Sustainable Living - How much is enough?
Sustainable living is something you hear a lot about these days. With climate change and global warming I think most of us would agree that sustainability is important. It's something that I've been thinking about more and more recently . But what does sustainable living really mean and how much of an effort is enough?
The definition of sustainable living , according to Wikipedia, is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources, and one's personal resources. The concept is not that complicated, but the practice can be.
Our history has measured progress by innovations - from stone tools to steel, literal horsepower to fuel engines, hand made to machine made. abacus to computer algorithms. Automation makes production faster and easier. We're currently living through what some people have termed the golden age of innovation, when technology has advanced faster and in greater leaps than in any period before. Think about the rise of smart phones. The first smart phone came on the market in 1994, 25 years ago, the same year Amazon was founded. The first iphone came out in 2007, 12 years ago. I can order a car service, food for delivery, and some items from Amazon to be delivered in two hours at the touch of a button. I can make a phone call from almost anywhere, or google something if I need information. Life is easier in many respects because of this.
It's also easier than ever to be a consumer. All life requires consumption - oxygen, water, food, etc. No living organism can exist without consuming. But I'm not talking about the bare necessities, or even things to make life moderately comfortable. I'm talking about the conveniences that many of us take for granted.
Take Amazon Prime. I love Amazon Prime. Getting things in two days is awesome. Not quite instant gratification but pretty close. Forget to buy someone a gift until the week of their birthday and Amazon Prime has you covered. You don't have to interrupt your day to go to a store and you have a much wider selection of things to choose from. I love online clothes shopping for a similar reason. But what about the environmental impact of shipping your chosen items to your door? If you choose to have a bunch of things delivered in two days because you have Prime those things may ship from different locations in separate packages and be delivered by different trucks in order to get to you within the delivery time frame. While delivery can actually be more environmentally friendly than driving to a store and picking things up it depends on companies being able to bundle things together in one shipment and schedule the delivery based on the most efficient route. And that doesn't take into account the packaging and how much of it is actually recyclable, or recycled.
What about every day life? How many of us commute to work by driving alone? Public transportation is not always available or time efficient, and when it is taking it can limit your mobility because of its schedules. When we order take out from a restaurant there's the plastic, or sometimes compostable, packaging required to transport it to your destination. How many of the things that you buy at the grocery store produce plastic waste that's not recyclable? And then there's the issues around meat, fish and anything containing corn syrup or its derivatives.
The list of how our daily lives can have a negative impact on the environment goes on and on. It's easy to throw up your hands and say there's no way to win so we shouldn't bother because nothing will ever be enough. But I believe doing something, however small, is better than doing nothing. Deciding how much to do is a personal decision.
A few things to keep in mind.
1. If you are in a position to do something to help the environment you lead a privileged life. There are people who genuinely don't because they are too busy working multiple jobs to keep a roof over their heads, or can't afford to because we live in a world where processed food is less expensive than whole and whole food takes time to prepare, or any number of other reasons. Having choices is a privilege.
2. This is not about shaming anyone for their Amazon Prime or Door Dash habit, or any of the things you rely on to get things done in your daily life. I don't believe these things are bad, or that we should try to live the way things were at the turn of the century, or even further back. That said...
3. Your life has an environmental impact. Everyone's does. So, educate yourself on how. Take an hour out of your week and educate yourself on the impact of the things you take for granted like what's recyclable or what happens to the clothes you donate to Good Will or throw away as you Konmari your home. Awareness is important. It may lead to making different choices. Or not. You get to decide.
Photo by Sophia Dunkin-Hubby