Inspiring Sustainability at TEDxAarhus

By Thea Tukjær, Head of Sustainability, TEDxAarhus

TEDxAarhus is all about Ideas Worth Spreading. We believe in ideas as a way to change the world – even if only to make it slightly better, – to connect people and to promote human togetherness and understanding. 

The obvious way in which we do this is with the TEDx talks, but we are also indirectly spreading many ideas as an organization. We are part of a world-known influential organization, and others look at us for inspiration on how to share knowledge, host events, and more. We have an influence over people and we have an obligation to use this influence in a responsible and sustainable way. 

In 2018, after being a part of TEDxAarhus for several years, I felt like we needed to up our game regarding sustainability. We were already doing a lot of things well, but in a world where global challenges grow ever bigger, I saw a need to focus on sustainability on an organizational level. I became the Head of Sustainability for TEDxAarhus, and we became the first Danish TEDx organization with an explicit focus on sustainability.

The Story of 2019 

2019 was our first year with an explicit sustainability focus. Through great teamwork and ingenuity we were able to achieve some strong results. Those results included: 

  • Instead of giving away the regular event goodie bag at our main event, we teamed up with GoodiePack to offer event participants a digital goodie bag. The goodie bag was filled with offers and deals from Aarhus restaurants, cultural institutions like ARoS and small local businesses.
  • All our printing needs were catered to by KLS PurePrint, whose printing is Cradle-to-Cradle certified and among the most sustainable in the world. 
  • One thing that sets our events apart from many other TEDx events, is the large involvement of local artists and creatives, not only on stage, but also off stage and in the event breaks. TEDxAarhus is a community event, and supporting the Aarhus community is one of our main priorities. Our 2019 main event was no exception.

The Plans for 2020

This year, we are taking our sustainability efforts a step further, by dividing them into three different areas, each with its own central question:

Sustainability – How are we using our resources?

This obviously has to do with electricity, water and heating, but also foods and drinks, transport and potentially merchandise. One of our focuses is learning from others and participating in local, regional and global communities. We will continue being involved with local Aarhus initiatives, the other TEDx’s in Denmark and the international TED- and TEDx-family to become more sustainable.

Diversity – Who are we representing, highlighting, and lending our platform to? 

The main focus is the speakers, but the same question goes for performers, hosts, partners, organizers, volunteers and everybody else involved in creating the TEDxAarhus experience. We want to be an organization spreading the ideas of those who are not always listened to, and we strive to become better at representing different backgrounds, worldviews and stories. 

Accessibility – How do we make ideas accessible to as many people as possible? 

Accessibility lies at the heart of TEDxAarhus. Our slogan Ideas Worth Spreading is not just about the ideas – it’s also about the spreading. By moulding knowledge and ideas into short talks, we strive to make information accessible to as wide an audience as possible. This moulding is the main task of our curation team – the people who select, train and help our speakers. Besides our main accessibility focus, we focus on digital and physical accessibility, taking steps to make our events and communication more welcoming and inclusive.

2020 is shaping up to be not-just-another-year and, like the rest of society, we have been faced with unexpected challenges already. Our sustainability focus is one tool to steer the organization through turbulent times, making sure that we keep our focus on what’s important.

What questions could you ask in your organization?

For me sustainability is all about asking questions. It’s challenging the status quo in an effort to improve life for all, people and the planet alike. If the TEDxAarhus sustainability journey has taught me one thing, it is that sometimes you need to be the first one to speak up, for people to follow and change to happen. So, looking at your organization, workplace, or school, what are the questions you could ask to inspire change?

To inspire your thoughts, I will send you off with a few of my favorite TEDxAarhus talks related to sustainability, diversity and accessibility:

Cecilie Mai Sommer – How our Prejudices can Hold us Back

Melanie Rosen – The Understanding We Gain Whilst We Sleep

Sara Andersson: Redesigning Design – Towards a Future that Works for All