Live From SxSW Eco: Engineering A Sustainable Culture

The first-ever SxSW Eco is taking place this week in Austin, Texas. It’s a three-day event that brings together sustainable companies, scientists, politicians, media and citizens that are concerned about the environment and passionate about finding solutions to tomorrow’s problems today. Care2 will be posting highlights from the conference all week, so stay tuned!

For most people living in developed countries, living life as a consumer feels normal. We shop, eat, sleep, and are entertained wherever and whenever we wan’t. We buy things to make our lives easier, and when we can’t afford the things we want, we get a credit card and buy them anyway.

But as Erik Assadourian from World Watch Institute pointed out in his SxSW Eco presentation Wednesday, this consumer culture was intentionally and systematically engineered for us. It’s only normal because we think it’s normal. And while this is depressing on one hand, it actually presents some interesting opportunities for change on the other.

“We need to intentionally and proactively transform our cultures so living sustainably feels normal,” said Assadourian. “As normal as living as a consumer feels today.”

In order to accomplish this, Assadourian recommends following the example of big industries who were so instrumental in shaping the consumer culture we’re struggling with today.

Every consumer-focused industry, from automobiles to fast-food strategically employed government, business, education, media, social movements and traditions to convince society its product couldn’t be lived without. We need to use the same tools to normalize a truly sustainable culture, and not just a green consumer culture, says Assadourian.

I.e. We need to stop compartmentalizing our thinking. It’s not that we need a recyclable carpet, it’s that we need to reevaluate our need for carpet at all.

The government has a big part to play by creating messages and policies that incentivize sustainability in personal and economic terms that everyone can understand. Currently, Government shapes your choices through policies, subsidies, educational campaigns. With just a few strategic changes, Government could help people edit choices in a way that normalizes sustainable behavior.

But individuals, especially those willing to share their knowledge and creative juices, have an integral role in normalizing sustainable behavior as well. The creation of innovative educational tools, whether it’s a walk to school program or a board game that teaches people the importance of resource management, helps to train up a new generation of humans for whom sustainable choices will cease to be conscious and start to be automatic.

After all, the kids are our future. If they aren’t taught to embrace sustainable living now, while they’re young, what are we fighting for?

To learn more about Assadourian and the World Watch Institute’s efforts to catalyze the shift to a more sustainable culture, visit

Also Check Out:
Live from SxSW Eco: Feeding The Future Without Trashing The Planet
Creating A Healthier Food Culture For Less Money
Raising Kids In A Consumer Culture

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Ashlyine B.
Ashlyine B.2 years ago

You have done really a superb job with your web site. Marvelous stuff is here to read.

Patrick Carabin
Patrick Carabin4 years ago

If SXSW Eco costs 800 $, it isn't for me...

Dianne Robertson
Dianne Robertson4 years ago

Rick Perry needs to have a personal tutorial from these folks.Perhaps a residential session would work.Maybe they could also convince him that the EARTH IS ROUND!!

Annemarie W.
Annemarie L.4 years ago


heather g.
heather g.4 years ago

I read this article after being attracted to the "Eco" in the heading. It is strange and arrogant to assume that all readers would know what 'SXSW' means or stands for.

Anastasia Z.
Anastasia Z.4 years ago

This is a very interesting observation. I would like to add, though, that switching into sustainable, ethic and eco living would go easier it people didn't have to overprice for sustainable and ethic products

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

ana p.
ana p.4 years ago


Penny C.
Penny C.4 years ago


Juliet D.
judith sanders4 years ago

Gov. Perry should attend this - lassoed to a chair, if necessary.