The Sustainabilitist Principles (A Manifesto)

2009-04-08 00:00:00 +0000 — MICA GDMFA Studio, Baltimore MD

Environmentalism’s goal was environmental sustainability. Post-environmentalism’s goal must be true sustainability. I propose a new term for the followers of post-environmentalism: Sustainabilitists. We sustainabilitists shall take over where the environmentalists leave off, moving sustainability from the realm of the environment into all realms. The following principles will help move our ideas and actions into the region of the truly sustainable. We sustainabilitists must allow our designs, strategies and methodologies to evolve and adapt to new ideas. In keeping within its own principles, this manifesto and its concepts will be in a constant state of flux.



Change must happen fast—but raw speed alone is not enough. The rapid growth of industrialism got us into this mess; quick, precise and nimble actions now will get us out of it.


This is the realm of restrictions, stipulations and specifications. Defined at the outset, limitations can guide a solution. Not to be confused with sacrifice (which is reactive and loss-based), constraint results from analyzing available options.


Outputs must become inputs; there will be no such thing as waste. Waste from one process will be raw material in another. Nature is cyclical, so our sustainabilitist processes shall be, too.


Embrace diversity: it makes life more interesting. Nature has no overarching solution. We should stop looking for one-size-fits all solutions. The only universal shall be sustainability. People, cultures and localities are all different, requiring different solutions.


A cathedral was built to withstand the rigors of the temporal; a water bottle is not—it should be designed to disappear. Each design decision in material and use should make the choice between “durable or ephemeral.”


Wealthy “elegance” abounds, but true elegance appears when simplicity and craft are used to solve everyday problems. Sustainabilitists desire ease and grace in all situations.


For our sustainabilitist ideals’ acceptance, they must first be presented and understood by the populous. Presenting the possibility of change brings us one step closer to inciting said change. Easy, understandable ways are best—especially those avoiding condescension.


The universe moves towards chaos. This is something we should embrace. Design seeks order, and the order of the universe is a controlled degradation.


There will be no perfect approach—the future will unfold in unpredictable ways. We must allow adaptive reuse and a willingness to change direction or tactics to fit circumstances.


Information wants to be free, and it is time we let it. Disseminating knowledge and information has never been easier. We need to increase, not limit, people’s access. Sustainabilitists must become masters of knowledge.


All great works that elicit responses have one thing in common: they mean something. We must focus on intent, purpose, and substance—the context—along with form and function.


We are currently starting from rest. Once underway, our processes and ideals will carry themselves into culture, manufacturing, and government by their own momentum. First we must change the inertia of our current operations—doing whatever possible to slow its progression.


Better, happier, more fulfilling: this is what quality shall mean in sustainable design. The aim is to provide quality to everyone in elegant, elemental ways. Our goal is a higher standard. Flimsy, inferior goods and services have no place in our sustainable future.


We want the functions objects provide, not the objects themselves. To do this, our appliances and tools must be approached in terms of “services, not stuff” and “use, not own.” The idea of services is against intentional obsolescence and for reusability and repairability.


The core beliefs of sustainability already exist in a variety of other forms and philosophies. Thus, everything we need to begin implementing our sustainable solutions, we have today! We now simply require a synergistic combination of all this thought past and present into something new.


Our current systems, such as mass consumption yielding mass waste, are out of date and faulty. It is pointless to waste energy attempting to resolve designs within these systems. The creation and exploitation of new, better systems will be the main directive for sustainable design.


Allowing time to pass opens the door to adaptability and evolution. We must adopt the gradual change of nature into our design processes. Time in design allows for keeping and improving the good, while discarding the bad. Objects will be allowed to sustain their inherent value and thus receive prolonged use.


Sustainabilitist “wealth” encompasses all areas of resources (knowledge, information, water, food, etc), not just monetary. The sustainabilitist world revolves around the fair distribution and dissemination of these values.

These were written originally as part of my graduate school thesis explorations. Many subsequent iterations and updates have followed … a new version is posted later