Setting out on 'The Sustainability Journey'

Evan Kopelson took the plunge two weeks ago to be sustainable. That leap meant he said "So long!" to his Beverly Hills lifestyle to live in a yoga pod in a communal environment. "The Sustainability Journey" is a window into Evan's world. Here's his first journal entry.
Written by Evan Kopelson, Contributor

Evan Kopelsontook the plunge two weeks ago to be sustainable. That leap meant he said "So long!" to his Beverly Hills lifestyle to live in a yoga pod in a communal environment. "The Sustainability Journey" is a window into Evan's world. Here's his first journal entry.

Sustainability is a journey.

It's a journey that starts with a simple awareness of how our everyday choices impact the planet's ecosystem.  From there, each decision we make reflects a choice on how to interpret that awareness and make it relevant to our day-to-day lives.  We also make choices either to use or ignore that awareness.

There’s no one right way to be sustainable. Sustainability is often used in the same way the word green is used today, referring to the most environmentally-friendly alternative, but that’s not always the case. Someone who drives an old car because they already paid for it, for example, can be said to be making the sustainable choice if they can’t afford to purchase or lease a more eco-friendly model. For that person, maybe their car isn’t the most green car on the market, but it’s the most sustainable car for them.

Sustainability is different from the old environmentalism because sustainability looks at more than just the environment.  Sustainability also considers the impact on society and the financial bottom line. The sustainable choice has to be right for the individual or business, based on factors which differ case by case.

The sustainable or “triple bottom line” solution allows for profit and even luxury, where these can be maintained by projects that will uplift society and protect or restore the Earth’s natural resources, while raking in those millions of dollars. Businesses who achieve the triple bottom line “sweet spot” often become household names (like Burt’s Bees, Seventh Generation, and Walmart) inspiring brand loyalty and setting benchmarks for the rest of us.

The triple bottom line mantra is “people, planet, profit” and to be sustainable, our choices should create positive value in all 3 areas.  At least, we should not cause harm or use more resources than reasonable or necessary… and what is reasonable or necessary varies from person to person and business to business.  In my own life, the concept of what is reasonable or necessary for me to live happily has varied from year to year. And this year, it caused me to make an extraordinary lifestyle change.

I just crossed a threshold in my journey to sustainability.  About 2 weeks ago, I took a leap of faith -- or was it madness? I sometimes wonder -- and gave up everything “luxury” I’ve ever owned, from my grand piano and all my recording gear, to my big furniture – couches, beds, desks, tables, lamps, kitchen appliances, everything – and left my home of 12 years, a massive 3 bedroom apartment on the beach featuring expansive spaces, enormous windows with lots of natural light all day, a roof deck where you can see from the ocean to the Hollywood sign and beyond, with 360-degree fireworks every July 4th, and an elevator opening from my private 3-car garage right into my unit.  I gave all that up 2 weeks ago and moved into a “pod” the size of my former walk-in closet, made from reclaimed materials and located in the backyard of a communal living experiment called Yoga House with seven other people.

Why did I do that?  Was that really necessary?  Good questions.  Let’s discuss.

First a little bit more about where I came from, because some background will help explain what sustainability means to me, and why I did what I did.

Living sustainably is not a new idea.  Sustainable living is rooted in age old, even tribal ways of living.  I first encountered the words “sustainable living” during a trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 1991 with the Loyola Law School Central American Studies Program. We studied deforestation, public policy and sustainable development, learning about healthy forests and deforestation in Costa Rica, studying public policy in the classroom, and experiencing sustainable living up close and personal in small communities in Nicaragua.  The villagers were planting crops, making products, trading with the villagers next door, and enjoying the fruits of peace and prosperity.  Here in America however, living sustainably is such a new concept even today, the word “sustainably” actually set off my spell checker as a word which may not exist.

My first inkling that I wanted to live more sustainably came at a young age in the early 1970’s courtesy of Iron Eyes Cody and the “crying Indian” commercial.  The commercial showed an Indian (not a real Native American, but an actor dressed as an Indian chief) in a canoe, rowing through a sea of trash pollution, then coming on shore and standing by the roadside. As the Indian steps through piles of trash to get to the side of the road, the announcer says, "Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country… and some people don't."  A car drives by and we see someone throw a bag of fast food trash out the window… trash which rolls right up to the Indian and litters the ground all around his feet.  The camera pans the Indian chief from the trash at his feet up to his face, and as he turns to look into the camera, we see a single tear rolling down his cheek.

That crying Indian changed my life.  But not right away -- in fact, not until two weeks ago, and about 40 years later, with many twists and turns along the way.

Because sustainability is ultimately a journey.  And my journey just took an exciting turn.

On Tuesday's The Sustainability Journey, Evan explains his decision to leave luxury behind.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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