Commentary Bites
A Sustainable Future Through Purposeful Making

Veerappan Swaminathan, Co-Founder of Sustainable Living Lab explains how to tackle the earth's sustainability challenge.

A Sustainable Future through Purposeful Making


Ensuring the sustainability of our society and species is perhaps the biggest challenge of our times. The science about the adverse impact of mankind’s activities on the environment has been clear since the seventies. Yet no significant action, beyond numerous ineffective global meetings, has been taken to mitigate, much less reverse the decline.


Today, we can see clear evidence of the environmental effects — fast receding polar ice caps, declining fish stocks and erratic weather patterns which are leading to socio-economic issues such as lack of access to clean water, worsening land and air pollution, and increasing rural-urban income inequality.


Having been born into the generation that will likely bear the brunt of these effects, the options before me as I thought about it while I was at university, was either to be a driver of change or be a passenger of fate.


Three Pillars of Sustainability

It was in response to these global challenges that a group of my course mates at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and I founded the Sustainable Living Lab (SL2) with the vision of building a sustainable future through practical action.


We started out as a student club at NUS in 2009 and then transitioned into a social enterprise in 2011. Sustainability is often viewed within the scope of the environment, but we took a broader view as we felt that a sustainable future can only be achieved if we considered the interconnectedness of the environment, society and the economy - commonly referred to as the ‘Three Pillars Model of Sustainability’ by experts and practitioners in this field.


In this model, the environment represents a finite boundary within which human society and the economy exist. The economy is viewed as a subset of society with the reasoning that it is derived from society or created by it to efficiently exchange value within most, although not with all elements of society. Those that create social value without going through the market are, for example, stay-at-home mums and other caregivers.


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