What is the Value of Sustainable Living?

Placing value on something means a little more than just not wanting to spend money on it.  When you value something, you find benefits to it that aren't wholly expressed in it's monetary value.  You value it because it makes you feel good.  I value my family and friends, bicycling, eating good food and drinking good beer and wine, good music, traveling, living sustainably, etc.  I value these things when they are free and when they are expensive.  I value them no matter the cost because all of those things mean something to me.

For the entire time I've been writing posts on this blog I've always struggled with one main question: "How do you get people to care about saving energy and water and living more sustainably?"  In truth, I know the simple answer; which is just raise the price of energy and water above a certain pain threshold so people would actually make dedicated efforts to conserve them.  But a better questions is: "How do you get people to place value on living sustainably?"

James Brew of the Rocky Mountain Institute addresses this issue in his great TedX talk on "The Value of Energy Efficiency" seen below

There is a bunch of great information in his talk like the HERS rating, efficiency vs. conservation, importance of efficiency first (insulation, lighting) before installing clean energy (solar, wind, etc.), and Passive House Standard.  In regards to getting people to value taking care of the environment, James mentioned a great quote attributed to the Welsh novelist  Raymond Williams :

To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing

James closes with, "What is the value of clean air, of clean water, of clean soil?  What is the value of less cancer, less asthma, less strokes? What is the value of energy efficiency to you?"

I value living sustainably because I genuinely care about a clean environment; both for selfish (air I breathe and water I drink) and unselfish reasons (welfare of wild animals and health of others).  I am hardwired to seek out efficiencies; it's why I became an engineer in the first place.   I was probably born this way, but let's face it, most Americans are not....or maybe they were but they lost their way?

So how do we get people to place value on living sustainably without trying to force it upon them with guilt?

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We are serious about doing our part to save energy and protect the environment. Recently Sean McCutcheon's Air Conditioning and Heating, Inc. worked on "The Power Haus" built by Josh Wynne Construction. Located in Sarasota, Florida, the house has achieved a minus 22 HERS index, the lowest HERS rating on record in the US, and is producing more energy than it consumes on a yearly basis. This home has a 14.2 uni-solar flex lite amorphous silica that produces energy. It was reported that even if Power Haus doesn’t use this solar energy and depends on purchased energy, its score on HERS index would not cross 42.
It all starts with educating the public. Too few people truly understand the meaning of energy efficiency and conservation. By using an energy monitoring system such as and an education platform like people can start to take real action in real-time.
ckmapawatt's picture
But if people aren't sold on the value of living sustainably, they won't even bother with these websites. I think it starts before this. We have to convince people that living sustainably will make them happier before they start to make the steps to improve.
Hi Chris! I found your blog through, and I think it's excellent. I'm an intern at a new Web start-up called earthbongo, which is a social networking site where people can create and share projects to make the world a better place. We're very interested in projects that show people how they can save energy, and you seem to have a lot of great ideas for that. Might you be interested in starting a project with us? If so, you can e-mail me at to learn more, or visit Hope to hear from you!
Looking at the world of environmental and ecopsychology might help. I read an article the other day which focuses on the idea of 'identity' (by Crompton and Kasser, July/August 2010) This talks about the need to help people create a different identity to the materialistic, consumeristic, individualistic one that tends to dominate, certainly in the Western world. We seek out things that reinforce our identity and reject things that challenge it. Therefore, if they see themselves as someone who needs a certain lifestyle based on owning and buying stuff, they are unlikely to value sustainability. The article focuses on using campaigning integrating these different values. It is worth a read. I think an important consideration is that there is no one thing that will get people to value sustainble lifestyles. A variety of different approaches are needed, such as education as children, policy messages, making it easy to be sustainable, etc. One thing I'm very interested in doing at the moment, is helping people to develop a better understanding and appreciation for these complex, deep issues. In particular, to explore the implications of choices and decisions, seeing things as interrelated.
ckmapawatt's picture
Thanks Alison, I couldn't agree more. It is a complicated issue that needs many different points of attack.
Hi Chris, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post! As a student currently living in a house of three other people, there's only so much I can do when it comes to being as energy efficient as possible. I do try to make a difference though! Coming across your blog right now feels like perfect timing. I not only agreed with you on so many levels, but really learned a lot from Mr.Brew's speech. I love the idea of placing value on energy efficiency, too. Thank you for such a great post! I am also writing to see about writing a guest post on "Valuing your Energy Efficient Home." There are so many ways, as Mr.Brew mentioned, to make your home energy efficient even if you don't live in an Energy Star Certified house. I am currently working in affiliation with a community that has a vision of living sustainably with each home being equipped with energy savings and works at high efficiency. After checking out more of your blog and site, I think your readers would really benefit from a follow up post on how to find and live in an energy efficient home. I would love to talk with you more about this idea and hear your thoughts. Look forward to hearing back from you! Stephanie

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