As the concept of sustainability is becoming more well-known and a push towards sustainable living more necessary than ever in a rapidly changing world, some of us tend to get lost in the science behind it all. So what exactly is sustainability, why is it important, and what choices can we make to live more sustainably?
Sustainability is defined as the ability to exist indefinitely. On a global level, this translates to obtaining resources to meet our needs in the present, while maintaining the availability of resources to meet the needs of the future. There are three main components of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. For a completely sustainable world, the three components must remain in balance. This means economic systems are properly functioning, with the resources available for communities to meet their basic human needs, while maintaining the natural ecological balance of the environment. It is important to ensure we do as much as we can to live more sustainably, in order to ensure the existence of future generations.
As individuals, we unfortunately don’t have direct control over our economic, social and environmental systems. However, we do have the ability to influence our societies and government through the choices we make.
What can we do to live more sustainably?
Eliminate Single-Use Plastic
Approximately 150 million tons of plastic – half of what is produced globally each year – are made to be disposable. A lot of these plastics are not disposed of properly, and over 8 million tons end up in our oceans annually, which then break down into microplastics. Most single-use plastics are simply just unnecessary; we don’t need plastic bottles, utensils, straws or grocery bags in our lives. There are endless reusable replacements available on the market for all of these items and more. A trend towards sustainable living also means that these replacements can be inexpensive and even trendy! The internet is full of creative and fun do-it-yourself projects like bamboo straws and upcycled mesh bags from old clothes.
Eat Less Meat
The livestock industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, creating nearly 20% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. It is also indirectly responsible for emissions caused by land use change, transportation and nutrient pollution, as well as incredible amounts of water use. Eating less meat doesn’t mean we have to swap to a completely vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Skipping meat for just one day a week is not only healthier for you, but it’s estimated that if every family went meatless one day a week, we would be reducing emissions as much as taking the family vehicle off the road for 5 weeks.
Alternatively, or in addition to reducing emissions by going meatless, we can cut down on how often we are using our vehicles. If everyone were to carpool twice a week, we would each reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 700 kilograms every year. Better yet, public transport options are much more fuel-efficient and emit less greenhouse gases. The best, and healthiest option would be to walk or ride a bike. Of course, these options aren’t available to everyone, but by doing what we can to reduce the number of vehicles on the road we can make everyone’s commute a little easier, less expensive and more sustainable.
Smart shopping doesn’t just mean bringing along your reusable bags to replace plastic bags at the grocery store. Shopping locally cuts down on emissions in many ways, including on transportation and in general, on pesticide and nutrient pollution. It also helps support your local economy. For those items that cannot be sourced locally, it is also very important to pay attention to labels. Look for products that have logos certifying they were harvested or produced sustainably. This mainly applies to seafood to ensure that fishing quotas are maintained and bycatch is reduced. Fresh grocery items are preferable to processed, as they contain less harmful additives, and usually less packaging, so we are creating less waste as well.
Go Green At Home
If any of these changes are just too much to tackle immediately, there are so many small, simple things we can do at home to start leading a more sustainable life. Most people know by now that you can save energy, and money, by doing things like turning off the lights and having a timer on your thermostat or air conditioner. Many households are also reducing their water consumption by switching to low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets. We can take sustainability one step further by making the change to energy efficient appliances, using environmentally friendly cleaning and hygiene products or collecting rainwater for watering your garden or house plants.
Participate in Citizen Science
One of the more fun ways to help with sustainability efforts is to assist with research through citizen science programs. These projects don’t often involve making changes to your lifestyle, but can help scientists see the effects we are having on the planet. Why not spend an afternoon cleaning trash from the ocean (Dive Against Debris), or contributing information to a global database on microplastic distribution (The Great Microplastic Survey)? Or join us in collecting data for the world’s first Saving Nemo dive and snorkel trail.
Finally, the most important thing we can do is share and spread our knowledge on sustainability with our friends and families. The more we talk about our sustainable lifestyle and how easy it is to make small changes in our lives, the more likely others are to follow suit, or trade their tips for being more eco-friendly!
Blog Author – Holly Lewis