Why it is Important to Live Sustainably

April 24, 2013 Written by  Brianna Breach Comments Print
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Sustainable living can seem counterintuitive in a world where many of us have the ability to live beyond our means. Many of us do not even realize when we are doing this; but anytime you leave your electronics plugged in overnight, drive somewhere you could have walked or throw away something that could have been reused or recycled, you live beyond your energy means. The effects of such actions are not noticeable immediately, but they have long-term consequences.

When we look at this topic, we like to do a poll and asks others to describe sustainability in two words. Most people say something along the lines of: environment or green. While these answers are common, there is a difference between “being green” and “being sustainable”.  This blog post will explore what sustainable living is, why it’s important to do so and some tips to help you get started.

What is Sustainable Living?

Sustainable living requires a lifestyle shift that must be adopted by individuals, businesses and government entities. Simply recycling when we think of it is not enough to change the destructive patterns that have already begun to take place as a result of over-consumption. A sustainable lifestyle takes into account eating, transportation, socialization, energy use, waste disposal and more. Simply put, being sustainable is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  This means that whatever is being done has the least impact, the least waste and is a cycle or means that can be repeated indefinitely without cumulative damage or harm to living things (1). Living sustainably requires us to develop sustainable habits that we put into practice every day; not just when we think about it.

Why Live Sustainably?

According to the Sustainable Lifestyles Innovation Brief released in 2006, we would need five planets for everyone in the world to consume resources in the same quantities and at the same rates as those in North America. Developed nations have the most access to resources and therefore the greatest impact on the environment. Twenty percent of the population is responsible for 86% of resource consumption. So although your lifestyle may not seem wasteful, you have more access to environmental and economic resources than the majority of the planet does.

As long as one-fifth of the population continues to use this huge majority of resources, we are not living sustainably.

Sustainability is not just an environmental issue; it’s also an economic one. Not only does one-fifth of the population have access to most of the planet’s environmental resources, we have access to most of the planet’s economical resources including education and healthcare. Sixty percent of the global south do not have access to basic sanitation and 25% do not have adequate housing. We have more jobs, more land and more information available to help us make decisions about our health and our families than most of the world.

Unless standards of living change, inhabitants of developing nations will continue to be plagued by poverty and malnourishment, while their populations continue to grow. Sustainability can be part of the answer to alleviating poverty worldwide. Sustainability doesn’t just mean reducing energy use and emissions; it means increasing access to jobs, promoting responsible trade and decreasing poverty rates.

Rising Rates of Consumption

The 2009 Energy Outlook report predicted a 44% surge in energy consumption globally between 2006 and 2030 and a 73% increase in non-OECD nations (many of which are developing countries). Population density increased by more than 250% in the last 50 years. As global population increases, demand for energy and other resources increases with it. Current rates of consumption will not be enough to sustain this demand.

Though the effects of our increased use of resources may not be immediately noticeable to us, they have begun to take effect in alarming ways. Unsustainable resource use has already led to climate change, increased waste, air pollution and water shortages. We must reverse this effect in order to sustain increased population and increased resource demand.

Tips for Sustainable Living

Though living in a world where waste is the norm can make achieving sustainability difficult, developing good habits and positive behavioral changes can help. By making lifestyle changes, you have the opportunity to save money, become more organic, become more involved locally and the ability to contribute to a healthier style of living.  Tips for building a more sustainable lifestyle include:

  1. Reduce use of fossil fuels - Don’t drive if you don’t have to. Walk or take public transportation whenever possible and carpool when you can. The average household uses 1,143 gallons of gas per year, and the number of cars and trucks on highways is expected to double in the next 30 years. If the average commuting vehicle carried one additional person, the U.S. alone could save 33 million gallons of gasoline each day.
  2. Conserve water - A lot of water waste happens right in the bathroom - from our toilets to our tubs. Our recent blog post explains ways you can cut back on consumption while saving money on water and energy.
  3. Eliminate waste - Recycle when you can and take advantage of reusable containers at any opportunity. Just think of all the different items that have alternatives or reusable components: rechargeable batteries, lighters, shoes, water bottles, shopping bags, pens (fountain), shoes. When shopping, consider buying in bulk as less packaging goes to waste. There is also excess waste when it comes to gift giving. Consider recycled material or cloth as an option. Ground service - Use ground service whenever shipping or buying items.
  4. Ground service goes by rail, which causes less pollution and is more fuel-efficient than air travel.

Click the link to view our recent blog: Does it Pay to Go Green? Clean Jobs in the Energy Efficiency Sector or check back next week for more energy saving tips.

Sources: 1. Hub Pages 2. UNFPA 3. Sustainable Atlanta 4. UNEP 5. The Green Barn 6. New Colonist 7. EPA