That word, "sustainable", is loaded with prejudice and can be misunderstood. To some people that word “sustainable” is almost foolish because it connotes radical, controversial, non-traditional behaviour. It evokes ideas of riotous students camping outside military bases, vegetarians, tofu (“what's that?!”) and “weirdo beatniks”.
But “sustainable” has a definition with an underlying commercial philosophy which has been well phrased by the Brundtland Commission;
“meet the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Even though that's a human centred focus, which debases the necessity of recognising the interdependence of humanity in nature and a big picture perspective, it represents an important departure from the egotistical, hedonistic thinking that pervades the human world. It is very different from the “winner take all” world that is praised by politicians, bankers, business, even journalism and entertainment. Maybe, sometimes, you have to pretend humanity is above nature, rather than within nature, simply so that the anthropocentric ego of humanity considers nature at all. But sustainability is about living within the laws of nature.
It is important to walk the talk and to help others make a change in a practical way.We seek performance without costing the earth. We try to do the right thing, the right way.
The idea is to live sustainably but there is no reason why we can not have a decent quality of life. You can do the same kind of things and have the same kind of lifestyle, but without killing the planet.
The numbers show that a basic level of modern consumption requires several acres of productive land to provide the food and energy to support one human living a western lifestyle. The whole of humanity ca not flip a switch and change the way we do things, but we can adapt quickly, if we choose to. If we didn't, time would run out to change by choice. It is simple. Change or die. So it we aim for an interesting, enriching life without killing the planet or each other.
A sustainable living prototype should inspire others. There are many possibilities if you want to live within the laws of nature, on a personal, experimental scale. How close could you get to being carbon neutral, but look normal? We should all be able to spend a bit more of our income on organic food and clean energy. We could make our homes and work places greener. We could plant trees for all the commercial travel and holidays we took.
System change is inevitable. We care about ourselves, so we want to look after our environment because that is what gives us all the pleasures of life. Markets are moving to nature based solutions, and therefore where sustainable jobs, work and income grow.
Sustainability and living within the laws of nature means balancing the energy equation. Can you have the quality of life without the energy consumption? That is a valuable objective and reveals some healthy truths, like living in a castle must be a burden, not a luxury. A large home demands large resources to maintain, and that means work and worry. It's fine to share a castle with many people who all pitch in, but that doesn't happen. In castle/mansion living “sharing” is done by having one family, the “royal family”, which lives off the labour of many families living in the “stables”, ie the “slaves” or “servants”.
There is a problem with servants, full stop (period). Having “servants” is not appropriate to civilisation. If you can not look after yourself and your own house you are not responsible for yourself. If you have servants it means that your time cleaning and cooking is more valuable than someone else's. But that is a consequence of different opportunity rather than different ability or choice. It is often the case that the homemaker is patronised while the professional is praised. The professional rarely appreciates the role of the homemaker, and its importance to family and society. If a housekeeper can keep their own house, as well as yours, why can't you?
If your home is a business, if it generates income, then that is different. You have a cooperative enterprise in which revenue is shared between the people that own, market and administrate the assets and the people that keep it presentable to clients – a bit like several families sharing a castle or mansion. Sharing the costs and benefits. That is great, unless there is corrupt hierarchy or lack of mutual respect.
As it happens, doing everything has a desireable aspect: It is interesting. Instead of doing the same thing all day, every day, you do different things, sometimes at the same time!A big part of the quality of life that people seek is about variety and having choices. It is no good prescribing choices for people. Even if you “know better”, dictating the behaviour of others is not the privilege of wisdom. The privilege of wisdom is to nurture an environment where good choices can be made and are made, and creativity and variety are allowed to blossom.
Sustainable Return on Investment
At the hard end of the spectrum, the financial engineer will tell you that optimisation of enterprise value is achieved by managing the sustainable Return on Shareholders Equity. It's in the numbers.
Again here there is a limit to scale, so if you want to live you aim for a sustainable return.