to a Culture of Sustainability

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Sustainability is now a fashionable topic, used widely by policymakers to sell their policies and by commercial enterprises to make their products more attractive to the 'green consumer'. The concept of 'sustainability' as in common parlance in modern times, is relatively new. In 1990, it was unusual to find someone willing, or able, to have a serious conversation about the topic. Environmentalism was well established but the concept of Global Warming as a matter of public discourse was just being born[1], and a broader exploration of our complete socio-economic relationship to the future of our world, while considered on some level by many, had not really taken root as a legitimate path of study in the Academy.[2] Quite interesting, while 1990 was an important year of commitment to this issue by this content provider, 1990 is also a benchmark year for a key treaty on anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, a key concern for sustainable human relationship with the living systems on planet earth.

It would be a matter of certain arrogance to assume that one person, say this content producer, could offer a perfect definition of a concept now getting so much attention. However some good work has been done over a number of years; there are thoughts and ideas to contribute. Developing good metrics or quantifiable indicators which help with truly meaningful analysis vis a vis 'sustainability' is a real challenge. Here is presented a model based on fundament human conditions – and a more multimodel approach than recent UN work based on an ecology-society-economics breakdown[3], but which is not fundamentally incompatible with this important development. This site is dedicated to making a contribution to the conversation, and to presenting some work developed on the topic.

As evidenced by the gradual shift of human attention, Sustainability in its proper focus on the bigger questions, is an important concept. Happily, much progress has been made over the years, at least in terms of the number of people seriously contemplating this topic who are relating it to ideas about human cultural evolution. [4] A very interesting development is a relatively recent approach taken by the UN, which employs something like a cousin to the Seed Logos/Spiral Matrix, called 'Circles of Sustainability'.[5]

Meanwhile, many are not sure human society is on track to achieve 'sustainability'. So while some of the most courageous and optimistic people on the planet are actively engaged in this subject, it is a difficult one to tackle seriously.

To wit, per Wikipedia, circa January 2015:

"Despite the increased popularity of the use of the term "sustainability", the possibility that human societies will achieve environmental sustainability has been, and continues to be, questioned—in light of environmental degradation, climate change, overconsumption, and societies' pursuit of indefinite economic growth in a closed system.[3][4]

or Worldwatch Institute:

Every day, we are presented with a range of "sustainable" products and activities—from "green" cleaning supplies to carbon offsets. But with so much labeled as sustainable, the term has become essentially sustainababble, at best indicating a practice or product slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative. Is it time to abandon the concept altogether, or can we find an accurate way to measure sustainability? If so, how can we achieve it? And if not, how can we best prepare for the coming ecological decline?[6]

Ultimately one may come to the conclusion that we might 'make it' and along the journey some places will be affected more and others less, as the gyrations of ecosystem impacts by human activity take root and certain species disappear, and some ecosystems become so degraded they no long provide meaningful life support services, at least in the same terms they once did. Grim picture? Yes. And yet the youth of our time have somehow adapted to this new reality, since for them it is not new, it is the status quo. This could explain the contagion of narcissism and possibly the acceptance of non-integrity in public discourse. To live life blithely forward, using resources in a clearly unsustainable way, is essentially to disconnect with this issue, which at this point, any thinking and socially engaged human must be aware. It is in a sense to live a lie, to live two lives simultaneously. This is a conundrum of our time. How we reconcile our heartfelt knowing of the plight of our world under the immense pressure of a growing and quickly developing human society, with our basic desire for creature comforts, travel opportunities, new technologies and toys, etc — this is a personal dilemma each of us must face, and frankly, most people seem to choose some limited response and then select a form of denial for the bigger questions. This might simply be because the bigger questions feel too big, to large to tackle at the individual level. And larger collective enterprise, such as national government, is struggling worldwide, as we appear on track to acidify our oceans, everywhere.

Each of us has control of one thing – ourselves. So we each can make the personal decision – to engage with these big questions as meaningfully as possible, trying to make a difference, but also celebrating life and the remarkable opportunity it means to be alive on this planet, at this time. Ultimately we each have the personal responsibility to simply be the most caring and compassionate person we can be, and then be in the world, in what is sometimes called 'skillful means'. Staying strong, optimistic and positive, that is the way to personal happiness and fulfillment. Recognize this is a spiritual crisis as much as an environmental one, and it is ok to talk with friends about one's concerns. Meanwhile, as we all are engaged in mostly 'normal' human activity, most of us anyway, we can carefully reflect on what are the compromises against deeper principle we are being forced to make, either by social forces at large, or by our own personal choices. From here we can prepare for the moment of opportunity that may come one day, when these compromises are no longer necessary, either because of changes in social conditions (for example: you learn it is now possible to buy 100% wind power for your home electricity), or a realization that what one thought was important suddenly is seen as less important than feeling reconciled with some felt uncomfortable compromises on principle. As broader awareness increases on certain issues, what some of us were doing as individuals will become standard policy: for instance while a few people knew better, it was until recently recommended to flush all prescription drugs down the drain; now harm to wildlife has been documented at remarkably small concentrations particularly from hormones like birth control pills, and now drugs are being collected for safer disposal.[7]

The process is complicated because there is a dynamic continuum of human cultural evolution and sophistication around these issues, at different levels of social scale: Witness that some people beat their own family members or pets, and some consider this or even certain types of communication as unacceptable violence. Meanwhile, Counties, States and Nations all behave differently. In Hawaii for instance, a ban on plastic bags available for free at checkout counters was not possible to pass on the State level, but was fairly easy to accomplish recently County by County (Island by Island). GMO contamination concerns are following a similar trajectory, with Individual Islands having to consider suing Federal judges (2014-2015). Sometimes the larger social scales are actually an impediment, but sometimes they are helpful: witness subsidies for renewable energy technologies, or national fisheries management practices. The situation is complicated, and at an individual level we are all invited to become more conscious of our personal choices, and our personal responsibilities, including the demand for more responsible governance.

On one level, there is appropriate effort to (re)tool the way we develop and inhabit urban environments, including land use, transportation, energy, architecture, food systems and so forth— and this is worthwhile because there is much 'low hanging fruit' and the potential impacts are tremendous. On the other hand, there is a real question, appropriately given the momentum in place, just how realistic it is to believe that THIS iteration of human technical civilization, with its uniquely materialist outlook, is likely to change the curves. We can note that what appear to be more advanced cultural patterns which may currently appear more like social democracies, seem to do better at taking responsibility beyond the personal and into the social sphere — but this is not the whole world at large, not even close. So locally, yes it is reasonable to expect sustainable practices which can result in protection of some ecosystems, but worldwide, there are nagging doubts about THIS particular version of human society worldwide. Today people are still killing each other en mass over perceived slights which became religious causes, over a thousand years ago. So then we can consider another view on the subject of Sustainability, which is the long term view, and in that perspective it makes sense to develop 'seeds of culture' – collections of people and technology which are not so much about THIS social period, but a FUTURE one. Some people will just be more comfortable living in a more evolved micro-society, some will just pick it up as an activist cause. I am specifically referring to clusters of people who are essentially living the future, now — which could be either small more advanced countries, like Denmark[8], or it can be village scale settlement like the ecovillage in Missouri called Dancing Rabbit[9]. Interestingly, rigging for the next cycle, becomes an exercise in exploring a Culture of Sustainability. It can be said straight out that while we are damaging the planet's support services, most likely at some point there will be a status quo of stability where humans live in some symbiotic balance with the biosystems of the planet — the question is at what level of beauty and relative opportunity, peace and comfort. How many species survive? Carrying capacity is a key concept, which could be solved with drastic human population reduction, which may be a reality we could get relatively quickly if something like a pneumonic ebola shows up, which is a real possibility. Or there is some other social or ecological system collapse — take note of how a few errant bankers are able to crash the world economy with surprising regularity, and that is not the big event we are exploring, just what appears to be normal range. And we have global warming on its way for sure, food systems are in trouble, and human population just keeps rolling upward. Something is likely to change, and it may not be gradual. Nevertheless, the socio-ecological-economic projects that are future oriented help humanity as a whole evaluate choices made by persons and governments, and remarkably, just as inexorably as some negative trends appear to be advancing, human society continues to evolve.

There is a more content and reflection on this remarkable topic on offer throughout this website. Please enjoy learning about a comprehensive model for understanding the question of sustainability in light of the subject of human cultural evolution, and ENTER THE SPIRAL MATRIX.

Toward a Culture of Sustainability !

Varadaan January 2015

"Every (hu)man must decide whether (s)he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." 
Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Fear is the cheapest room in the house -- I would like to see you living in better conditions." 


[1] In 1988 it was finally acknowledged that climate was warmer than any period since 1880. The greenhouse effect theory was named and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. The Kyoto Protocol sets a commitment to reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6) by at least 5% below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012. The Kyoto Protocol was eventually signed in Bonn in 2001 by 186 countries. Several countries such as the United States and Australia have retreated. From 1998 onwards the terminology on the greenhouse effect started to change as a result of media influences. The greenhouse effect as a term was used fewer and fewer and people started to refer to the theory as either global warming or climate change.
Source: Maslin, M., Global Warming, a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2004
Where I found it:
Interestingly the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 sets the goal for reducing emissions at 1990 levels. 1990 is the year Varadaan dedicated his life to working on the issue of global sustainability – on Earth day 1990 he turned in his resignation from a successful career as a design engineer developing analytical instruments at Charles Evans and Associates in Redwood City, CA.

[2] If there was anything other than the Energy and Resources Group in Berkeley (ERG), largely an economics group, wherein to explore Sustainability, particularly from a design point of view, Varadaan would have gladly gone into graduate school. Given the importance and immensity of the subject – literally the future of our world – he found it necessary to proceed without infrastructure for study or work, and proceeded through various explorations and ventures, and ultimately founded the Solstice Institute in Boulder, Colorado in January 1995. This web project is fruit of some of this endeavor. A fundamental challenge on this topic is its remarkable breadth, and how various disciplines each have their own perspective on the topic. For instance as of 2014, the University of Colorado at Boulder has something like 12 unique and separate departmental programs, but which are not really integrated or collaborative. Truly the issue is almost a sociological phenomenon more than anything else; while it is quite obvious we need to develop new approaches to development, technology, plant investment, energy, transportation, agriculture, deeper investigation reveals that as we move to the upper sections of the Seed Logos, we can recognize the importance of imbuing key principles of sustainability into key social institutions, to wit: medicine, governance, law, education, the arts, and of course the way we collectively steward our land, sea and air.


[4] Ref:


[6] Also for a fairly well written discussion that illustrates the need to bridge between 'where we are now' and an eventual condition of sustainable stewardship of the world, the development of which is described as a 'project':


[8] Denmark made the list in 2014, as the least corrupt country on the planet. [9] Dancing Rabbit: Note there is a 'Global Ecovillage Network' ( and more generally, an Intentional Communities Movement (




Basic Introduction to Sustainable Culture

Metaphyisics of the Seed Logos and "Sustainable Culture"


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The Seed Logos Mandala - 12 Sectors of Sustainable Culture

The Eight Levels of Spiral Dynamics