We have a problem. There are very few questions on here that are uniquely about sustainability. We've been having this out primarily over Gardening questions because there are a large cadre of users from the Gardening.SE here. However, if we're going to apply the metric for belonging here that they are applying to Gardening questions to all questions, then we have very few questions that actually belong here. Let me show you what I'm talking about.

If we apply the same metric to these questions that we've been applying to the Gardening ones then these questions are not uniquely Sutainability. They belong on Home Improvement.SE or Personal Finance and Money SE. IE the only thing that makes these Sustainability is the motivation behind them (same as with gardening questions). If the motivation is to save money or improve one's abode, they don't belong here:

These questions have been left open, but could easily fit on gardening. Compost is on topic at gardening, so are mushrooms. What makes these sustainability? Their use of the buzzword?

I could keep going, but you probably get the picture. What makes these questions belong here? They would all be perfectly welcome in other existing communities of SE experts. They are, none of them, uniquely about Sustainability. So what makes them about Sustainability at all?

2 Answers 2


The only thing that makes them about Sustainability is the motivation behind them. They are being asked because the asker wants to live a more sustainable livestyle. The motivation behind the home improvement ones is to save energy to be more sustainable. The motivation behind the Gardening ones is to grow food or compost waste to be more sustainable. Some of these questions make the motivation explicit, some leave it implicit.

In the case of most of the questions closed as being off topic and belonging on Gardening, they left the motivation implicit. I believe we should allow these questions and assume the motivation. If they're asking here, it's pretty obvious what the motivation is, we don't need them to mention the buzzword in the question in order for it to be a question about sustainability.

If this site is really going to succeed then it's going to need to have a broad definition. Sustainable Living spans multiple disciplines and touches most aspects of life. If we're to do it justice on this site, truly attract experts in all aspects of Sustainability and create a community and a knowledge base for those attempting to change their lifestyles, then we'll do that best by covering all aspects of Sustainable Living and allowing the motivation to remain implicit in the questions. The questions are being asked here, that means the asker is trying to be sustainable.

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    I think you are wrong about the need to be broad. I think that we have very little competition and that if we can provide high quality questions and answers focused on sustainable living then we can thrive as the go to place for information. If we open it up too much then we become just another site for people to check when trying to figure something out.
    – user141
    Feb 12, 2013 at 19:06

I would respectfully disagree about the need for a broad definition, on the grounds that I think this site should aim for areas with the largest impact. I vote for a narrower definition.

•How much of my flat heating is going to heat my neighbours flats? •Is secondary triple glazing a practical way to reduce energy costs? •How can I get my landlord to install better insulation? •Is it economically sensible to install a heat exchanger on my wastewater pipes? •Is there a difference in insulation to keep heat in or out? •Reusing old building materials

These questions add up to hundreds or thousands of kg of CO2 and/or dollars/euro. These are sustainability questions.

•Sustainably grown white button mushrooms at home; what sort of material to use? •Will supermarket-bought shiitake mushrooms be suitable to provide spores for growing some myself? •How to incorporate browns in apartment food scrap compost? •How can I use my balcony compost during winter? •More sustainably growing Asparagus? •How can I detect leachate from a compost pile? •How can I cultivate mycelium for food and fertilizer in my apartment?

These, while good questions, will not make a significant difference in the net ecological impact of anyone. Avoid a "gut instinct" of environmentally friendly = good = sustainable. Do some basic calculations: if I were to compost effectively and eat home-grown asparagus every day I would only offset 1% of my carbon emissions. 1 measley percent, all the while consuming resources at eleven times a sustainable rate.

Thus, almost 99% of direct impact is transportation and housing. Additionally - this might be 30% - 70% of a household's money!

I vote the site play for percentages by engaging the big issues. So much of the resources we consume in our daily activity is devoid of context, as the building questions document. How can one tell if the building is badly insulated? The renter could be paying double what his/her bill should be and wouldn't know the difference.

This site has an opportunity to find and deliver some information about big issues: energy usage per person. It takes a looooong time to grow fossil fuel but just a few weeks to grow spinach.

  • I don't agree. To identify the big issues is not as trivial (and a science in itself) .. home grown food may have a significant impact and the insulation of a house may have none, depending on hundreds of factors.
    – Stockfisch
    Apr 9, 2013 at 13:56
  • @boo2060 I have added a citation to support the idea that food typically has a very small direct impact and insulation of one's residence has a substantial direct impact. I would be quite interested to see any research that indicates otherwise.
    – Jack Ryan
    Apr 9, 2013 at 14:26
  • @Jack Ryan If you consider sustainability to be simply combating green house gasses in order to prevent climate change, then this is a strong argument. However, if your definition of sustainability covers changing human culture such that our level of resource use can be sustained with out impacting the environment, then this argument fails. The industrial food system generates an enormous amount of environmental pollution and forces millions of acres of land into a very unsustainable monocrop agriculture. While any one person growing their own food does not have... Apr 9, 2013 at 16:14
  • ...a substantial impact on broad scale land use, having a large percentage of the populace begin to supply their own food would. Furthermore, educating people in what sustainable agriculture looks like will enable them to make informed choices about their food and will have a substantial impact on agriculture in general. This is integral to sustainability. Apr 9, 2013 at 16:15
  • @DanielBingham I absolutely agree. However I think it is important to note that "How can we [have a large percentage of the populace begin to supply their own food]?" and "How can we [educate people in what sustainable agriculture]?" are aubstantially different questions than any of the agricultual questions asked above.
    – Jack Ryan
    Apr 9, 2013 at 16:23
  • @JackRyan Not really actually. Small moves, small moves. Those questions asked above -- or rather the answers to them and the motivation behind them -- are exactly how we answer the two questions you posed. We tell people how to grow mushrooms in their kitchens, lettuce in their window boxes and asparagus with out any chemicals. Apr 11, 2013 at 13:49

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