Sustainability: What It’s Really All About

Stu’s News
with Trina’s Tips



What It’s Really All About

This issue of Stu’s News will be a little different … actually a lot different. We – all of us in the “design professions” – are essentially, one way or another, “stewards of the environment.” What’s surfacing in the way of “sustainability” will be both a growing business opportunity and also a professional responsibility, with a personal impact.

To help firms identify growth markets, as part of their strategic market planning, Trina and I read trends literature. Recalling the method John Naisbitt used to identify his “Megatrends,” he measured changes in the column-inches of articles – sorted by topic. When he saw the number of column-inches of a topic steadily grow, he could reliably identify a trend. (Businesses in line with growth trends do very well.)

In the early 90s, we spotted growing column-inches centered about a new term, “Sustainability.” Initially, I saw it as another catch phrase … as environmental groups need to constantly maintain awareness for their causes. However, in looking at the data, people were actually talking about our ability to burn out planet Earth. I wondered how that was possible, given the size of our planet. I learned that not only is it possible, but that we’ve actually been steadily headed in that direction.

Some issues feel too big too tackle; I’m not a “global leader.” But I thought I might make a difference if I could create a home that totally took care of itself with what came to the home site naturally – sun, wind, rain, soil, etc. I tapped the expertise of some of you – specialists in passive solar heating, daylighting, PV power, rainwater harvesting, sustainable land use, air quality – and found a successful developer to coach me, as all our personal assets are on the line in this kind of venture. So …

  • In 2002, our first home opened. It drew crowds – over 10,000 visitors now. We relocated from Washington, D.C. to southeast VA – near Williamsburg. Five of the seven sites are now complete and – even in this slow market – we should be complete in another year or two.
  • The homes perform very close to their “Net Zero” design. Unexpectedly, improved air quality has been a huge positive; every resident has experienced allergies disappearing within a few days. But the #1 reason everyone gave for buying is “aesthetics,” not “sustainability.”
  • Homebuyers often look at price per sq. ft. But to compare apples-to-apples, in order for sustainable housing to become mainstream, they need to compare price per sq. ft. for mortgage and utilities; paradigm shifts are difficult to achieve … especially on so large a purchase.

As our sustainable project ( progressed, I asked what I had not included, and began researching sustainability. What surfaced was amazing …

In the physical domain, I think food will be the biggest sustainability issue. At the end of 2007, over 30 million were dying of starvation every year. With global warming, arable land the size of Rhode Island becomes desert – every year. 90% of the large ocean fish – including tuna and swordfish – are already fished out. Our Ogallala aquifer is only a fourth of what it was, and doesn’t recharge; this impacts our central states’ breadbasket. And California, due to drought, had to limit water to farmers; California provides 50% of the vegetables, fruit and nuts to the entire U.S.!

Last year, England had a strike by truck drivers who carry food from the docks to the grocery stores. Shelves were empty in four days! Their strike settled, but the question remains: How close to edge of the cliff do we have to come before we act?

Then my research evolved to the non-physical domain. “Sustainability” began including such factors as: sense of community, education and lifelong learning, best use of leisure, fitness, trade, transportation, currencies and economics, and even “happiness” and “quality of life” feelings. Periodically, I had to wonder whether or not these “dimensions” were truly part of “sustainability.” I realized, they are. So …

I wrote a book that shares what I’ve learned in creating these Net Zero homes, and goes through all the research that surfaced into “what else” really needs to be considered, and why. It’s titled, “Sustainability,” and is now available via It’s an easy read, only 132 pages, and only $18.99. I invite you to read it, to tell me where you agree or disagree, and to suggest areas for additional research. Then …

  • Ask how what’s surfacing – and the next three years are very likely to be ones of enormous, almost unprecedented, change – will affect you and your firm. Ask what challenges you see. And then also explore ways to convert those challenges into business opportunities.
  • Many clients – government agencies, municipalities, corporations – seem concerned about sustainability; have them go through the book as well, and then have some open dialogues with them about how these trends will affect them, so you’re in a position to be supportive.
  • On a personal level, ask yourself how these trends will impact you and what you may wish to do, in response. Don’t wait for others to solve the problem; the best helping hand is at the end of your arm.

As authors get a large quantity discount, if you need multiple copies – for people in your firm and/or for clients – phone. I can send 10 to 24 copies for $11.40 a piece, a 40% discount, and 25 or more copies for $9.50, a 50% discount. (I’ll add only actual UPS shipping costs to each request.) Finally, some good news …

The “transition” that’s happening – globally and right here in the U.S. – will likely be a major change in how we live. Our entire “civilization” as we know it, and the institutions upon which we’ve always depended, will transform or vanish. This degree of change, especially in so short a time frame, will likely be very traumatic. Even ugly. But you’ll learn what’s coming at the other end of this “tunnel” will be FANTASTIC !