How to Deal with Family Who Don't Value a Sustainable Christmas | Eleanor Snare

How to Deal with Family Who Don’t Value a Sustainable Christmas


It’s December, I’ve started listening to festive songs and preparations for Christmas are fully underway. I want to have a sustainable a Christmas as possible – just like I want my whole life to be as sustainable as possible – and maybe you do too.

But knowing we’re all at different points on our journey of sustainability, how are you supposed to deal with friends and family who don’t want a sustainable Christmas?

This year, I’ve seen plenty of excellent ethical and sustainable gift guides, vegan or vegetarian Christmas recipes, and tips on how to significantly reduce your environmental impact this festive season.

But unless you’re spending Christmas by yourself – consciously or not – it’s very likely other people will be involved in your celebrations. And other people mean problems. They mean things you can’t control.

Things like Quality Street wrappers. Mountains of metallic paper. Blister packs, cellophane and teeny, tiny cable ties. Far too much food. Glitter.

These are all unsustainable Christmas things which happen when other people are involved.

Here’s a guide to dealing with other people’s lack of sustainability at Christmas, your own obsessions, and when sometimes it’s ok to take a pit stop on the sustainability journey.


P.S. My family make every Christmas wonderful and I wouldn’t change a thing about them. They are not the family of the title.


Tips and ideas on dealing with a family who don't value sustainability at Christmas time | Eleanor Snare


Christmas cards

You could argue Christmas cards are incredibly wasteful; most are made from virgin wood pulp, many contain elements which are difficult to recycle (e.g. glitter or sequins) and nearly all end up getting shredded in the New Year.

And yet, my family live far away from each other. We lost a key member of our family this year. Christmas cards are a way for us to stay together, whether we are physically together or not. There’s something about seeing my friends’ and family’s handwriting – rather than an e-card – which makes me feel connected to them.

I bought my cards back in the sale in January and have plenty left over from previous Christmases, which I’ll be putting into use this year. Any new ones will be charitable or eco-friendly.

After Christmas, I’ll make paper decorations from the fronts of the cards – circles strung onto ribbon – which we use to decorate the house each festive season.

This is an area where I feel my family’s approach – send cards, and send lots of them, because it’s about love – is more important to me than the environmental impact, especially when there are plenty of ways to reduce this impact through more sustainable choices.

What you can do

If you feel the card situation is out of control, but you know your family want to send them, ask them to write you a Christmas letter instead; you’re likely to keep it for many years to come, and they’ll still feel like they’re connecting with you across the miles.

E-cards are much nicer than they used to be; Verena Erin has made a great sustainable Christmas tips video which features one brand, Greenvelope. You can buy charity cards online via Cards for Good Causes, or make your own using old Christmas card fronts and brown Kraft card blanks.

Recycle any cards you can, reuse others for decorations, and let family know in advance if you won’t be sending a card. Lack of festive greetings are the things grudges are built on.


Wrapping paper

I come from a family of magpies, so if wrapping paper is glittery, metallic or holographic we can barely tear our eyes away. This sort of paper is very hard or impossible to recycle – often it’s a bonded plastic and paper mix, a bit like coffee cups – and therefore pretty unsustainable.

I also come from a family which secretly takes part in competitive wrapping. The bigger, bedecked and be-ribboned it can be, the better that gift is – fact. Again, an unsustainable amount of stuff goes into wrapping like this, much of it plastic-based.

My own choice (which I practised last year) is to use brown craft paper, recycled papers, fabric ribbons and real ornaments to decorate the presents. All of these can be recycled or reused. This year, I’m also going to attempt to go Sellotape-free to make this process even easier.

I don’t know where to start explaining to my folks that wrapping papers could be unsustainable. They delight in wrapping things beautifully and having a ‘wrapping evening’ (and so do I), so instead I’ll try and showcase sustainable wrapping (see tip below). I’ll also be the one scurrying round, collecting the recyclable bits, flattening the reusable bits, and donating all the gift bags to the local charity shop.

What to do

Showcase your sustainable wrapping expertise with recycled papers, natural decorations and reusable ornaments. You can also find more ideas in Francesca’s guest post for Holly Rose on Leotie Lovely, including links to recycled papers and second hand fabric.

Politely request that the most lavish of your gift-decorating family reins it in this year – or if this feels like an impossibility, set a secretly-sustainable wrapping challenge using only reusable packaging.



Food and drink

I’m not vegetarian, although I’ve significantly cut down the amount of meat I eat. I’m not dairy-free, paleo, vegan or anything like that, so this time of year isn’t a complete minefield for me. But I hate food waste.

Luckily, so do my folks. Bringing Tupperware to a dinner is actively encouraged and my mum is some sort of magician with leftovers. Yet not every family is as anti-waste or as accommodating of alternative diets.

Of all the unsustainable Christmas practices that happen, I think this is one where you can get away with putting your foot down. The general population still struggle with effective materials recycling, saving energy and making sustainable choices, but most people get when you make food choices for health or moral reasons.

I’m going to be piling my plate high with veggies and choosing smaller meat portions, as well as offering to cook some of the meals over Christmas – to ease pressure on my folks, provide healthier options and maintain a feeling of control (one of the things which I feel is most missing from Christmas in general).

What to do

Work out what the problem is with your folks not accommodating your choices; is it time, energy, access to the right foods, cost or the feeling you’ve rejected your upbringing? If you can work it out, you can work out a solution – which might be bringing your own foods, contributing to the Christmas food fund, or reassuring them that you still love that specific dish they cook.

If you want to introduce your family to some healthier recipes, Elizabeth of The Note Passer has compiled a blog post, Pinterest board and blog links to vegan recipes – these are for Thanksgiving, but they’d work equally well for Christmas.

Don’t forget as well that you’re allowed to break out of habits occasionally. If you are sworn sugar-free, and you fancy a marzipan fruit, have one; no-one is going to be annoyed that you’re enjoying yourself.



Gifts are the most frustrating, argument-inducing, difficult things to talk about. I really like Alden Wicker’s post on getting your family to give you sustainable presents, which articulates just some of the problems you might face.

As Alden mentions, in 1995 a book was published about The Five Love Languages. My partner and I talk about these a lot to help us understand each other. My top ‘love language’ is quality time.

At the bottom of the list is receiving gifts. Twinned with my sustainability-led value system, this makes me really rubbish at understanding gifting, and being fully appreciative of the gifts I receive.

My value system is not my friends’ or family’s value system. Some of them love stuff. I don’t. You can, and should, talk to your folks about gifts, what they mean, and how you can all feel happy about what you are giving and receiving.

But be aware that when you say “I don’t really like it when you buy me lots of presents”, they might subconsciously feel you’re rejecting one of their favourite ways in which they love you. So how are you going to deal with that at Christmas?

What to do

There are two main areas to tackle: gifts you receive and gifts you give.

You can control, completely, the gifts you give. Ask your family what they actually want – don’t guess, because then if you get it wrong it’s wasteful. If they don’t know, ask if they’d like a donation or a voucher instead. Where you can, get the most sustainable option possible.

Only tell people it’s a sustainable choice if they ask; alternatively, include a little bit of information with the gift for them to read at their leisure. Just like marketing ethical brands, product needs to come first, then ethics.

Sometimes sustainable options can be significantly more expensive than unsustainable choices, and there’s a reluctance to pay if you feel the recipient might not give a toss. Try shopping second-hand on eBay or in charity shops for a cheaper alternative.

Or, and this is a last alternative, don’t worry about it. If your family member wants a £30 gift card from Zara and it makes you feel a bit queasy, ask yourself: which is more important, my ethical stance or their happiness and full use of whatever I get them?

As for gifts you receive, be specific. Make it simple – send links. If you don’t want any gifts at all, explain why and what donations you’d like instead. Be prepared for gifts to be there anyway, and be grateful – they’re showing you love, and that’s important.




Having a sustainable Christmas with friends and family

When sustainability is at the heart of your life, it can be difficult to forget it’s just not that important to other people – and even more difficult to realise that those ‘other people’ are people you love and care for.

I believe in a secular and traditional Christmas; spending time with people who are important to you, in a way you all enjoy. And while sustainability is something I think about every day, it’s not something which is more important than the love for (or of) my family and friends. Sometimes ignoring those things you would consider sustainability ‘blips’ is essential to the happiness of the season.

You can make good choices, and be a visible alternative to the excess consumerism and waste that dominates this time of year. But you can’t control what other people do, and nor should you; they’re on a journey, and they’re trying to show they love you.


Helping others at Christmas time

For many people at this time of year, there are bigger dilemmas than whether or not someone has chosen an easily-recyclable wrapping paper.

Hunger and homelessness are pressing concerns for children and adults across the UK, and can be exacerbated at Christmas. We can’t be a sustainable society until everyone in our population is living in a way which is sustainable, with warmth, food and protection.

The charity Shelter helps people find safety and security all year round. If you read this article and recognise some of us have bigger problems at Christmas, please donate £5.

If you read this and want to help us move to a sustainable society, please donate £5.

If you read this and realise you don’t need to buy a grande cinnamon-spiced latte and mince pie to feel happy, please donate £5.

If you read this and want someone to have a happier Christmas, please donate £5.

And please tell me about it, on here or on Twitter.


Sustainable Employment

Teaching Students How to Think About Sustainable Employment

In a couple of weeks I’m presenting at a sustainability and education conference at Leeds College of Art. My subject is a sustainable employment programme I ran with our third year students last year, based on finding your true purpose in life – not just rushing to get a job without really thinking about it.

A bigger idea of sustainability

Sustainability is something I try to encourage in my students through the way that I work – the behaviours I’m modelling – and when I talk about fashion marketing practices and ideas.

But I know that my journey in sustainable living really began when I started to think about how I, as a unique individual, was making an impact on the world around me and vice versa.

That included how and where I worked. Many marketing agencies can end up being run in an unsustainable way. Staff are stressed, burnt out, and working far too many hours for sometimes very little emotional reward. This is partly due to the nature of the business, but also because we’re wedded to the romantic idea of slaving away over a creative concept.

Yet even the most dedicated and passionate creative people still need time to rejuvenate themselves. They still need some sort of reward to make sure they feel energised and able to sustain their work – and more often than not this is not a financial incentive, but something more profound or meaningful.

A better template for new workers

If we want to change this template of creative work, it’s essential we put a new way of working and viewing employment into practice with students. They may never have had a full time job before, and may have challenging expectations of life after university. So modelling new sustainable behaviours now, during education, can help put them on a meaningful path for life.

To try and do this, I ran an employment programme with my final year students which is the subject of my research.

Employment programmes can often focus on what marketing folk would call the ‘tactics’ of employment; the day-to-day activities required to get a job, like having a great CV, or understanding how to conduct an excellent interview.

However, tactics aren’t that useful if you don’t have an objective. In marketing, there’s no point doing Facebook ads if you don’t have a reason for doing them. In employment-seeking, there’s no point having a great CV if you don’t know what your true purpose in life is.

My employment program was designed to help students work out what their objectives might be, not just for work but for long-term, lifelong plans.

Ikigai and employment

It was based on the concept of ikigai, a Japanese term translating as ‘the reason for which you get up in the morning’. There’s an excellent TED Talk which explains the concepts in more detail and which you can watch here.

Framing employment in a broader sense through ‘the reason for which you get up in the morning’, we were able to open up discussions about what having a good job really meant and what a good job even was. Too often we are focused on a job as a way of accruing economic capital. However, there is the opportunity to see your job as a way of releasing and rejuvenating human capital; the intelligence, energy, skills and vibrancy locked into individual human beings through the process of education.

Through the program, students were given tools to introduce them to ikigai and exercises to help them start to plan future employment, in particular as part of a larger and comprehensively fulfilling life plan.

A positive result

The feedback from the program has been incredibly positive. As always there are lots of things to learn about and do differently so that, year-on-year, the program can improve. But the biggest thing I found was that students were genuinely engaged with the idea of pursuing a fulfilling, meaningful job in a sustainable way. Here are just a few comments I received from students who had completed the programme:

“[This] approach to careers was on a larger, more thought provoking scale. The programme’s focus on Ikigai made us look at our whole lives rather than just a job. As our career makes up most of our time, being presented with the idea that our job choice should be driven by what makes us happy makes obvious sense now. This approach however, seemed new to us all at the time.”

“[The programme] helped me realise I didn’t need to have an exact plan right now, and although I still had ultimate goals/ikigai there are so many different ways to achieve this and there is no right way, to take any opportunity I feel is right and see where it takes me.”

“[The programme] helped me to manage my expectations of life after uni and salaries.”

More details

I’m presenting this research at a sustainability conference at Leeds College of Art, taking place on the 15th of October. It costs just £30 for a ticket. I definitely recommend coming along, but if you’re unable to, then the proceedings of the conference will be published afterwards.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this taster of my research project has started you thinking about the way in which you work, how you talk about work with colleagues or students, and whether you could inject something more sustainable or meaningful into it.

Eleanor Snare presenting at Liberal Arts launch 2

Five Lessons from My First Year as a Lecturer

The university year is now over. The 2015 to 2016 academic year was my first full year as a lecturer; although I’ve done a lot of guest lecturing in the past, this year was my first gig where I got to see students week in, week out.

I mainly taught third year Fashion Marketing, helping them complete their final major project, but I also taught first years, had two personal tutees for pastoral care, and supervised three dissertations.

Here are five lessons I’ve learnt.

Most people just want you to see them

The greatest lesson I’ve learnt from this year of teaching is that most people want something very simple: for you to truly see them.

It’s easy to work somewhere, be in a relationship with someone, or spend time with friends without truly seeing them. To see someone means to see them for who they are as an individual, wholly and imperfectly; not as a reflection of you, or in relation to you, or as a daughter/brother/partner, or as a manager, or an employee, but as who they are.

My students, aged around 18 to 21, are used to classification. They’re used to being ‘so-and-so’s daughter’ or ‘an A grade student’ or ‘the talkative one’. They are used to being labelled as ‘millennial consumers’ or ‘undergraduate students’. They are used to being seen in relation to other people.

They are not used to being seen as individuals, wholly and imperfectly. Many of them wanted this, many were terrified, but all of them who could accept it improved in their work and personal confidence.

Being seen means someone validates you as an independent and individual being, unique but understandable. It helps you develop agency – the knowledge that you are able to, and responsible for, your own life. It also brings to the surface all those terrifying weaknesses that get erased when you’re seen as part of a general classification, whose identification is essential for moving onwards and upwards in life.

So, lesson 1: seeing people, aside from the classifications and relations you’ve given them, will help them develop agency (and probably scare them too).

Most people also just want you to listen

Listening comes a very close second to seeing. I love helping people, solving problems, helping them fulfil their potential. I learnt this year that you can’t do that unless you listen first.

Teachers of all kinds (including parents) are quick to impart knowledge, because they want to help, they think they can, and because they want to prevent suffering in their students.

Students will not listen to you if you don’t listen to them.

You can give the best advice in the world, but if you haven’t listened, fully and empathically to start with, it won’t sink in.

That’s because real listening isn’t about an exchange: it’s not, “I listen to you, then formulate advice based on your problems”. Listening is pure absorption. It’s taking everything that comes out of the other person and absorbing it, putting it away, accepting it. You can respond if you want to, but that’s not the purpose of listening.

I found many of my students wanted someone to be a sponge for their thoughts. They wanted to say something out loud so it didn’t have to rattle around in their heads anymore, frustrating them. They wanted someone to nod, and make noises, and not give any advice. After that, they were very receptive to advice and actioned it straight away.

I struggled immensely with ‘just’ listening, and it’s something I’ll continue to develop over my life as a tutor.

Lesson 2: listen to purely absorb, not to give advice.

Lots of stuff about Millennials is rubbish

In my first few months, I believed a lot of what marketers and business people say about Millennials; they’re prone to anxiety, narcissism, feelings of entitlement, lack of respect for authority, etc. They think they’re special snowflakes who need constant reassurance, etc. Aren’t they just so not like us? etc. etc.

Lots of stuff written about Millennials – from the perspective of this tutor who has spent hours with about 30 of them, seen them cry, laugh, panic, fuck up, save it all – is rubbish. No, it’s damaging.

They are a generation more connected than any before them. They have access to more information, are told more about themselves and catered to by more brands in very targeted ways than ever before. But the act of classifying them is turning them into these archetypal Millennials; it’s not some inherent feature they all share.

They’re told university is stressful, so they get stressed. They’re told they can do ‘anything they want’, so they’re paralysed by choice. They’re treated like fragile creatures, so they become fragile. They’re told they are consumers, so they see everything as an act of consumption

But as individuals, truly seen and listened to, they aren’t these things. I have seen them: they are strong, independent, complex people – just like every other generation. They are people, with a few more years of life to experience and a whole weight of statistical generational ‘evidence’ weighing them down.

Lesson 3: don’t treat people you are educating differently because someone collected data about them this one time; treat them as individuals.

Trust is a gift you can give to your students

My students are adults; they can vote, move house, get married, get a job and do all number of things without asking anyone’s permission. Yet we’re quick to treat those we’re educating – or managing – as ‘untrustworthy’.

We might not think they’re going to nick staplers out of the cupboard, but we might not trust them to get something finished in time – so we step in. Or we don’t trust them to present their work properly, so we over compensate our teaching and advice in this area.

Trust is a gift that every educator can give their students, and I see it as an essential gift for them to move their life onwards and upward.

Stephen Covey of ‘7 Habits’ fame talks about trust in his descriptions of delegation; ‘gopher’ delegation is the menial tasks given to workers and shouted instructions, which results in everyone being unhappy and either over- or under-worked. Sometimes this happens in education. It’s pointless. Students don’t learn nor do they feel as if they have agency in their learning, which means responsibility lands back on the educator.

Trusting someone to do the job (or complete the project) gives them agency. Covey outlines ways the work can be ‘framed’ to ensure as good a result as possible. But there will always be the first leap of faith; to trust your student.

I had a few phrases I used a lot this year, but one of the most-used was “I trust you to…”.

“I trust you to make the best decision”.

“I trust you to hand in on time”.

“I trust you”.

And I really did. They might not all accept this gift – they might not accept their own agency and ability – but without me freely giving it to them I would’ve been educating ‘gophers’, not humans.

Lesson 4: frame their projects to help them complete it, then take a leap of faith and trust them to do so.

Defensive practice is a waste of time

University education in the UK is subject to the whims of many different people and organisations. There are funding bodies, quality boards, frameworks, government policies, inspectors and student satisfaction surveys.

Because these whims are so apparent in university life, and because we’ve been sucked into the rhetoric of students-as-customers, people get fearful. Horror stories abound of tutors who’ve been sacked for swearing, or courses pulled for poor student satisfaction results. Folk get frightened of doing something ‘wrong’ in teaching, and so defensive practice begins.

Defensive practice is just as it sounds: practising your work on the defensive, the ‘just in case’, the risk-avoidance path, to avoid doing something ‘wrong’.

In education, and especially in creative education, this is a complete waste of time.

A creative worker who is risk-averse, fearful, prefers the status quo, won’t try new things and afraid of getting it ‘wrong’ will not be any good at their job. A human being who is afraid of change, and making mistakes, won’t be very good at being a happy human being.

Teaching is modelling behaviour. If I am on the defensive, my students will be too. They will think that defensive practice is normal, and they’ll take that with them into life and work, and they’ll be unhappy and rubbish.

Over the last year, I’ve seen examples of defensive practice in teaching and I have done everything I can to not do it. I model the behaviours I expect my students to have: passion, enthusiasm, sincerity, humour, dedication, determination and more. That modelling might including arguing, joking, playing devil’s advocate, being blunt, honesty, swearing, physical expression, and ‘poking with a stick’ (my phrase for when you’re trying to get something out of someone).

Historically, educators are often those who (along with artists) stand outside of social norms to present new challenges to the world, and help the world to understand these challenges. They poke things with sticks.

Lesson 5: avoid defensive practice if you want great students, and instead model the behaviour you expect them to have as they move onwards and upwards in life and work.

Over the last year I’ve had the honour and pleasure of teaching students about fashion marketing, but I’ve also had the joy of being changed and encouraged to grow by each of them.

Being an educator, whether you’re teaching 5 year olds, managing 50 year olds or anything in between, is a challenging, frustrating, exciting gift; I hope these lessons help you in your journey.


How to Make the Most of Online Training and CPD

Have you ever sat through online training at work – probably the one for health and safety – and thought “I’m not taking this in, at all”?

What about attending a lecture for CPD and, after an hour or so, you realise you’ve been bored into daydreaming?

Or your manager has pointed you to a confusing website and said “There, you can read about it yourself”?

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • Why a lot of in-work training sucks
  • What you can do about that as an employee (or manager)
  • How to make the most of online training and CPD
  • The most important things to consider when starting CPD or in-work training
  • How to get a first look at my new online training courses



Nearly 60% of employees say professional development contributes to their job satisfaction (source: CompTia).

66% of young workers paying off student loans would go for a job with strong potential for professional development over regular raises (source: EdAssist).

Yet nearly 7 in 10 people say their manager isn’t involved in their career development (source: Right Management).

And fewer than half of employees are satisfied with the growth and development opportunities available to them (source: APA).

Oh, and companies that spend more on employee training gain greater profits (source: HBR).
That’s why it’s important. Read on for ways you can make the most of online training and CPD by really understanding how you learn.
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There’s lots to read in this article, so click to skip if you want:

  1. In-work training sucks
  2. The way to make CPD and in-work training not suck
  3. The Four Types of Format
  4. The Two Types of Information Processing
  5. Which type are you?
  6. The benefits of understanding how you process information
  7. How to make the most of any learning format, whatever your type
  8. Introducing CPD that doesn’t suck with my new online courses
  9. Sign up for a first look at my online courses (+ freebie)


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Education at work has got a seriously bad reputation. Not surprising, really, bearing in mind some of the torturous PowerPoints, terrible animations and dry PDFs that are presented to teams in the name of continuing personal development.

Different people learn in different ways, and it’s tough for a business to manage the expectations of different learners with the constraints from the finance department. In-person training can be incredibly expensive and time-consuming, and if it’s not really clear why people are there and what they’re going to get out of it, everyone can feel like their day has been wasted.

I’m an educator, so of course I’m going to say that this is a really bad attitude to have about in-work training. Call it CPD, lifelong learning, whatever you want; being open to learning new things helps you develop as a person, and not just a professional person, so you can live and work in more interesting and fulfilling ways.

But I’m not surprised people think of CPD as this awful thing they have to do, rather than want to do, with what people are currently offered: super-fast training in a high-pressure environment, often in a format that folks can’t or don’t know how to process.

There is a way to make in-work training not suck, and it can be done by learners and trainers. You need to consider the format, but most importantly you need to consider how you process information.



There’s two big parts to training that need to be considered when you’re choosing a CPD course or even developing your own in-work training. Those parts are:

  1. The format you prefer information to be in
  2. How you process information

A lot of course providers get very caught up in the format of information without thinking about how people process information.

Understanding how people process information is essential to making sure any professional development actually works. Because you could have the most beautiful video, the most interesting personalised training, the most exciting podcast, yet if you haven’t considered how people are going to absorb the details then no-one will learn anything.

People doing it right
A while back I had the pleasure of working with Virtual College, a pioneering digital learning company who make really good online training.

When they began in the 90s, they saw the potential in learning online when everyone else was using paper or in-person training. It meant that they could reach more people and still have interaction between learners and trainers.

Virtual College have a whole team of content designers and education specialists who take all the information someone needs to learn and turn it into chunks of easily-absorbed, sensibly-structured content. They consider how people process information before they start to think about the format – the animations, the interaction levels, the sounds and words – and their courses are incredibly successful.



Let’s talk about the format you prefer information to be in first. There are four types of format preference which partly correspond to different senses. See which category you fit into – most people are a blend of several different ones.

Visual learners prefer information to be presented in images, photos, charts, graphs and video.

Aural/oral learners prefer information that they can hear or talk about, so they respond well to radio shows, podcasts, discussion groups and presentations.

Written learners prefer information that’s communicated through the written word, like textbooks, articles and written assignments.

Kinaesthetic learners prefer information to be presented in a way they can touch and interact with, like practical workshops, hands-on activities, and testing or trialling things.

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Knowing these categories changes how you see education. Different teachers and institutions will teach with a bias towards certain types of format.

For example, primary schools tend to focus on kinaesthetic learning while secondary schools prioritise written and aural/oral learners.

You might think that this is natural; “Of course primary school kids have hands-on activities, all they’re doing is playing”. But the information you’re communicating and format you use to do so are different things. Medium and message are different.

Young children could just as easily be taught things by rote (a strict aural/oral practice) as by kinaesthetic methods, and historically that’s what we used to do. Some information does seem a more ‘natural’ fit for certain formats, but a good tutor is able to manipulate medium and message interdependently.

Lots of in-work learning leans towards visual and written formats, because people see the interaction needed for aural/oral and kinaesthetic learning as expensive. Institutions also get very excited about shiny ‘new’ formats like video or online training or whatever, so they put money into it without necessarily clocking that certain types of learner are missing out.



Really, a lot of thought and money goes into the wrong thing when it comes to in-work training.

Format is important, because at first glance learners will be put off by a format they don’t feel that comfortable with. That’s one of the reasons I struggle with the incredible but visual-leaning courses on FutureLearn.

But format is less important than the second factor: how you process information.



The format of any learning has an impact on how you ‘process’ it in the most physical sense. If you have book you’re processing with your eyes, if you have a podcast you’re processing with your ears, and so on.

Yet to really process something, in the therapeutic sense of “dealing with all this stuff I’ve been given”, it’s our brain not our outer organs which really has to work hard.

From experience, I see two broad categories of the ways in which we process information:

  1. People who marinate
  2. People who mix

This analogy was the easiest way to explain it (and I love cooking).

People who marinate take on information, let in sink in and mull it over. They create a delicious sauce and then bung it in the fridge overnight. They internalise the learning process.

People who mix take on information, throw it out and move it around. They create an equally delicious sauce and cook it up with loads of other stuff straight away. They externalise the learning process.



You might be a ‘marinate’ person if:

  • You often pause when reading complex articles to consider the ideas
  • You need to watch an educational video two or three times to get a handle on the content
  • You have always liked learning methods which involve mnemonics and other memory tools

You might be a ‘mix’ person if:

  • You often write notes and tangential thoughts when reading complex articles
  • You need to discuss an educational video with someone to get a handle on the content
  • You have always liked learning methods which involve quizzes and other back-and-forth exercises

How to Make the Most of Online Training - Eleanor Snare - 8


It’s very likely that you identified with both of those types to some degree. That’s because people are not a ‘marinate’ or ‘mix’ person all the time. Depending on their preferred format of information, and the subject, they might switch into ‘marinate’ or ‘mix’ mode.

When I was thinking about this article, I looked at my own habits. I tend to process most formats by ‘marinating’ and letting it sink in. But with visual material I often need to discuss and explore it – ‘mix’ it – with someone else. I’m also a ‘mixer’ when it comes to aural/oral learning; I love throwing ideas around with other people and learning through talking.

There’s no right or wrong way to process information; it just depends on who you are and the material you’re working with.



Knowing whether you ‘marinate’ or ‘mix’ is very helpful when it comes to choosing the type of in-work training or CPD courses you do.

People who ‘marinate’ might find self-paced courses better, because you’ll be in control of when you absorb the information. People who ‘mix’ might prefer a structured course where you take part at certain times, because you’ll get to interact immediately with the material.

For managers and tutors, knowing whether your learners ‘marinate’ or ‘mix’ is essential to developing a nurturing relationship.

If you don’t know that all your learners are quietly ‘marinating’ what you’re teaching them, you might get frustrated that they’re not asking questions or joining in. If you don’t realise your learners need to ‘mix’ to process information, you might get irritated that they’re interrupting you.



Understanding how you process information also means you can tackle different formats of learning material much more effectively.

In my own habits, knowing how I process different formats has been really helpful:

  • I need to externalise my learning (‘mix’ it) when it comes to visuals, so I make sure someone is available to answer the questions I know I’ll have
  • I set myself extra time to process written information, as I need time for it to ‘marinate’
  • With kinaesthetic learning, I’ll watch an activity from start to finish a couple of times before embarking on it myself

Being able to tackle different formats of information and learn from them has two key benefits.

You’ve got more options
To start, it’s less likely you’ll be put off by a particular format of in-work training or CPD because you’ll know how to deal with it effectively. That means more learning options are open to you, giving you even more chances to help you fulfil your potential.

You’ll shed that fixed mindset
Second, you’re also much less likely to continue with a fixed mindset; you’re much less likely to say “Oh, I don’t like reading long textbooks” or “I don’t get infographics”. Although some formats might still be tricky (like me and video), you’ll be willing to try them out, which is one of the key elements of a positive, career-changing growth mindset.



How are you meant to take your knowledge about the way you process information – as a ‘marinate’ or ‘mix’ person – and use it to get the most out of our four learning format types – visual, aural/oral, written and kinaesthetic?

Good question. Experience is key, but there are techniques to get you started.

Below is a list of ways ‘marinate’ and ‘mix’ people can make the most of any learning format. I’ve gathered these from my own behaviour, from observing other people and from working with groups of students and young professionals.

These techniques can help you approach any format of learning material confidently, whether that’s infographics, podcasts, video or workshops.



If you like to marinate:

Give yourself three times as much time as normal to really get to grips with visual material, especially multi-sensory video.

Record discussion groups to listen back to later, or ask for written summaries alongside audio material.

Get yourself some page flags and sticky notes for written material and use them to colour code ‘themes’; the visual reminder will help it settle more effectively in your memory.

For written tests or assignments, read the whole paper/quiz from start to finish first, then start answering.

Watch kinaesthetic learning closely, perhaps two or three times, before you try it yourself.



If you like to mix:

Use an audio recorder to ask questions about visual material, especially video, as you take it in. Later, play the recording back and answer your own questions verbally.

Note down off-topic questions during aural/oral material so you can bring the discussion back to them at an appropriate point (interrupting can distract your train of thought).

Reading groups and study groups will help you with written material; try joining relevant forums or groups online to ask questions if you’re an independent learner.

For written tests or assignments, structure your answers carefully to avoid going off-topic.

Pause before starting kinaesthetic learning, then do one step at a time, referring to the material before completing each step.



A lot of people get that different learners prefer different formats. But not everyone gets that processing information is just as individual.

Our educational systems tend to prioritise different formats and ways of processing over others, whether that’s play in primary school or video training at work.

That’s why one of the biggest issues we have at university is students dealing with self-guided, ‘mix’ learning where we expect them to contribute to discussions and participate in peer-to-peer teaching. Secondary school and college doesn’t necessarily train them in that; ‘marinating’ is much more acceptable as it’s quieter, more independent and less exhausting for the tutor.

But there is no right or wrong way of learning, or of processing information.

There is just your way.

It’s the role of tutors, managers and trainers to give options for learners, and the role of learners to understand themselves and make appropriate choices. Knowing what format you like your material to be in, and most importantly the way in which you process information, can help you do that.

How to Make the Most of Online Training - Eleanor Snare - 9


In my work as an educator I’m constantly looking at new ways to train people in creative, meaningful and sustainable ways.

For the future of my business, I’m developing a range of online and in-person training for anyone who wants to learn how to write well for their work and business.

You could be a blogger, a new start-up owner or a junior copywriter; anyone who wants to learn to write well is welcome and will benefit from the courses.



I’ve built the subjects of the courses around the essential components of writing for business, whether that’s developing a strong editing technique or focusing on proposals and sales introductions.

Some of the training courses I’m developing are:

  • How to Come Up with Great Ideas
  • How to Research Ideas and Make Them Credible
  • How to Write and Edit Without Stress
  • How to Write a Winning Proposal

You’ll know by now I believe in the individuality of each learner, so I’m creating my courses around small groups where everyone gets personal attention and materials which make sense for their business or project.

I’m also working out ways in which learners who prefer different formats and ways of processing information can benefit.



Sounds interesting, right? You can sign up to be the first to know about the courses here.



To make sure these courses are as creative, meaningful and sustainable as possible, I’m going to need some help.

Beta Testers
I’ll need course testers who will be able to access ‘beta’ course material for free – then point out all the flaws so I can improve it.

Team Canary
I’ll need my first cohort of learners who will get discounts on their chosen course, to show the rest of the world how safe (and successful) the courses are.

The Inventors
And I’ll need people who are really interested in learning how to write well to tell me what other elements and courses I can create to help you fulfil your potential.

You can be the first to know about the new online courses, sign up as a Beta, Canary or Inventor, and get exclusive discounts by filling in the form below.

Sign up here, and you’ll also get a unique guide on developing a growth mindset to say thank you.



My article on the one thing preventing creatives from fulfilling their potential struck a chord with people in my network.

The difference between a growth mindset, where we believe we can change, and a fixed mindset, where we think we’re stuck ‘like this’, is fundamental to our ability to fulfil our potential personally and professionally.

In that article I offered readers a free guide to help their team or students develop a growth mindset, which is great for managers and tutors. But I didn’t realise how many people want to develop a growth mindset in themselves.



Sign up to be the first to hear about my online courses, and to say thank you you’ll get a new and improved guide on growth mindset that’s specifically for individuals. It takes three core techniques and explains how to use them to improve your creative career, both independently and as part of a team.

Sign up below to:

  • Be the first to know about my new online courses in writing well
  • Become a Beta, Canary or Inventor and get course discounts
  • Get a 12-page guide to developing your growth mindset
  • Help me fulfil my potential through educating other people


Thanks for reading.

P.S. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, I’ll be sending you details of the online courses when they’re ready. But you won’t get the personal growth mindset guide or the opportunity to access course content for free or a discount, so it might be worth signing up for training news here.


Textile protest

Why Millennials Need a More Human Way of Teaching

In my last article on human sustainability I outlined my interest in the subject – how people work and learn, and how they can do so more sustainably. I also gave a succinct definition of my use of human sustainability: a framework for fashion education which focuses on the complexity of human experience to improve how our industry works.

But why is this idea particularly relevant now? Sustainability is already part of fashion education, often used in design or material projects, and as a society we’re becoming more aware of environmental sustainability. We’re also acutely aware of the relationship between work and fulfillment; LinkedIn is stuffed with articles on how to be more productive or happier in your job.

So why is human sustainability important to fashion education and the fashion industry at this moment? In my conference talk I briefly mentioned four different factors which make this subject important now, including the industry reaching breaking point with many of its resources, and the omission of humans from discussions about sustainability in fashion (despite human sustainability being one of the “four main types” [1]).

However, in this article I’d like to go into more detail about the two most important factors making human sustainability a useful concept right now: a new generation of students and significant economic shifts.


A new generation

This new generation of students are ‘Millennials’ (people born from 1981 to 2000) [2], and their personality traits have been praised, criticised and manipulated for some seriously targeted marketing. I think transposing a single set of characteristics onto a diverse generation is risky, and can result in cultural myths which then lead to poor intergenerational relations.

However, there are general observations about the world in which ‘Millennials’ have grown up and been educated (or will be) which ring true. They have all matured in a world of neo-liberalism, extremism and shifts in global power; they’ve seen the Millennium itself, the rise of the Internet, the end of apartheid and the collapse of the Soviet Union (or their effects). In England, Millennials were the first generation subject to tuition fees at university, which have increased year on year [3]. All of them were fundamentally affected, either as adults or children, by the 2008 financial crisis.

It’s not that any other demographic hasn’t experienced these things, but Millennials have experienced them at a crucial time in their psychological and social development. Meg Jaye, TED speaker and psychologist, argues that 20-something brains are “poised for transformation and change” [4], with the second and last neural growth spurt occurring from your teenage years to your twenties, preparing you for adulthood. If this process occurs in a global climate of economic downturn, acceptance/fear of multiculturalism, political upheaval, plus more communication networks and transparency than ever, it will have a resounding effect on shape of their ‘generational personality’.

Some of these effects include Millennials reporting greater stress levels and being more likely to seek help at work for depression than other generations [5]. They’ve also been described as narcissistic, ignorant of workplace hierarchy and ‘too’ ambitious [6].

These traits are widely reported, but they hide a bigger issue: this generation has grown up with a greater awareness of and transparency about conditions like stress, depression, fatigue and burnout, and are therefore more likely to self-report than a generation who was unused to this idea.

They’re also more acutely aware of the need for individualisation versus the requirement to be ‘part of the gang’; social connectivity online means there’s more people to compete with (as a successful individual) and share with (as an equal peer). I’ve also written about the ‘digital status quo’ which many Millennials have grown up under and are unlikely to challenge while at the same time being encouraged to be unique and creative in their self-marketing.


Alongside historic events and changes to communication, the effect of neo-liberalism as an established economic and cultural weight upon this generation cannot be underestimated. David Harvey argues:

“This is a world [the mid 70s onwards] in which the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive individualism and financial opportunism has become the template for human personality socialisation…The impact is increasingly individualistic isolation, anxiety, short-termism and neurosis in the midst of one of the greatest material urban achievements ever constructed in human history.” [7]

This succinct explanation demonstrates just how difficult the job of learning and working is for the new generation of students. Surrounded by material excess and opportunity, the economic pattern of neo-liberalism and its cultural influence has burrowed a hole in their generational psyche; despite opportunities to have everything they could ever want, there is an emptiness.


Every generation has rebellions against the norm, and within the Millennial generation there are many people who are strongly politically- or environmentally-minded, or those who ‘opt out’ of the system. But there doesn’t appear to be any one, great, youth movement (unlike those of previous decades which may be out of focus due to my rose-tinted glasses). There is, however, a strange phenomenon of the ‘gentle rebellion’ against neo-liberalism’s materialist ethic which seems to argue with it but actually affirms it, and comes from a very white, Western and well-off place.

Reacting against consumerist excess and economic obsession with the urban, Millennials create trends like ‘clean’ eating, quote motivational Pinterest images [8] and mantras like “do what you love, love what you do”, read homespun lifestyle bloggers and share photographs documenting a life in tune with the great outdoors and inner spirituality.

These reactions are unerringly affirmative. Every Millennial is described as having a unique contribution (“intense possessive individualism”), as an entrepreneur in the making who can simply live off their beautifully-shot lifestyle (“financial opportunism”), who should live in the now and always strive to be a better person tomorrow than they are today (“short-termism and neurosis”). Harvey’s list of psychological effects aren’t addressed in this rebellion, but papered over.

So not only are this generation of students suffering from acute psychological stresses brought on by global and historic events, the connectivity/isolation conundrum of social media, the cultural weight of neo-liberalism, and a lack of one, uniting youth movement, but their rebellions aren’t about change – only opting-out entirely or affirming what’s already there with slightly better photos.


To me, this suggests we need to radically rethink how we’re teaching students. We need to consider how we’re teaching them to interact with each other in meaningful ways, how to combat isolation and neurosis, how to understand what “the greatest material urban achievements” means for our society and our surroundings. We need to give them tools to shape a new way of living that’s more psychologically supportive – and challenge their rebellions by analysing what they’re really doing.

For fashion specifically, this generational fearfulness and affirmative process mean creativity is going to run dry because new workers don’t want to challenge the status quo. And fashion really needs people to challenge the status quo to create interesting products, sell them and survive.


Significant economic shifts

The second key factor in why human sustainability is an important concept now is the change in our economic environment.

Fashion education is a capitalist industry: it produces commodities – our students – and a profit (where possible). Education itself hasn’t always been a capitalist industry, as it hasn’t always produced profit, but it has always produced valuable commodities.

These commodities are, on the one hand, more valuable than ever as repositories of knowledge in an information economy. On the other, they’re less valuable as they become a more common commodity – more people with university degrees mean a degree is (apparently) worth less. Institutions have also increased their capital intake and profit generation by working with businesses who fund innovative research into products and processes (which that business may later benefit from). In England, another income stream is tuition fees, of which international students play an important role.

Whether you agree with education being a capitalist enterprise or not is less important than what you think these educational institutions will now become as capitalism itself changes. The banking crisis of 2008 was a crisis of capitalism, as those who sought to profit from the system made increasingly risky choices on unstable economic ‘bets’. Slowly, since then, the consensus on capitalism as an effective system has changed [9].

In large part, this is due to the political response to the crisis; the bailing out of banks while populations were forced under austerity measures. In the UK, all parts of the political spectrum are questioning whether our economic system works. In a system where government subsidises private workers’ pay, people are forced to use food banks, welfare payments seem unfair or not enough, public banks are sold at huge losses and the cost of living and education continues to rise, people are beginning to find fault with how our economy operates. Anti-austerity politics and parties are coming to the fore in the US, UK and EU, some of which are proposing activities which are positively pre-neo-liberal.


On a global governmental level, no-one has figured out (or wants to admit to) a way to effectively deal with the 2008 crisis or its aftershocks. But on a community scale, new economic forms of ‘purchasing’ and ‘consuming’ are growing: Wikipedia, Bitcoin, Uber and clothing rental companies are just some high-profile examples. People are discovering new ways to interrupt the traditional patterns of consumption inherent to capitalism.

Paul Mason argues this is due to our new information economy having fundamental “dynamics [which] are profoundly non-capitalist” [10]; one of our most profitable commodities (information) is also the hardest to control as the Internet and digital communication networks become cheaper and extend to territories even where the traditional infrastructure required doesn’t exist. On the other hand, the pre-crisis ‘betting’ in the banking sector continues with capital investment in high-risk ventures, in this phase focusing on the Internet itself; many high-value tech ‘unicorns’ have no profitable business model in place and have been mooted as the precursor to another dot com bubble.

For those still profiting from capitalism, the 3% figure of continuous growth required to not appear in ‘recession’ is becoming harder to maintain as the realisation dawns there is little material resource left on the planet to invest in [11]. With a lack of regulation, the worst parts of financial trading (shadow banking, energy futures betting, etc.) are continuing even as those suffering from the worst effects of capitalism’s economic disparity are interrupting its machinations by dreaming up new ways of living and working together.

For educational institutions, a new(ish) wave of educational forms are now competing against them for profit and students. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), private institutions, online learning, apprenticeships and a host of other work-learn arrangements have made the traditional institution just one of the many options available to new students – and, potentially, one of the more expensive. Alongside new competition, institutions need to realise that these shifts in capitalism and how we like to ‘purchase’ things means their current business model may no longer be financially viable.

This is especially true for fashion education, which is so closely married to the fashion industry: a hub of the traditional capitalist mechanics of commodity production and profit generation through exploitation. Society’s transition to a new form of economy (whether capitalist or not) requires a new business model for institutions; a way to ‘future proof’ funding. Design and fashion institutions, whose students will be emerging as workers in this new economy, must also be aware of and teach these market developments. Historically institutions are slow creatures, reactive not proactive, yet the principles we teach now will be the scaffolding on which economies of the future (both in the fashion industry and further afield) will be built. When it comes to industry and economy, we need to be a hammer, not a mirror.


This is where I believe human sustainability as an educational framework could be very useful, as it can address changing economic forms on an organisational and educational level by very simply asking ‘what’s the alternative?’. The new economic forms we’re seeing are in part a reaction to capitalism’s destructive effect on human beings; lots of people don’t want to be exploited or take part in exploiting others any more. We need to be looking at ways of funding education and running fashion businesses which don’t do that, and looking at alternatives to ‘classic capitalism’ is one option.


In my next article I’ll look more closely at what human sustainability is: the current understanding of the term, what it does and doesn’t include, and how it could be expanded.


Ghazi Shebeen el-Kom workers marching on the local governor headquarters by Hossam el-Hamalawy via Creative Commons. More information on the story behind this image can be found here.
[1] Robert Goodland, Sustainability: Human, Social, Economic and Environmental, sample article from Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, 2002 (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.)
[2] This term was coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss in their 1991 book, Generations. The authors also established these birth dates, although Howe admitted the term has “been through a few phases” (TED Radio Hour: The Next Greatest Generation?, first broadcast in the UK on BBC R4Extra, 9 August 2015 7.00pm).
[4] TED Radio Hour: The Next Greatest Generation?, first broadcast in the UK on BBC R4Extra, 9 August 2015 7.00pm
[6] Perhaps incorrectly so:
[7] pp. 175-6, The Enigma of Capital, 2010 (Profile Books Ltd: London).
[8] Some examples can be seen here
[9] “The OECD’s economists were too polite to say it…the best of capitalism is behind us, and for the rest it will be over in our lifetime.” p. x, Introduction, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason, 2015 (Allen Lane: London).
[10] paragraph 24, The end of capitalism has begun, The Guardian:
[11] Harvey mentions the 3% figure of continuous growth in The Enigma of Capital, stating if this was the normal and constant rate of growth by 2030 there would “be over $100 trillion in the global economy” (p.27).
kirkstall canal

Using Human Sustainability in Creative Education

This month I’m presenting at the Fashion Colloquia conference in Milan, which is held twice a year in different cities. The theme is Feeding Fashion Energy – new pathways for fashion education; a suitably topical conference, with the Business of Fashion launching their new educational platform and results from a global survey of fashion students.

My talk is on a concept I’m still developing, which has grown from my interests in fashion, economics and sustainable life and business. The subject is human sustainability and its use in creative education. Here’s my most succinct definition so far:

A framework for fashion education which focuses on the complexity of human experience to improve how our industry works.

I’ll be regularly publishing my ideas online as I develop this concept, alongside continuing to write on other things that interest me. This first article explains my background and interest in this subject.

My background

First, I have always been interested in people. Of all elements of fashion, the personal experience of clothing and its use as a facilitator for communication between people has always been the most fascinating.

In 2011, after months of research and a week of not leaving the house, I complete my MA thesis which looked at how a relatively new demographic of fashion people – bloggers – experience the ‘work’ of their blog. I interviewed different bloggers about how they perceived their ‘work’, whether it was enjoyable and to what extent they were ‘paid’. My research included theories of emotional labour (practising emotions as part of your job, like having to be nice when you’re an air steward) and the inherently precarious and cross-contaminating quality of creative work (the creative worker is never ‘off’ and always thinking about their ideas).

This thesis cemented my passion for how people work: what they see as work, what their work struggles are, how we think about other people doing (dis)similar jobs and, importantly, in what ways we react to perceived exploitation.

After this, I spent several years working in creative agencies on external and internal communications for clients like Marks & Spencer, Lloyds Banking Group, New Look and Unilever. Through this I developed my understanding of how creative and non-creative work effects people and their perceptions of acceptable work and remuneration, whether financial or otherwise. I also continued to produce research outside of work, which focused on the problems in fashion work and our relationship to fashion objects, all using Marxist-ish ways of seeing the world.

Through my work and studies, I became more interested in ‘sustainability’. Reading on the subject often brought up the same issue: sustainability in business was more about assets and the environment than people and their work. For example, CSR initiatives would reduce the unnecessary printing of emails, but not consider the sheer volume of emails a worker receives and the impact that has on their ability to work. Sustainability became a more important issue in my personal life, from what I ate to how I worked.

Establishing myself as a lecturer meant I considered work – and now learning – from a new perspective: how sustainable are the working methods we use, and are we teaching poor methods to new workers? Although I have a strong interest in fashion’s environmental sustainability, I’m more drawn to the problems of people (like forced labour, cultural homogenisation or the invisibility of work) in the industry.

Now, as a Teaching Fellow and freelance marketer, I’ve had more opportunities to consider all these elements – fashion, work, sustainability, human experience, education – and how they fit into a system of research. The concept of human sustainability is the nucleus of that system.


Leeds-Liverpool Canal: Kirkstall Brewery by Vaidotas Mišeikis via creative Commons