What is sustainability?
When you hear the word sustainability, you might picture some long-haired dudes preaching about veganism, moving off-grid, trading cars for bicycles, and never walking into another big-box retailer again. But for many (us included), giving everything up to live off the land is pretty unrealistic and the thought of it may have you taking off in the opposite direction. Before you ironically land yourself off-grid in an attempt to flee the conversation, just hear us out.
When it comes down to it, sustainability is really just about conscious living. It’s knowing that you can leave a massive footprint behind but choosing not to. It’s about taking the time to find out where the goods you buy are coming from and where they’re actually going when you’re done with them. Yes, sustainability is everything we mentioned above (and props to you if you ARE going big!) but choosing to live a more sustainable lifestyle simply starts with educating yourself. From there, you can decide what is realistic for you.
So, you forget your reusable grocery bags every once in a while? It happens. Sustainability doesn’t have to be all or nothing. But it does mean being conscious of the impact you’re making. Let’s face it; we can all do a little bit better.
Sustainability starts and ends with the environment. Without the trees, the seas, and the bees, we quite literally would no longer be. For now, we’ll break it down into three key areas.
If you’re not already doing so, now is a great time to start wasting less, reusing more, and recycling always. Are you ready to have your mind blown?
A few years ago, a rad group of scientists joined forces to conduct the world’s first tally of how much plastic has been produced, discarded, burned, or tossed in landfills. They found that over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced and only nine percent of that has been recycled. Furthermore, they’ve predicted that if these trends continue, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in our landfills by 2050. That’s about 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building!
Change is as easy as thinking twice before opting for single-use plastic. Throw some reusable bags in your trunk so they’re always on hand when the next spontaneous grocery trip rolls around. Forgo the plastic straw when you’re out to eat. Invest in a reusable water bottle, so you’re not tempted to reach for a plastic cup or bottle out of convenience. And when you do slip up, don’t sweat it. The more aware you become, the more likely you are to notice small adjustments to your routine that can make a big difference.
This is a topic that really seems to ruffle feathers. We’ll preface with acknowledgment that every little bit does count, and you don’t have to go from self-proclaimed carnivore to vegan overnight to prove you care about the planet. However, removing meat and dairy products is the greatest way to reduce your environmental impact. The biggest scientific analysis to date, published in the journal of Science, reveals a massive livestock footprint—occupying 83% of farmland and producing 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. The same study found that beef results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g of meat, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.
Consider starting with Meatless Mondays or setting a limit on how much meat and dairy you’ll consume in a week. When you do buy animal products, look for items that are organic, free-range, and cruelty-free. This same awareness goes beyond animal products. When you buy coffee, for example, look for beans that are shade grown or bird friendly, as it means the coffee farm isn’t cutting down trees to make more room for coffee plants.
Part of living a more sustainable lifestyle means living in a way that supports local communities and economies. Whenever possible, try to opt for farmers markets and local shops over chain grocery stores and retailers. When traveling, support locals by choosing local-run tours and activities (environmentally friendly, of course), staying in boutique hotels, and shopping where you can find locally made goods. No matter where you are, you can help protect the environment, while supporting the community with your dollar and your voice.
These areas are only scratching the surface of what it means to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but everyone has to start somewhere. Every little change that you make is a step closer than you were before, and that difference matters.