A Framework for the Future: SustainAbility

An optimistic approach to our future

Todd Medema
2 min readApr 23, 2022

Climate Crisis Anxiety is real

The news is constantly flooded with stories of disaster. Feeling like everything’s on fire erodes our ability to focus on how we can help.

Although there are a lot of challenges ahead, we can still adapt and build a future worth getting excited about. That’s why I’m sharing this framework — to help us collectively refocus from fear to creativity.

Introducing the SustainAbility framework

Often, talking about “sustainability” falls prey to nihilism — after all, the way to use the fewest resources is to not exist.

But, this is inherently unsatisfying. Only prioritizing reducing ignores the beauty of life and creating.

But sustainability is actually made up of two words: Sustain and Ability.

Sustain is about conservation — how can we do the same with less?

Ability is about capabilities — how can we do more with the same?

Combined, they give us a framework for a future that’s at harmony with the environment and still allows us to grow and evolve as a species.

Applied examples

How can we apply the SustainAbility framework to our lives and work? Here are some practical examples:

Sustain: LED lighting, electric appliances and electric vehicles

All of these let you live the same lifestyle (illuminated, warm, convenient transportation), but have a dramatically lower environmental footprints. LED lights consume 7x less electricity than incandescents, and electric vehicles have less than half the lifetime carbon footprint of gas cars (when powered from clean energy).

Ability: Electric bikes, smart wool and heat pumps

All of these take an existing item and resource — bikes, clothing and AC units — and give it superpowers. Electric bikes can go faster and father. Smart wool clothes are more comfortable and capable. Heat pumps are AC units that can also heat your home.

If you’re feeling especially maker-y and ambitious, there are plenty of additional opportunities out there, from sustaining plastics recycling to ability-expanding space resource extraction.

Let me know in the comments how you're applying SustainAbility to your life!

This post is based on my Hackaday talk, Let’s talk about SustainAbility



Todd Medema

Technology, Entrepreneurship and Design to make the planet a better place. Pittsburgh, PA. http://toddmedema.com