Sustainable Interpreters and Greenwashing

For about 3 years now, I have been writing (strictly private) notes about how I – an interpreter, a natural person, a freelancer – deal with the sustainability goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


What is the 2030 Agenda?


The 2030 Agenda was approved on 25.9.2015 by the governments of the 193 member countries of the United Nations, and endorsed by the UN General Assembly.


It is a plan consisting of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of a broader programme of action to be achieved in the environmental, economic, social and institutional spheres by 2030. It is not a final solution to all problems, but it is a good starting point for building a different world and giving everyone the chance to live on an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable planet.


I attended various meetings on the subject and had to question myself. In my notebook, over time, I wrote down my virtuous behaviour: using public transport whenever possible, not printing out materials to prepare for assignments, changing outfits while recycling clothes… things like that. This file has been among my notes for several years, but I have never had the courage to turn it into marketing material. Why not?


Is it all Greenwashing?


It seemed excessive to me to define myself as a ‘green interpreter‘ or a ‘sustainable interpreter‘, or to talk about applying the SDGs the way you would for a business – which I’m not. It seems more like greenwashing to me. But there is a good side to all this. I started to think about my habits, my behaviour, what the market demands of me. And I found several aspects that are compatible with the 2030 sustainability goals.


For example: working remotely (RSI), as the pandemic taught us, definitely had a lower environmental impact than travelling a hundred kilometres by car, and this brought me in line with Goal 13 – Tackling climate change.


Not only that, but by not having to appear in front of managers and directors, I have reduced my wardrobe. That too is a small contribution to sustainability.


By not eating lunch in a canteen, restaurant or buffet, I have consumed the right amount of food and created less waste in the form of dishes, leftovers, etc. This is also sustainable.


However, I believe that declaring oneself a ‘green interpreter’ – which is true of so many non-profit companies or B-corps – is more of a marketing issue at the moment than anything else. As an individual – as a freelancer – of course I have to strive to be sustainable, to do my part in this world, in this country, in this market, to make my contribution to sustainability, but by definition I am a ‘travelling’ creature, always on the move. I seldom work in the same place, so I have to use some form of transport.


Sustainable behaviour


Sure, I can invest in an electric car, offer to work remotely, car-share with colleagues, but all this is common sense for an individual.


For companies, it is different: as a group of individuals, it is important to have a well-structured plan, set goals and have rules to achieve them. I am not saying that this does not apply to individuals, just that there are different factors at play when it comes to individuals.


But let’s move on to my thoughts on the sustainability of the interpreter. By offering language training, I also contribute to Goal 4, Quality Education, because I can help improve the skills of the people who come to me to learn.


Similarly, when I translate training courses and formative company meetings, I basically do the same thing.


Want to know more? I can also tell you about my contribution to Goal 5, Gender Equality: I provide language tools to enable people to build their curriculum vitae, which can promote equal opportunities in their work and social environments.


Finally, by working with benefit societies and b-corps, we interpreters are required to sign codes of ethics and sustainability that provide for virtuous and, ça va sans dire, deontological behaviour.


As an individual, I can contribute to any of the 17 goals if I wish. But I prefer to talk about facts, because as individuals we are all fallible, even if we wash green (I just did)!


And you, how are you trying to be sustainable?

Written by

Translator & Interpreter