Monday, September 13, 2010

Sustainability in everything

Our Canada trip was amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and fun, and the train ride gave me ample time to ponder... well, everything. I did a lot of thinking about sustainability, and I think the underlying concept of sustainability is really core to everything.

Sustainability, at its base level, means "something that can continue indefinitely without collapse." It is the ideal to which I strive for all the systems that I interact with. Most people use "sustainable" in the context of energy and environment. These are excellent and laudable goals, but I think that sustainability goes much further.

For instance, recently there has been a push in Merrill to move to an all-volunteer fire department. People point to the fact that some larger cities have a all-volunteer fire department and they do just fine. Now, say that someone looked at your job - whatever it is; lawyer, programmer, designer, whatever. Say they then said, hey, we can train volunteers to do your job, but we won't have to pay them! Would you be OK with that? Do you think that they would do as good of a job at your job as you do? More importantly, do you think that people should be paid for the work that they do? Basically, when you think about it like this, is it sustainable to replace paid personnel, regardless of the specific job, with volunteers? I'm not even a little bit knocking volunteers or volunteering -- just pointing out that we all need day jobs, and maybe you shouldn't be so quick to offer up someone else's living.

Local resilience also keys off sustainability. Merrill has been learning the hard way lately how unsustainable it is to shop at Walmart for goods manufactured in China but still expect well paying manufacturing jobs to stick around. We need to take a hard look at how we can use the concept of sustainability to truly reform Merrill and make it vibrant once again. One thing that I've decided/learned so far in my month without buying anything new is that I'm going to always try to search for a local manufactured alternative first; if not, then something made in the US, bought from a local retailer; if not that then something made in a country where they pay a decent wage or have a fair trade agreement, preferably purchased from a local retailer. I think we can all be individually more sustainable is just buy less stuff - but when we do, buy things that are of higher quality.

Sustainability can be applied to design in many ways; web designs (Google, craigslist) that rarely need to change because their functionality is so obvious and simple is one good use of sustainability. Using materials that are sustainable, reusable, recyclable in product design and print design is another good example. Heirloom design - things that are made to be handed down because they are so beautiful and durable - is a great design concept that really helps sustainability.

So, what are your thoughts about sustainability? How do you or can you use the concept of sustainability?

1 comment :

Thyris said...

I think what you say is well put. I would add that as you say, sustainability is about holding up and functioning well over time. Having the flex enough to work in all seasons so to speak. Many of our political solutions don't take sustainability into consideration. It all about getting elected in the end with the promise of doing something sustainable. Please take a peek at my blogs at I would love to hear your comments.