You’ve probably heard the word sustainable being thrown around a lot lately but it's become one of those vague, abstract buzzwords that can't be defined, like synergy.
What Even Is Sustainability
There are a million ways to describe sustainability but a common theme is that a system, society or species is capable of infinite functioning without external support. Like a perpetual motion machine, the outputs of a sustainable system are all fully regenerated into it's inputs.
Most definitions when describing global sustainability will also reference three “pillars” of:
Social - Improving the quality of life and education for all humans
Economic - Without which the other pillars couldn’t function
Environmental - Maintaining the physical resources required for society and economics
By now it should be pretty obvious that sustainability is not just for tree-hugging hippies. If you love your family and friends, you care about sustainability. If you believe in the progress of humanity, you care about sustainability. If you value the output of the planet, whether plant root or iron ore rock, you care about sustainability.
Sustainability is in the best interests of every single person in the world and we all know that hypocrisy is essentially the art of caring about something without the actions to preserve it. So, in this world of consumerism and misinformation, here are 20 different habits, practises and lifestyle changes you can make to lead a more sustainable life.
Eat Less Meat and Animal Products - This is number one for a reason; reducing the amount of meat and animal products you eat is the fastest, easiest way you can be more sustainable. Look, this is not a vegan shame fest, as whether or not you eat meat is completely a personal choice but however you feel about eating these products, our current consumption levels will never be sustainable. Period. Again, eat whichever meat you want but eat way less of it. Two to four days of veganism a week could literally half your sustainability footprint and besides, falafel tastes amazing!
Reduce - You don’t need that new shirt. Will your life really be better if you buy that high-powered, nutrient extraction blender? If the recent Marie Kondo trend has shown us anything, it’s that people have too much stuff. You don’t need to buy more.
Reuse - You don’t need to be one of those eco-craft ninjas but there’s usually another way your trash could be practically used. You want your place to look kitsch and rustic? Don't buy a $10, Etsy mason jar, just wash out that pasta sauce container!
Recycle - This is the last of the three sustainability R’s, as it always should be. All waste should be avoided as much as possible but recycling can be great for when there really is no possible way to use it. Just keep in mind that a lot of our recycling actually ends up in landfill because there isn’t enough global market demand for recycled products, so you’re not off the hook just because you put paper in the yellow bin!
Sustainable Purchases - My rule here is that whenever I go to buy something, I do a quick search of “is X company unsustainable”. This is a pretty quick and easy way to avoid the worst of the worst companies and products. To get you started, Nestle is evil, Nespresso is not, Zara is evil, Patagonia is not.
Better Banking - On a similar note, our financial institutions have significantly more spending power than you and often they're not making sustainable purchases of their own. Many of the larger banks and institutions have been found to support child slavery, corruption, environmental damage and countless other non-sustainable activities through their investments. Put your money where your mouth is and transfer to a better bank.
Next Week, Not Next Day - I get it. Online shopping gives you an escape from the drudgery of life, but it’s bad. You want overnight delivery? Well then it has to be custom fit into an air delivery instead of into empty freight seat, wasting emissions-producing fuel. Instead, see number 2 first and if you still, absolutely have to buy something and it absolutely has to be online, save yourself the $3 and avoid next day shipping.
Op ‘Til You Drop - As much as I preach reducing purchases, I occasionally go on a good binge. The distinction is that it’s always at my local op shop. Racking through the second-hand, often hardly worn donations really is like a sustainability treasure hunt. It doesn’t hurt your wallet quite as much either.
Donate - As above, op shops are a goldmine and woefully undervalued societal resource. Make sure to keep them stocked up by donating your (usable) second-hand goods and maybe more people will start getting involved.
Prevent Packaging - The amount of packaging should be a major purchase decision, especially in the grocery store. You’d also be surprised at truly how little stores care if you bring your own container or bag (à la keep cups), so put down that plastic.
Water Waste - Of everything that support life, water is the single most important resource but supplies are running low. So keep up here: 4 minute showers. Full dishwasher and washing machines. Time-saver modes. No running taps. A cistern displacement device. Bucket in the shower for the garden. Every single one of these. Every day. Capiche?
Power Waste - Walk around your house. How many appliances are plugged in and switched on, rooms have lights on with no-one in them, media is playing with no-one watching. All of these are draining power (and your wallet). Switch off at the wall and learn to live a little bit darker - your eyes and sleep might thank you as well.
Winter Warming - This is less relevant for us down under but you really should never be using a heater. Put on a damn jacket or some thermals if you’re really that cold. Save the artificial climate control for those summer days.
High ‘n’ Dry - You don’t need to use a dryer. Take literally five minutes to hang out and stop being lazy.
Finish the Fridge - Developed countries waste a disgusting 20% of food that we buy from grocery stores, most of it being fresh produce. There are heaps of sites where you can list what’s in your fridge and get countless recipes to use them, so learn how to cook and stop throwing away food.
Finish your Plate - Mum said it and I’m saying it too. Don’t make or serve more for yourself then you know you can eat and worst case, Tupperware exists for a reason.
Dispose the Disposables - Anything single-use is an affront to the sustainability gods. You don’t even need those fancy bamboo cutlery sets or the like, just bring some from home and a sealable container to put them in.
Getting From A to B, Sustainably - There’s no single sustainable method of transport as individual circumstances need to be taken into account. Generally the hierarchy from most to least is walking, bikes, trains, buses, carpooling and finally driving. Try evaluating whether you really, truly need to use what you currently do and if not, maybe it’s time to buy a two-wheeler.
Grow Your Own - Cities and towns are almost always located on prime agricultural land and yet millions of hectares are dedicated to boring, old, homogenous grass! This is one of the bigger ones but even if you've never gardened before, there's a first time for everything!
Compost - We've already covered this one.
Honestly I could keep going. There are so many ways to live more sustainably, these were just the first 20 I could come up with. Living a sustainable life matters and it's the everyday habits that make up life. How sustainable we become will determine whether our species survives, thrives or dies in the coming centuries. You get to decide which it will be.