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What is Sustainability?



Lately, we've had lots of new visitors via the BlogHer network and the Survival Mom blog ring, and to all of you, I say "welcome!" I thought it might be helpful to pause in our regularly-scheduled garden harvest and winter prep to define sustainability.
The vocabulary used in talking about sustainable living is fluid. Academics will use terms one way, those with a political perspective another, and those just chatting over the back fence still another. While there will be some commonalities among them all, I wanted to share the personal definition that I use so you know what I mean when I write.

Sustainability: If something is "sustainable," that literally means that it can be sustained, or continued. I use this term to indicate a practice that can be continued indefinitely with the resources on hand or with those that can be reasonably expected. For example, if I plan to buy a house, I need to either pay for it with cash on hand (without depleting emergency and retirement funds), or I need to only take a mortgage I can anticipate being able to service from earnings or savings for quite some time, even if I or Mr. FC&G lose clients, become unemployed, or have to tap our funds for another reason. This will obviously result in our buying a house that is far less expensive than what the mortgage broker would tell us we qualify for (trust me on this!), but the expense is sustainable.

There are four major categories of resources I consider on this blog, and they explicitly or implicitly are reflected in the FC&G analysis:

Health: Your health is paramount. It is a resource that, once lost, is difficult to get back. I could tell you to save money by eating off a famous golden arches dollar menu, but that would not sustain your health. I often will tell you to eat organic, even if it means greater expense or greater time out in the garden (which is exercise to improve your health, so get out there!)

Money: Money is another resource that is finite, so we pay attention to its use. I will not advocate spending more than you have or taking loans for any but a major purchase, like the house mentioned above.

Time: Time is perhaps the ultimate non-renewable resource, so we have to get the biggest impact for time invested. Many a project gets marked down on the analysis because it takes too long to occur regularly if you have jobs and family commitments -- it is not sustainable -- but I might include them because they are particularly pleasant or nice to do if you have downtime.

Natural Resources and Impact: This is always fighting territory. Is it more sustainable to deal with the global oil supply by getting off the grid and insisting on all solar or nothing, or should we drill, baby, drill? What is the cost/benefit analysis of different pest control options when weighing garden production versus potential run-off into the water table? What should you wear -- cotton, wool, hemp? -- and what is the impact on you and your community? You will have to weigh your options, as I do mine, and realize that responsible use of natural resources is a balancing act, not an all-or-nothing position. You will see that I lean toward using the resources we have on hand in a way that makes them last as long as possible and which has as much positive and as little negative impact on you, your family, and your community as possible, but you need to apply your values too.
Sustainable living is not a one-time decision, it is a continual process of trying, adjusting, and tweaking. No family's solution will be exactly the same as any other, and each will make decisions based on belief, philosophy, political perspective, research, and experience. To me, that's what makes it fun.

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