The agony and ecstasy of a life-cycle design mentality

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Make every decision with the future in mind. In essence, that’s the definition of sustainability. It means doing our part to ensure that our great-grandchildren — and their great-grandchildren — will have the resources they’ll need to maintain a high quality of life.

But for such a simple concept, sustainability requires considerable effort, far more than most people realize. Easy choices are propagated through advertising and media, helping consumers feel good about simple actions such as buying a hybrid SUV or using compostable cups at the coffee shop.

Such actions can offer advantages over traditional alternatives, but they’re just one piece of the sustainability puzzle. Hybrid vehicles do use less fuel per mile, but that benefit can be lost if you drive more because you have an efficient vehicle. Compostable cups are great, but only if they’re actually composted.

To truly understand the pros or cons of our decisions, we must weigh them against other options and measure impact over time. Making sustainable choices requires learning about products — where they come from, how they’re made and where they go when we’re done using them. We have to look holistically at the full life cycle.

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