Sustainability in Nepal by Constance Cantrell

“This essay was written before the earthquake that has shaken not only Nepal, but the world, and is published in solidarity with the sustainable communities of Nepal who are struggling to rebuild.”


In Nepal near Mount Everest and the border with Tibet, sustainability is not a choice, but a way to survive.  As I trekked toward Amadoblam Base Camp in late 2012, just after joining the Biophilic Institute Board of Directors, I spent a lot of time thinking about what “biophilia” means in the context of ordinary life because the Board was refining BI’s mission statement.  All around me were examples the Sherpa people had implemented to live without creating trash for a landfill, without wasted energy on product distribution and with limited power generation and distribution in a mountainous region.



There are no motorized vehicles from Lukla to Everest; everything is brought in by plane or on the backs of the men an animals they keep.  As a result, one thinks carefully before ordering a pool table or refrigerator.  Power production is local and meager, mainly produced with water, but solar kettles and central stoves keep families warm and fed. Even yak poop is pattied and burned for heat, instead of cutting down the beautiful trees.  Stryofoam plates are unheard of. There is no trash dump or service.


The Nepalese didn’t reject a more consuming lifestyle to be closer to nature. They are sustainable by necessity.  Their life has been tucked within the mountain range for centuries and without government services   As a result, the Nepalese have created communities made of natural building materials, with careful development planning, local food and a focus on family centered businesses. Somehow, they have taken a lack of infrastructure and made a serene life for their families that works within the confines of the Himalayas.


I am not advocating that the world stop making plastic or ban automobiles to be more like the upper mountain region of Nepal.  We are fortunate and wealthy.  We have built an incredible society and infrastructure for health and well being. Living with no power before 4 pm everyday would not be romantic; it would be a disaster for our prosperity. In fact, I did not meet one person in Nepal who thought having hot water only when the sun shines was better than switching on the kettle and having tea on demand.  Yet in Nepal, I felt a peace inside myself from not hearing the white noise of an air handler and not feeling guilty after I stuffed 3 styrofoam containers in the public trash. Every night, I slept the heavy sleep of someone who has walked a few miles as part of a routine day instead of drove my car 3 blocks to the gym to work out.



What I learned in Nepal is that all around us are opportunities, that we, as a rich society with infrastructure and geography, can take to to live a biophilic life. Each small change to preserve a green space or walk instead of drive moves the idea forward. It is not a judgment about how much you are doing to change the world, or how much better you are at recycling than your neighbor.  I do not believe that big corporations are conspiring to make America unhealthy.  Corporations are responding to what consumers choose.  A biophilic life to me is about making personal choices to create a feeling of well being for myself and those around me.  Balancing my needs and those of the environment all the time is mandatory. Connecting to nature is essential.


The sum of the small things you can choose, multiplied by the many people who choose a biophilic life would change the world.  I urge you to think about what biophilia means to you and enjoy the materials the Biophilic Institute has gathered to educate and enrich its audience on this website.  Living a biophilic life is a bit of a quiet revolution that is happening all around us.

Constance Cantrell