Defining Sustainability / Just because it’s eco-friendly doesn’t mean it’s sustainable (or does it?)

Sustainability. The buzzword of our time. We throw it around and look for it on companies’ websites and products. Sustainable fashion. Sustainable agriculture. Sustainable growth. Heck, I even call myself “sustainable”. But what does it actually mean? And what do I mean when I say it?

sustainable

First, let’s get the cat out of the bag; being sustainable means something different to every single one of us.

I think most of us agree that renewable energy (wind, solar) is “sustainable energy” because we won’t run out of its sources, it creates jobs and it doesn’t harm the environment long term. (In other words, checks all the boxes!) However, a very-soon-to-retire oilfield worker, supporting their family by working for a fossil fuel company, who knows nothing else, might not agree that the solar power boom is sustainable development – for him.

There are three parts to sustainability:

PEOPLE
ENVIRONMENT
ECONOMY

You’ve probably heard of the “Zero Waste movement” which mostly is about living with as low carbon footprint as possible and sending (almost) nothing to landfill. The people who live zero waste are amazing and put a lot of effort into maintaining their lifestyle. To them, prepping meals, cleaning supplies and beauty products from scratch with ingredients bought without packaging is the sustainable thing to do.

To me, buying ready-made, organic, local, small business [insert item here] is the sustainable choice. Sure, that creates packaging waste and I don’t know if the maker composted their scraps but with that purchase, I am supporting a business I’d like to see thrive and that action is sustainable to me.

I recently saw a post in the eco community that said, “We should all cook more at home because restaurants create a lot of waste”. Despite that being true, I am not comfortable with us not supporting local eateries for that reason. Just because something is “eco-friendly” doesn’t mean it’s sustainable.

All though we all think differently when it comes to making the best, most sustainable choice, a common definition could be that “Living sustainably is to live true to one’s values and to act in accordance with how one wishes the future should look like”.

If I want a future where crops are grown naturally and organically, I must buy organic food.

If I want the air to be clean and safe for all beings on earth, I need to lower my personal emissions and vote for politicians who align with me on this topic.

If I want to see my local community flourish, I must shop small and locally made products.

If I want factory farming to be banned, I must eat more plants (less animal products).

If I want more fish than plastic in the ocean, I have to stop eating them and reduce the plastic waste I create that may end up in their habitat.

There are more hopes and dreams I could mention (I have so many!), and I can’t master them all 100% but this is where I am coming from when I say, “I want to live sustainably”. Maybe, “Because I have the privilege, I want to live responsibly” defines it better. (“Responsible Anna” – what a boring blog title!!)

Last but not least, we must remember that because defining sustainability is subjective we also have different opportunities to act. Personally, I can afford to donate to organizations, shop locally made, lease a Tesla, while I feel I don’t have the time it takes  to live a zero waste life, which can be very time consuming. Someone else may have lots of time on their hands and less funds, opting to be sustainable by making their own clothes and growing their own food. Many might fall somewhere in-between. Some people have very little privilege with neither time nor money and for them sustainability is probably something completely different, like working hard to create a more prosperous future for their children, being a good person in their community or simply just getting by.

There is no “one size fits all”. There is no “right answer”. Luckily, by many of us taking a different approach to sustainability (or responsibility!), we can get A LOT done. Don’t you think?

Note: I wanted to write this post because I felt it was time to share some thoughts. A blogger I follow did a poll on Instagram asking people if they felt inspired or guilty seeing eco-friendliness posts (specifically zero waste) and a staggering 50% chose the “guilty box”, which sure is not the intention when someone is sharing “sustainable” tips and tricks. Renee, the mentioned blogger, followed up with a wonderful article about privilege, zero waste and her take on inspiring change outside the “green living bubble”. Link to read it in full HERE.

2 thoughts on “Defining Sustainability / Just because it’s eco-friendly doesn’t mean it’s sustainable (or does it?)

  1. Thank you for this post! I think this is such an important discussion to have! There are so many different ways to be sustainable and I think people get discouraged if they don’t do things the “right” way. I also have been thinking about the topic of privilege s lot on my own blog. I’m happy to see other people are having these discussions!!!

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