Let's start with the basics, what is the definition of 'sustainability'. Well, it is the study of how natural systems function, remain diverse and produce everything it needs for the ecology to remain in balance. It also acknowledges that human civilisation takes resources to sustain our modern way of life. There are countless examples throughout human history where a civilisation has damaged its own environment and seriously affected its own survival chances. Sustainability takes into account how we might live in harmony with the natural world around us, protecting it from damage and destruction.
We now live in a modern, consumerist and largely urban existence throughout the developed world and we consume a lot of natural resources every day. In our urban centres, we consume more power than those who live in rural settings and urban centres use a lot more power than average, keeping our streets and civic buildings lit, to power our appliances, our heating and other public and household power requirements. That's not to say that sustainable living should only focus on people who live in urban centres though, there are improvements to be made everywhere – it is estimated that we use about 40% more resources every year than we can put back and that needs to change. Sustainability and sustainable development focus on balancing that fine line between competing needs - our need to move forward technologically and economically, and the needs to protect the environments in which we and others live. Sustainability is not just about the environment, it's also about our health as a society in ensuring that no people or areas of life suffer as a result of environmental legislation, and it's also about examining the longer term effects of the actions humanity takes and asking questions about how it may be improved.
The Three Pillars of Sustainability
In 2005, the World Summit on Social Development identified three core areas that contribute to the philosophy and social science of sustainable development. These 'pillars' in many national standards and certification schemes form the backbone of tackling the core areas that the world now faces. The Brundtland Commission described it as: 'Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' We must consider the future then, in making our decisions about the present.
1] Economic Development
This is the issue that proves the most problematic as most people disagree on political ideology what is and is not economically sound, and how it will affect businesses and by extension, jobs and employability.
2] Social Development
There are many facets to this pillar. Most importantly is awareness of and legislation protection of the health of people from pollution and other harmful activities of business and other organisations.
3] Environmental Protection
We all know what we need to do to protect the environment, whether that is recycling, reducing our power consumption or lowering our carbon footprint.
Environmental protection might be the third pillar, but to many, it is the most important, and the primary concern of the future of humanity. It defines how we should study and protect ecosystems, air quality, integrity and sustainability of our resources and focusing on the elements that place stress on the environment. It also concerns how technology will drive our greener future; the EPA recognised that developing technology and biotechnology is key to this sustainability, and protecting the environment of the future from potential damage that technological advances could potentially bring.
A Sustainable Future
It is not yet clear what our sustainable future will look like, but with emerging technologies and the improvement of older cleaner fuel sources, many people now look to a post-fossil fuel world - including businesses. Since the 1950s, we have experienced unprecedented growth including intensive farming, a technological revolution and a massive increase in our power needs putting even greater pressure and strain on the planet's resources. We are also far more aware of the plight of the developing world and that facing our planet as we now observe both natural and human-caused disasters and the effects that these can have on the ecosystems and human population. It's vital that we develop new, cleaner technologies to cope with our energy demands but sustainability is not just about the environment.
The biggest social activism movement related to the social development side of sustainability has been programmed such as Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance in encouraging good farming practices while ensuring farmers who produce luxury goods such as coffee and cocoa receive a decent living wage. Activist and sustainability professionals hope to remove trade barriers in future so that they may benefit everyone, contributing to the economic and social development core of sustainability while promoting good environmental practice.
50 Simple Steps to Sustainable Living
So with that in mind, just how can all of us be more environmentally sustainable in our everyday lives. We tackle this thorny question by supplying fifty achievable tips below.
1] Use LED lighting or CFL bulbs instead of incandescent lighting as it’s proven to last longer.
2] Put on an extra layer of clothing instead of turning on the heating.
3] Open up your blinds and use as much natural light as possible before switching on your lights.
4] Turn off your lights (and air-con) when you leave a room.
5] Put up a no junk mail sign on your letter box to limit the amount of paper you consume.
6] Hang your wet clothes on a drying line or rack instead of using a powered dryer.
7] Hand wash your clothes, particularly if you only have a few items to wash.
8] Start timing your showers; get them down to 3 minutes.
9] Grow your own herbs, fruit and vegetables even if it’s just a few pots on a balcony or windowsill.
10] Turn off your devices at night including your Wi-Fi box.
11] Get a water-saving shower head, washing machine and dishwasher. Or better yet, do it all by hand!
12] Use organic fertilisers.
13] Buy a second-hand bicycle and start using it to commute everywhere.
14] Take stairs over the elevator. This also doubles up as a cardio workout.
15] Use public transport. It’s also a great opportunity to catch up on reading and other things you couldn’t do if you were driving.
16] Don’t use plastic bags at checkout. Instead, take your own bags for groceries.
17] Buy your produce in bulk from your local farmer's markets.
18] Avoid buying plastic-wrapped products, opt for a paper bag instead.
19] Stop buying bottled water, like right now! And don't accept disposable cutlery.
20] Buy second-hand clothes where possible.
21] Invest in better quality items that last longer. Slow fashion trumps fast fashion.
22] Support fashion brands that are ethical and environmentally conscious.
23] Opt to receive digital letters and notices.
24] Send electronic invitations.
25] Use apps like Flipboard, Audible and Blinkist to get your paperless reading fix.
26] Collect scrap paper in a tray.
27] Turn off your computer before leaving work.
28] Get rid of your home printer. This will encourage you to seek a printer when you absolutely need it.
29] Juice the off-cuts of your vegetables and fruits.
30] Repurpose glass jars.
31] Use reusable (bamboo, glass) straws instead of disposable plastic ones.
32] Use cold water when hand washing dishes.
33] Use cloths instead of paper towels.
34] Make your own coffee instead of buying takeaway. If you do have to buy your coffee out, at least take along your own reusable cup.
35] Go make-up free for one week each month.
36] Limit the amount of water you use to brush your teeth.
37] Make your own face cleanser and scrub.
38] Save gift bags and boxes for future use.
39] Give people experiences instead of things.
40] Use solar energy charges for your smartphones and tablets.
41] Use rechargeable batteries where possible. And drop the old ones off in a recycle bin.
42] Recycle your devices when ready to dispose of them.
43] Donate your old devices to schools and other institutions.
44] Spend more time outside.
45] Become a member at your local food co-op.
46] Plant a tree or two!
47] Borrow books from the library instead of purchasing them directly.
48] Read your favourite newspaper publications online instead of reading the paper versions.
49] Adopt pets instead of breeding them. There are so many orphaned pets out there who need a family.
50] Share this article on social media to get all your friends, family and colleagues involved too!