It seems like “sustainability” is what everyone is talking about everywhere we look these days…it’s even a major at some colleges now…and for good reason.
But what does that mean, exactly?
From a purely linguistic point of view, “sustainability” is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
- Capable of being sustained
- a) of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged
e.g. sustainable techniques / sustainable agriculture
b) of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods
e.g. sustainable society
At its root, “sustainability” is about right relationship with our resources. Ensuring that as we collect or harvest materials from the Earth we do so in a way that will not use permanently damage those resources or use them up in their entirety.
It is not a destination, but rather a way of being.
Putting Sustainability into Practice
So, with the understanding that sustainability is a mindset – a commitment to how we travel about and interact with the world – the next question is how we each can live sustainably?
Here are key ways to ensure your own choices are sustainable ones:
1. Know your sources – as best as possible, learn where your food, products, materials come from. Are the sources renewable? Does the continual harvesting of the source materials contribute to an overall overuse of that item?
2. Follow the money – sustainability is first about right relationship the planet, but then also about how we help sustain each other as fellow people on the planet. Do the farmers/makers/distributors ensure economic sustainability along with environmental? Are the labor practices equitable, healthy, and safe?
3. Do your research – a quick search can share the best sustainable options for any industry. Look up the sustainability of your favorite products or a new, big purchase you are about to make before you buy.
4. Find alternatives – find similar or identical products to those you love with more sustainable sources and adjust your habits to use the new ones instead.
5. Consider the full lifecycle – beyond the moment of purchase and use, consider how long the product will last for you and where it will go when you are done with it (e.g. is it edible, durable, recyclable, etc?) Knowing how your own consumption not only draws from certain resources but also contributes to overall disposal is an important part of sustainable thinking.
With a growing understanding of human impact on the Earth and our environment, more and more people are focusing on how we can live more responsibly so our impact on the environment is in better balance with the rest of the planet.
When a concept like sustainability starts to gain popular attention and traction, it’s important to stay grounded in what it means and why it matters to avoid letting it become a buzzword that we stop paying attention to. Living sustainably as responsible, global citizens is what will help us succeed in addressing the challenge of caring for our planet.