What is Sustainability Anyway? And, 3 Ways to do It

Haley Martin


What does sustainability even mean?

First things first, what is sustainability? The word is thrown around constantly these days, along with terms like “ethical,” “fair trade,” “organic,” and all the other buzzwords that tend to get the people going. Many of us may not know what sustainability means, but we have probably heard that it’s what we should be doing. 

The ecological definition of sustainability is: “the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely.” When put in terms of consumption, the definition of sustainability does not change.

When we consume in a sustainable fashion, we are using products and services in a way that does not hurt the world around us, but rather, in a way that sustains it––and the people in it––so future generations can continue to thrive and meet their own needs.

Why we should live sustainably

(and how to do it)

There is one Earth. Just like we say “YOLO,” so too does the Mother Earth that Drake and the rest of us live on. When we don’t sustain the Earth we all share, we don’t allow plant and animal ecosystems to thrive, and then it’s pretty much game over for us and this big hunk of beautiful planet.

Likewise, when we do live sustainably, we are striving to create a global environment with decreased overcrowding and poverty––and increased human rights protection––for all 7.6 billion of us. Fortunately, we can make an enormous impact on the environment and the global population by promoting sustainability through the way we shop, use, and dispose of our goods.  

The Way We Shop

From creation, to use and disposal, every single product has an environmental footprint. So first, before you shop, ask yourself if you even need to. Minimalism is all the rage lately, and for  good reason.

Reducing your possessions (or constant purchasing of them) not only reduces your environmental footprint, keeping what should be green green, but it also keeps your account balance in the green too.

Now, I’m not going to try and guilt you into not buying anything ever again. I’m guessing a good amount of us err on the Tom Haverford side of consumption.

However, by buying items that have a positive environmental impact, we can have our cake and eat it too (i.e., enjoy our things without causing world destruction––phew!).

Doing this will require that you actually look for items that are plastic-free, energy-efficient, and animal friendly––and that you try to buy items with trustworthy, third party labels from Fair Trade (WFTO),USDA Organic (or its equivalent), and other reliable sources to minimize negative impacts on people, animals, and the planet.

You can do it!––so start by checking out this piece for a solid list of useful labels.

The Way We Use

Environmental consumption speaking: less is always more. Now, some of the ways we sustainably use are tied to the way that we shop. In other words, buy what you’ll use and use what you buy. Seems easy enough; but surprisingly, the majority of Americans just don’t live by this rule––a harsh reality that’s most evidenced by our food waste.

A scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council  (NRDC) has even put it this way: “As a country, we’re essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path.”

It is more important than you think to only buy what you will consume: Not only do you waste your own money when you toss out food you didn’t actually need, but your having purchased that food actually drives demand for more food production, just to be wasted in turn.

Another way to reduce your consumption is by reusing products. Many items that we throw away can be reused; whether by upcycling these throw-away items or by purchasing alternatives that can be used multiple times. So trade in your plastic bags for reusable fabric ones.

Save your jars, cans, broken dishes, etc. and reuse them for gardening. Just type “reuse” or “upcycle” into Pinterest and you will be supplied with an endless list of DIY’s for items you would normally throw away.

The Way We Dispose

The way that we dispose of our products also has a big impact on sustainability. To push this point, think twice before you dispose of your products.

Most goods can be reused or repurposed in some way. When necessary, the obvious answer to conscious disposal is recycling, but composting and donation are some other sustainable methods of disposal, depending on how you do them.

Living sustainably does not require a radical change in lifestyle, but rather, an intentional altering of the way that we perform little everyday tasks. Easy changes to our lives can have a great impact on the world that we live in--before it is too late.

Sounds crazy, but by making changes to the above aspects of your day-to-day, you can actually change the course of our relationship with this planet we all share, and need.

Just remember kids, reduce, reuse, recycle (and Rihanna).

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