Proposal: Sustainable Living

Are we talking only environmental sustainability or does it include social sustainability? Permaculture talks about "permanent culture" and is one model of a sustainable lifestyle. While it is most often applied to agriculture, its intention is to include all aspects of life. Should SL.SE follow that example and include all facets of living a Sustainable life or just focus on environmental Sustainability? Is it possible to include all facets of Sustainable living, given that the social aspects often don't have exact answers?

3 Answers 3


I would suggest that social, economic, and environmental sustainability are all on-topic.

However, if that is to be the case we need to begin educating the community from day one of private beta on how to approach such value-laden subjects with cool heads and create great content. It can certainly be done -- Parenting overcame the same challenge -- but please be aware that it will be a challenge.

  • 2
    I agree with HedgeMage and would also like to include social and economic sustainability. But if we do so, we should investigate merging Sustainable Living with Social Justice
    – THelper
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 9:11
  • I also agree with the broad definition. Personally I'm interested in intentional community questions, i.e. social sustainability. Hope there's others out there into that topic. Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 4:13

I would like to quote Gilber Rist, an author I really hold in esteem with regard to development epistemology, who addresses the ambiguity of 'sustainability' in his book The History of Development (p. 192-193):

Now, it is to its ambiguity that the term ‘sustainable development’ owes its success. For ecologists, the interpretation is clear enough: sustainable development implies a production level that can be borne by the ecosystem, and can therefore be kept up over the long term; reproduction capacity determines production volume, and ‘sustainability‘ means that the process can be maintained only under certain externally given conditions. To use a (cautious) analogy with the realm of the living, we might say that whereas cell growth is necessary to a child’s development, an excessive proliferation of cells makes the continuation of life impossible. Or again – to draw on French popular wisdom – ‘if you wish to travel far, spare your steed’: the important thing is the journey rather than the speed, life on the planet rather than the pace of ‘development‘.

The dominant interpretation is quite different. It sees ‘sustainable development’ as an invitation to keep up ‘development’ – that is, economic growth. With ‘development’ already universal and inescap- able, it has to be made eternal. In other words, since ‘development’ is regarded as naturally positive, it must be stopped from becoming asthenic. Sustainable development, then, means that ‘development’ must advance at a more ‘sustained’ pace until it becomes irreversible – for what the countries of the South are suffering from is ‘non- sustainable development’, ‘stop–go development’ constantly unsettled by ephemeral political measures. For conventional thinking, then, ‘sustainability’ is understood in the trivial sense of ‘durability’: it is not the survival of the ecosystem which sets the limits of "development", but "development" which determines the survival of societies. As "development" is at once necessity and opportunity, the conclusion is perfectly obvious – so long as it lasts!

These two interpretations are at once legitimate and contradictory, since two antinomic signifieds correspond to the same signifier. The Brundtland Commission and the Rio Conference both avoided choosing: both oscillated between reminders of the environmental limits on ‘development’ and exhortations to advance boldly into a ‘new era of economic growth’. Hence their recourse to oxymoron, to the rhetorical figure that joins together two opposites such as ‘structural adjustment with a human face’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’.


Richard Heinberg in this paper gives 5 axioms on sustainability:

  1. Any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse.
  2. Population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.
  3. To be sustainable, the use of renewable resources must proceed at a rate that is less than or equal to the rate of natural replenishment.
  4. To be sustainable, the use of nonrenewable resources must proceed at a rate that is declining, and the rate of decline must be greater than or equal to the rate of depletion.
  5. Sustainability requires that substances introduced into the environment from human activities be minimized and rendered harmless to biosphere functions.

Looking at the above and also knowing the inter-dependency of economy, resources, environment and society I agree with HedgeMage response that this should be on-topic.

At least at a personal level I think might be on topic probably also:

  • reusing products, minimizing in this way, waste, pollution, spending, labor.

  • sustainable countryliving.

  • sustainably livig in the city.

  • crafts.

  • sustainable transportation.

  • psychological/social constraints and helpers to a sustainable lifestyle.

  • etc

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