Sustainable thinking . . . with the help of my friends.

I have heard critics of the word “sustainability” ask “What are we trying to sustain?” as if the word somehow implies a maintenance of the status quo. I never got this. To me, the word sustainability has always been radical. To me it evokes a radical new economy, radical new life style and, most of all, a radical new way of thinking.

Since I am writing here from my “desk” at CTP, I am going to focus on this last part, the radical new way of thinking. I want to share some recent experiences that have helped me notice ways my thinking needs to radicalize.

My friend Mark Grable is a carpenter and expert tool sharpener. One day (in partnership with the Community Resilience Organization of Hartford) we invited him to give a workshop on tool sharpening. Sitting cross legged in the back of his pickup truck with 12 or 15 of gathered around the back, he began. “You have heard of subsistence farming? Well, I am a subsistence carpenter, that means I subsist on the earnings of my carpentry work, which in my case equals about $5000 per year.” (!!)

I don’t remember all of the sharpening techniques he shared, but I do remember that opening and I remember being a little taken aback. Was there something compromising about admitting to a life that is off the low end of the poverty charts? Or was Mark taking a moment to model the only sustainable living that can persist into the future?

It turns out that sustainability decreases in proportion with one’s income. So if you are bringing in $40, $50 or $60K per year, you might be driving a Prius and eating organic food, but you’re probably a long way from sustainability.  

I’ll give you another example, Mark and I have a friend named Karl Rosengrant. He moved out of CTP last year to begin a new intentional community in South Royalton, called Smallfoot. Karl comes back to visit us from time to time. He recently said that he is able to live on less than $400 per month. Which is amazing but a part of me was thinking, yeah, and you gotta come back here to shower . . . But again, I realized it is my thinking that needs to change.

If we seek to live sustainably, the days of each household having its own lawnmower, car(s), garage and every tool it needs to do every job, may need to be a thing of the past. Likewise, the ethics of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency probably also need to go.

As an organization with an sustainability mission, we should be actively celebrating the people like Karl and Mark who visit and demonstrate sustainable living and radical interdependence. If we have noone around modeling the future, how will we get there?

So, next time I am baking something and short some important ingredient, instead of hopping in my car and heading to the store, I hope I have the guts to try knocking on my neighbor’s door to ask for the missing ingredient. If I can do it, I am going to try to notice what happens inside of myself as as I do. And more importantly, I’m going to notice what happens to my sense of community.  

Thanks for reading and for all you do,


simon dennis