Sustainability means setting new goals because the old goals are no longer viable. The new goals focus on the entire life cycle and take the common good into account.
Our society in its current form is characterised by security, freedom and prosperity. Sustainability is a question of preserving this civilizational project – which we are all part of – and helping it evolve for the future.
Up until now our model of society has been based on the assumption that resources are unlimited. Or to put it differently, the structure of our society is resource-ignorant. Now we are worried about climate change and its global impacts on our lives. So we are looking at how we can continue to live in safety, freedom and prosperity despite a change in the availability of the things we have come to depend on in our lives.
For a long time we have believed we could solve this problem with technology. But technology can only ever do as much as the society which uses it – and societies mostly use technologies without thinking about their impact on the environment. The ongoing digital revolution will not help us out of our plight; if anything, it is driving and accelerating society’s dependence on fossil fuels. And we will not be able to maintain our freedom if we become completely dependent on technology. Our data and systems are being manipulated by companies we have no control over.
In reaction to this state of dependency on global corporations, movements have emerged to develop and experiment with more decentralised and emancipated structures for producing food and energy. These movements are resilient social projects with a sound footing in society. We should not underestimate such bottom-up developments, as many important changes originate in the community and not among the political elite.
There is a lot of talk about sustainability at the moment because we’re realising it is something that is lacking. Now is the time to change the way we do things. To not simply implement sustainability, but to build it and to live it. And if we want sustainability to become a relevant social movement, we also have to join the dots between sustainability and aesthetics. No one wants to live in a house simply because it’s sustainable. It must be pleasant to live in all fronts, so design also plays an important role. We choose pleasant personal environments because they provide a setting for pleasant experiences.
Architects must rise to this challenge and grab sustainability by the horns, not abandon this field to engineers and technology.