What Does Sustainability Mean to You?

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.[1]

  1. To keep in existence; maintain.
  2. To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for.
  3. To support from below; keep from falling or sinking; prop.
  4. To support the spirits, vitality, or resolution of; encourage.
  5. To bear up under; withstand: can’t sustain the blistering heat.
  6. To experience or suffer: sustained a fatal injury.
  7. To affirm the validity of: The judge has sustained the prosecutor’s objection.
  8. To prove or corroborate; confirm.
  9. 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?

Willie Nelson

“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)

Woody Harrelson

“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.”

Daryl Hannah

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)



You can see these interviews (and others) on a video we took back when Relevant Times was a media sponsor of Farm Aid in 2007.[2]

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!

[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[2] All the interviews referenced here were done with Relevant Times, LLC ©2007 for RT TV. Megan McWilliams was the interviewer in each case.



natasha p
Past Member 1 months ago


Magdalena C.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

Work for this for the sake of our future

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago

Thanks for posting

Elena T.
Elena Poensgen4 years ago

Thank you :)

Julie F.
Julie F4 years ago

Noted and thanks.

Ryan French
Ryan French4 years ago

Is it possible that all of this behavior is actually linked to one root cause? Can we not do better than this?

I think we can:





Ryan French
Ryan French4 years ago

I hate this max word crap:

Well, if the U.S. is 17 trillion dollars in debt and the world is 54 trillion dollars in debt, how in hell are we ever going to switch our energy systems over? There are no plans to do so and you think we have problems now. Just wait until global demand for oil finally outstrips supply and it crashes not only the energy sector but also the entire plastics industry on this planet.

I can go on and on. I can talk about the fact that many of the prisons in America are now owned by corporations who trade their stock on Wall Street based on how many people they have imprisoned.

I can talk about the stresses and disorders that come from lack of money, lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing, lack of health care, lack of education, lack of social services....geez, is anyone out there in zombie land aware that for every 1 person who gets the help or treatment that they need, our economic system is producing another 800 people who also need that help and those services?

We have prostitution, human trafficking, child sex slaves, snuff films, animal crush videos, sweatshops, forced labor, theft, stabbings, shootings, rapes, porn, beatings and so on. Depression is up, anxiety is up, drug use is up, suicides are up, bullying is out of control.

Ryan French
Ryan French4 years ago

Our entire economic system is based on blind consumption and advertising was created to convince people to buy sh*t they don't need to continue the Capitalistic model which is nothing more than a virus destroying everything at this point.

We have intrinsic obsolescence built into everything produced with the cost mechanism. Everything produced has to be made as cheaply as possible 1.) for affordability 2.) to maximize profit and 3.) to increase market share. We also have planned obsolescence where efficiency of a product is actually withheld so the item will break down in a reasonable amount of time to ensure repeat purchases. Combined these two factors alone ensure MASSIVE waste which we have all grown accustomed to.

Does any of this make sense? To base our planetary market system on the need for infinite growth, with an exploding population, on a planet with finite resources? You can throw recycling right out the window because it's too expensive to have it's potential fully realized.

You can also kiss goodbye any notion that we will EVER move to sustainable, renewable energy sources. The DOE already released a report stating that the cost to move just the United States from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power over to wind, solar, wave, tidal and geothermal, all clean and renewable, would cost an estimated 23 trillion dollars.

Well, if the U.S. is 17 trillion dollars in debt and the world is 54 trillion dollars in debt, how in hell are we ever going to swi