the Lexicon of Sustainability in hopes of bridging communities together, teaching people about food and sustainability, bringing awareness to sustainability, and creating a better world for future generations.

Douglas and Laura are also the founders of Rumplefarm, a design studio in Petaluma, CA that produced the short film series Know Your Food for the Lexicon. Since 2009, the duo have travelled around the country learning about sustainability from leaders in food and farming in order to create this powerful resource. The word lexicon is defined as the “vocabulary of a language, person or branch,” and that is what the Lexicon of Sustainability essentially is. The Lexicon is for everyone who wants to make smart choices about the food they eat, schools that lack the proper tools for learning about sustainability, lawmakers, and business owners.

How is the Lexicon of Sustainability doing this? With a “multi-platform approach to sustainability”, the organization utilizes many different tools to bring awareness to food and sustainability. These tools include information artworks, short films, books, and local projects that simplify terms and topics into easy to understand language that everyone can understand while making learning enjoyable. The Lexicon believes that people will become more sustainable and change their way of life if they learn the basic terms and knowledge of sustainability.

One of the features that makes the Lexicon unique is their eye-catching and creative information artwork. They have invited over 200 leaders in food and farming to contribute their knowledge to their growing list of sustainable vocabulary. The information art itself is a photograph related to the topic filled with information and stories focusing on a person involved with the topic. Beneath the artwork are the terms and topics explained in further detail. What makes the information artwork so valuable is that it tells the stories of the leaders who are photographed and how they are making a contribution to the world of sustainability.

Although this artwork seems to be only accessible through the Lexicon’s website, the organization developed a new way to participate in this artwork movement: street art and pop-up shows. All of the information artwork can be converted into posters where people and communities can host their own art shows and painting parties with the posters. This unique campaign not only spreads the word on sustainability but allows for groups such as students, community organizations, or supermarkets to engage in meaningful discussion.

The Lexicon also selects 100 applicants every year to become curators of their pop-up art shows. This invaluable and powerful tool gives the curator the power to transform their community and bring in new ideas that bring about change in the community’s food system. These pop-up shows also strengthen the community’s relationship with their food and environment and act as a “lending library” for schools and other community groups hoping to advance their own initiative in sustainability. Since 2011, there have been hundreds of pop-up shows held across the country by curators hoping to educate and bring about change to their communities. This is just another ingenious way the Lexicon is spreading their knowledge, free of charge for the community.

Another powerful tool created by the Lexicon is the short film series, Know Your Food. Produced by Douglas’ and Laura’s own design company, the film series features many different episodes that focus on one important topic about the food world that allows the everyday consumer to make informed decisions regarding the food they eat. These two-three minute videos made available online make the learning even easier and mobile, especially for the younger tech-savvy generation. The two have created award-winning films, information art, and websites for high profile clients such as MSN and National Geographic since the 90’s. Their long experience in creating media shines in Know Your Food. Each episode features the aesthetically pleasing and well-known information art from the Lexicon that is transformed into film. From topics like ‘local versus organic’ to ‘GMOs’ and many more, this film series help people become more aware of the responsibility they hold in creating a more sustainable food system.

Change is always powerful within the younger generations and the Lexicon’s Project Localize strives to get students to become aware of the food system in their own backyard. The project is a program designed for high school students to research about their community’s food system by interviewing farmers, food producers, and local food leaders. They then turn the information they have gathered into information art similar to the ones created by the Lexicon and present the art in pop up shows and local events to their community. Not only are the students learning about sustainability, they are also gaining valuable communication and leadership skills that can be used for the rest of their life. It also brings to the light the many things happening in the food world just in that student’s community that impacts their life and the world around them.

There is always room for learning and sustainability does not need to be headlining all over the news to begin researching about it. The issue on sustainability is a slow but progressing danger that impacts everyone and needs to be addressed now. It is important to also remember that change does not happen overnight and that anybody- young or old, doctor or stay-at home mom, can make a change. This is what the Lexicon of Sustainability aims to accomplish; by teaching people about sustainability, they hope that the knowledge they learn ignites a flame that inspires new ideas. Words form ideas which leads to change and action- and you hold the power to leave a sustainable impact for the world.

Union of Concerned Scientists

Union of Concerned Scientists views the well-being of the planet and people as a holistic system. In particular, its focus on food and agriculture explores sustainable food practices that are best for the environment, farmers and consumers.