Episode 27: Sustainability and Art with Annie Griffiths (National Geographic and Ripple Effect Images) + Holiday Gift Ideas


Sure the facts and figures we discuss on the show are helpful, but a photograph or painting that emotionally touches someone can have just as big of an impact - or even more! Since Jay and Scott have rudimentary artistic skills at best (Scott's stick figures haven't improved much since 2nd grade), Annie Griffiths, an award-winning photojournalist and one of the first female photographers hired at National Geographic, joins us to talk about how art can catalyze behavioral and societal change. Plus, we give you five green holiday gift ideas in time for festivus and other year-end festivities.

Learn more about environmental awareness here!

Episode Intro Notes


What We'll Cover:

  • What do we mean by art and sustainability?
  • How can art advance sustainability?
  • What are some resources to see art and sustainability?
  • About Annie Griffiths, National Geographic photographer and founder of Ripple Effect Images


Why are we Talking About Art on a Sustainability Podcast? 

Good question! When talking about art and sustainability, we are referring to using art in all of its forms to engage in the social and ecological issues facing the world and to create awareness and change around them (1). This art conveys a message in addition to having style and beauty (2). It’s more than a picture of a landscape; it’s meant to engage viewers in issues related to or inherent in that landscape. 

There is no one “look” to sustainability art (2). One good is example is the work of Eve Mosher, an environmental artist based in New York City who started as more traditional studio artist, but then decided to do work that would advance climate change knowledge and action. In 2007, Eve created an installation in New York City called HighWaterLine to show the potential impact of extreme weather that was more likely to occur due to climate change. Using topographic maps, satellite images, and data from NASA, she predicted what locations would likely be subject to flooding and damage from a “hundred year flood,” floods that were thought to happen once every hundred years that with climate change are now predicted to happen every 3 to 20 years. Eve drew a four-inch blue chalk line on the ground with a baseball field line machine to mark the predicted water levels and used an illuminated beacon for areas she could not draw on. The project sparked intrigue and drove lots of conversation in the city, and her work was validated when Hurricane Sandy inundated many areas seaward of the lines she had drawn (3).

Another example is Designer Marina Debris’ work in trashion, a term describing fashion items and projects that are created from thrown-out and recycled elements (4) –– think trash + fashion. When Marina moved from Venice to Australia, the amount of litter on the shoreline horrified her (5). She spent a lot of time cleaning up the beach and then realized she could re-use the discarded items in her designs as a way to campaign against ocean pollution and show how the “waste we create comes back to haunt us.” (5, 6). There’s a great The Guardian article with pictures of her designs that you all should check out (6). Also, Marina Debris is the perfect name for a designer focused on trashion using ocean litter, haha. Unfortunately, my bubble was burst when I realized that is not her given name but just the name she uses as an artist. 

There is a deep historical tradition of artists creating work inspired by an environmental message, this is not new. In the 1960s and 1970s, artists started making works meant to transcend the confines of a gallery (8). “Land art” or “earthworks” emerged in the 1960s and often involved using materials from the earth or situating the work in nature (11). For example, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” is a 1,500 foot long and 15 foot wide spiral made of stones, algae, and other organic materials in Utah’s Great Salt Lake (9, 10). 


How does art advance sustainability?

Art can advance the sustainability conversation in ways that other mediums cannot. For one, it transcends linguistic and cultural barriers (7). Whether you speak English, Japanese, Spanish… it all has the same effect. Also, art can tug at our emotions and inspire people to pause, think, and take action (7, 12). One of our favorite examples of this comes from the Racing Extinction documentary, which featured a team projecting moving images of endangered species on famous buildings all over the world, like the Empire State Building and the Vatican. Lastly, art can convey a complex issue in one image. An example is Aaron Staples’ “Not Just Tuna” collection done in collaboration with Greenpeace. His stylistic drawings show destructive fishing methods, bycatch, and overworked fishermen all within the body of a tuna (7).


What are Some resources to see art and sustainability?

This kind of art, such as Mosher’s HighWaterLine, is often not in found in galleries. It’s something you have to see out in the field. Since the artistic works in this area often cannot be shown in a gallery, artists in this area often make a living on partnerships, grants, and talks, all of which involve additional skill sets beyond artistic abilities (2). We had a tough time finding one website featuring sustainability and art. However, typing “environmental art examples” into google results in some solid articles with examples.

Additionally, the “#art4climate” hashtag on twitter promotes examples of artists making the issue of climate change more accessible and understandable by featuring it in their work. #art4climate is a joint initiative by the secretariat of UN Climate Change and Julie’s Bicycle, a UK-based charity that works with the creative community on climate change and sustainability (13).

Also, don’t forget about your own art museum! See if you can find any environmentally focused exhibits coming up near you and maybe even reach out to suggest some.


Annie Griffiths

Annie Griffiths was one of the first women to work for National Geographic when she was hired in 1978. Since then, she has taken photographs in more than 150 countries, often bringing her two children along on assignments. 

In addition to her magazine work, Annie also tries to create social change as the Executive Director of Ripple Effect Images. This is a collective of photographers that document programs empowering women and girls throughout the developing world, especially as they deal with the devastating effects of climate change (14).


Sources Cited:

  1. https://www.mica.edu/Programs_of_Study/Undergraduate_Programs/Studio_Concentrations/Sustainability_and_Social_Practice_.html
  2. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-grant/sustainability-and-art-schools_b_1417562.html
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eve_Mosher
  4. https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/trashion
  5. https://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/up-downtown-la-8232-/2590
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2016/sep/13/trashion-designer-marina-debris-turns-ocean-rubbish-into-high-end-outfits-in-pictures
  7. http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/4-ways-art-is-essential-to-activism/
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/mar/26/environmental-art-olafur-eliasson-climate-change-leonardo-dicaprio
  9. http://www.theartstory.org/movement-earth-art-artworks.htm#pnt_2
  10. http://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2013/november/18/explaining-smithsons-spiral-jetty/
  11. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/l/land-art
  12. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/art-sustainability-imagination-create-change
  13. https://unfccc.int/climate-action
  14. https://www.anniegriffiths.com/about/index