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What can the carnival teach us about sustainability? 

Every year around this time, hundreds of thousands of Dutch people migrate south of the Netherlands, crossing the rivers Rhein, Maas, and De Waal. Below those rivers, carnival is thought to be celebrated more authentically amongst the predominantly catholic population. They flock to the carnival celebrations and colorful costume parades, ready to let loose, have a blast, and revel in the spirit of fun and frivolity.

Interesting trivia: the origin of this ceremony dates to well before Christianity. Many believe it originated as a pagan festival in ancient Egypt as a much-needed respite from the dreary winter. Actually, the festivities provide meaning and a mental health foothold in this otherwise dull season. With its grey skies, copious amounts of rain, and dark evenings, winter can lend itself to dark and negative thoughts.

The carnival injects this time of the year with the playful energy of the joker archetype, evoking the joy of innocence and the wonders of a beginner’s mind. While the festivities may sometimes veer into the realm of the wild and chaotic, they ultimately serve as a celebration of life and renewal.

So why not take a page out of the joker’s playbook and infuse our approach to the sustainability crisis with a similar sense of playfulness and openness?

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to get depressed by the daily barrage of bad news about the dire state of our planet. Enough to get me lost in Dooms Day thinking and hopeless future scenarios about society and our coexistence with other species on this beautiful planet.

I get the impression that I am not the only one when I look at the range of film productions on TV, Netflix and other audio-visual streaming services.

But what if we approached the sustainability challenge with the curiosity and optimism of a beginner? What if we embraced the freedom to start anew, to try again with fresh eyes, a relaxed brain, and a light heart?

Freedom is the liberty to get up and try again


So regardless of how much we might feel that we messed up in the past – individually and collectively – what is always available to us is the freedom to shake off disappointments & disillusionments and start anew. What can be helpful is humor, instead of stone face seriousness.

Here are three ways we can inject more joy and creativity into our sustainability efforts: 

1) Embrace creativity and playfulness: just as carnival-goers revel in costumes and festivities, let’s intersperse our sustainability initiatives with creativity and fun. Host sustainability-themed brainstorms, competitions or challenges that inspire imagination, innovative solutions and help translate high level inspiration into practical roadmaps, thus engaging people in the process. 

2) Use our beginner’s mindset: instead of feeling weighed down by the enormity of the crisis, let’s approach sustainability with a beginner’s mindset. Encourage curiosity, experimentation, and open-mindedness, and explore new ideas and perspectives. 

3) Inject humor: let’s incorporate more irony and wit into our discussions about sustainability, lightening the mood and building a sense of resilience. 

So, as you chart your own sustainability journey, whether in your personal life or your professional endeavors, remember the spirit of the carnival. Let’s dare to start anew, to approach challenges with a playful spirit, and to find joy and inspiration in the journey ahead. 

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