New metaphors for sustainability: nine so far

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From the ‘iron curtain’ to the ‘glass ceiling’, metaphors are one of the most powerful ways in which we frame the way we think.

Yet one of the key concepts in environmentalism – sustainability – seems to be remarkably short of vivid metaphors.

So we asked some artists, writers, architects, cultural commentators, environmentalists, activists and scientists to come up with their own metaphors for sustainability.

We’ve published nine new metaphors so far. More to follow.

New metaphors for sustainability: mercury
New metaphors for sustainability: symbiosis
New metaphors for sustainability: “Come into my house” (DVD)
New metaphors for sustainability: ‘art & grace’
New metaphors for sustainability: my sweet pea
New metaphors for sustainability: water on a fire – helping turn the page – a child asleep – the family – failing better
New metaphors for sustainability: the shopping divider at the check-out
New metaphors for sustainability: the sailboat
New metaphors for sustainability: the act of breathing

Watch a film about four of the new metaphors.

Please suggest metaphors of your own. As @TheMuseDailytweeted yesterday, “The drive toward the formation of metaphor is the fundamental human drive. – Nietzsche”


“ashdenizen blog and twitter are consistently among the best sources for information and reflection on developments in the field of arts and climate change in the UK” (2020 Network)

The editors are Robert Butler and Wallace Heim. The associate editor is Kellie Gutman. The editorial adviser is Patricia Morison.

Robert Butler’s most recent publication is The Alchemist Exposed (Oberon 2006). From 1995-2000 he was drama critic of the Independent on Sunday. See

Wallace Heim has written on social practice art and the work of PLATFORM, Basia Irland and Shelley Sacks. Her doctorate in philosophy investigated nature and performance. Her previous career was as a set designer for theatre and television/film.

Kellie Gutman worked with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for twenty years, producing video programmes and slide presentations for both the Aga Khan Foundation and the Award for Architecture.

Patricia Morison is an executive officer of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, a group of grant-making trusts of which the Ashden Trust is one.

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