Promoting Sustainable Living: Sustainability as an Object of Desire

Edward Perchard reviews Justyna Karakiewicz's book Promoting Sustainable Living: Sustainability as an Object of Desire

Promoting Sustainable Living: Sustainability as an Object of Desire

Author: Justyna Karakiewicz 

Publisher: Routledge

Price: £85

The concept of sustainability has come to mean the warding off of modern evils: over-consumption, resource exhaustion, and the careless pollution of our natural environment. If we could just cut down on this, perhaps we could avoid that.

That is the attitude that Karakiewicz, a Professor of Urban Design at the University of Melbourne, seeks to address. Lasting changes, she argues, are not made when the motivation is negative and the focus is on prevention. Instead, we must cultivate a positive ‘promotion focus’, the desire for a better quality of sustainable life.

This article was taken from Issue 81

Throughout her book, Karakiewicz explores previous sea changes brought about by the desire and marketing of a better life. With the industrial revolution clogging our cities with pollution and factories, for example, a sequence of events was set in motion that culminated in Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities. People yearned for suburbia, and escaped into new, healthy, green communities.

But has that 19th-century dream developed into inertia? Our escape from the city has become isolation, and the outdated dream has made us reliant on cars and technology and subject to an economic system that encourages us to buy things we don’t need.

The issue of sustainability is rarely directly addressed, Karakiewicz instead choosing to regard the drivers of change on a theoretical level, while colleagues from the university provide chapters on advertising (from a professor of management and marketing) and motivation (culture and communication).

Readers should not expect a work detailing green virtues, but will find an in-depth study of how town planners have sought to promote the desire for change and how companies have sought to play on these ideals for gain.

The highlight comes when Karakiewicz surveys her students on the desires of ‘millennials’. We find that suburbia is no longer the ultimate goal, and that a less self-contained life in urban environments is the ambition of many young people.

Could it be that we’re nearing a time when changes are sought for good, rather than avoiding bad? As architect Peter Buchanan is quoted as saying: “We’re not going to stop people trashing the world unless they are excited about the alternative.”