THE BLOG
09/15/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2014

Getting Ultra-Sustainability to Be as Big and American as Burgers

I'm sitting in front of a gorgeous cheeseburger. This thing looks picture perfect pretty, almost too good to eat. It's a vision right out of a culinary magazine. I'm starving yet I take a moment to strategize how this concoction of 100% grass-fed organic beef grilled and topped with artisan cheese, field greens, wild mushrooms and onions will be devoured. I decide that it is best not to overthink how to eat my lunch, after all this is only a cheeseburger.

I cut the burger in half. It looks better cut down the middle with the hot juice of the "sustainable" beef sizzling out from its core. I don't know what the bun is made of, however it has fresh herbs affixed to its glowing golden top. I take a bite. The burger is awesome. My taste buds are giving each other high-five's. I'm in a state of euphoric bliss as my conscious and subconscious momentarily collide with mutual agreement that the lunch selection was a great choice.

While my lunch was derived from 100% certified grass-fed organic beef, locally harvested ingredients, and consumed at a restaurant that touts their selection of sustainably derived foods, eating hamburgers is not be the healthiest choice on the menu. I briefly consider the calories, fat content, and portion size of the burger. However, I rationalize the meal as both lunch and dinner, although I know that my justification of the burger will be challenged later in the evening at dinner time.

American's have a love affair with food. It is as prolific as our love of cars and sports. And like cars and sports, food is a frontier where ultra-excess always take precedent over basic needs. Food is fuel for the human body, plain and simple. But we all know we eat first with our eyes and then our mouths and bellies. What looks good to the eye must taste good and sit well in our stomach. But that logic is flawed and perhaps one of the greatest illusions that keeps chefs busy, restaurants open and American's happily fed. This illusion also packs on unhealthy pounds for millions of American's contributing to obesity, heart disease, and other health ailments.

We put an incredible amount of visual appeal to those things that stroke our subconscious and drive our purchasing and consumption patterns: food, cars, fashion, and homes. Marketers and advertising agencies know this far too well. Excess sells. It's sexy, cool, and alluring. Lifestyles of the fast and frivolous trigger all of our senses and desires. The more senses marketers can provoke, the closer they know they get to tap our innermost wants and ultimately our wallet.

But what is far less visible to consumers is the up-and-down stream conditions and impacts that are the "cost of doing business" to ensure our egos are maintained. The human mind is always reconciling conflicting values. On one hand we know that our time alive on earth is limited, so why not live it up: eat the burger, drive the red sports car, and live as wild and free as possible. On the other hand, deep within our DNA there is a coded error message that occasionally flashes before our eyes and tells us to take responsibility as a steward of the planet and to use the life we've been given for a greater purpose beyond our selfish desires.

Ultra-excess bombards daily life. It is in our media, politics, commerce, universities, and healthcare. But where is ultra-sustainability? Is it in the grass-fed cheeseburger I'm eating, or is the burger simply an illusion? A plain burger is simple. By itself a burger is unappealing for many people. But it provides nutrition. Nutrition is the real value of the burger for humans, but many people don't value the nutritional value exclusively. We want the ultra-burger, the one that is dressed up to be taken out for a night on the town. People want the burger that has no regrets, no boundaries, and no shame. Now I'm not talking about how to sell sustainability to the masses. There is no-doubt the art and science of marketing and advertising are incredible tools to mainstream sustainability. What I'm referring to here is the more raw internal human desire for wanting more.

Frugality is a characteristic of sustainability. While people understand the practicality of being frugal they still struggle with the accessibility and convenience of ultra-excess. If a burger costs the same in its ultra-form as it does in its virgin and simple state most people will justify the ultra-form because the extra stuff must be "free." We know that is not true, but why let it go to waste? Someone is going to eat it; it might as well be me, right? Of course in this flawed logic we never account fully for our personal health, let alone those externalities of food production and logistics that we choose not to see.

What if we allowed "ultra-sustainability" to seep into our lives the way ultra-excess has? What if we did not have to give up anything up to get ultra-sustainable? What if we could continue to massage our deepest desires but without the DNA code sending reports to the guilt department of our brain? The reality is that the transition to ultra-sustainability is underway, albeit slowly. A consciousness of environmental stewardship and sustainability is enveloping all facets of human desires: fashion, cars, food, and lifestyle. Sustainability is not only in vogue, it is becoming bespoke to specific industries as a new American lifestyle unfolds.

Big brand companies and organizations including Tesla, H&M, Unilever, Nike, McDonald's and even the U.S. government are making big moves on sustainable production and consumption. Some of their efforts will be very transparent like how Tesla CEO, Elon Musk recently opened their intellectual property portfolio up to the world. Actions such as this will drive ultra-sustainability further. Where the rubber meets the road however will be when consumers shift their ultra-excess mindset to one which embraces ultra-sustainability in all aspects of their lifestyle. When the car we drive, clothes we wear, shampoo we wash with, and food we eat aligns our needs and our wants in step with the knowledge and capability we have to deliver a value for humanity and protect the planet, ultra-excess will cease to exist.

For this to happen we need to accept the idea that more, in this instance, is better. More companies that get it, more bold entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, more politicians that are unafraid to broach the toughest topics, more consumers and citizens that embrace personal accountability, more trust that our generation will figure this transition out together.

I take a break from the madness that consumed my mind and lunch. My burger is almost completely eaten and the plate looks much less fantastic. I pick my head up and look around the outdoor venue. Other people appear equally pleased with their lunches. Ultra-excess is prevalent at this establishment. But so is ultra-sustainability. This journey is going to be a fast and furious, but it is going to be a fun ride. Man this burger is great. Last bite!