What is sustainable living and how to live sustainably?
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Sustainability, according to Cambridge dictionary, means the quality of being able to continue over a period of time. Environmental sustainability, on the other hand, means not exhausting natural resources, instead enhancing it and keeping its natural habitat.
Why is it important?
According to the IPCC report last September 2019, in 2018, global CO₂ concentration was 407.8 parts per million (ppm), which, according to the same paper, the last time Earth’s atmosphere contained 400 ppm CO₂ was about 3-5 million years ago, when global mean temperature was 2-3⁰ C warmer than today. It was when mammoths, Paranthropus (robust skulls with prominent gorilla-like sagittal crest) and the earliest forms of animals were the residents of Earth. We don’t want to revert to those years where animals are wilder and there’s constant shifting of tectonic plates.
Sustainability is important because the situations mentioned above, makes living the life we came to know, almost close to impossible. We should try and keep the Earth conducive for life forms for years to come. There are a couple of sectors that I want to talk about because as per research, they contribute largely in greenhouse gas emissions that keeps the world warm.
For businesses, sustainability measures should be implemented because they are the biggest users of the natural resources. If they can implement measures that is aligned with the principles of sustainability, there will be a huge improvement with greenhouse gas emissions.
For agriculture, sustainability covers a lot of factors. As probably the next biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, this sector affects the environment through practices that has been utilized to maintain significant amount and quality of food resources in the market. For instance, using fertilizers in the wrong season or in excess can cause increase in levels of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Raising cattle herds for consumption can also increase the levels of methane by enteric fermentation and manure storage. Methane affects global warming, 28 times higher, while nitrous oxide is 265 times more likely to cause warming than carbon dioxide. Also, land use and degradation, from tilling and pesticide use, can also cause release of carbon dioxide and decreased soil fertility. All these points put a huge amount of stress in our farmers, as land stewards, to make sure they work sustainable while maintaining food stability.
Last sector that I want to talk about is horticulture. This sector is very close to my heart, and as horticulturist, I want to be able to enjoy planting and growing without damaging nature. In horticulture, peat is widely used. It is used as growing media for seeds and cuttings. Peat comes from the bogs or wetlands. It is composed of partly decayed plants that builds up over millions of years. This means that whenever we harvest them, we release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
The sectors above are slowly trying to reinvent into a more ‘environmentally-friendly’ stratum while maintaining their current goals and purpose. Now, it is time for us, the individuals, to contribute and do our part in decreasing anthropogenic climate changes by living sustainably.
How to start living sustainably?
The main principle of sustainable living is ‘leading life without exhausting essential resources while enhancing the natural environment’. Understanding this can keep your focus because changing one’s lifestyle can be very daunting and unyielding. Below, are simple ways of how you can start into reinventing your lifestyle.
Limit use of resources
The first thing you can do to live sustainably, starts with simple decisions.
Walk or cycle instead of driving. By not using your car, you decrease pollution and consumption of fossil fuel. It is also healthier for you as these activities improve your blood circulation. If you don’t really need to, one car for the entire household is enough. You can utilize public transport, instead. I mean, that is why they’re there. I understand the hesitations with using public transport (e.g. unsafe, unreliable, dirty, etc) because I have used them since I was in primary school.
Another simple thing is to unplug electrical equipment or turn it off when not in use. You’re not just saving electricity but saving money from the electric bills. You also, extend the life of your equipment.
Start growing your own vegetables. Growing vegetables is not as hard as you think it is. You just need to be patient. There are a million resources from the internet or even books that can teach you how to develop your green thumb. (Here’s an onion and a potato to start with.) Developing the skill is the key. A big space is also not a requirement, because you can grow your vegetables in containers or even in a patch of land.
Living minimally is in line with sustainable living. Buying things only when you need to saves you a lot of bucks and maximizes its worth. Make it a habit before purchasing a product, always ask yourself, why do you need an upgrade? Is this essential? Having fewer material things means less production and less damage on natural resources that comes with manufacturing of these products.
Stay away from harmful chemicals and plastic
Harmful chemicals such as pesticides are damaging for the environment specially its disposal. That is why its availability in the market is regulated. Same goes with the use of plastic, although its use is not regulated, its disposal and accumulation are detrimental to the environment. Keep away from pesticides, let the weeds grow then turn it over to serve as green manure then mulch or if that didn’t work, manually remove it. Or better yet, let it grow and design around it. The more natural the garden looks, the better it is for enforcing biodiversity. For plastics, instead of using plastic for groceries, use reusable grocery bags. Replace your plastic water bottles with ‘safe’ reusable cups and bottles.
These are just some of the ways that can kickstart the new you. There’s a lot more you can find on trusty resources online. Again, this can be difficult at first, but you’ll get use to it and you’d see improvements in your life in the long run.