How do YOU define ‘sustainability’?
‘Sustainable’ is one of just a few words being tossed around in the current cultural salad to enlighten us about how to create a more conscious way of living on this earth among our fellow creatures. So, what does the dictionary say?
sus·tain (sə-stān’) sus·tain’a·bil’i·ty n., sus·tain’a·ble adj.
- To keep in existence; maintain.
- To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for.
- To support from below; keep from falling or sinking; prop.
- To support the spirits, vitality, or resolution of; encourage.
- To bear up under; withstand: can’t sustain the blistering heat.
- To experience or suffer: sustained a fatal injury.
- To affirm the validity of: The judge has sustained the prosecutor’s objection.
- To prove or corroborate; confirm.
- To keep up (a joke or assumed role, for example) competently.
I personally like number one. It is concise and uses the word ‘existence.’ Sustainable is often paired these days with the words ‘living’ or ‘lifestyle.’ When I see the definition that is all about maintaining existence, it resonates with the whole living theme and makes me feel a sense of urgency that survival may be an issue. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of hoping to maintain my existence as long as possible and when I’m thinking about more than myself, I want to see existence maintained for a couple of more generations so my kids and future grandchildren can experience existence too.
5 eerily could relate to the global warming, climate change thing. 6 is kind of a bummer, but the rest could be meaningful in the context of healthy, cooperative survival.
The first time I saw the word ‘sustainable’ used in conjunction with the environment and the concept of creating things that are healthier and last longer periods of time, was in an article I published in the first incarnation of Relevant Times back in 1991. The title of the article was ‘Sustainable Development: Building as if the Earth Mattered.’ I didn’t write the piece, but I thought the concept was brilliant and was impressed with the use of the word sustainable and something clicked for me.
Since then, when the word sustainable is used in relation to the environment or green living as it is so often used these days, my own definition has evolved into something like this:
Living in such a way that we minimize our negative impact on the earth and the people we share it with, doing our best to preserve the world in its healthiest form for future generations.
I became obsessed with finding a definitive, de facto definition and decided I would start incorporating one question into all my interviews. While I wanted to define sustainability, I was quite convinced that there is a personal context and that if I asked this same question to nearly everyone I encountered, I would likely get as many different responses as the number of people I queried. If I only had the opportunity to ask one question, this was the one I deferred to. We had the opportunity to interview some great green thinkers – some high profile, some high-minded, some just high.
Of course, I stopped doing this for a few years and got out of the habit! Have to go back now and ask Mariel Hemingway, Jessica Alba, Fran Drescher, Ed Begley, Jr. and his lovely wife Rachelle Carson Begley and so many others that I’ve interviewed since then!
The question was, and still is:
What do Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, & Daryl Hannah say?
“It means I don’t have to go anywhere. It means I can eat and drink and sleep and drive without having to go anywhere. I can find a farmer out here that can grow what I want to eat and grow fuel for what I drive.”
- Willie Nelson (Singer, Songwriter, Activist)
“you could almost definite it by its opposite, which is the economy we got going now – it’s not sustainable. Whatever the industry is, it can be something we continue to use. It doesn’t have to bleed mother nature and rape mother earth on a daily basis.”
- Woody Harrelson (Actor, Activist)
“I’m not really crazy about the word sustainability. It means things stay the same. I like the idea of things thriving. Since we don’t have a good word for that, we use sustainability.”
- Daryl Hannah (Actress, Activist)
Meanwhile happy Independence Day weekend!
Wish it were independence from fossil fuel — a green diva can dream, right? We pre-recorded this week’s show, which included some great tips for healthy, green BBQing, a fun report from Seth Leitman (aka GreenLivingGuy) and GD Meg’s recent trip to Detroit for Ford’s Trend Conference 2013, and an inspiring interview with Transition Network’s founder Rob Hopkins. Read the post with all the deets and watch a funny Green Diva Quickie video of the GDs doing a yummy product review . . . or listen to the podcast!
 All the interviews referenced here were done with Relevant Times, LLC ©2007 for RT TV. Megan McWilliams was the interviewer in each case.