What is sustainable living?
Sustainable living is as a way of life that aims at reducing one’s impact on Earth’s resources and that respects our symbiotic relationship with Nature.
Sustainable living is a way of acting that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
Our industrial civilization of unlimited growth and endless consumption is at odds with this stance mainly because we tend to see the universe as an assortment of disconnected entities that share very little in common. But despite the common view of nature as an external resource, a limitation that technology will eventually dominate and surpass, still we are earthbound – everything thing we do has an impact and we are all connected in an interdependent relationships with all creatures, big or small.
We have become so estranged from this reality that since the 1970s humanity has been in ecological overshoot: every year our demand on resources exceeds what Earth can annually regenerate. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.7 Earths that provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and eight months to regenerate what we use in a year. We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.
And although in our overwhelming days it can be hard to know how to make a difference, few and simple choices are at the core of the change needed:
Go Vegan, reduce meat consumption
(or something in between)
Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.Diet change is important because of all the environmental problems associated with animal rearing – such as high greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction.
To put it in perspective: if we all went vegan, the world’s food-related emissions would drop by 70% by 2050 according to a recent report.
Although there is a debate about what actually is sustainable agriculture, eating organic, local and seasonal is a big step towards sustainability.
The problem/s with conventional agriculture
Conventional agriculture is usually publicized by the industry an unavoidable way to feed our nearly 8 billion mouths. But it is a well-known fact that conventional farming relies heavily on petroleum-based fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides which are not at all sustainable – and in fact there are several issues with this type of agriculture practice:
- Pesticide toxicity: herbicides and insecticides commonly used in agriculture have been associated with both acute poisoning and long-term chronic illness.
- Water pollution: fertilizer runoff heavily contaminates downstream drinking water supplies.
- Antibiotic resistance: the overuse of antibiotics in conventional animal rearing has accelerated the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Soil depletion: conventional farming is based on intensive monoculture practices which exhaust soil fertility, requiring costly applications of chemical fertilizers.
- Erosion: monoculture degrades soil structure and leaves it more vulnerable to erosion, resulting in costs for soil replacement, cleanup, and lost farmland value.
- Lost biodiversity: Industrial farms don’t support the rich range of life that more diverse farms do. As a result, the land suffers from a shortage of the ecosystem services, such as pollination, that a more diverse landscape offers.
Organic food is more sustainable because organic farming:
- Rebuilds soil health and stops harmful chemicals from getting into our water supplies.
- Does not rely on non-renewable oil-based fertilizers and pesticides – in fact, organic farming uses 30-50% fewer fossil fuels to produce the same amount of food as conventional systems.
- Increases biodiversity and releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions
Eating locally grown food is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint as it saves “a ton” of fossil fuel compared to conventional grocery products: to reach our plates our food travels on average 1300 miles –
Most fruits and vegetables reach their nutritional peak just as they are ready to be harvested – while food that needs to endure long distance shipping is harvested prematurely before that peak is reached. Moreover the flavors and nutrients of local and seasonal food are generally much richer and more complex. But maybe even more importantly, eating seasonal food makes you in tune to nature’s rhythms.
Go Zero Waste
In nature there is really no trash and no waste. But paradoxically we live in an unrealistic economy where things continuously flood our lives and then are dumped in landfills piling in tons of toxins. Simple habits and well thought out choices go a long way.
Refuse disposable plastic
Plastic is one of the most widely used materials in the world today but also one of the dirtiest – currently, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled. Plastic is a substance that earth does not digest easily. In fact, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by weight.
In our everyday lives we usually have many opportunities to refuse plastic:
- Drink tap water (filtered if needed) from a non-plastic bottle
- Use a reusable cloth bag for your groceries and shopping
- Avoid single use plastic food containers and cutlery
- Choose a zero waste supermarket for your grocery shopping
- If you must use drinking straws, choose non plastic ones
- If you drink coffee regularly, use a non disposable cup
Learn more about plastic-free living and check our guide on plastic-free living
Consume less and use what you have
A substantial part of going sustainable is to reduce our voracity for buying. The things you already own can be useful in many ways – for instance, mason jars that can be used to store food, and old t-shirts that can be transformed into a bag, food scraps can be compostable.
If you are you replacing a damaged item, check if it is fixable. Try a repair workshop.
Before buying, wait a few days or a few weeks, if you can. Consider if you really need the item and if there are any other resources you already own or have access to that can do the same job. Think about how much it will cost (to the planet, to the people who make and to you) and if it is really worth it. Waiting and simple reasoning will prevent you from impulse shopping.
If it is possible, don’t buy new. Start by checking your local second hand or thrift store. You may just find what you need at a lower price.
When you buy new make sure its durable, eco-friendly, fair trade and safe.