Actualizado: 10 may 2022
Why name a blog Sustainology and not Sustainability?
(or my runner up name: Sustainablogging)?
Spend an hour with me and I will mention my home country of Ecuador at least once.
Though I was born in Gainesville, Florida when my parents were each pursuing their respective careers (my mother a specialization in Pediatric Immunology, my father a PhD in Latin American Literature and Poetry) I moved to Ecuador when I was six years old. Most of my life now I've spent in that unique little country.
Quito, the capital, is built in a valley surrounded by volcanoes that might at any moment erupt. This is not an exaggeration: Twice have I lived through the ash clouds of Guagua Pichincha and Reventador bringing the city to a halt, and as recently as 2016 there was a real fear that Cotopaxi, one of the world's highest stratovolcanoes might devastate the region.
The Amazon Rainforest is a 6 hour drive from my parent's doorstep. It's the most diverse region in the world per square kilometer in both plant and animal life. The Galápagos Islands are internationally revered as the place where Charles Darwin fine-tuned his theory of evolution and a wonder of landscapes and endemic species. That's only mentioning the internationally known hotspots- there are literally thousands of micro-ecosystems on the diverse elevations, lakes, forests, cloudy mountains, páramos, beaches... all of them co-existing side by side with human-occupied towns and settlements.
Here's the tricky part though. Co-existing does not mean thriving, and many of these amazing places are in danger of heavy losses or might disappear completely if there is not a shift in the mindset of people towards sustainable living.
Something cool I learned last year. was that Andean nations are the first to internationally recognize the importance of nature in their national policies. Kate Raworth (2017) mentions:
In Andean cultures, buen vivir- literally “living well”- is a worldview that values ‘a fullness of life in a community with others and with Nature. In recent years, Bolivia has incorporated buen vivir into its constitution as an ethical principle to guide the state, while Ecuador’s constitution became the world’s first, in 2008, to recognize that Nature, or Pachamama ‘has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles'. (p. 46)
In Kichwa, the concept of “living well” is sumak kawsay. The inclusion of Sumak Kawsay into the reconstruction of the Ecuadorian Constitution is a solid step towards what Ehrenfeld called “the possibility of flourishing for all life on Earth.”
Returning to the title; this blog is an examination of the theory, frameworks and strategies I've begun to encounter as a Design for Sustainability student in the Savannah College of Art and Design. Some of these have been around for more than 60 years, some are millennia old and gaining some modern traction, some are initiatives being incorporated for the first time.
So I started with something simple. The root of both words is “sustain”, which, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary means: to provide what is needed for (something or someone) to exist, continue. (Merriam-Webster.com, 2022) It’s an appropriately vague definition, in the sense that it includes both tangibles and intangibles into itself.
Something “sustainable” on the other hand, adds a layer: being able to last for a long time, and through methods that do not completely use up or destroy. (Merriam Webster Dictionary, 2022)
Unsurprisingly, the field of sustainability is not as easily defined.
One of the most widely referenced texts on what sustainability is dates back to 1987 when the United Nations Commission stated:
Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (World Commission on Environment and Development,1987)
The entire document, widely referred to as the Brundtland Report, but titled Our Common Future, outlines how humanity’s current path of development is in direct conflict with the natural resources found on the planet. In the same report, they expand upon the definition:
Sustainable development is not a fixed state of harmony, but rather a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs. (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987)
As of 2022, the looming consequences of humanity’s inability to fit its activities into a pattern that doesn’t endanger life, all life on Earth, including humanity itself, have become more and more apparent.
By 2050, the population will level out at 10 billion, double what it was in the 1980’s.
There are currently over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today, and the projections state that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean. (Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2014, 17)
The Earth’s temperature has risen by 0.32° F (0.18° C) per decade since 1981, and 2020 was the second-warmest year on record. (Lindsey et al., n.d.) One in six species on the planet could face extinction with every degree-Celsius rise in temperature. (Casey, 2015)
These facts are just the tip of the metaphorical, (and quickly melting) iceberg. The changes are so drastic that the growing pressure on the planet has turned humanity into the single biggest driver of planetary change.Thanks to the scale of our impact we have now left behind the Holocene, the geological epoch that has persisted for over 11,000 years, and entered uncharted territory, known as the Anthropocene; the first geological epoch that is shaped by human activity. (Raworth, 2017, p.41)
The goal of sustainable thinkers, as stated by John Ehrenfeld is “more than simply fixing the problems of unsustainability that are threatening the wellbeing of the environment and human societies”. It is to view the world through the lens of a systems thinking, to intervene responsibly, in the context of the development of human ideas. Donella Meadows (2008) concurs: :
At a time when the world is more messy, more crowded, more interconnected, more interdependent, and more rapidly changing than ever before, the more ways of seeing, the better. (p.6)
So again, why Sustainology and not Sustainability?
An -ology, according to Merriam-Webster (2022), is “a branch of knowledge”. It can be applied to everything from skin-care (cosmetology) to ancient storytelling (mythology) to the study of death (thanatology).
Ability is the possession of the means or skill to do something.
The key word here is “do”.
The word sustainability is not only more actionable, it is more holistic than sustainology, and therefore an excellent choice to encompass the field itself.
But I feel that there's a pretty big distinction between action and thought.
Sustainology, then, can be considered a precursor to Sustainability. A developmental stage in which there exist reflections on economics, biology, technology, design, innovation, healthcare, anthropology, sociology, politics, ecology and more. In fact, all areas that involve the act of physical human creation can, and should, have a dimension of sustainology.
But until the person writing this text (that's me) or reading it (thats you) transcends the barrier between thought and action, sustainologists we remain.
To finish off, it's worth mentioning that some of these blog posts will be a little more academic than others. Some will be me gushing about innovations I've learned of, some might be more anecdotal, or philosophical, or maybe just rants. That's because I'm still figuring it out. If you stick with me, you'll learn with me, and we can embody one of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite authors:
Don't adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story. - JRR Tolkien
Casey, M. (2015, May 1). As temperatures increase, so will extinction rates. CBS News. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/as-temperatures-increase-so-will-extinction-rates/
The Earth Charter. (n.d.). Earth Charter. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://earthcharter.org/read-the-earth-charter/
Ecuador’s Constitution of 2008. (2008). Retrieved 11 11, 2021, from https://www. constituteproject.org/constitution/Ecuador_2008.pdf
Ellen McArthur Foundation. (2014). The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics.
Lindsey, R., Dahlman, L., & Hayhoe, K. (n.d.). Climate Change: Global Temperature. NOAA Climate.gov. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.climate. gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature
Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in Systems. Sustainability Institute.
Merriam Webster Dictionary. (2022). https://www.merriam-webster.com
Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Walker, S., & Giard, J. (Eds.). (2013). The Handbook of Design for Sustainability. Bloomsbury.
World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our Common Future.