Masdar-HQ-2In this post Andrea argues the case for acting now in order to ensure that the sustainability community avoid becoming an enclave of exclusivity detached from the world’s main and mean streets. Sustainability needs to become a broad based movement with broad appeal and that delivers broad benefits.

By Andrea Learned, Author of Don’t Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy — and How to Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market. Follow Andrea on Twitter @AndreaLearned. Connect with Andrea on Linkedin. Read Andrea‘s blog, Learned On.

The sustainability movement seems to be at a critical stage of citizen engagement. And, I’m wondering if we are destined to blow the chances of making it an accessible concept for all. Yesterday’s New York Times article about Abu Dhabi’s “sustainable” Masdar residential development got me thinking about this, and made a broader social justice point worth exploring:

What Masdar really represents, in fact, is the crystallization of another global phenomenon: the growing division of the world into refined, high-end enclaves and vast formless ghettos where issues like sustainability have little immediate relevance.

Can we afford to let sustainability become yet another exclusive realm? No. Rather, if we want to make lasting, productive change, we have to realize and serve a much broader citizenry than solely the privileged (which goes hand in hand with whiteness in the U.S.) for whom the world may soon not revolve. Demographics are shifting, and ALL of those who will be served by or benefit from more sustainable living and consuming choices must be invited into the conversation. The Masdar case study is fascinating on that front. There are so many exciting aspects to the community, structures, energy efficiencies and transportation solutions, but, the fact that it is a walled off environment seems wholly counter to the idea that, by definition, “sustainable” systems and communities must be interconnected. As the piece’s author, Nicolai Ouroussoff, noted, it seems to reflect:

… the transformation of city centers in places like Paris and New York into playgrounds for tourists and the rich. Masdar is the culmination of this trend: a self-sufficient society, lifted on a pedestal and outside the reach of most of the world’s citizens.

Rather than putting sustainable living in reach for only a small percentage of people, shouldn’t we be building communities that everyone can join, whether by affordable/inviting prices or an easier flow between the sustainable examples and the traditional ones? To me, it’s about bridging the old ways of doing things with the idea of a more green and responsible life practice. In terms of sustainable marketing, we already see greener cars and household cleaning products drawing a broader base of consumers into sustainability. Yet, there’s room for a lot more bridging, to move our place on the sustainability continuum from the point of “exclusive, playground of privilege” to a full citizen movement, where we each feed off the next person’s enthusiasm and engagement with it.

One more thing the New York Times piece made me think: if those of us who write and report on sustainable change don’t start celebrating the great inclusive sustainability stories, we help drive that privilege wedge deeper. The challenge with putting sustainability into practice, at every cultural and business level, and in every industry, is focusing on what we can do in our specific fields of interest, while at the same time continually pushing the issues of interconnections with social justice.

I’d argue that recently published research on environmental justice and climate change, specifically, by Angela Park of the Environmental Support Center (highly recommend reading!), maps out the issues behind making sustainability, overall, into “Everybody’s Movement.” To quote:

Like other pockets of environmental and conservation movements, climate change still suffers from the perception, and arguably the reality, that it is a movement led by and designed for the interests of the white, upper-middle class.


A mono-cultural climate change movement is counter-intuitive to long-term growth and effectiveness.

Parker’s work combined with the Abu Dhabi-specific, but likely globally reflective, Masdar example seem to be telling us that sustainability will be nowhere near sustainable if we keep it walled off and raised up.

© 2011, alearned. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: alearned (1 Articles)

Andrea Learned is an author (Don't Think Pink), blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior, with a focus on sustainability influence and communication. In addition to her blog Learned On, Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides commentary for Vermont Public Radio. Follow Andrea on Twitter @AndreaLearned. Connect with Andrea on Linkedin.