Who cares about the WHOLE EARTH?

Paul Crossley, Sustainability Projects Lead at London Southbank University talks about the university's successful sustainability-themed all weather photographic exhibition.

The scaffolding is secure, the banners hand-scrubbed and the sticky feet stuck down: although WHOLE EARTH?, LSBU’s huge sustainability-themed all weather photographic exhibition has now been taken down, its impact remains.

The not inconsiderable task of putting it together was instantly worthwhile because the arresting nature of the images, words and Bob Dylan song lyrics that inform the exhibition cannot be ignored: they draw you in, they challenge you and, at times, distress you.
But, crucially, they provide hope.

One benefit of cleaning the banners and then setting them up meant I spent a lot of time up close to the images – my own private viewing. Given the nature of my role at LSBU, it’s hopefully no surprise that I’ve always been interested in the environment. But I also love photography (and scaffolding) so this was literally a dream come true.

In my meandering career I have often found myself in front of an audience, struggling to find the words to explain what sustainability actually means, why it matters and why everybody has a part to play in stopping the catastrophic damage being done to our environment and the communities it supports.

Happily, the WHOLE EARTH? exhibition did the talking, framing the discussion in a far more poetic and beautiful way.

The images are distinctly uncomfortable: drought-stricken farm land, smartly dressed school girls walking through mountains of stinking rubbish, and the small boy dwarfed by a chunk of freshly-felled rainforest. We have all played a part – no matter how small – in this legacy of environmental and social destruction. Many of the images are photographed by Mark Edwards, a witness to these important themes, the remainder of the images curated by him.

But if the exhibition was challenging, it was equally hopeful. Its composition and tone are not preachy, and unlike other campaigns, it does not point a finger or rely on sickly-sweet, clichéd images to promote action. Instead, photos of solar panels, safe drinking water projects and new rural education initiatives show that action and positive change are real and are happening now, driven by people who have decided to make a difference and change the status quo.

It follows, then, that as a university, and an institution representing a significant proportion of the younger voting population, LSBU has a clear moral duty to ensure its students leave with a solid understanding of the world around them and the skills to develop solutions to the environmental challenges we face today and tomorrow. These are our future workforce, our pension funders and the generation that will have many more challenges to overcome than previous ones. 

We used scaffolding poles and clamps to make a frame for the exhibition: in the same way we must now link LSBU’s courses with our efforts to reduce the environmental, social and economic impacts of our day to day operations, from recycling to energy efficiency, to green space and low carbon travel. By doing this we will project LSBU as an institution aware of its place in the world, committed to tackling the issues raised by the exhibition. If you were lucky enough to see the exhibition, please get in touch and let us know how it affected you.

Delivered by EAUC