When I assign the exams after teaching Sustainable Design at Ryerson University School of Interior Design, one question is always What is sustainable design? or What is Sustainability? I keep hoping that one day, one of my students will finally explain it to me because I haven't figured it out.
TreeHugger emeritus Ruben Anderson comes close. He takes on a contrarian who wrote An Environmentalist on the Lie of Locavorism, with an excellent explanation of what sustainability really means. Ruben writes in Why Green is not Sustainable:
I use green to mean stuff that is less bad – and I chose my words carefully – for the planet and the flora and fauna that live on it.
Sustainable, on the other hand, gets beaten around the ring – mostly by people who throw their hands in the air and say, “Sustainable. What does that even mean?” Its meaning is quite simple, really.
It means able-to-be-sustained.
It means, for all intents and purposes, that whatever you are talking about can keep on doing what it is doing, and can do so essentially forever. The sun is a sustainable energy source, because it will keep rising in the east, essentially forever. A sustainable fishery is one that would give us surplus fish every year, essentially forever. A sustainable economy would keep providing for the needs of participants, essentially forever.
So, when someone throws their hands in the air, it is probably because they just don’t like the answer – the meaning is really quite easy to understand.
Now, the problem is that many green solutions sound great, but aren’t sustainable: nuclear energy, electric cars, the hydrogen highway, substituting renewables for coal-fired power, vertical farming, urban density, public transit – these are green(er), but not sustainable. Green seldom means good for the planet, or good for the environment, it means less bad.
Lots more, with tomatoes, at A Small and Delicious Life