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For all of the boldness, bumps,
bruises, and beauty enveloped in
the word sustainability, it remains
one of the most misunderstood
concepts that have evolved out of more
than 40 years of environmental affairs
and social action. I have my own personal
opinion on how to define and approach
sustainability, and, sharing this point of
view with others has become a personal
My wife Aileen has been an incredible
supporter, advocate, and critical thinker
in the evolution of my first book The
Sustainability Generation: The Politics of
Change and Why Personal Accountability
is Essential NOW! and development as
a communicator. She recently brought a
word into my vocabulary that I had
previously heard, but never spent much
time thinking about. The word, "bespoke",
she pointed out, is a reference to the
customisation and personalisation of a
product or service toward one's personal
preferences. The term is often used in
the fashion industry relative to "made-
to-measure" tailored clothing, like men's
suits. One of the book's themes is how
individual consumers and citizens can
take action to simplify sustainability and
become more accountable to their and
future generations needs by modifying
behaviors that may be unsustainable.
Knowing this, Aileen questioned, as the
current generation of consumers seek
out more bespoke products and services
(think of iPhone Apps, the customisation
that goes into Facebook and webpages,
the focus on the "you" in marketing and
media, and so on), what impact will this
in vogue trend on customising a lifestyle
have on sustainability?
I thought Aileen's observation was
brilliant. First, she did something that my
book attempts to challenge its readers to
do: look inward into your life and begin
to critically think about your beliefs,
behaviours, and actions in the context of
finding balance and resolve toward living
a more sustainable lifestyle. By leaving the
definition of sustainability in the hands of
empowered citizens, more people will,
in theory, be willing to take action. This
may not work in all circumstances, but an
empowered and accountable citizenry
and workforce is a good starting place.
Minimally, an engaged citizenry will be
more aware, adaptable, and open to
conversation and discussion about the
choices they and others in their peer
The fact that Aileen made the leap
between how a simple word, bespoke, was
beginning to infiltrate the current state of
American culture, and extrapolate from
that what impact it might have on our
generational impact on sustainability, rep-
resents the type of informed questioning
individuals need to ask of themselves and
others for this generation to become more
sustainable. Second, Aileen's observation
on the use, fashion, and cultural realities
of the word bespoke in the context of
sustainability is incredibly relevant and
timely to the current state of affairs in
society. In our free market economy,
bespoke makes pure sense. The advent of
Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and other
social media has magnified the individual-
istic underbelly of society. Whether we
seek attention, validation, or recognition,
it seems it is almost human nature to have
a "bespoke tendency" in how we choose
to live. If the late 1990s and 2000s saw a
height of consumerism in America, then
the next wave of "bigger, better, best" really
is a customised lifestyle, a one and only
look and style that sets us apart from the
The questions we need to ask our-
selves continuously include: "What are
the social, environmental, and economic
impacts of a bespoke generation?", "Are
the behaviours of a bespoke generation a
good or bad influence on sustainability?",
and "How can a sense of critical thinking
and balance be brought to a bespoke
generation which is so focused on how it
looks, being unique, and trying to stand for
Customise Sustainability in
A bespoke society may not be all that
bad toward engaging a sustainability
generation to accelerate more balanced
choices, behaviours, and actions. But with-
out self control, personal reflection and
accountability, a bespoke society could
yield an inefficient consumption of
resources and unsustainable outcomes. If
sustainability is customised to an individ-
ual, it is made personal and actionable. But,
if in that approach individuals become so
bespoke that efficiencies and scale cannot
be achieved, we might not realise the true
potential and benefits we seek individually
(or as a generation).
The advent of citizens taking action to
customise their sustainability is the next
major advancement toward becoming a
more sustainable culture. Sustainability
has made strides through the collective
regulations and policies of government
and products and services of business.
Yet much remains to be accomplished.
Sustainability is not a new zoning ordinance
prohibiting oil and gas drilling, or a more
fuel efficient vehicle. These are policy
and technical outputs and outcomes
of a sustainability generation in action.
Rather, sustainability is much like the word
When we embrace sustainability
on a personal level, and shape it
to our own lifestyles, it becomes
achievable, says sustainability
advocate Mark C. Coleman.
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