Imagine if a desirable and achievable sustainable future was a real destination that you could visit today. Well a team led by Erik Rasmussen has begun the task of creating just such a place. They have called it Sustainia. So what is Sustainia?
Sustainia is a place – a world – where we have decided to live life to the fullest. Where quality of life is what matters. It’s a desirable place. A place you would want to go, if you knew about it. Once there, you would want to stay, make a life for yourself and your family.
In Sustainia, we will drive cooler vehicles, live in smarter houses, and eat healthier food. Our cities will be built for people, not cars. Our families will enjoy cleaner air and water.
The team behind Sustainia provide an eloquent summary of why such a place is needed:
It is quite simple, really. A future that is appealing, engaging, and attractive, something you want to be part of, has the power to promote change. Doomsday scenarios and pictures of melting icebergs can catch people’s attention for a moment but will never create the excitement and engagement necessary. These images create distance and a barrier to action. It is too complex for most people to get their head around the scientific data behind climate change and the actions they could take to create positive change.
We believe change is motivated by letting people in on what exciting possibilities a sustainable future holds. Let them get a sense of how their everyday life could be improved by changing their routines and products to more sustainable ones. Sustainability is not about no hot showers, no light, no heat in winter, and no fun. Sustainability is about improving your quality of life. People seem unaware of this. Unaware of what sustainability means for how they could live, how their cities and transportation could be better. They are confused. And we don’t blame them.
What would have happened if Martin Luther King Jr. had said: I have a nightmare? Probably not much. But that is what we have been doing. We have travelled the world with our PowerPoint slides about fires, deserts, melting icebergs, and catastrophic floods. We have tried selling our sustainable solutions by speaking to people’s fears or moral obligations. But this has not created the change we need. People are not inspired, motivated, or engaged. Just the opposite.
We couldn’t find any clear explanations of a sustainable future that gave people a clear idea of what a transformation to a sustainable society would mean to them.
So we decided to create Sustainia.
While visionary in its outlook, Sustainia is also intended to be tangible and grounded in practical, available technologies:
Sustainia is a concept for communicating a sustainable future based on concrete and tangible know-how and technologies – a global collaborative platform for building a model and vision for a sustainable future. The model of Sustainia represents best practice, knowledge and technologies that already exist. It is inspired and designed by world leading companies, institutions and experts. It is a clear demonstration of the society we could create if sectors, companies, scientists, politicians and civil society worked together towards a common goal.
Sustainia’s mission is to:
- Become a global positive point of reference for discussing a sustainable society – a global BRAND for a desirable sustainable future
- Make sustainable solutions and products fashionable, desirable and inspiring
- Help provide a new positive and inspiring momentum around global leadership on sustainability
- Kick start a global community focused on creating awareness on sustainable solutions and how a sustainable society will improve our quality of life
- Inspire political decision makers by providing them with a new narrative and concrete vision.
A worthy mission indeed!
Expressing the vision
Importantly, the vision for Sustainia is not just a written one. It is being constructed in a virtual world and through tangible city guides. The video below gives the first hints at what the virtual world of Sustainia will look like. Later, people will be able to join a virtual community to help construct Sustainia.
The Sustainia City Principles
One of the things Sustainia has done is develop a set of Sustainia City Principles that nicely capture what we should be thinking about when planning sustainable cities:
- All citizens should live within a 5-10 minute walk to green areas
- Citizens should have access to fresh food and clean water
- The city should work to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings.
- New buildings must meet energy efficiency standards– such as LEED certification
- Attractive spaces between buildings invite citizens to interact
- Walking anywhere in the city should be easy and safe
- Easy and efficient public transportation
- Clean rivers, harbours and beaches.
- Educational opportunities to ensure a young a vibrant atmosphere
- Public electric car hires and plenty of charging stations will reduce air and noise pollution
- Well designed bike lane infrastructure
- Engage citizens in making cities sustainable – ownership and empowerment through education
- City leaders should recognize sustainability as a driver for innovation, creativity and prosperity
- Sustainable cities improve the quality of life for its citizens.
Copenhagen City Guide 2025
The most recent Sustainia initiative is the Copenhagen City Guide 2025. The first of many planned city guides and sector guides, this publication is in the style of a travel guide but its topic is the future city of Copenhagen, once it has become carbon neutral. It’s not just a utopian vision of Copenhagen’s future – it’s grounded in actual development plans for the city but with their maximum potential to deliver sustainability realised.
Having been to Copenhagen a couple of times, I found it fascinating to see the familiar cityscapes transformed but still recognisable in the beautiful images throughout the guide. This is a city where people live, love and partake fully in the messy chaos of being alive but do so without stealing from the future. The video below gives a taste.
If you can’t tell by now, I love this initiative. I think it’s the kind of thing that is sorely needed to reinvigorate debates about sustainability around the world. Sustainability is not about denial and cost but about a new prosperity that is in tune with natural constraints.
Thinking closer to home, the City of Sydney has already done a mountain of great work on its Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan. Now all we need is the Sydney 2030 City Guide!