The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How do we begin to truly comprehend sustainable consumption?

Let me admit that this is going to sound really far fetched and probably is.
I think that we have to get some essential data to come to a true understanding of what would constitute sustainable consumption and therefore sustainable living decisions.
  • First we would need to record (and constantly update) our consumption; right from food, down to the clothes we wear, the books we read, the fuel/energy.water we consume, the materials we use to build our cars, our homes, roads, and so on.
  • Next, we would need to further break this down to the raw materials that go into each of these items. For example, a cup of coffee would have coffee, milk, sugar, chicory, the packing material (and it;s constituents), the fuel consumed in transporting to your nearby store and then to your home. Similarly, for all the other things that you end up consuming... from the list you generated above.
  • Then, we would need to map the earth for the quantities of raw material that exists today. This mapping would have to be as exhaustive as there are materials that we consume. While doing this, we should also map the physical footprint occupied by each resource.
  • Finally, we would have to keep a tab on the rate at which we are withdrawing these various raw materials.
Only when we have the above facts, that it sure seems like a lifetime (or many) of data collection, can we begin to understand the implications of how we can get sustainable. Against each consumption statistic, we can map the existing stock, and the exhaustion time based on the rate of withdrawal. Some decisions could be like this:
  • When we cut down on one, we increase the life of the stock. If we need to increase the stock (for example; a crop), then we look at other areas where we can start production.
  • Decisions on moving from one unsustainable material to another that we consider green today, can be gauged by the above point. However, we would also have to understand the implication of increasing the consumption of one particular material. Take for example fuel- When we move from petroleum fuel to say bio-diesel from crops... then consumption on that crop would increase, leading to a pressure to convert other existing crops (and these could be low income food crops) into bio-fuel generating varieties. The result could mean lesser stock of food crops for all.
Steps towards sustainable consumption and sustainable living could follow these steps:
  • Reduce consumption with controllable limits of the mean
  • Rate in terms of criticality each resource (stock)
  • Rate in terms of sustainability each resource (resources that can cater to a much larger consumption and can be replenished at nearly the same rate)
  • Rate in terms of sustainability each technology/process/product (where each of these means the least impact on the sustainability of other resources, and a greater degree of replenishing the raw material consumed in the process)
  • Encourage/incentivise/penalise to ensure that consumption moves from far more critical stocks/technologies/processes/products to sustainable stocks/technologies/processes/products. This would also mean encouraging and driving directions of new technologies
  • Encourage/incentivise reduced consumption.
  • Continue this process.