Published on August 6th, 2008 | by Justin Van Kleeck5
Towards a (Re)Definition of Sustainability: Justin Van Kleeck and Caroline Savery. 5-Justin
From what you write, Caroline, it is clear that at this point your heart (or mind–or both!) compelled you to try the 100% sustainable, Sust Enable “experiment.” And you learned and shared many good things with us–mistakes not to try again and great methods for living sustainably. That is wonderful, and it is surely going to stick with you; after all, we learn best not only from direct experience but, I believe, from “mistakes” as well.
Obviously you are not disregarding changes others make, nor are you screaming at them from your soapbox on high to go all the way. My concern, though, is that focusing on such a 100% approach on a larger scale would turn off people to environmentalism. As I said before, there has to be an equal (even greater?) focus on small steps, an equal (even greater?) celebration of little changes, in order to help keep the mood positive and morale high–and the changes occurring, the momentum building, the tide turning!
I think we are both on the same vibe in the end. Heck, we both feel urgently the need to do good for the Earth and to help others do so as well. We both share a desire to see positive things happen and to serve our fellow beings by using all our “tools” to help build a better, safer community. I think we differ mostly in terms of focus and emphasis in the nature of what we write.
I believe, then, we need both the point and the counterpoint within the environmental movement itself. Die-hard Socratic that I am, I believe we need to question all things—in particular the accepted “norms”…and more especially the things we think are “right,” “true,” etc. This self-reflective, synergistic approach to environmentalism will keep it green and thriving, a sustainable force driven by the symbiosis of its dynamic elements.
In this light and the light of our discussion, Caroline, how would I define “sustainability”? Presently, there is no accepted definition; the closest thing is the World Commission on Environment and Development’s definition of sustainable development from 1983: it “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”1 This is very useful, but I think it leaves a lot out–about individual health and happiness, about more than just physical subsistence but complete personal well-being. It does not quite seem to capture the Green with Heart that I believe is essential to the true sustainability of Life.
So I would like to offer a new definition and/or redefinition of “sustainability,” for environmentalists and the world at large:
Sustainability: Acting to promote the holistic health and happiness of living beings, individually and collectively, while also respecting the planetary resources they depend upon.
The key part of my definition is “holistic.” This opens up “sustainability” to include things usually outside of the purview of environmentalism. There is so much more to Life, and especially human life, than mere survival. Our ideas, models, definitions, and discussions of sustainability need to include more than just environmental issues, concerns, and actions.
In terms of environmentalism, my idea of “sustainability” is essentially a Green with Heart: when you think, speak, and act from a base of kindness and compassion–for yourself, for others, and for all things. That then has truly positive, health- and life-affirming results for you and for the entire universe through the nurturing energy and actions that are created.
May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be sustained.