What is Sustainable Living?

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By Aditi Subba

The word “sustainable” has become a trend today, encouraged by various organizations, influencers, bloggers, and environmental activists. You see it associated with different organizations, brands, food, and lifestyle almost wherever you go. But what does the word actually mean?

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Sustainable is an adjective for something that can be sustained, i.e. something that is “bearable” and “capable of being continued at a certain level”. However, due to increasing environmental and social problems societies around the world are facing, sustainability has been increasingly used with a more environmental approach. The term is defined as the processes and actions through which the human community avoids the degradation of natural resources and uses alternative methods to keep an ecological balance for the present societies and future communities. Aligning to the definition, sustainable development is mostly explained as the kind of development that meets the needs of society today without compromising the needs of future generations. 

In that sense, sustainable living means we prioritize the use of natural and renewable resources instead of creating excess waste and depleting existing environmental resources. It is an attempt to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of earth’s natural resources, and one’s personal resources. It is a lifestyle where we curb our habits of over-consumption, to protect and improve the existing environment, recognizing that some resources are finite and must be conserved for the future generation.

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However, depending on the type of an individual’s background, sustainable living can mean different things to every person. Sustainable living could be an opportunity for revenue-seeking companies to market their greenwash products, while for lifestyle influencers, it could mean a method to enter the trending eco-market and increase their number of online followers. For most indigenous communities, values of sustainability are engraved culturally in their traditions and for others, sustainable living might not hold cultural significance, instead, it is a type of lifestyle completely depending on their socio-economic status.

Why Sustainable Living Matters?

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) mentions that with the current rate of population increase, if the global population were to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the human race could need almost three planets, “to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.” At present, there are different issues related to the environment, many of which are caused by human activities like overfishing and land degradation. The world’s freshwater is degrading quicker than nature can purify them and energy usage for households worldwide is contributing up to 21% of CO2 emissions. Hence, it has become extremely important that humans, as a global community, take responsibility for each individual’s actions to lessen the impact on the planet. 

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Because many sustainable choices and investments aren’t efficient and accessible for many people, sustainable living isn’t always a perfect system. It cannot be viewed as a fixed state of harmony, rather a process, to change the exploitation of resources, direction of investments and technological advancements. Hence, rather than viewing the process as a solution to all the environmental challenges the earth faces today, sustainable living can be a practical philosophy of lifestyle that aims to reduce environmental impacts by making small, positive changes in day-to-day life and make a larger positive impact in the world tomorrow. These changes could be in the way you consume your food, manage your waste, products you purchase and the lifestyle you lead. It might seem that these small changes might not make much difference to combat global issues like climate change and global warming, but every individual choice does make a difference. 

Every individual’s actions are a part of a larger collective decision that provides a valuable contribution towards a larger movement against environmental catastrophes and reducing human impact on the environment. And while it might seem it is just a single person making changes in their lifestyle, each individual’s choices extend towards their family and community. Advocating one’s individual behavior changes does not distract any systemic actions, instead, lead to a collective decision and political action that could become a crucial part in strengthening the movement for environmental conservation. 

Sustainable living goes beyond the self and will actively play a part in conserving the environment. While one’s individual action might seem meager in the fight against global environmental catastrophes, we must also remember that every little effort counts. And if each individual out of the 7.8 billion were to adopt this lifestyle, we could perhaps create a harmonious system globally.

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Aditi Subba is a conservationist, interested in human-nature dynamics and the global practices of nature conservation by different communities.

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