With the planet’s impending doom slowly approaching, the trendy appeal of sustainability has become irresistible. Which is great, because “sustainable” means “able to be sustained”, and most people would agree that’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately somewhere along the way we seem to have misplaced the original definition of “sustainable” and replaced it with: “A material whose production is potentially (but not necessarily) less terrible than the existing alternative, and is sometimes (but not necessarily) used responsibly”. I agree it’s a bit wordy, but that’s the definition we’ve decided to run with as a society.
While that definition may be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it is driving at a point that is often overlooked or misunderstood:
Materials are not sustainable.
Bamboo is not sustainable. Recycled paper is not sustainable. Triple (even quintuple!) glazed windows are not sustainable:
Practices are sustainable.
As we blindly charge head-first into uncharted levels of consumption, we need to stop soothing our eco-guilt with green stickers and start looking critically at how materials are being used.
First lets take a look at the most egregious abusers of sustainability claims: Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen. Bundchen is self-proclaimed environmentally conscious, yet laughs in the face of sustainability while she and her husband cover their $20M, 22,000 sqft. home in green stickers. Plastered with gimmicky superficial elements such as solar panels and “sustainable materials”, claims of sustainability completely ignore the obscene amount of resources devoted to housing two adults and an infant. It’s like driving your hummer with 10% ethanol, and then telling everyone how environmentally friendly your decisions are. It doesn’t matter how many green stickers you buy, because materials can never be sustainable. Only practices can be sustainable.
If that monstrosity crushed your hopes for the future of humanity, let’s switch gears to the opposite end of the spectrum: The Popomo by Tumbleweed. At first, cladding a home entirely in Cor-ten steel may not sound like a move that could be considered sustainable, but when you consider the entire home is only 144sqft, it becomes apparent that cor-ten, and almost any other material, can be used sustainably with moderation, especially when the longevity of the material is considered. The Popomo is a fantastic example of using a material that isn’t inherently considered sustainable, but through responsible practice is being applied in a way that can lead to a very small ecological footprint indeed.
So the next time you feel like throwing down a bamboo floor, or tossing in some radical triple-glazed windows to save face, remember how embarrassing it is (very) to be Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen right now. Instead of considering a material with a green sticker, you may want to reconsider the whole approach.