Sustainable living is a term mentioned a lot in our present day and age, one that we all understand is integral to our future here on Earth. You will have seen the term floating around on Instagram, written about in publications and touted by brands as we all recognise its necessity. How did the term gain so much traction, and what does it actually mean to live sustainably?
Sustainable living is defined as a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual’s or society’s use of the Earth’s natural resources, and one’s personal resources.
A brief history on sustainability
It was really the industrial revolution that saw the need for the issue of sustainability to come to light. While the consequences of industrial development were not initially realised fully, the environmental impacts of this level of production at a global scale became clearer as it progressed.
The term ‘sustainability’ was first seen just under 30 years ago in 1987 in a report titled ‘Our Common Future’, penned by several countries for the United Nations. It’s close cousin, ‘sustainable development’, has origins that date back a little further. In 1798, Thomas Malthus published ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ which discussed his well-known theory of population.
Pertinent today, the theory stated the fact that the population tends to grow quicker than its resources, leaving the planet with little time for regenerate and be able to keep up. This theory prompted the need for sustainable development, a term that appeared for the first time in an official document signed by 33 African nations in 1969 under the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was established in the USA, whose guidelines have shaped the developing theories and practices in global environmental policies we see today.
The ‘Our Common Future’ report then utilised the term sustainable development, defining it as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“[A sustainable world] is a place where there is no poverty or hunger, and everyone has equal access to clean water, education, health care, and the opportunity to pursue satisfying work with fair compensation. Energy is clean, communities husband their resources carefully, and consumption is responsible. Conservation dictates both land and water use, and everyone is committed to fighting climate change.” — UNICEF USA
Fast-track to 2021 and things are looking dire; the need for sustainable development has never been more crucial. Unless we act now, scientists predict that by 2050 global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will increase by 50%, primarily due to a 70% growth in energy-related CO2 emissions, and a world economy four times larger than today is projected to need 80% more energy. We’re at a point where sustainable living isn’t a nice-to-have, but a necessity.
How to live a more sustainable lifestyle
- Decrease single-use materials — Bring your own keep cup for your morning coffee, eat in instead of getting takeaway and look at purchasing plastic-free alternatives for items such as plastic produce bags or toothbrushes. It can sometimes be awkward at places like cafes where they move fast and before you know it you’re handed a drink with a plastic straw, but try and get into the habit of asking to use your reusables or reduce plastic items during the transaction!
- Vote with your dollar — As the saying goes, invest in the world you want to create. For new purchases, opt for companies that are local, use recycled materials and give back in some way to the world. There are also now sustainable companies in almost every industry, including banking, superannuation funds and even phone plans, who are making their operations 100% sustainable and investing profits into environmental initiatives.
- Choose second-hand — There are now not only a plethora of op shops around the country, but online apps such as Depop where you can peruse second-hand clothes and have them shipped straight to you. Of course, let’s not forget Facebook marketplace, Gumtree and local ‘Buy, Swap, Sell’ groups online where you can source everything, from furniture to kitchen utensils.
- Reduce your meat consumption — The less meat you eat, the better it is for the planet, as the meat industry has a huge toll on the planet’s resources. Of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the Unite States, more than one-third are devoted to raising animals for food. Not sure where to start on your meat-reduction journey? Check out our guide for eating for both your health and the planet.
- Appeal to your local government and invest in environmental charities — Our government system is designed to work for us and our needs. If there are environmental issues you see in your community that you think the council should be addressing, send your local representative an email. There are also many charity organisations doing integral environmental work, such as reducing waste from the oceans or planting trees, that you can invest in — every small contribution makes a difference.
Need more inspiration?
This Weekend is a lifestyle guide for sustainably-minded people. We create stories for good so you can live sustainably, without compromising the things that matter most. Check out more practical guides on sustainable living, slow travel, sustainable dining, conscious brands, wellness essentials, and more.