What are the virtues of modern sustainability?

© The Virtues Project

Andrew Sullivan recently pointed to Alain de Botton's Virtues Project and his list of Ten Virtues for the Modern Age.

de Botton notes modern society's lack of public interest in fostering virtue and proposes his list as a manifesto for bettering oneself, and therefore helping to better society. Why it matters:

There's no scientific answer to being virtuous, but the key thing is to have some kind of list on which to flex our ethical muscles. It reminds us that we all need to work at being good, just as we work at anything else that really matters.

The first virtue on the list is resilience, which got me thinking about resilience in the context of sustainability. That led me to wonder, what are the virtues of modern sustainability?

Resilience, for example, has not always been top of mind when it comes to thinking about what sustainability means, but in recent years, faced with an increasingly unstable environment, the term has entered discussions about the resiliency of our communities, businesses, our buildings and also ourselves.

The decision to live in an environmentally-conscious manner can be motivated by financial interests, one's moral values or simply a matter of necessity. There's no shortage of Top 10 lists for ways going green can save money or help the planet, but for those of us that see the issue of sustainability as a moral imperative, shouldn't there also be a similar manifesto or framework of virtues to which we aspire? It could be helpful to unite people towards a shared vision, while also helping us find common ground and aid in explaining the motives of our consumer or lifestyle choices.

Okay, I've sold myself on the need for such a list. And I'm working on a draft that I'll share in a separate post. In the meantime, what would be on your list of virtues of sustainability? Are there lists like this that already exist? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

And if I may make one request: let's aim for general values like those on de Botton's list such as resilience or empathy, rather than specific tactics like "don't use plastic" or "go vegan." Seriously, don't just say "Thou shalt go vegan!" The reason de Botton's list of modern virtues is appealing is because it is comprised of values to which one should aspire, rather than a list of commandments that one will ignore. It is aspirational and not dictatorial. Arguing over a checklist of lifestyle choices one must make in order to be considered adequately green is a dumb and outdated way of thinking of this problem.

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