When it comes to helping the environment, there are a lot of buzzwords around right now. One which you may hear a lot is sustainable living. But what does sustainable living mean and how can we achieve it? Is living sustainably something which anyone can do?
What does it mean to live sustainably?
Sustainable living is the process of living our lives without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The planet we live on does not have unlimited resources and we need to conserve and reuse these wherever possible. Much of our modern-day habits are not sustainable, with an increasing reliance on convenience and speed to enable us to function in our often-busy lives.
The Philosophy of Sustainability
The philosophy of sustainability has three key elements which must be considered:
Environmental Protection – ensuring that negative effects are minimized, and positive impacts are emphasized. One example of this would be selecting a reusable product instead of multiple single use products to limit the amount of resources required for production.
Social Development – ensuring that human beings have access to basic resources, that their health is being protected, and that they enjoy a good quality of life within a sustainable environment. For example, ensuring that purchases are made from a company which treat their employees humanely and supports employee health and development.
Economic Development – this is vital to ensure the first two elements are achievable. Effective social development requires financial input, and economic incentives also drive industry forward toward becoming more sustainable.
This third element is the trickiest to achieve. Sustainable economic development involves a complete rethink of our ‘normal’ economic model, where we are encouraged to purchase and consume as much as possible.
One example of how industry practice is changing is the production of appliances with repairable and replaceable components to prolong their working lives.
Putting these elements into practice may sound complicated, but it can actually be very simple to follow these principles by making just a few small changes in our lifestyles.
Why is Sustainable Living Important?
The sad fact is that if humans continue their excessive consumption of the Earth’s resources there will be disastrous consequences. Fossil fuels, which we are still heavily reliant on, will run out. The damage caused to ecosystems by plundering for resources will cause countless animal species to become extinct. The effects of climate change will accelerate, creating widespread famine and mass migration of displaced people.
Living sustainably is not just for environmental activists. We can all make changes in the way we live our lives which will reduce our impact on the planet. Every single action we make affects the planet, whether this is positive or negative. Sustainable living simply means ensuring that we reduce the negative impacts as much as possible and increase the positive impacts when we can.
Living sustainably not only protects the planet’s resources, but it can also bring about other benefits. Sustainable choices are often beneficial to your health and they can also save money as well. You also don’t need to overhaul your entire lifestyle in one go – here are some suggestions for simple tips to make your lifestyle more sustainable.
Simple ways to start a more sustainable lifestyle
Ditch single-use plastics
Single-use plastics have been in the headlines a lot lately, for all the wrong reasons! Once created, plastic exists forever – it can be recycled but it will never biodegrade. This means our planet is becoming choked in discarded plastic, causing harm to wildlife, and leaching dangerous microplastics into waterways and soil. Creating plastics also require huge amounts of energy and fossil fuels to create.
Have a look at your daily life and see what single-use plastics you may be able to swap or remove. This might be swapping your daily drinks bottle for a reusable option or choosing to purchase vegetables loose rather than in plastic bags.
Reduce energy consumption
Many countries are gradually bringing in more renewable energy sources, which is great news. However, as consumers we still have a responsibility to keep our consumption of energy as low as possible. Use energy efficient options such as LED light bulbs and switch off appliances when they are not in use.
Reuse and recycle
It is really difficult avoid packaging in our daily lives, as most products we purchase are packaged in some way or another. As consumers we have a responsibility to make sure that this packaging is part of a closed-loop system, meaning it goes on to be reused or recycled once its initial purpose has been fulfilled.
Try doing an audit of your trash can. What are you throwing away, and how could you swap this to something reusable or recyclable? Is there a packaging free alternative available? Think about how you can reuse some of the packaging you buy; glass jars, for example, are great for storing herbs and spices. Selecting products with easily recyclable packaging, such as cardboard or aluminum, will also help you to reduce the contents of your trash can.
Shop for local and seasonal fruit and vegetables
Our food purchases all come with a carbon footprint, often travelling around the world before they reach your plate. As consumers we now think it is normal that we can eat seasonal produce all year round, but this comes at a cost to the planet. To produce fruit and vegetables out of season requires huge amounts of energy and chemicals. The result is a product which is often bland and tasteless compared to seasonally grown local produce.
The best place to start with local and seasonal shopping is at food markets or the grocery store. Check out the country of origin of the fruit and vegetables, you may be surprised how far some of your choices have travelled to get to your grocery cupboard! Making simple swaps to tasty local seasonal produce will also save you money and reduce food wastage, by buying better quality produce with a longer shelf-life.
Sustainable living at home
Air dry your clothes
Clothes dryers might be convenient, but they are one of the highest energy-guzzling appliances we use! Drying your laundry outside will reduce these emissions to zero by harnessing the energy of the sun and wind instead. As a bonus, your laundry will be super soft and smell amazing.
Grow your own vegetables
This is the ultimate in food with zero food miles – nothing tastes better than food from your own garden! Many varieties of vegetables are simple for even novice gardeners to grow, and you don’t need a huge plot of land. Some things such as salads and tomatoes can even be grown on a window ledge or balcony! To keep costs down see if any of your friends have a few seeds for you to start off. Making plant trays from some of the items you’d normally throw away with the trash is a great way of reducing waste.
These days we think nothing of water coming from the tap, it seems to be a limitless resource. However, every drop of water has been treated before it reaches your home, and this comes at a cost to the planet. Reducing your water consumption is a really simple way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Cut your water usage by making sure that you only do full loads of laundry and dishes, on the most energy-efficient cycle you can. You can also install a reduced-flow showerhead or water-efficient toilet cistern. Conserve water in the garden by collecting rainwater and using mulches to limit evaporation of water.
How to have a more sustainable kitchen
Buy loose dried goods
Many years ago, dried goods were not sold in the prepacked bags we get today – I can remember going to a store with my grandmother to buy loose beans and seeds! Luckily, we are seeing a return to this in recent years with many zero-waste dried goods stores opening around the world. These shops sell a huge range of dried goods in loose ‘scoop and serve’ bins, so you can fill your own bags and containers. The best part of this swap is you get to make some cool and funky food containers for your store cupboard shelves, rather than lots of horrible plastic packaging!
Swap to low waste eco-friendly cleaning products
There have been huge developments in this area in recent years, with several companies now offering sustainable alternatives to chemical-laden cleaning products. Swapping to an eco-friendly alternative is not only better for your health and the environment, but also can help reduce waste. Items like spray bottles can be refilled rather than thrown away and use cloths or rags for wiping instead of disposable wipes. It is also possible to make your own cleaning products from simple household ingredients, such as lemon juice or vinegar.
Heating and cooking food can use huge amounts of energy, so it is important that we use this wisely. Try using the oven to cook more than one thing at once to save energy, and batch-cook large amounts of meals for the freezer to be reheated. This is also a great way to make good use of cheap seasonal produce, preserving it for your enjoyment at a later date.
Compost your food waste
Sometimes it is impossible to use every scrap of food, and we all end up with vegetable peelings for the trash. Composting this rather than putting it in the bin will create natural fertiliser and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. If you are not able to compost at home then try looking for community composting schemes.
Sustainable living in an apartment
Apartment dwellers may think that sustainable living is out of their reach, with no access to grow vegetables, make compost or store trash for recycling. Many of the tips already discussed can be used or adapted for apartment living, such as switching to LED light bulbs and reducing energy and water consumption. Other ideas include:
Grow pot of herbs on a windowsill or balcony
Make your apartment more energy-efficient with the use of draught excluders and curtains
Upcycle second-hand furniture and clothes
Use sustainable transport choices such as bicycle or public transport