Sustainable Tower Building with Vegetation Growing and diagram showing different sustainable icons.


You know how there are restaurants who claim “we have the best wings in the world!” …while you enjoy their enthusiasm and their wings may, in fact, be good, what makes them the best in the world?  Obviously, this is to get your attention.  Make you look at their business and try their wings.  It works, or else why would they do it?

Well, it seems when it comes to sustainable design and development, this same marketing style is applied… Sustainable!  Green!  Environmentally friendly! Sustainability sourced!  Zero carbon footprint!  The list goes on… and they LITERALLY make the packaging green with cute little leaves on them… but what do these things actually mean? 

Let’s break it down to it’s core, The Magic School Bus style! 

the ability to sustain

What is it, really, and why do you care?  Well, at its core, it is your ability to take care of or “sustain” yourself and your family and is a concept that has been around as long as humans have. The word itself, however, has more recent origins. Coined in German, the original term was Nachhaltigkeit (yikes, this word makes my brain hurt… anyway!), meaning “sustained yield.” It first appeared in a handbook of forestry published in 1713 and was used to mean never harvesting more than the forest can regenerate. The translated term appeared in English beginning in the mid-19th century.

Food and water have to come from somewhere.  Even the earliest cultures would have had to be thinking about what to do in the lean times and what would happen if the animals or plants they depended upon were to disappear.  Before big-box grocery stores and food delivery, households took care of themselves, growing vegetables, keeping chickens and goats and cows, and making their own products like soap and clothing.  In fact, the world we live in now with 2-day delivery and take-out is very, VERY new.

Gable Design Sustainability Recent History Timeline

Big events always change us, personally and as a society.  World War II was no exception.  It created a large part of the foundation we are built upon today, especially from a resource and economic standpoint.  Other buzzwords you could use are “consumerism” or “globalization.” Before we talk about the end of the war, we DEFINITELY need to talk about it while it was happening.  While I by no means want to compare the stress of the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic to that of a World War, an insight can be made from an economic and lifestyle aspect.  Like the pandemic (but MUCH more severe), resources were short and communities and families were near-instantly forced to adapt. 

Coming back from the Great Depression before the war, families were getting used to having more; more food options, more stores and shops, more availability.  Production lines were increasing.  Then boom.  All stop.  A world changed in an instant that required “sustaining” for four long years.  Everyone stepped up.  Women and children jumped on the assembly lines and into positions previously held by the men off fighting, neighbors took care of each other, and the country as a whole did what they needed to keep going, giving their soldiers all the support they could.  

As food availability reduced, the United States government created a series of marketing posters to encourage families to grow their own food, calling them “Victory Gardens” or “Food Gardens for Defense.”  Posters showing families working together, shaking the hands of “Uncle Sam” and doing their part to make their food rations go farther, even going as far as to say it will win the war.  This is the same strategy with the “best wings in the world” slogan, but it was needed and worked.  Households sustained themselves as best they could, growing their own gardens and making their own products.

Plant a Sustainable Victory Garden
Grow your own sustainable fruits and vegetables
Sustainability Victory Garden

what it means today

Okay, so it makes sense to set yourself and your family up so that you could sustain yourselves during a war… but why would you consider any of this in a “normal” world?  Why add one more task to your already busy life?  I can’t even keep my indoor plants alive let alone start a garden!

Well, I bring up the Covid-19 pandemic again.  While this was only a fraction of what a World War would do, households all over the world felt (and still feel) the pain of an all-stop on the world’s consumption.  Remember when people were going after toilet paper like it was a Black Friday sale on TV’s?!  In construction alone we’re seeing a skyrocket in pricing for materials, both imported and domestic and a severe strain on the labor workforce.

Ultimately, no, I’m not writing this to tell everyone to start their own garden or start hoarding toilet paper or build a bunker under your house that can withstand a bomb… what I’m saying is that sustainability at its core is not a buzzword or a marketing scheme.  It’s not some hippy-dude walking in the park barefoot smoking a joint.  It’s not the soap in the green bottle with the leaves on it.  It is the ability to weather any storm and to take care of those you love without the assistant or dependence on others.  To make sure that as much of your life is in YOUR hands, regardless of conflict or politics or disease.

What that looks like per person and per family will ultimately differ based on their own needs. Only you know that, no one else!

What are you doing to sustain yourself and your family?  Let me know in the comments below!  I’m always looking for ideas to share!

Jessie Ellis

Jessie Ellis

Wife, friend and dog mom with 18+ years of education and 12+ years as a commercial design professional. Always inquisitive, creative and empathetic; trying to live each day with intention.


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