In terms of the sustainability discourse, the triangle with the economic, ecological and social dimension is most commonly being consulted. It says that society needs to enable its capacities in these three areas in order to sustain a healthy living and to create an environment with the best conditions for future generations. The global discourse about this concept including sustainable development approaches have been popularized especially in Western countries and policies (see e.g. E. Swyngedouw). The sustainability concept has become a scheme that, after general discourses, is said to be applied on every local problem, but at the same time being detached from local characteristics and individual chances of development.
During the six weeks I spent in China, together with my exchange partner and with other participants of the exchange program from Europe and China, I deconstructed the objective of a sustainable living and a sustainable community as a whole. We approached the term sustainability from a more immaterial point of view. We were discussing questions about how people traditionally sustain a dynamic life as a community and about their traditional values. Obviously, and as a basic condition, a sustainable community requires the presence of people living and cultivating, producing and consuming. The functioning of the ensemble of people living together creates the community. And for that, it is necessary that people have the will to be there, to be a part of the community and that they have a certain sense of belongingness. They need to be happy there in order to have the will to stay there, and therefore to “sustain” the community. And this further requires good material and immaterial conditions improving the people’s quality of living. A qualitative immaterial condition is to be attained by the presence of traditional values such as sharing and taking care of each other. This allows values like equal distribution of goods, a conscious consumption and an active taking part in the planning and development of the place the community lives in. The latter in turn contributes to the people’s sense of belongingness.
So, what I’m saying is that a true sustainable approach is to be attained by concentrating more on immaterial matters to improve the quality of living at a place, instead of applying a consolidated scheme of three dimensions. At first, one should look at people’s own demands, desires and capacities considering the locals themselves as the major decision-makers. They are the ones who should choose the direction of improvements and who know best about their own capacities, because they are the ones who have proven to be able to sustain the villages as self-autonomous communities for centuries. There cannot be a universal scheme proclaiming the solution for sustainability, but a concentration on individual capacities is necessary when approaching sustainability.