Sustainability has become a popular buzzword recently, but what does it really mean?
For something to be sustainable, it must not deplete finite resources or harm ecosystems. A necessary aspect of something being sustainable is that it can be continued over time.
An example of something that could be sustainable is bamboo. This is because bamboo can grow about 9 inches per day, making it a renewable resource for paper and wood products. However, this is only true if the bamboo in question is grown and harvested in a way that does not harm ecosystems.
An example of something that is unsustainable is cutting down old-growth arboreal forests in Canada to make toilet paper, which is literally flushed down the toilet. There is a finite amount of arboreal forest, and the clearing of forests across Canada has a tremendous impact on the planet's weather patterns, as well as serving as a massive carbon sink. The young forests that may be planted in their place, if anything is planted at all, are not equivalent to what is lost.
With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, the need to transition to sustainable living is becoming self-evident.
Is Sustainability Possible?
Can humans live sustainably? Even in our modern world? I think the answer is yes.
There have been cultures that lived sustainably in the past. If you look at indigenous cultures in history, such as the native populations in North and South America and Australia, they are beautiful examples of human cultures that not only were able to live sustainably but also managed to be keystone species in their ecosystems; they were a vital part of the survival and abundance of their environments.
With the industrial revolution, humanity adopted the idea of "harnessing nature." Instead of living in harmony with nature as indigenous people had done for millennia, the prevailing approach became controlling nature and extracting from it everything we desired.
Perhaps 150 years ago, coal, forests, rivers, and oceans seemed like infinite resources.
Now, after years of exploitation and a population explosion, we find ourselves on the brink of destroying entire systems that are essential for our survival.
There are examples emerging from modern-day life that demonstrate how individuals, cities, and countries can make choices leading us toward sustainable living as a species.
What should be done to create Sustainability?
It is always easiest to start with what you directly control: your choices in what you use, buy, and how you live your life.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some examples of things that can be done as an individual:
Buy local, organically grown foods.
These foods are not only better choices for your health, but they also avoid the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which can be very harmful to the environment and soil health. Even better, if possible, you can grow your own food. You can't get more local than that!
Compost your food scraps.
Returning the vital nutrients from the unused parts of your food to the Earth can be very beneficial to the soil. If you are not in a position to compost yourself, you can check if your city has a composting program or if there is a local composting program near you.
Buy products made with sustainable materials whenever possible.
Instead of buying products that use finite resources or pollute the planet, make choices, where possible, to use products made from sustainable resources (like bamboo or recycled toilet paper). You can also ensure that you have a reusable water bottle to reduce, or better yet, eliminate single-use plastic from your life.
Buy used clothes or sustainably made clothes.
Ninety-two million tonnes of clothing waste go into landfills every year. Buy used clothes whenever you can. If you are buying new clothes, there are many brands out there that produce sustainable clothing.
Conserve water and electricity.
Get any leaks fixed, don't leave the tap running, and collect rainwater if you can. You can also switch to LED light bulbs. If possible, make renewable energy choices for your home, like solar and wind power.
Reduce meat and dairy consumption.
Most meat and dairy are currently produced in an unsustainable manner, using tremendous water resources and polluting the land, not to mention the unhealthy and unnatural conditions in which factory-farmed animals are forced to live. It is possible for meat and dairy to be produced sustainably, and finding a local, sustainable farmer is a good choice if you are eating meat and dairy. Otherwise, cutting down on your meat and dairy consumption can have a significant positive effect on the environment.
Use eco-friendly soap and cleaning products.
Use products that do not harm the environment. It is not only good to avoid putting unnecessary toxic and harmful chemicals in waste systems, but it is also better for your health to avoid these unnatural products.
Support sustainable stores and brands.
When you find companies that are working to provide sustainably produced products, support them. I have encountered so many small businesses that are doing what they can to contribute to the health of the planet. Show these businesses some love. Every dollar you spend is a vote for what is important to you. The more that gets spent on sustainable products, the more the bigger companies and brands will take notice and start to change their business practices.
There are so many other things that you can do personally. In addition, there are also actions that can be taken in companies and groups you are part of. You can also vote for people who will help push forward policies that are good for the environment.
Hopefully, this short list gave you some ideas.
It’s time for a Change
We have been consuming too many of the planet’s natural resources for far too long, and we are now reaching a breaking point. Climate change has already begun to affect people worldwide.
There is enough abundance on this amazing planet to support the entire human population, but we need to start thinking about long-term sustainability so that we leave a habitable planet for future generations.
I would like to hear any thoughts you have on sustainability. It is time for us to start working together and making the changes that will lead to long-term survival, not only for mankind but also for the plants, animals, and systems upon which we depend for our survival.