Sustainability means different things to different organizations and people.
In the eyes of the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability refers to “the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. “
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines sustainability as “the capacity to improve the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the Earth’s supporting eco-systems.”
Environmentalist Paul Hawkins states “sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth’s two most complex systems—human culture and the living world.
In ecology, sustainability is the capacity to endure. Genes, species, and ecosystems (“biodiversity”) should remain diverse and productive indefinitely.
However, the current extinction rate is 1,000 to 10,000 greater than the natural background rate. This means every year approximately 18,000 to 55,000 species disappear forever from the planet, and we know the cause of this biodiversity crisis: Human activity. It is the first time in the history of life a major mass extinction event will have a biological cause. The top extinction and endangerment threats include habitat destruction and degradation; accidental or purposeful introduction of invasive species; climatic changes; and over-harvesting, over-hunting, over-fishing–over-consumption of natural resources in general.
Sustainability, by any definition, does not exist at present.
What then should we do? It feels too insurmountable, too hopeless.
In the class I created and teach for the University of Cincinnati (“The Endangered Earth”), I ask students to write endangered species blogs, whereby they end with a call to action, and to design conservation infograms to address and market potential solutions to problems. The students began the course with misconceptions. They didn’t believe an individual could make a difference. They didn’t realize adopting one sustainable behavior/action could have a big impact. But, by the end of the course, they either have already made or plan to make changes to live more sustainably.
Change is the crux of the matter. And, change is frightening.
We balk at change, and changing anything with our status quo automatically means disrupting our comfort zone as we shirk old habits to adopt new habits. I get it. I don’t like change either. But look at me now, living in a 15ft camper in the middle of nowhere with mostly myself as company. 😀 I wasn’t sure I could do it. Some can’t believe we’re doing this and don’t know how we do it. 🙂 But we’re doing perfectly fine and enjoying the Wanderful Life.
Sometimes change is for the better.
Compounding the challenge of change is the lack of evident results. We want to know we’ve done a good thing, right? We want to reduce biodiversity loss and increase the capacity to endure, right? Except how do we really know? Well, the truth is we won’t know until later. But I can say if we do nothing now, it’ll be too late later. All we can do is hope for better and do our best. Isn’t that how every aspect of our life goes anyway? 🙂
Let’s consider deforestation. Between 1990 and 2016, the World Bank reports a loss of 502,000 square miles, an area larger than the South Africa Deforestation (Nat Geo).
Forests contain 60-70% of the biodiversity of plants and animals; therefore, a loss of forest constitutes a greater magnitude loss of biodiversity. One extrapolation analysis report indicates if tropical deforestation continues unabated, a sixth mass extinction event will most likely occur in the next century. This extrapolation does not include any of the other stressors nor the losses of other forest or habitat types. Global biodiversity loss from tropical deforestation
What causes deforestation on this scale? Four commodities contribute to 99% of global deforestation: animal agriculture (cattle, namely), palm oil, soybean, and timber production. Remember Economics 101: Consumer demand drives supply. Therefore, 99% of the deforestation is caused by human demand. Granted, it’s not that simple.
Some timber is sustainably harvested. Sustainable Forestry
Some soybean farming is sustainable. United Soybean Board: Sustainability
Sustainable ranching is possible. WWF Sustainable Ranching Initiative
By now, you may realize you have to do your research when it comes to supplying your demand in a sustainable way. The onus is on you. This is why individuals make a huge difference!
Thus, if you unknowlingly purchased a snack food with palm oil unsustainably sourced (Nestle’s KitKats, for example. Nestle just lost their certified sustainable palm oil for breaches.), you have inadvertently further endangered Sumantran tiger, elephant, rhino, and orangutan and brought them closer to extinction.
I will assume you don’t want to endanger plants and animals. If so, continue reading to find out how YOU can create the change and world you want!
The Six R’s (Rules) of Sustainability
Ask yourself if you really need the product. Don’t be a consumer if you don’t have to be. All you truly need in this life is food, water, shelter, and clothing. Learn to live with less. The key to happiness isn’t all the things you own. Studies have shown people find more satisfaction if they use their hands to create something, such as with woodworking, knitting, gardening, and of course any of the arts. You have something you made to show for your efforts. It instills a sense of pride and accomplishment. Also, I know from watching my dad die of esophageal cancer, that, in the end, all that matters is love.
Reuse or repurpose what you already have or reinvent to use as something new (e.g., empty pickle jar can become a container for something else; empty spray bottle can be filled again with non-chemical cleaner). I save all my glass jars and often I use those glass jars for my homemade sauces and dressings, or for leftovers. But they can hold safety pins, buttons, nails, etc. We’ve saved some cardboard egg cartons for our future homestead that will have egg-laying chickens. No need to buy something new.
Speaking of reuse…you should invest in a good reusable cup. It takes 6 times as much water to make the plastic water bottle than it holds. Does that sound like a good use of a precious natural resource?
…and a reusable bag! I will admit I’ve bought NONE of the reusable bags I own. 🙂 I’ve gotten many as gifts or free from events. 🙂
We also buy bulk spices, and I’d kept old spice jars to reuse. Sometimes the spice matches (e.g., cumin in a cumin labeled jar); sometimes not.
Reduce your energy, water, and natural resource consumption. Buy energy efficient appliances and vehicles. Replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent or LED light bulbs. Turn lights off as you leave a room, and unplug unnecessary electrical appliances, including your game console and phone charger. Turn off the faucet as you brush your teeth, and aim for a 5 minute shower (take a bath if you shower longer than 12 minutes). If you drop an ice cube, place it in a pet’s water bowl or into a plant container. Heck, toss it outside for the lawn. Combine car trips, or better yet bike or walk that short distance to the store or post office. I could probably write a book on this. 😛
Make decisions that reduce the amount of waste produced. The less you consume, the less trash. Bring your own resuable bag to the store to reduce plastic bag waste (plastic bags that end up in the ocean look like jellyfish, and sea turtles eat them). Bring your own reusable straw to restaurants. Buy in bulk, rather than single serving, or economy size. Buy products with less packaging or with recycled packaging. If your community allows it, compost your organic materials. If your community doesn’t allow it, petition for it! Did you know you could take your own coffee mug to Starbucks and receive a 10-cent discount on your purchase? You can bring your own “to-go” containers for leftovers at restaurants.
I cut up an old bathroom towel rug and repurposed the squares as wipes after I pee. I effectively have reduced my toilet paper consumption and waste, and we save money too. These squares are reusable. I simply rinse them out in the shower with me, then put them into the laundry. Clearly I’ve brought them to the camper. Considering the freezing problems we’ve had, imagine the build up of toilet paper in the sewer hose if I used it every time I peed. *gross face*
Shane and I both use handkerchiefs instead of facial tissues to reduce the demand on our boreal forests. I purchased my organic unbleached cotton ones from the Organic Handkerchiefs Company, a small-scale woman-owned business in Florida. Support small business!! 😀 You could do us one better and cut up a t-shirt to use for your handkerchiefs. 🙂
We found these cloth napkins at the antique store, which means we not only reduced our consumption of throw-away paper napkin products but also of virgin resources to make new napkins. We rebuy secondhand.
Instead of using sponges we have to throw away eventually, we opt for an old-fashioned wash cloth. I brought two with us.
We also use bamboo cooking utensils and bamboo toothbrushes (with positive messages) rather than plastic ones. Bamboo and sustainability are like peanut butter and jelly. 🙂 Pandas would agree. 😛 Bamboo is grown without pesticides or fertilizers, requires no irrigation, rarely needs replanting, grows rapidly, respires more 33% more oxygen than equivalent stand of trees, hinders soil erosion, and has the lowest environmental impact of any other fiber, especially synthetic. ❤
While some plastics are reusable for quite some time, plastic production leads to plastic pollution–nurdles, very small round pellets , are a byproduct and end up in the oceans. They look like fish eggs, and many marine animals eat the nurdles. 😥 And then microplastics eaten by fish that you eat end up in you. Bioaccumulation. *Blech*
Remember buying in bulk? Instead of continually buying new plastic soap dispensers every time we run out, we buy the economy soap and refill our reusable soap dispenser. It’s also cooler than any plastic one available. 😛 I can’t wait until I make my own soaps!
Fix your broken products instead of buying new. I’ve had the same 19″ TV for 25 years. The tube has been replaced once, but it works perfectly, even if it isn’t a new fangled HD flat screen. Electronic products require very rare, precious materials. We will run out. I repair my vehicle until the cost of repair is greater than the insured value. Matter-of-fact, you should keep any vehicle in good repair and stick to a maintenance schedule because vehicle leaks, for example, cause environmental pollution. Run-off from the streets ends up in the soil and stream system.
Buy recycled or already used products. Buying something already produced doesn’t create a demand for virgin resources. Recycling without buying products made with recycled materials almost defeats the purpose of recycling! I bought antique bookshelves, rocker, china, etc. You can find high-quality furniture and household items at antique malls, flea markets, thrift stores, garage and estate sales. Buying new wood furniture creates a demand for wood products, most often extracted in third world nations and sometimes illegally.
Materials from your discarded products can be separated and turned into new products, such as aluminum foil or paper, including toilet paper. Fortunately we have recycling at the campground, and we continue to recycle during the Wanderful Life. However, recycling plastics has problems. Only 4% of plastics in the U.S. are recycled, 17% burned as an energy source, and toxic pollution arises from either process. I try as much as possible to avoid plastic, but we don’t have much choice when it comes to some things, such as yogurt containers. Still, I recycle them but am concerned about whether the action is a boon or bust for the environment.
Sustainability and You
Check out this Personal Environmental Sustainability Behavior Quiz
Your score will help you pinpoint your behaviors you could improve upon to promote ecological sustainability. You can use the 6 R’s to develop your action plan.
To recap, the 6 R’s (Rules) for sustainability are:
For those considering adopting an R, start slowly. One thing leads to another, they say, and you can build upon your progress toward sustainability. You don’t have to run to the country side to grow your own food. You can grow food in a balcony or porch container. 🙂 You don’t have to own beehives to protect bees, but you can eliminate pesticides from your lawncare routine. 🙂 You don’t have to cut up old material to reuse as pee wipes, but perhaps you’ll consider buying toilet paper made from recycled paper. 🙂 You don’t have to go vegan or vegetarian, but you could adopt Meatless Monday or reduce your meat consumption. 🙂 You don’t have to build a windmill, but you can lower your thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer. 🙂 You have so many options to be more sustainable.
Ask yourself: Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? Every action has a reaction, and too many of our human actions have caused a negative reaction in ecological terms.
Practicing the 6 R’s is very simple. Most of them will save you money while you save biodiversity. 🙂 I’d love to hear your examples of how you practice the 6 R’s. Feel free to brag in the comments about your measures to have a sustainable impact! 🙂 ❤
Every new day brings a promise and a hope. As long as I have another day, I promise to make it count and make a difference. ❤