There is a wealth of advice when it comes to living sustainably, from easy to do activities such as turning off lights when you leave a room and recycling paper, to more challenging changes like ‘Going Zero Waste’ (where you aim to send nothing to landfill – see https://www.goingzerowaste.com/ for more details) and ‘Plogging’ (picking up rubbish whilst out jogging). To reduce our carbon footprint, we need to walk, cycle and use public transport instead of driving as well as reducing long-haul flights; although this has not been difficult to do this past year and a half! We are encouraged to buy locally, eat home-cooked vegetarian meals and upcycle. Whenever we do make a purchase, we need to make sure it’s ‘ethical’ and, when buying clothes, we should ensure they are second-hand or from a sustainable fashion company. When we consider all these necessary factors, is living this way actually sustainable?
Let’s start with the official definition:
Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people.
Essentially, this means considering future generations when we are making decisions now, whilst taking a holistic approach and asking what impact today’s actions are going to have on the economy, the environment, and our community.
Every action we take must have these three pillars in mind in order to live sustainably. It’s not essential to make ALL these changes at once as this will be difficult to maintain. Instead, make one small change at a time and build up to more ambitious ones when you are feeling adventurous. Here are a few examples of what you can do to start to live sustainably split into ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and more ‘challenging’ categories, depending on individual preferences and limitations and how much time you have:
Easy: Buy quality goods that will last longer and reduce the number of times you need to replace them. This may mean paying a little extra initially; however this will be offset by fewer future purchases due to an increased product lifetime – you may even end up saving money!
Medium: Source locally produced items (at least European, if not British) to ensure your goods have not travelled far and by buying British you are supporting our economy. You will also help the economy recover after the pandemic by supporting small, local businesses; they need all the support they can get to stay afloat and flourish. You are also less likely to spend time and money travelling to get your goods, which reduces your carbon footprint, and you’ll probably be using less packaging compared to online shopping. It’s often easier for a small business to make sustainable changes because they don’t have bureaucratic red tape that inevitably causes delays.
Challenging: Support businesses that are environmentally friendly, however beware of ‘Greenwashing’ – an attempt by a business to make you believe they are doing more for the environment than, they actually are, in reality. This may mean reading into claims in more detail – replacing plastic straws with paper ones sounds ideal, but only if the replacement paper ones are fully recyclable. It may also be beneficial to educate yourself on terms and phrases such as ‘offsetting’, where a company excuses one set of bad practices by employing a separate, much more ethical practice, and thus claims a net benefit. The real benefit would be in not committing to this bad practice in the first place!
Easy: Walking to school and work may not be possible for us all, but we can manage to park a little further away and walk the rest. This will not only impact on your immediate environment, but you’ll also feel better for getting that extra bit of fresh air, exercise and daylight.
Medium: Look at biodegradable packaging on goods such as fresh produce; The Blue Planet Berry Company use 100% plant-based packaging for all their berries. Refill store-cupboard essentials at a Zero Waste shop near you and make healthier, home-cooked meals, rather than relying on ready meals. This is less about recycling our plastic waste and more about not producing it in the first place. Think carefully before that next big purchase for your wardrobe or house – consider re-using, buying and selling unwanted goods online and up-cycling.
Challenging: Ever considered a product life-cycle? This means thinking about all the production stages of a product, its use and the disposal of waste when we’re done, and the impact each stage has on our environment. This may include the mining of raw materials; transport to and from a factory, warehouse or shop; carbon footprint, whilst the product is in use (for example if it needs fuel or electricity) and, finally, the disposal stage. Can the product be re-used, upcycled or recycled? This will reduce the carbon footprint at the disposal stage.
Easy: There are many local schemes where you can ‘swap’ or give away quality items for others to re-use. This means supporting local communities and returning to a ‘mend and make do’ ethos. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people in your area, and you’ll find out about ways in which you can support your local community. Local charity shops are full of quality goods, cleared out during lockdown, and are becoming very popular as restrictions are lifted.
Medium: There is a plethora of organisations you can support from the comfort of your sofa. Check out these and offer your support to the ones that resonate most with you:
Challenging: Start your own campaign on matters that mean most to you. Have a look at these websites for more details:
Write or speak to your local MP and attend your local constituency surgery to find out about what others are doing and events you can attend and support.
We, at Green Tomato, are inspired by the National Forest’s vision for the next 25 years, and how they are addressing the challenges faced by our environment, society and economy, by finding innovative solutions that bring them together so that we can all thrive. They are demonstrating real change in a real place, and their work is showing real sustainability in action. You can find out more at: nationalforest.org.
Future generations must be foremost in our minds with every decision we make. There is little doubt we all need to make changes now in order to safeguard a greener planet for a time to come. Taking small steps to sustainable living is a good start; these soon become habit and make way for bigger steps, we can take as a community, to fundamentally change the way we do things. It is about embracing a whole new way of life, one small step at a time. Initialising and stabilising a “new normal” is within each of us.
Everything we do matters.