‘Sustainability : The ability to be maintained at a steady level
without exhausting natural resources or cause severe ecological damage’
-The Collins Dictionary
Sustainability is described as ‘The ability to endure’ or the more expanded Collins dictionary description above: The ability to be maintained at a steady level, without exhausting natural resources or cause severe ecological damage.
We are confronted, even bombarded with messages about living a sustainable life. But what does it really mean and how can you and I make it part of our everyday lives?
Used in the context of the environment, sustainability captures the basic idea of getting a solution for the ‘now’ without compromising the well-being of ‘tomorrow’, i.e. future generations. More clearly it is about not putting the resources we have at risk for our children and grandchildren because of our need or greed for comfort?
Will future generations have access to clean drinking water? Will our children and grandchildren be able to breath fresh air, go to a beach, climb mountains and enjoy spending time in a park. And will they still see a rhino in real life or only read about them in books and nature programs ?
The wake up call
Lets face it. We are a wasteful generation and we are putting critical life supporting sources under immense pressure due to our insatiable desire for more.
The information is out there. Oceans are polluted, potable water sources are scarcer, and landfills are reaching alarming sizes. While all of this waste is putting our resources under pressure, the population of the world is at its highest levels in the known history of life on this planet.
So why is there so little change in our behavior? The three reasons below are not exhaustive at all, but provides a good starting point and some food for thought, too.
We live crazy busy lives
One of the main driving forces behind our wasteful lives are that we are constantly busy, running from point A to Z, while filling up our schedules with even more stuff to do.
All this busyness means that we spend less time at home, making it difficult to tend to some of our most basic needs. This in turn opens up opportunities for businesses to provide us with products and services to fill the gaps.
Take food preparation as an example. With double income families, crazy schedules and limited time, preparing meals become a real problem for a lot of families. Take outs, pre-prepared meals and oven or stove ready foods have become common place.
Unfortunately, these convenience services often leave in their wake a huge amount of waste products.
We are creature comforts
We have become so used to the comforts of what we call ‘modern life’, that we hardly ever consider if it is really necessary.
Individually wrapped toothpicks makes perfect sense in a public space like a restaurant or take out but do you really need to use it in your house? Yet often times these wrapped versions will be the only option at grocery stores.
One tiny example, I agree, but hopefully one that will start you looking at your life a little bit differently.
Another, slightly bigger, example. In South Africa it is still easy and relatively cheap to get new plastic bags every time you buy groceries. To re-use your plastic bags until they are worn out does not take a lot of effort. Getting material or canvas bags to avoid using plastic all together is even better. But despite this being the case, relatively few shoppers actually go the extra mile to bring their own bags.
We are lazy
Modern lifestyles and the spoils of increased financial success made us lazy. We increasingly live lives where we get to choose what we want do and outsource the rest.
Our lives are conveniently sold to us in plastic bags, vacuum sealed packages and disposable containers.
The True Cost
But nothing in life is free. Ever.
Everything we do and every choice we make comes at a price. And all too often the real price we pay is the environmental footprint we leave behind.
How do we solve this? The solution is simple but not easy.
Make. Better. Choices.
Change existing habits in your personal life. Change how you live every day.
Make continuous small changes
No change is ever easy. Experts are continuously trying to come up with even better ways to learn new positive habits while unlearning negative derogatory ones.
One interesting fact about making changes to your life is that easy, small changes that feel attainable is much more likely to result in the lasting change than trying to make big impressive changes all at once. These are the changes we need to turn the tide.
The United Nations identified 17 sustainable development goals for a better future for us all. Each of these goals must be achieved respecting the three pillars of sustainable development that are social, economical and environmental.
The universal nature of these goals make them applicable to all nations, not just to poor countries. Food security and better nutrition, for instance, means that although some countries need to address hunger, other more developed countries have to address severe obesity and wastage of food.
These are a great source if you are not sure where to start. These are goals cover issues of poverty, education, energy, gender equality, environmental conservation, responsible consumption and production and the fight against climate change.
Set up a reminder system
We all live busy lives and there are millions of messages screaming for your attention every day. Simply having good intensions is not going to cause any real change in your environmental footprint.
Having a solid reminder system is an absolute must if you want to make lasting changes and reduce your footprint.
Subscribe to a good quality newsletter with reliable information and actionable steps or add some sustainability groups to your social media feeds for regular tips and inspiration.
Add your email here for bi-weekly reminders from this site.
Keep a scoreboard
We play differently when there is a scoreboard and we all love winning. Keeping a visual record of every change you make, albeit small, will motivate you to keep going and keep adding new habits.
Also, you’ll be pleasantly surprised if, a year from now, you can see the sum total of all the small changes you made.
Have an accountability partner
Keeping ourselves accountable is what keeps us in the game longer. This is where real, sustainable change happens. Ask a friend or family member to check in with you. Meetups are a great way to connect with like- minded individuals close to you and stay focused and inspired.
Hold your community accountable
By holding not just yourself, but everyone in your community accountable, you will have an even bigger impact on the environment.
Contact local businesses that you support and ask them about their sustainability policies. Write to your municipality or local councillor to ask about actions taken by them to ensure a sustainable future for us all.
Not every letter will get an immediate response, but if we all start writing these letters, businesses and councillors will eventually listen and more importantly, make some much needed changes.
You can find a list of South African elected councillors here.
A more sustainable future is going to take a collective effort. This is not a task for one (wo)man alone.