Helping Sally at dinner: what to do at the dinner table when sustainability comes up?

Hispanic family eating at the dinner table

Old friends having dinner and reminiscing in the comfort of Sally’s spacious home.

We’re talking about the environmental crisis facing the Earth, and my concerns about flying across the Pacific Ocean from Australia for my teaching job in Vancouver.

I’m certainly worried about the environmental impacts of all that travel and yet I really want to make a difference. Teaching in Vancouver and lecturing in North America, Hawaii and Europe are all ways I feel I can make a difference to the way we build sustainable communities.

Sally, our hostess, comes to the table with a tray of steaming vegetables.

She puts down her tray and addresses the whole of the dinner party in a high-pitched tone that indicates she’s agitated.

“I can’t understand what all this is about. How do they even know that planting all those trees is going to make a difference? How can we trust that the tree planting services that you’re talking about where you put your carbon or whatever you call it – really do plant trees anyway? Maybe they just take the money and run away!”


After she returns to the kitchen and then she comes back with the lamb, I say, “I’ve found somebody I trust and my carbon offsets are going to the organisation in Brisbane that trains environmental activists.


The woman who co-runs the organisation, Samantha LaRocca, worked in my office, lives on the smell of an oily rag, and would never do anything unethical. I am positive of that. So, Sally, if you want to do something about all that traveling back and forth to Europe with your grandchildren, why don’t you investigate and try to find an organisation that you trust that you can make your contributions to?”


“I just don’t trust anybody,” Sally calls back from the kitchen where she’s tackling the gravy. “It’s all too hard and anyway, I’m not really convinced about any of this global climate change stuff.


Is the mint sauce on the table?”


I’d be interested to hear if others of you have experiences like this when “sustainability” comes up at the dinner table.


What to say?


What to do?


How not to be rude and keep true to your values”¦?


When I discussed this with Steph Vajda, my co-author of “Kitchen Table Sustainability”, he reminded me that sustainability’s complexity and scope pose an unprecedented challenge and it touches all aspects of our lives.


What to do at the dinner table when sustainability comes up?