(This is a 4 page Summary; For detail see The Alternative, Sustainable Society.)


Industrial-affluent-consumer society is grossly unjust and unsustainable. Resource use and environmental impact must be greatly reduced. We cannot solve problems such as the environment, the deprivation of the Third World or resource depletion without scrapping consumer society and the present economy. (See The Limits to Growth Analysis.) In other words, a satisfactory world order cannot be achieved without radical change in lifestyles, systems and values.

There are five key characteristics that a sustainable society must have:

1. More Simple and Less Affluent Lifestyles.

It must be a far less affluent way of life. We must aim at producing and

consuming only as much as we need for comfortable and convenient living standards. We must live very cheaply, recycle, design things to last and to be repaired. We must phase out many unnecessary products, such as sports cars. In general our houses, wardrobes, appliances, furniture etc. must be far less expensive and elaborate.

But there is no need to cut back on production of anything we need for a

very comfortable and convenient high quality of life.  It is a matter of

being satisfied with what is sufficient, e.g., a sufficiently comfortable


2. Self-sufficiency. Decentralisation. "Small is Beautiful".

We must develop as much self-sufficiency as we reasonably can at the national level (meaning much less trade), at the household level, and especially at the neighbourhood and town level. We need to convert our presently barren suburbs into thriving local economies which produce most of the goods and services they need from local resources of land, labour, skill and capital.

Backyards would (again) contain vegetable gardens, fruit trees, workshops and poultry. There would be many small enterprises in your neighbourhood such as the local bakery.

Some of these could be decentralised branches of existing firms, enabling most of us to get to work by bicycle. Many could be backyard businesses. Market gardens could be located throughout suburbs and even cities, e.g. on derelict factory sites and beside railway lines. A high proportion of our honey, eggs, crockery, vegetables, furniture, fruit, fish and poultry could come from very small local family businesses and cooperatives. We would however retain some mass production factories. Many items such as furniture and crockery could be mostly produced via crafts, using localtimber and clay. It is much more satisfying to produce things in craft ways rather than in factories. We could build most of our new housing ourselves, using earth.

We should convert one house on each block to become a neighbourhood

workshop, recycling store, meeting place, leisure centre, barter exchange

and library. We could dig up many roads because we will not need the car very much when we reduce production and decentralise what's left, thereby possibly converting one quarter to one third of urban land area to agriculture and other community uses. The community orchards, bamboo clumps, herb patches and forests, and ponds for ducks and fish would be commons providing many free goods for all to use.

3. More Communal. Cooperative and Participatory Ways.

We must move to much more communal, cooperative and participatory ways. We must share more things. For example we could have one stepladder in the neighbourhood workshop, rather than one in many houses. We could give away surpluses. We would have regular voluntary community working bees. The working bees and committees would also maintain the many local commons we all benefit from.

Each town would have its own bank or credit union, so that all its own savings were available for investment in enriching the town.  It would also have a "business incubator" which would help small local firms to get going.

The alternative neighbourhood would be full of interesting things to do,familiar people, common projects, animals, gardens, forests, windmills,lakes, little firms and community workshops. It would be leisure-rich. Consequently, people would be less inclined to go away at weekends and holidays, thereby reducing national energy consumption.

There would be far more community than there is now. People would know each other and be interacting on community projects. One would certainly predict a huge decrease in the incidence of drug abuse, stress, loneliness, depression and similar social problems.

Most of our local policies and programs could be worked out by elected non-paid committees and we could all vote at town meetings on the important decisions concerning our small area. There would still be functions for state and national governments, but relatively few. Thus we would take control over our local development. We would have changed to participatory democracy.

4. Alternative Technologies.

Our new neighbourhoods would make intensive use of alternative technologies, such as windmills, Permaculture and building houses from earth. Although The Simpler Way looks for the simplest ways of doing things, it is not opposed to modern technology. Photovoltaic cells for instance are desirable although they are technically complex. However The Simpler Way recognises that sophisticated modern technology is mostly unimportant and that technical advance is of little significance in solving the world's problems or in providing a high quality of life.  We could still have high quality and technically sophisticated procedures and research in those fields where it is important, such as medicine, when we reallocate presently wasted resources.

5. A New Economy

There is no chance whatsoever of making these changes while we retain the present economic system. The big problems are primarily due to this economic system, firstly because it allows market forces and profit to determine development, so the right things are not developed. Secondly it must have growth, so it inescapably generates increasing resource and environmental problems.

Market forces, free enterprise and the profit motive might have a place in an acceptable alternative economy, but they could not be allowed to continue as major determinants of economic affairs. The basic economic priorities must be worked out according to what is socially desirable (democratically decided, mostly at the local level, not dictated by huge and distant state bureaucracies). However, much of the economy could remain as a (carefully regulated and monitored) form of "free enterprise" carried on by small firms, households and cooperatives, so long as their goals were not profit maximisation and growth.

The new economy could have a relatively small cash sector in which (regulated) market forces might operate. Some important things would be planned and run by collective or public agencies or firms, not necessarily by the state but mostly by local community development cooperatives. Possibly the largest sector of the new economy would be run by cooperatives. One large sector would involve barter and gifts (i.e., just giving away surpluses) working bees and free goods (e.g`, from the roadside fruit and nut trees).

Most of us would live well without much need for cash income, because we would not need to buy very much. Consequently many of us might work only one day a week for money and spend the rest of the week work-playing around our neighbourhoods in a wide variety of interesting and useful activities. There would be no unemployment and no poverty.  These could easily be eliminated as communities set up the coops and small firms to make sure everyone who wants a job can contribute to meeting local needs.

Thus the most important level in the new economy will be the small local town, region or suburb. There could still be an important role for the state, especially in regulating, setting standards, coordinating, informing, and running any ventures that are not best left to cooperatives and small firms. There will be relatively few big firms, little international trade, not much transporting of goods between regions and very little need for transnational corporations and banks.

Many of our present arrangements could remain with little or no change at all. We could go on living in private houses with our different amounts of private wealth. We could move to a different place to live whenever we wanted to. (However your monetary wealth would not be an important determinant of your quality of life; what would matter would be the public wealth you have access to, the landscapes, facilities, concerts, company…)

6. The New Values.

Obviously The Simpler Way will not be taken unless there is fundamental change from the present dominant values and habits. There must be a much more collective and less individualistic outlook, a more cooperative and less competitive attitude, a more participatory and socially responsible orientation, and a willingness to be content with much less affluent lifestyles.

The value chance is likely to be the biggest difficulty in the transition to a sustainable society. However the simpler way offers many satisfactions and rewards and if people can be helped to see these they will be more likely to change to it. Consider for example, having far more time, living in a rich and supportive community, having interesting and worthwhile work to do, having much time for learning and practising many arts and crafts, having local festivals and celebrations, being secure from unemployment, knowing that you are not part of the global problem. In general our quality of life could easily be much higher than it is now in consumer society.

There are many places in the world where small groups of people are beginning to move in the required direction, especially within the Global Eco-village movement and the Transition Towns movement.  (For thoughts on how the transition might be achieved…)

            For a detailed, 30+ page account of the alternative, simpler way,…)


The Simpler Way: Analyses of global problems (environment, limits to growth, Third World...) and the sustainable alternative society (...simpler lifestyles, self-sufficient and cooperative communities, and a new economy.) Organised by Ted Trainer.