“Is being able to sustain enough?”
Is Sustainability (able to sustain) Enough? Rethinking Our Environmental Path.
The word “sustainability” once held a special place in my heart, but my affection for it has started to wane. On the surface, this term encapsulates environmental principles of protection and inclusivity, and like many who care deeply about the environment, I have used it extensively. I’ve invoked it in conversations about climate change and discussions on land use, floating it like a buoy on the waves of our dialogue about ocean health. However, lately, I find myself questioning, “Is being able to sustain enough?” The term falls short in its principles and may be diverting us from the profound systemic changes necessary to safeguard our planet’s health. While sustainability guides us towards environmental considerations and perpetuity, it fails to propel us onto a path that fosters truly healthy systems. When examining the lexicon of terms we use, sustainability appears to be the most comprehensive on the surface. Yet, the ability to sustain falls far from sufficient. What we truly need is the capacity to restore systems to thrive. We often forget that we are inextricably linked to the world’s living systems, existing in interdependence with the very ecosystems we are degrading. Embracing a restorative mindset, one that promotes healing and protects natural systems and human health, seems more fitting.
From my perspective, carbon represents nature’s currency, and until we account for and balance it in every bottom line, whether personal or business, we cannot thrive. Nor can we restore the complex living systems of our planet. Urgency calls for every household, company, school, hospital, hotel, and roadside ranch to not only understand their carbon footprint but also actively work towards significant reductions. Every decision-maker holds the opportunity to raise awareness of this issue and strive to find efficiencies that minimize CO2 emissions. By achieving carbon balance, we can begin the process of system restoration and pave the way for thriving. For instance, when designers account for carbon emissions at the inception of their frameworks, they often witness a reduction in other forms of toxicity within the system. Additionally, unexpected efficiencies emerge, leading to financial and restorative benefits.
It is essential to acknowledge that we carry trillions of dollars’ worth of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, an environmental debt left behind by the industrial revolution. Time is running out to repay this loan from nature. We must urgently draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while curbing our enthusiasm for burning more fossil fuels. Restoring forests, wetlands, and algae ponds can aid in carbon sequestration, contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions while improving biodiversity and buffering against the impacts of rising sea levels. By drawing down carbon and channeling it into sustainable development that serves society better, we not only slow down climate change but also hold the potential to end global hunger in our lifetime.
Accounting for carbon is an opportunity, not a battle. It offers us a chance to realize that we are co-beneficiaries of a healthy planet. Building a restorative economy can prove more productive and possibly more lucrative than the Industrial Revolution, which left behind this environmental debt for future generations to bear. It is crucial to remember that we are that future generation.
Acknowledging climate change can be daunting, overwhelming, and challenging to confront. However, addressing our carbon footprints presents an opportunity to find peace of mind. We can evolve our systems by seeking solutions that incorporate natural capital and CO2, nature’s currency, into our value proposition. It offers individuals a chance to take better care of their hearts by consuming less meat, being mindful of their flying, driving, shopping, and consumption habits, and reducing waste. Tackling climate change provides us with an opportunity to reclaim our lives in a meaningful way. Much like the profound impact of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” which encourages decluttering our homes, we must also consider tidying up our carbon footprints. Had we valued our carbon footprints as individuals, would we have cluttered our closets in the first place?
Marie Kondo’s teachings extend beyond decluttering our physical spaces; they offer a valuable lesson in doing more than just sustaining our life systems at home. Currently, I am engrossed in reading “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas” by Warren Berger, which explores the importance of framing questions that lead to magnificent solutions. What if, before organizing our closets, we were all asked to clean up our environmental footprints? Wouldn’t that prevent the accumulation of excessive stuff in the first place? Consumerism and material possessions often suffocate our homes and lives. Understanding how to fold underwear and organize sock drawers without addressing consumption as the underlying problem is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Research shows that having less and using less tends to increase our happiness, sense of control, and overall well-being. It also saves money and can significantly improve dietary health. I propose that there is significant life-changing magic in cleaning up our carbon footprints. When we tidy up our carbon footprints, our diets change as we consume less meat and more vegetables, our health improves, and our waistlines trim. We rely more on biking and less on driving, resulting in lower stress levels and cortisol. We naturally become more mindful of our consumption habits and our intrinsic relationship with Mother Nature. By consuming less, our homes remain uncluttered. Consumption encompasses food waste, gas, and electricity. To reduce your carbon footprint at home, consider insulating, electrifying, and signing up for 100% renewable energy through platforms like MCE Clean Energy. Additionally, contemplate making your next vehicle an electric car.
Marie Kondo’s clients often find that reducing clutter in their homes brings them peace of mind. Whether you choose to clean your home or tidy up your carbon footprint first, you may find yourself in a happier place. To assess your own carbon footprint and aim to reduce emissions to under 10 tons per person, you can visit the Footprint Calculator. Individuals who fly for work may need to consider carbon offsetting through organizations like Cool Effect to reach responsible emission levels. In my home design practice, I incorporate environmental footprint assessments and recommendation lists alongside organizing andarranging personal belongings. This holistic approach often proves to be a transformative moment for my clients. It not only leads to cost savings but also fosters organization around bills and consumption. Streamlining tasks in this manner allows for more time to enjoy life and our homes. So, as you delve into Marie Kondo’s “Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” consider adding two additional categories: environment and finance. Investment portfolios often harbor more fossil fuel investments than we realize, which may not align with our personal beliefs. Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) strategies offer comparable returns to traditional portfolios while supporting the construction of a restorative economy through targeted investments. Tidying up our lives in this domain presents a critical opportunity. Visit Fossil Free Funds to assess your portfolio’s carbon footprint. For those without portfolios, consuming less frees up funds to invest in the world you desire while growing your own nest egg.
Our culture and consumption habits are intricately intertwined with living systems. We are co-beneficiaries of one another’s health. When the planet thrives, so do we. Abundant and vibrant oceans result in abundance and vibrancy within ourselves. Thriving forests, teeming with life, gift us with crisp and refreshing air, as well as delectable buttered chanterelles on our plates. We must go beyond sustaining life on a precarious life support system. Instead, we should strive to restore systems with which we are absolutely intertwined. To thrive, we must consider all living systems as integral to our own. Our driving, shopping, flying, and eating habits all have repercussions on land, sea, and atmosphere. We are deeply connected, sharing every breath.
Although my voice may be louder at the dinner table than in public forums, I feel compelled to champion the idea of a restorative economy with carbon accounting. Adding the question, “How does this activity affect the environment and atmosphere?” to our decision-making processes gives us an advantage in creating an operating system that incorporates the longevity of natural systems. By including CO2 in our considerations and embracing biomimicry—learning from nature’s evolutionary research on how to thrive and consume more efficiently—we tap into billions of years of wisdom. To explore framing questions with nature in mind, visit Biomimicry Institute. Numerous companies are already embracing this approach, and carbon emerged as the fastest-growing commodity in European markets last year.
Conducting personal carbon accounting and tidying up our carbon footprints at home can unleash more than a little life-changing magic. According to NASA, carbon dioxide levels in the air are at their highest in 650,000 years, and average global temperatures are 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were in 1880. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Addressing this costly problem demands that we seek a more beautiful question. What question do you believe we should ask to find balance? “How can my life harmonize with that of nature itself?” “How can I live with more wonder and less waste?” “Can I tidy up my carbon footprint to discover some life-changing magic?” “How can my life emulate the efficiency of a forest?” Write to me and share the questions you believe we should be asking. Meanwhile, consider tidying up your environmental debt, as we cannot rely on the fossil fuel industry to ask themselves the right questions. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daisy Carlson is a designer and climate journalist. She is also the founder of CoolHive.com, a platform committed to “Making the Planet Cooler” by helping individuals create a low-carbon life with style!
Photo by C. Swab Design