Explaining Sustainability

"What's this about sustainability?": Explaining the Environmental Buzzword

Sustainability is a major part of environmental movements around the globe. It's on the news, on the Internet, and on our minds. Some leap to its defense, others roll their eyes and tune it out, but do we all really understand what it means? 

Too often, sustainability gets lumped together with words like anthropogenic, biodiversity, and chlorofluorocarbon in one big pot of fancy-sounding global warming mumbo-jumbo. However, I believe that everyone should know what exactly they are supporting or ignoring, especially when it comes to a word that is as talked-about as sustainability. It isn't just another piece of environmental jargon; it's an important idea that can affect quality of life for future generations. So, I've put together some information to make the main idea of this topic a little bit clearer. 

So what does sustainability even mean? 

According to merriam-webster.com, to be sustainable is to be "able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed." Most people want their resources to be sustainable without even realizing it - they buy enough groceries for the whole week, they save enough money for retirement, they get really bothered when their older sister uses up all of the hot water for her shower. As a species, we are innately focused on having the resources to meet our needs and sustain our lives. But what about the lives of those who come after us?

Sustainability began to take on a deeper meaning as people started to worry about the consequences of rapid population growth and depletion of natural resources, based on the knowledge that everything we need to survive is connected, directly or indirectly, to our natural environment. Logically, it follows that the way we treat the environment affects our survival.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that exposed and denounced the harmful use of chemical pesticides. The release of Silent Spring allowed many people to see for the first time the connection between our actions, the environment, and our survival. In the years that followed, a movement emerged, and sustainability became a word that encompassed both satisfying today's needs and preparing for tomorrow's. 

The Environmental Protection Agency's website explains this interconnectedness well by stating that "sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment." The idea is rooted in the awareness of our connection to our natural environment. To be sustainable is to consider the long-term impacts of your choices and waste as little as possible in order to save nature's resources for future generations. 

Why is sustainability important?

The importance of sustainability is in its definition: "...making sure that we have and will continue to have the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment." We need resources like water, food, and shelter in order to to survive. To be sustainable is to keep those resources around as long as possible by refraining from waste and pollution. If those resources aren't sustained, we will not survive. If we don't start to think about the consequences of our actions, humans will eventually suffer along with Mother Earth - that's why being sustainable is a big deal.

How can we be sustainable?

Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to impact the environment and future generations as little as possible. It sustains the resources we have by using less nonrenewable resources, only using what we need, and using all resources efficiently. Changes in the food we eat, the type of vehicle we drive, and even the brand of clothes we wear could be necessary in order for us to lead a completely sustainable life. 

Even though almost everyone can recognize the need for less carbon emissions and more recycling, they shrink away at the idea of making major lifestyle changes such as switching to solar or wind power. It is understandable for us to want to stick with what we know, but it is important that we start to consider at least a few new ideas if we want to lead more sustainable lives. The list below includes some ideas on how to make your home and community more sustainable with small, easy steps.

 

  • Recycling: paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, and even electronics can be recycled and reused! Check to see if your city picks up recyclables. You can also take recyclable items to a recycling center yourself if you have one nearby.
  • Save energy: electricity comes from plants that burn fossil fuels, so if you save electricity, you use less non-renewables. Keep your thermostat cooler in the winters and warmer in the summers. Turn off televisions, radios, lamps, and fans when they aren't being used.
  • Reduce transportation emissions: try walking, biking, and carpooling. Don't travel unnecessarily- plan ahead and make lists to avoid last-minute "oops I forgot" trips to the store.
  • Use more sustainable food products: locally grown foods don't travel as far or use as much machinery to get into your pantry, and are thus healthier for the environment. Try shopping at farmer's markets for fresh fruits and veggies or planting your own garden.
  • Use less plastic: grocery bags, water bottles, and packaging can all be made from plastic a nonrenewable resource. Recycle these items, or better yet, find alternatives; bring your own bag to the store or carry a reusable water bottle. Look to buy items that are packaged with less plastic material.

 

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword; it is a way of thinking that will turn the way we live upside down - in a good way. For more on sustainability, it's purpose, and how to participate: 

http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/basicinfo.htm 

http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/industries/energy-environment-and-sustainability/news/Sustainable-Lifestyles

 http://www.sustainablekentucky.com/2013/01/02/75-ways-to-live-more-sustainably-in-2013/

 Bust some more environmental jargon here: http://www.ecobusiness-exchange.com/jargon-buster/

 


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