“more” sustainable vs. sustainable
I am really enjoying writing about the phenomenal fuel economy improvements I’ve been getting with my new driving style. I’m even more excited about trading in my Elantra for a Volkswagen TDI so I can get even more astounding fuel economy figures. One thing that has interrupted this enthusiasm is the quiet, persistent, nagging knowledge that what I’m doing is only being “more” sustainable. It is an improvement on my typically unsustainable Western lifestyle, but it still isn’t sustainable. The problem lies in where I’m focusing my energy and effort.
Take the example of my driving to work. I’ve been using a baseline of driving my Elantra at 8.0L/100km on a 94km round trip. With driving style changes, that’s dropped to 6.5L/100km, and when I trade the Elantra for a diesel that figure should hopefully drop to 4.0L/100km or less. On the surface, I’ll have improved my fuel economy by a whopping 50%! Go me, I’m saving the world! Right?
Not really. The problem is, saying I’ve “improved by 50%” is focusing on the baseline, and not the target; sustainability. In this case sustainability could be finding local employment that does not require me to commute 94km round trip 5 days a week, or moving closer to my work. Ideally, work and home would be close enough to each other that I could remove any need for a vehicle entirely and commute solely by public transit or under my own power. THAT is sustainable. Simply using less fuel on long, daily drives is not.
There is a very real danger to simply improving upon what we’re doing, instead of focusing on what is truly sustainable. By focusing on how much we have improved our unsustainable lifestyle, that takes energy and effort away from concentrating on looking what is truly sustainable, and making changes – not just improvements – towards getting there.
In my case I know that my improved fuel economy is a step in the right direction, but not the final answer. I’m still searching for a solution that will allow me to get rid of a vehicle entirely, whether that is a new job close to home, moving close to work, or something else entirely. There are many other aspects of our lifestyle that this misapplied focus comes in to play – it’s up to us as sustainably-minded individuals to take a step back and consider whether we’re truly aiming for sustainability, or deluding ourselves with becoming “more” sustainable.