Sustainability Basics

Earth Day 2013 website banner

By living the principles of sustainability in our
individual and collective lives, we help increase the
sustainability and resilience of our communities.

     Sustainability has become an evolving term, generally first associated with the availability and judicious use of finite resources and with decision-making which values and considers both present and future generations. In today’s world, we commonly refer to sustainability as the “sweet spot” where the three major pillars – the “Three E’s” of environment, economics and equity – overlap. True sustainability considers not only the limits of resources, but also fairness and equity in the economic and social realms. Some argue for the inclusion of a fourth pillar, culture. However defined, for any process or product to be truly sustainable, it must also have the resiliency to “bounce back” from external disturbances. Systems and communities with a rich social capital tend to be more resilient and better equipped to recover from challenges.

     From a religious perspective, we might envision sustainability as the dynamic process or product that is realized when we combine our respect for the interdependent web of life; our concerns for justice and equity for all; and our commitment to working together as a community, with friends, neighbors and strangers alike each seated at the table. As we guard against ecological, economic and social instability in today’s world, let us bring our spiritual grounding to our problem-solving and visioning work, and create solutions that manifest peace, harmony and prosperity in our lifetimes and for generations to come. When we act from a place of deep reverence for nature and a deep respect for and faith in one another, and when we live the precautionary principle and the Golden Rule, we not only embody the values of sustainability, but we strengthen our relationships and deepen our spiritual connection to our environs and others, becoming more resilient in the process.

     In our climate-changing world, where change seems to be the only constant, the “face” of sustainability changes as well. What may once have been considered sustainable may no longer be so and resilience may be sorely tested.  Yet, even as the best of yesteryear’s solutions may need to be revamped, fine-tuned or even discarded, the principles of sustainability always guide the process and the work. 

     To help you become more familiar with and fluent in the complexities of sustainability, we suggest the following highly recommended print resources for individual and group learning, discussion, and action.

The Post Carbon ReaderThe Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises – Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch, editors (Watershed Media, in collaboration with Post Carbon Institute, 2010)

A collection of essays on key issues in current challenges to global sustainability addressing sustainability and resilience, water, biodiversity, agriculture and soil, growing community food systems, population, energy, economy, urban sprawl, local governance, zero-carbon buildings, transportation, waste, human health and well-being, sustainability education in K-12 and at community colleges, and building resilience at the level of personal and communal preparation. Download chapters from the Post Carbon Institute website.

Thriving Beyond SustainabilityThriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathways to a Resilient Society – Andrés R. Edwards; Bill McKibben, foreword (New Society Publishers, 2010)

Author presents an overview of trends and real solutions in the global sustainability movement and going “Glocal;” it features initiatives and practices of individuals, organizations and communities around the world. Topic areas including transition initiatives, regional climate plans, green building, energy, agriculture, ecosystem preservation, green campuses, and green business.  Annotated resource list and suggested action lists. Edwards is also the author of the 2005 book The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift.

  • Review at Post Carbon Institute’s Energy Bulletin
  • Review at Journal of Sustainability Education
  • Review at Exploring Urban Resilience
  • Review at NorthwestCitizen

EcoMindEcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, To Create the World We Want – Frances Moore Lappé  (Nation Books, 2011)

This important book, by the author of the classic Diet for a Small Planet, provides invaluable insight into how changing our thinking can really help us in our quest for building sustainable and resilient communities. Lappé says: “I wrote EcoMind because I believe that solutions to global crises are right in front of our noses, and our real challenge is to free ourselves from self-defeating thought traps that keep us from bringing these solutions to life. From our eroding soil to our eroding democracies, so much of what's wrong results from ways of thinking that are out of sync with human nature and nature's rhythms.” After deconstructing seven “thought traps,” she encourages the reader to turn the tables and embrace the resulting “thought leaps” instead. 

  • Review at Kirkus Reviews
  • Detailed table of contents and much more at Small Planet Institute (author’s website)
  • Author article, interview, and series of blog posts at Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire
  • Article by author at Yes! Magazine
  • Talk by author (one hour+) at Powell’s City of Books, by pdxjustice Media Productions (on YouTube)
  • Lecture by author (one hour+) at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (on Vimeo)

Enough Is EnoughEnough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources – Rob Dietz, Dan O’Neill (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)

We’re overusing the earth’s finite resources, and yet excessive consumption is failing to improve our lives. The authors lay out a visionary but realistic alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth—an economy where the goal is not more but enough. They explore specific strategies to conserve natural resources, stabilize population, reduce inequality, fix the financial system, create jobs, and more—all with the aim of maximizing long-term well-being instead of short-term profits. Filled with fresh ideas and surprising optimism, Enough Is Enough is the primer for achieving genuine prosperity and a hopeful future for all.

Choices for Sustainable LivingChoices for Sustainable LivingNorthwest Earth Institute, Portland, OR  (NWEI, 2012)

Recently updated and expanded seven-session discussion course to help participants explore the meaning and vision of sustainability from individual, societal and global perspectives. Topic areas: ecological principles, food, community, consumption and the economy, and transportation. See discussion courses sidebar at www.nwei.org for complete selection of courses.

Making the Good Life LastMaking the Good Life Last: Four Keys to Sustainable Living – Michael Schuler  (Berrett-Koehler, 2009)

This book challenges the prevailing cultural assumption that consumption and constant stimulation equal happiness. The author – who is parish minister at First Unitarian Society of Madison, WI – shows how, by applying the principles of sustainability to our personal lives, we can discover treasures of perennial value: a beautiful and healthy earth home, enduring relationships, strong communities, work that contributes to the common good, and play that restores our bodies and lifts our souls.

Up Tunket RoadUp Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader – Philip Ackerman-Leist (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010)

Author, Director of the Green Mountain College Farm and Food Project, shares his experiences, good humor, and philosophical and practical insights reaped from years of postmodern homesteading. Countering the misconceptions of homesteading being only about finding a piece of land in a rural setting on which to live a life of self-reliance, the author draws attention to the application of homesteading best practices and lessons in any setting. Focused on sustainable food, energy and technology, intertwined with reflections on interdependence versus independence, conscious decision-making, and sense of right relationship.

Simple ProsperitySimple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle – David Wann (St. Martin’s Press, 2007)

In his bestseller Affluenza, David Wann and his co-authors diagnosed the debilitating disease of over-consumption. In Simple Prosperity he shows readers how we can overcome this disease by investing in a variety of real wealth sources and recapture a more abundant and sustainable lifestyle. In our age of hedge fund hysteria, Simple Prosperity is a new way of investing that will save our sanity and the planet.

Everyday JusticeEveryday Justice: The Global Impact of our Daily Choices – Julie Clawson (IVP Books, 2009.)

This book shows how our ordinary lifestyle choices have big implications for justice around the world and then demonstrates how more sustainable lifestyle choices in our personal lives serve the work of justice making around the world. Making small and large sustainability decisions everyday express love of God, neighbor, and the Earth. This book draws upon prophetic teaching in the Christian tradition. Chapters are topical and include chocolate, cars, clothes, debt, waste, and others. Stories of "everyday practitioners" and further reading in each topic are offered.

The Sustainable SoulThe Sustainable Soul: Eco-spiritual Reflections and Practices – Rebecca James Hecking (Skinner House, 2011) 

An inspirational guide for a journey toward ecological spirituality and sustainable culture. Each chapter contains an essay and spiritual practices designed for both group and individual reflection. The practices include a wide range of suggestions such as guided meditations, journaling prompts, creative art projects and ideas for concrete actions.

So Far From HomeSo Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World – Margaret Wheatley (Berrett-Koehler, 2012)

This book looks at how we ended up in a world overtaken by greed, self-interest, and oppressive power – the opposite of the world so many are working so hard to create. It takes a deep spiritual look into the darkness of this time in order to foster the insight necessary to move forward in meaningful ways. Wheatley presents practices to assist in transforming grief, outrage, and frustration into skills of insight and compassion to support lives of bravery, decency, and gentleness in a challenging time.

Sustainability and SpiritualitySustainability and Spirituality – John E. Carroll; Bill McKibben, foreword (SUNY Press, 2004)

This book explores the inherent interconnectedness of sustainability and spirituality, acknowledging the dependency of one upon the other. The author draws on the work of cultural historian and "geologian" Thomas Berry whose eco-spiritual thought underlies many of the sustainability efforts of communities described in this book. The writings of Native Americans on spirituality and ecology are also highlighted. These models for sustainability not only represent the tangible link between ecology and spirituality, but also, more importantly, a vision of what could be.

Learning Native WisdomLearning Native Wisdom: What Traditional Cultures Teach Us about Subsistence, Sustainability, and Spirituality – Gary Holthaus (The University Press of Kentucky, 2008; reprint edition 2013)  

A collection of essays about the change in worldviews needed to achieve truly sustainable cultures, as observed in some Native American cultures. Emphases are on subsistence, language and shared values, and the prime importance of spirituality to affect meaningful change as we address environmental, economic, social justice and human problems.

Sustainable World SourcebookSustainable World Sourcebook: Critical Issues, Viable Solutions, Resources for Action – Sustainable World Coalition, Berkeley, CA; Vinit Allen, introduction; Paul Hawken, foreword (Sustainable World Coalition, 2010)

Written “to bring forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet,” this book contains information and resources targeted to individuals and groups alike. Topics include environment, energy, just society, economics, community, and personal choice in areas of food, permaculture, non-toxic homes, ecological footprints, consumption and spirituality. Extensive Resource Directory includes national and regional organizations, documentaries, videos and films. Much more on the website at www.swcoalition.org, including a companion Learning and Engagement Guide to use with the Sustainable World Sourcebook. Designed for use in small group 6-12 person “engagement circles” over a suggested nine meetings (upper high school age and older).

Moving Toward Sustainable ProsperityState of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity – Various authors (WorldWatch Institute, 2012)

WorldWatch Institute’s signature annual publication, State of the World, has educated a broad audience of students, journalists, policymakers, and concerned citizens about trends in sustainable development for a quarter century. This report, authored by a strong list of international experts, showcases creative policies and fresh approaches that are advancing sustainable development in the twenty-first century. Chapter summaries may be downloaded at the link above. The Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity blog has numerous useful links and articles.

World ChangingWorldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century – Alex Steffen, editor; Bill McKibben, introduction; Van Jones, foreword (Abrams, revised and updated 2011)

Mini-encyclopedia of latest trends, technologies and solutions in sustainable living; seven broad sections included: stuff, shelter, cities, community, business, politics, and planet.  Extensive references and resources listed. Of particular interest: sustainable practices in cities, neighborhood rehabbing, landscaping and biodiversity; climate adaptation, sea-level rise, urban adaptation to climate change, neighborhood survivability, transforming disaster relief; soil, sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, oceans management; movement building, transparency, direct action, nonviolent revolutions. Although the Worldchanging website is no longer active, the archived information is well worth exploring.

 

The generosity of individual donors and members make the work of UU Ministry for Earth possible. Please consider making a donation today to help us continue this important endeavor. Thank you.