Our FAQ says:

Sustainable Living - Stack Exchange is for folks dedicated to a lifestyle that can be maintained indefinitely without depleting available resources.

Plastic and gasoline are currently derived from finite plastics. So any answer that suggests driving to pick up supplies would fail that test. Similarly, if you decide to modify plumbing to use greywater to flush your toilet, you're going to use some plastic pipe.

100% sustainable purity is pretty much inaccessible; that's just not the world we live in.

On the other hand, a lot of sustainability discussion is too mild, and largely amount to greenwashing.

What is the right balance for this site?

  • The discussion behind your previous question — how we live within these disagreements — discusses how strict we should be or not. Certainly my answer is the same (cut-and-paste), as are the other discussions. So while not an exact duplicate, I feel this discussion is better not split between two threads. Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 18:53

4 Answers 4


Plastics can be made from sustainable resources too.

And plastics can be recycled.

Saying that anything to do with plastics is off-topic would be insane.

Similarly, driving can be sustainable too.

What's needed is critical thinking. We can't draw clean lines, but we can and should think clearly.


The FAQ is a bit absolute, when it mentions infinity. Everything is finite, the laws of thermodynamics are strict about it. We are about to define the real FAQ of that page.

Who would this site be for? I think, this site is for people who are interested in alternatives to highly-consuming lifestyle and they want to make their life more sustainable and less resource-consuming.

So every question for cues how to make at least some aspect of life more sustainable should be on topic. It's just like the Fitness.SE is not only for professional athletes, but is open for beginners, which are not planning to be the professionals, but just move a bit.

Just don't be too absolute. Be tolerant and welcome everyone, who want to do something for nature and environment.

  • 1
    This is my approach - I am working on many aspects of my lifestyle to improve each of them, at least incrementally. Some of this is low value, but some incremental changes are high value. So while I still need to drive a car, I spend more time using hypermiling techniques; and while I have to fly for some things, I have cut down from over 100 flights a year to 4 or 5. I do not have a sustainable lifestyle, but am improving a lot, and I plan to keep improving - through ideas from this site and others.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 16:45

Perhaps a better approach (which may or may not fit within the parameters of the FAQ) would be that we are interested in both what a sustainable lifestyle would look like, but also about the path between where we are today and that lifestyle. That path may not be sustainable by itself, but if it is intended as a transition in which impacts decrease fast enough to avoid crises (of resources, politics, etc.), it is sustainable as part of the system. See, as an example, the Natural Step definition of sustainability.


I like approaches described by @AlexanderTD & @lechlukasz particularly. I think focusing on more substantive, quantitative issues will be most fitting for a site titled "Sustainable Living." I like good agricultural tips and housekeeping tips as much or more than the next person, but let's fall back on the definition of sustainability here. How much will my net impact to the ecosystem be if I use cleaning product X or Y? Negligible. What about if I drive my car 50 miles a day vs 5? Significant. Vegetarian vs. meat? Probably a big impact, but I'd be quite interested in seeing some numbers. I think if the site doesn't focus on the comparitive significance of factors, it'll get lost in the noise of trivial issues. As such I respectfully disagree that the discussion of plastics is necessarily pertinent - my consumption of plastics accounts for a pretty small percentage of my overall environmental impact.

On the positive side - I would think it easier to build a base of concerned citizens on here than on most SE sites. Sustainable (I almost cringe at the word~ I kind of prefer "efficiency" since it lends itself to quantitative analysis) personnel are pretty easy to locate job-wise in academia, government, non-profits, the corporate world. I think there's a real opportunity to provide a mostly-scientific exchange of ideas amongst personnel in influential positions.

I think the site should seek out "meaty" questions focusing on core issues: energy production, transportation, building efficiency, food (to some extent), and start to politely redirect gardening & housekeeping questions and tips elsewhere.

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