Sustainability is a concept that everyone can understand? it means being able to continue some action for an indefinite time. There is no net loss thus there is no danger of running out of a resource and causing a cessation. Sustainability is a word that neatly captures a concept that is very attractive.
The attraction for the word and concept has lead to sustainable lifestyles, sustainable enterprises, sustainable buildings, sustainable design and sustainable flooring. The list could go on. It is a word that appeals to the heart strings, the humanity in us. It is an appeal from future generations that they inherit an earth with an intact eco system complete with plenty of biodiversity, rain forests and marine life.
It is interesting to note how the traditional notions of the left have changed in many quarters to adapt to the power of the dream of sustainability. In the old days a socialist revolution would be followed by an intense period of industrialization in order to share the means of production and create wealth for all and a better standard of life. Such was the promise of the Russian Revolution, and eerily such was the promise, that is being fulfilled, of the Chinese socialist revolution. What Mao couldn’t do the present communist bureaucracy has been able to do by embracing free enterprise (while denying civil liberties and rights).
Now the left in European countries and certain parts of America, Canada and Australasia have moved away from this heavy industry, carbon heavy vision of utopia to a greener view of equality in society. This new green socialism is hazy on how they are going to create enough wealth to make everyman a king, but the same compassion and outrage that was once generated by the reality of poverty has now been diluted and altered by a compassion for the perilous state of the eco-sphere.
Of course, rich North European countries can afford to outsource all their polluting factories to Asia, Africa and South America. Norway has struck it rich on black gold and so doesn’t even need the factories in poor countries: their bottom line grows by the fact they have a small population and large amounts of oil.
The Northern European model of socialism has evolved into high taxation, great public services and a reliance on carbon tiny service industry. The most carbon tiny industry (since they ditched the gold standard) has got to be the financial services sector that can jiggle enough algorithms to produce rates of hypothetical growth for hypothetical money that is all stored digitally. It’s a system that works great until a global financial crisis causes everyone to cash in their poker chips for hard currency. The irony is that this form of socialism? carbon free? is just as utopian as trying to change a country from impoverished farmers to happy factory workers in a generation.
The right also has been affected by the idea of sustainability. Arnold S as California governor has introduced some of the most radical green interior design civic regulations in the world. The richest state is keen to conserve water, reduce carbon emissions and cut energy consumption. Interiors and exteriors are being changed to meet the new regulations. Old air-con units are being replaced with Energy Star approved units. The use of programmable thermostats, CFLs and better thermal insulation is being mandated. What is going on? Does the right now care about the health of the people and the planet?
Far from it. It is simply that energy and water efficiency make good financial sense. Both fossil fuels and fresh water are two (and too) limited resources that are continually going up in price. It is all about scale. Economies of scale. If you can save 0.1 cent per day over a million units you save $100,000 a day. That is a bottom line that is worth investing in. The profit motive is important in the drive for sustainable housing, sustainable offices and sustainable public buildings. The Triple Bottom line of “people, planet, profit” is a brilliant marketing strategy by the green movement to persuade right-wing think tanks, lobbyists and politicians in America that sustainable makes great sense.