What sustainability means to me
I’m writing this post on Black Friday, which is ground zero for consumerism. If you’re like me, your email inbox and social media has been bombarded by companies offering discounts and promotions ‘for a limited time only’ in an attempt to get you to purchase items that you don’t necessarily need because you think you are getting a good deal. And you might not even be getting that - research by consumer group Which? has found that only one in 20 Black Friday deals is genuine. So while it makes sense to seek out a bargain on something you need, it’s important not to get caught up in the hype.
I started this site because I wanted to share information and products that help you live and buy more sustainably. But what does sustainable actually mean? If you look it up on Wikipedia you find reference to ‘the capacity for the biosphere and human civilization to coexist’ and a UN report defining sustainable development as “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
By any objective measure we are not meeting this definition of sustainability. The Global Footprint Network measures the demand on and supply of nature and calculates our Ecological Footprint every year. In 2019 we exhausted our ‘supply’ of nature, meaning we used up what the Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate in a year, on 29 July. The date is the earliest ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ has ever happened For the remainder of the year we are in ecological deficit, depleting our natural capital and compromising the planet’s future regenerative capacity. The chart below shows how we have gone from a balance of demand and supply in 1970 to using resources equivalent to 1.75 Earths.
To me, sustainability means redressing that balance and moving back to equilibrium with that planet. By using more resources than can be regenerated, we are effectively depriving future generations of their fair share. Not to mention all the other animal and plant species we share Earth with currently. Collectively we need to move away from a model of growth that relies on the consumption of non-renewable resources and embraces green, renewable sources. That is going to require significant policy changes by our governments, and transformation by our biggest corporations. Individually, particularly here in the West, we need to do our bit too. There are a wealth of resources out there on living more sustainably, not to mention the mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, all of which I will cover in future posts. Fundamentally though, I think we all can start by challenging our behaviours around consumption. When consuming anything, we need to consider how we can do less with more, how we can move away from using things once and throwing them away, and indeed whether we need to consume something at all.
As he always does, I think Sir David Attenborough summed it up best at the launch of Seven Worlds, One Planet. When asked by five-year-old boy what he could do to save the planet (ok, his Dad actually asked on his behalf when the nerves set in), Sir David answered:
“You can do more and more and more the longer you live, but the best motto to think about is not waste things. Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world, and the animals in it, and the plants in it too. This is their planet as well as ours. Don’t waste them.”
What does sustainability mean to you?