On Sustainability with Katherine Richardson

What is sustainability and what can we do about it? There are so many questions around this, but here professor Katherine Richardson, Professor in Biological Oceanography, gives us a quick insight into how we could look at this topic, and how we can act.

Yeray Lopez Portillo
Yeray Lopez Portillo
Takes 2 minutes


It can be argued that the word Sustainability has lost some of its weight, charm and respectability of late. Some say it has become a buzzword, a quick trick used, and abused, by corporate and consumer centered strategists to sell and seduce with whatever tool available. I am frequently at a loss when it comes to placing myself along the sustainability gradient. Do I really get it? Probably not, but I will keep on trying as it is an inevitable feature of our future, if we are to have one.

When talking about sustainability it’s easy to get bogged down in metrics, statistics, soft talk and the politics of the day, all of which can unjustly take away the true meaning of the word. So let’s take a look at it, or I should say a deep dive into what sustainability is with Katherine Richardson, professor in biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen, former Chairman of the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy, and an amazing storyteller.

A conversation with Katherine Richardson

Katherine Richardson's overall focus is to better understand the role of biological processes and biodiversity on the cycling of carbon in the upper ocean, and how this impacts food webs and climate change. Most of her research has been on marine plankton (primarily phytoplankton) and how these small beings act on a global stage.

If you are interested in planetary boundaries, climate warming and the role of biodiversity in all this, check her book "Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions".

On how we are changing the way of how we think about the rest of the planet.

Some highlights

  • We are changing the way we think about the rest of the planet.
  • The importance of equality between people, and resource allocation, will play a big role in how successful we are in relation to sustainable societies.
  • This is much more than energy efficiency.
  • The influence of younger players, Greta Thunberg.
  • “Sustainability is not a state, it is not something you come to, it is a process”
  • Earth’s natural resources as our real currency.
  • The perception of Earth overshoot day by “developed” nations.
  • Where do we start the discussion about what things we should change first to have an impact.

On translating resources into currency

I have always wondered what is the missing piece when it comes to communicating science. My father spent his working years looking at the stars and, still within our household, I did not figure out what he was doing until kind of yesterday. This is how this second part of the conversation started.

Here Katherine Richardson, who is participating in the next global sustainable development report, talks about the importance of communicating who is using most resources, the key factors to account for in order to change our food systems, our energy systems and economy, to move towards a sustainable future.

Some highlights

  • The four levers that have to be used in every case to change our systems.
  • Mental models that prevent change.
  • The built in conflict of our own sustainability - SDGs and global resources.
  • How can we be optimistic when it looks as bad as it does.

On Plastics

"We've been throwing plastics since the 50's knowing it was non degradable" - One and a half minute of pure insight.

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Yeray Lopez Portillo

My focus is on creating content that entertains, enlightens and sparks dialogue.