Is living a 'completely' sustainable life feasible?

Is living a ‘completely’ sustainable life feasible in todays society?

There was actually a somewhat related break out session to this in the IDSA national in Austin. The session was supposed to be about sustainable design, but the lecturers ended with the idea that it has to come from consumer demand, so the best way to encourage sustainable design is to try to spend as much of your purchasing power on it… I doubt you could live completely sustainable and be a designer (what dod you do with your olds CRT monitor?)

Anybody else sit in on that session? I’m a bad note taker, someone else probably has a lot more actual info…

Maybe not with today’s society…

…possible with tomorrow’s.

Was it feasible in yesterday’s society?

I don’t think it will ever be feasible unless we revert to hunter-gatherer lifestyles, so perhaps it only ever was possible in the past…

Demand must come from consumers, but the proliferation of productive-consumptive theory and economic growth is exactly what prevents absolute sustainability. Quite the paradox!

Its kind of like saying the sooner we use up all the petroleum, the sooner alternative fuels will be developed for mass production? So floor it at the stop lights boys, you’ll actually be speeding the development of hydrogen fuel cells…

Its a sticky wicket.

I agree, the sooner that the ‘Big Brands’ provide the consumer with the correct products it will become easier, people like to have things done for them / make it an easy life! (and stop encouraging us to buy more and more, we should be buying less!)

In response to,“was it feasible in yesterdays society”, I actually believe it was, people handed down items of clothing to the next generation, including products. In todays society, “everything is designed to be thrown away” and "its easier to buy a new one"very often its more expensive to have it repaired), and untill the industrial revolution people were self sufficient using a very small ecological footprint i.e using only what they needed…These are only a few examples.
Good question though.

Exactly, the idea of economic growth, and therefore planned obsolecense, was established via the industrial revolution. But most states are now controlled directly and indirectly by vested interests requiring the status quo to be upheld. Ergo, any action taken to further sustainable living must be taken within the context of a fundamentally unsustainable form of economics.

As Yo said, consumers must show that sustainability is of primary importance to the open market- the challenge is to somehow acheive this with lowest-common-denominator purchasers. I also think the idea of regulating unsustainable processes to the point they are no longer viable has merit, although obviously this is counter to my above point.

An entirely sustainable life is, and always has been, impossible. Life always involves a certain amount of taking advantage of something or someone (plants, animals, minerals, neighbors). The best we can hope for is an agreement among thieves to regulate our behaviour.

The unfortunate development of our economic measures is in what we don’t measure. GDP measures the value of goods or services of an economy, but not capital loss. The lost value of New Orleans sinking was never input into GDP, for example. However, the oddity that is GDP will take into account all of the reconstruction jobs, and clean up costs. Therefore, in terms of GDP, hurricanes are great news for a country.

Another hidden value is that of barter. GDP only measures the value of goods and services traded for money. If I watch my neighbors children for an evening and in return, they wash my windows, neither will be counted in GDP, in spite of the fact that they are services being exchanged. Therefore, economies with more trading of services, will always seem to have a smaller economy than a place that trades for money.

My point is that many moves to promote re-use and mobility of goods within an economy, will be measured as a negative in GDP. To move to a more sustainable economy, we will need to find new metrics to measure our progress and goals.

N Harris is right talking about planned obsolescence, many products seem to have a built-in life span after which they cease to work or don’t work as efficiently. Or its forced obsolescence by introducing newer, better models of something, i.e. a mobile phone. Fashions, marketing etc force, sorry entice consumers to consume more.

In today’s world I don’t know how easy it would be to live a completely sustainably life as most products will have used fossil fuels to be produced or at least transported somewhere, driving everywhere obviously has negative points… Basically the majority of things have been transported from one place to another.

And unless you literally, built your house yourself out of wood from a sustainably managed forest, walked everywhere, knitted your own clothes out of sheep’s wool, grew your own vegetables and watched nature for your entertainment, not much else has no unsustainable side-effects. If you do recycle, use low energy bulbs, walked as much as possible, maybe used public transport then you are limiting your contribution to the problem but it seems there’s not a 100% way to avoid adding to it.

Is this the cost of living in a society dependent on fossil fuels…?

An entirely sustainable life is, and always has been, impossible.


life is not a zero-sum game by definition. i’m anything but a luddite ecofascist, but there is nothing wrong with conceiving ways that a very comfortable, even decadent lifestyle can be structured around a net zero loss to the world of resources, energy, and all the other good stuff.

sure, you may have an opportunity cost associated with 'what about the grazing land no longer available to the herds of buffalo now roaming the reprarie-fied plains because of the cute dome-home i built on the north slope of this hillock"

might not be EASY to accomodate ten BILLION humans … but ten billion is just a number, another number to twiddle with in coming up with plans.

completely sustainable is a perfectly interesting and challenging goal to work towards, as long as you keep things in perspective and realize it won’t come overnight no matter what % of your consumer waste stream goes to a recycling center.

‘sustainable’ doesnt even mean everything you use HAS to be recycled.

Remember that Biosphere 2 thing in Arizona? Wasn’t that supposed to be a grand experiment in fully sustainable living? Didn’t it flame out and become just a tourist attraction?

You mean the Eden Project Part 2?!

How was Biosphere 2 meant to promote/experiment with fully sustainable living?

concretebox you are right

‘sustainable’ doesnt even mean everything you use HAS to be recycled.

Everything doesn’t have to be recycled, although materials should be coming from managed sources, and ones that have a minimal impact in extracting them and then along the whole supply chain: This is why I think it is definately becoming increasingly difficult to live a 100% sustainable life because many products and services have such a far reaching supply chain that somewhere along the line negative externalities will occur - a total refurbishment of the infrastructure will be the only solution to removing this aspect of the problem, and this is by no means going to happen over night!

Sustainable doesn’t mean everything has to be recycled.

COMPLETELY sustainable does.

Even if you have minimal waste that is not accounted for in the product/ecological cycle, this will, with time, pile up and become a problem.

I think it is impossible to live in a completely sustainable environment given our nature and economic structure. But I do think a solution to approximate it is possible and desireable. It’s quite a task though, one we wont achieve for at least the next 100 years. It means a complete deconstruction of our economic and political models, and a re-education of the consumer to the point where consumerism is minimized, even looked down upon (whereas today its cool to show off how much you can buy/waste).

It also means an entire restructuring of our technology knowledge: knowing how to manufacture microchips without using non-renewable chemicals, how to make biodegradable plastics (we are already there!), how to process industrial and consumer waste, etc.

Getting to a very sustainable society is hard but possible. It takes time and education. But i still think 100% sustainability is impossible (and dare I say unnecessary?).

my 2c

COMPLETELY sustainable does.

No, no, it does not.

Imagine that you buy clothing from the clothingreplicatorbot in your village.

When you are done with it, you burn it or compost it, or dissolve it in an ultrasonic bath. You dispose of it in some way that doesn’t create an unsustainable waste stream, but it is not recycled neccesarily.

There isn’t anything about that that has to result in an unsustainable world, big picture.

Food. Food does not need to be recycled to have a fully sustainable system. You don’t need to recapture the waste stream in any way for it to be SUSTAINABLE. So don’t go redefining words for your own agenda, like making “sustainable” equate to “recycled and politically correct.”

Not every node of every system has to be recaptured to have a systainable SYSTEM. People are getting so anal about the details that they are losing the ability to think about the big picture. Forest, trees, and all that.

It doesn’t matter a bit if your coffee cup biodegrades and is not ‘recaptured’ for a next use, or for its constituent parts to be re-utilized somehow. What does matter is that the overall system envelope can be maintained.

Solar energy can contribute to sustainable systems, while (unless we find out oil is created by microbes after all) subsurface oil, gas and oil sands and coal, cannot. Biodiesel has its problems, but it has the potential of being sustainable.

What about the robot? are you gonna burn it too after it ends its lifecycle? does it create waste/pollution to do so? what about the raw material for your shirt?

This IS the big picture. not just imagining a clothes replicator without consequences because youre only focusing on the product and not the entire process.

Totally agree. If i eat an apple and throw the core away, it biodegrades, or if i want to be extra good, i compost it or what not.
But this isnt what im talking about. Im talking about the styrofoam packaging for your bigmac, and the oil used to cook it, and the gas used to haul all the patties from the plant to the restaurant in a truck. Like you said, BIG picture.

First of all, im not a politician, nor do i work for an environmental group. I am a designer that currently designs stuff that might end up in a landfill. So attack the argument, not me.

Now, if you read my previous post, im basically agreeing with you. We can live in a great sustainable society without having to recycle every single thing.

What I was referring to in the post was to a COMPLETELY sustainable world, which was the question which started this whole discussion. This part of my argument is completely theoretical (which is why we are engaging in an interesting debate).

Like i said, we are basically in agreement.

But is a perfectly sustainable world possible? this was the original post. And no, the big picture isnt just nice trees and forests. It is cradle to grave accountability for all products we use and consume that wont infringe in our rights or ability to live comfortably as we do today, or of our children in the future. Why? because of the definition of sustanability. I’ll explain my point below.

Yep. im there with you. we’ve pretty much kicked that dead horse enough.

So i will explain why i think a COMPLETELY sustainable world is impossible (again, read the first post):
imagine the greeks and then the romans lived, produced and wasted like we do today. what world would WE live in? Pretty much a unlivable swamp. We probably wouldnt be alive (see below why).
Now lets imagine they lived to our modern standards but in a sustainable system (albeit not perfectly, or completely sustainable) just like the one we have been talking about. It is sustainable, but they have 1 million tons of un-biodegradable, un-recyclable waste (thats nothing in the grand scheme of things. A copper mine today dumps that much waste in a week). Thats not bad at all.

But if we fast forward to today, we would have a line of Ford F-350 superduty trucks full of waste going around the earth about 361 times (i did the rough math). Not COMPLETELY sustainable is it?

So to your point, sustainability is very feasible and something we should aim for. Somethign i totally support too.
But im gonna be stubborn and continue to state that complete and perfect sustainability isnt. but this is just rhetoric, i was just responding to your reply and the original poster’s question. :slight_smile:

Yeah its a shame we dont take more advantage of solar power. Solar cells are far from perfect but they offer a solution. I forgot the name of this politician guy that has a house off the grid with huge solar cell panels on his roof. Why cant all our cookie cutters be like that?

my mistake for posulating an imaginary thing so the case could be kept simple, so we could tak about it without getting into ancilary bs.

you are, i think, and other people are, confusing “sustainable” with “zero environmental impact”

I’m fully confident that it is POSSIBLE maybe not feasible, maybe not likely, maybe not profitable, maybe impractical in the next (imaginable) years to have sustainable technological human society.

What is your agenda for insisting that it is impossible? Are you some follower or cocynic to Pentti Linkola? (If you want to learn about him just google “Finnish Ecofascist” and you will find him.)

What basis have you for denying the possibility?

Creation of some quantity of pollution does NOT make a system inherently “unsustainable” at all.

You do NOT need zero emmissions everythings to get to sustainability.

You need emmissions that can be accomodated in one way or another. You need to have emmissions below a level that creates an unacceptable phenomenon.

Again, why are you confusing sustainability with shangri-la utopianism?

My reason for being so vehemently opposed to this cynicism: it doesn’t get us anywhere useful, it confounds terms, it selectively and arbitrarily redefines words. That is usually bad for communication.

If I’m misusing the term ‘sustainable’ then please show me where to get a higher quality dictionary.

Why cant all our cookie cutters be like that?

I would hazard a guess … that his solar house is incredibly freaking expensive to build, and run, and won’t break even any day soon financially.

im agreeing with you totally. I think maybe i didnt make it clear in my posts that we are talking about a feasible sustainability (which i agree, it is possible, and even with controllable waste/emissions/whatever it can be really sustainable). i totally agree with your posts, and i have been since my first one.

i think youre focusing on the entirely theoretical “perfect” or as you put it, “utopian” sustainability. im not confusing them, im separating them. i called the feasible version ‘sustainability’ and the utopian, unnattainable version ‘complete sustainability’ or ‘perfect sustainability’. its pretty clear in my explanations, so stop picking the extreme, theoretical version to pretty much repeat what ive agreed upon. i was just philosophizing (sp?).

we agree on the practical version. dont even go towards the theoretical extreme because i dont think you were understanding my point. that is all.