Sustainabilism is an attitude to life that combines human well-being and environmental well-being. It is a response to ‘too much’ – too much stuff, too much advertising, too much information, too much work, too much stress, too much waste, too much of everything. Sustainabilism’s attitude is that less is better because less is more – more time, more meaning, more freedom, more certainty, more calm, more peace. It is about living a more essential life.

Sustainabilism for the future

Sustainabilism is an attitude that values the future as much as the present. The present is precious because time is so precious, we only have a limited amount of time on Earth and we should never waste it. Common regrets that people have on their deathbeds are that they had worked too much and spent too much time doing what others expected.

The future is also precious because it will be our descendants’ present. A Native American proverb says that we don’t inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our descendants. Sustainabilists leave the world as good as they found it, if not better, as a way to ‘pay it forward’ for the lives they have enjoyed.

Sustainabilists favour a life rich in relationships, experiences and creativity, not one with too much material wealth and entropy. In the words of the Earth Charter, once you have sufficient, life is about being more, not having more. A sustainabilist cares about people and nature, not money. You can’t buy love, happiness or meaning because these things are the side effects of being something, not having something. Sustainabilism is about thriving at the least cost.

Sustainabilism is a moral stance based on care and goodwill, and on the cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude. Sustainabilism favours quality over quantity, sufficiency over affluence, and simple living over wasteful living.

Sustainability happens when people’s demand on the earth’s resources (or ecological footprint) is less than the supply the earth can sustain (or biocapacity). By taking more than the earth can sustain we deplete the earth’s ability to produce. Treating capital as income will always lead to bankruptcy. So sustainabilism promotes sustainability over economic growth. Perpetual growth on a finite planet is impossible. Sustainable development can never be about economic growth, instead it is the development of a steady-state, solar and circular economy. A sustainabilist favours craft production over industrial production and a localised, distributed economy over a centralised one. It is about a better distribution of wealth and not about more wealth overall. In other words, sustainabilism is about a better economy, not a bigger economy.

Sustainabilism is the idea that our lives are too precious to be wasted on trivial, unnecessary stuff. Life should be about the joy of being, not the burden of having. Sustainabilism is about making life happen by being more self-sufficient and ‘taking back the value-added’. Self-sufficiency is about consuming less, and producing as much as possible yourself including food, clothes, shelter and energy. The more DIY you can do the better. Self-sufficiency is not about being isolated, on the contrary, there is mutual benefit in helping each other and sharing with family, friends, neighbours and the wider community. This increases trust and social cohesion.

Sustainabilism is the way to a better future by having a better present.