Green documentary maker asks "What does sustainability mean?".. after failing to live it

“Young, creative, passionate college student wants to save the world…” Having been in this line of work for years now, I’ve received multiple emails that could’ve used some variation on those words for a subject line. So, when Caroline Savery first got in touch with me in 2008 about her Sust Enable project, a documentary series that would feature her efforts to live in a 100% sustainable manner, the usual two conflicting thoughts arose: “How inspiring!” and “Good luck with that…”

While the cynic on one shoulder got plenty of ammunition for his perspective — Caroline experienced many setbacks and challenges with her three-month living experience, which she wrote about on sustainablog — the optimist on the other shoulder has ultimately won out. Rather than giving up on her NO IMPACT MAN-like experiment with sustainable living, Caroline’s reflected on both her successes and failures, and realized the story she wanted to tell wasn’t about trying to live sustainably… but rather, what does that concept mean in the first place. In a letter to viewers on her website, she noted that the project was probably doomed from the start because she’d gone into it with flawed assumptions:

…the project [reinforced] certain cultural mythologies about the nature of sustainability–mythologies that I have grown to see as inherently harmful. For instance, the design behind the Sust–Enable series:

  • suggests that global sustainability is a problem that merely needs to be “fixed”
  • that individual gumption will “save the day”
  • that there are universally “good,” “better,” and “best” ways to achieve “100% sustainability”

These flawed assumptions necessarily led to the failure of the project to reach its stated mission. I was not able to live in the 100% sustainable way that I had expected I could.

She now calls the project Sust Enable: The Metamentary, and plans to combine her original living experiments, her experiences since then in everything from bike repair to consensus-based organization, and ideas from “science, academia, environmental activism, and community organizing,” into a work that explores the concept of sustainability, and the ways in which we thing about it.

You can help “kickstart” this sustainability documentary

Like many people with a bold idea, Caroline needs funding… and has set up a project on to solicit support. She’s hoping raise $15,000 by October 23rd… and it’s an all-or-nothing proposition: if she doesn’t receive pledges for the entire amount, she gets nothing. Take a look at the extensive write-up of her project, and consider giving this young, creative, passionate filmmaker a hand…

Know of other bright young artists with big ideas for changing the world? We’re always interested…


Image credit: Caroline Savery and the Sust Enable Project