The Ethics of Sustainable Communication

Overcoming the World of Opposites

by Ulrika Olausson (Author)
©2023 Textbook XVIII, 112 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 28


A well-functioning communication is a prerequisite for achieving sustainability. But how could this be accomplished in a world plagued by grave sustainability crises, where polarization proliferates and adds to a profound experience of fear and separation? To answer this critical question, an integrated ethical system that acknowledges all life as one is needed.
The Ethics of Sustainable Communication elegantly interweaves theoretical and empirical knowledge from the social sciences with wisdom traditions from various parts of the world. This includes the world’s great religions, the knowledge of indigenous peoples, and the transcendent understanding of reality that artists of diverse kinds have always expressed. On this solid ground, the book argues for the necessity of a significant shift in human consciousness to achieve lasting sustainability.
The book develops a communication ethics that aims at facilitating a genuine experience of the interconnectedness of all life through the expansion of trust. In a pioneering, intelligent, and eye-opening argument, including practical examples and advice, it demonstrates how the experience of separation in fact is a delusion. Our systems of thought and language have simply fettered us in a world of opposites – duality. The ethics helps us to overcome this illusory
world, and when duality is dissolved, deep sustainability – caring for people, the Earth, and every lifeform – comes as an entirely effortless result.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Series Editor’s Preface
  • References
  • Author’s Preface: An Integral Approach
  • References
  • Introduction
  • The Fundamental Trust
  • Finding Communion in Communication
  • The Aim of the Book
  • References
  • 1 Presence
  • The Ego and the Self
  • Communication Without Goal
  • The Metacommunication Inside our Heads
  • The Wisdom Within
  • References
  • 2 Silence
  • Deep Listening
  • References
  • 3 Compassion
  • The Illusion of Perfection
  • The Deceptive Victim
  • Compassion Without Boundaries
  • References
  • 4 Generosity
  • Giving and Receiving
  • The Old Ladies and the Beggars
  • References
  • 5 Open-Mindedness
  • Ascribing Objects Meaning
  • Ascribing People Meaning
  • References
  • 6 Defenselessness
  • Judgment and Attack
  • Cause and Effect
  • Guilt and Forgiveness
  • References
  • 7 Truth
  • Different Kinds of Knowledge
  • The Absolute Truth
  • The Lie
  • Consistency and Authenticity
  • Observations and Emotions
  • Unveiling the Ego
  • References
  • 8 Joy
  • Disarming the Ego with Humor
  • Choosing Joy
  • References
  • 9 Acceptance
  • Surrendering to What Is
  • Merrily, Merrily, Merrily …
  • References
  • 10 Sustainable Communication and Deep Sustainability
  • Deep Sustainability
  • Communication Beyond Language
  • Love as Deep Sustainability
  • References
  • Afterword

Series Editor’s Preface

As series editor it is a pleasure to say a few opening words about Ulrika Olausson’s The Ethics of Sustainable Communication: Overcoming the World of Opposites, and its contribution to the Global Crises and Media series. Over the course of the series and more than 25 volumes, it has become increasingly apparent how the contemporary world (dis)order not only spawns distinct or separate global crises but is now itself, holistically, in terminal crisis. Global crises represent the dark side of our globalized planet. Their origins and outcomes are not confined behind national borders, and they are not best conceived through national prisms of understanding. Their impacts register across “sovereign” national territories, surrounding regions and beyond, and they can also become subject to systems of governance and forms of civil society response that are no less encompassing or transnational in scope and ambition. In today’s interdependent world, global crises cannot be regarded as exceptional or aberrant events only, erupting without rhyme or reason or dislocated from the contemporary world (dis)order. They are endemic to the contemporary global world, deeply enmeshed within it and potentially encompassing. And so too are they highly dependent on the world’s media and communication networks.

Today multiple global crises also compound and enter into each other, and in ways that pose existential threats to the continuation of life on planet Earth. Without fear of hyperbolism, we can say that we are living in a world-in-crisis. Multiple existential threats now converge and bear down on the planet’s biosphere and all life on earth. These can be traced for the most part to human society and its predominant economic system premised on incessant—unsustainable—growth and a corresponding worldview of human exceptionalism (speciesism) and materialist presumptions of progress.

Human civilization is confronting the possibility, some say distinct probability, that it is now in its endgame. Existential threats include not only climate change and nuclear weapons, but biodiversity loss, the sixth mass extinction, zoonotic pandemics, ecological degradations, food, water and energy insecurity and soil depletion, among others. These are all deeply entwined in today’s planetary emergency. Forced migrations, faltering supply chains, and financial crises further exacerbate and express these existential threats and prove fertile grounds for the rise in polarized politics, authoritarianism and propensities for conflict and war.

Today’s “world civilizational community of fate” (Beck, 2006), evidently, is confronting a host of systemic and deeply entangled existential threats that cascade and unfold in complex interaction, many of them registering in the world’s eco-systems and biosphere. How today’s global crises become variously communicated proves critical to their subsequent trajectory and their reverberations around the world, as well as in pathways of mitigation or adaptation into the future. This has often formed the focal point of many of the volumes and contributing authors to this series.

Ulrika Olausson’s The Ethics of Sustainable Communication: Overcoming the World of Opposites approaches concerns of communication against the backdrop of today’s planetary emergency from a different or more oblique perspective. In doing so, new insights and new ways of apprehending the positive value and possibilities of communication in a crisis-ridden world are brought into sharper relief. Ulrika Olausson invites us to momentarily step back and take time out from the established academic preoccupations with media, representation, and language in terms of identity, power and meaning, and to quietly reflect on the nature of communication itself and how this could yet become a communicative foundation for a deeply sustainable world. In this sense her book can be read as a contemplative deep dive into “understanding and using communication,” and with the express intention, as she says, “to transform structural patterns of fear, lack of trust and experience of separation, into peace of mind as well as a sense of belonging and trust in each other and in our social and natural environments.” In today’s crisis-ridden world, characterized by increasingly polarized and fractious politics as well as the epistemological fracturing of certainty and trust in institutions and public discourse, this approach is both timely and hugely promising.

Through a series of contemplative chapters on the nature of communication and its possibilities, Olausson elaborates nine ethical principles for sustainable communication. That is, a communication ethics that is better suited to the development and conduct of communication that is oriented to an interconnected and interdependent world. A world in which human beings must begin to see themselves as part of the web of life, and not as outside, separate from or above it. This, as a growing number of voices around the planet are beginning to advocate, is the only way that human society can begin to move beyond the ecological devastation that we have caused to the very fabric of life on planet Earth and find a sustainable and symbiotic way of living into the future. In this and in other philosophical respects, this book and its communication ethics chimes not only with the climate and ecological backdrop of today’s planetary emergency, but also the growing awareness and appreciation of spiritual and indigenous traditions that have long provided less egocentric and materialist, and more relational and spiritual perspectives on human life and the interdependencies of being.

This embrace of non-dualistic thinking and traditions outside of the usual academic canon is both welcome and often enlightening. Here it helps to crystallize the value of a communication ethics that is particularly well suited to address the deep-seated problems of human separation, alienation, and loss of trust that Olausson argues fundamentally underpin today’s planetary emergency as well as our, so far, generally inadequate responses to this. The Ethics of Sustainable Communication: Overcoming the World of Opposites provides a rich seam of ideas with which to begin to think through how communication can and should be enacted in pursuit of a sustainable future for all life on planet Earth. This is a welcome and necessary invitation and one that implicitly carries a message of possible hope in a world of growing uncertainty and precarity. It is also a message that is destined, sadly, to become increasingly pressing and much needed in the years ahead.


XVIII, 112
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (July)
Communication studies Sustainability Ethics
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2023. XVIII, 112 pp., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Ulrika Olausson (Author)

Ulrika Olausson, PhD, is an internationally renowned scholar affiliated with Jönköping University in Sweden. With a background in media and communication studies, she has published extensively about sustainability communication. She is also an independent author and trained yogini.


Title: The Ethics of Sustainable Communication
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132 pages