Sustainable business, sustainable energy, sustainable food, sustainable mobility, and even sustainable sports; savvy marketers seem to use the term ‘sustainability’ for the sake of it. This way, sustainability threatens to lose any meaning, while the fundamental importance of sustainability increases every day. So what does sustainability mean, and why is it important? Time to clarify it!
Sustainability, what is it, anyway? Before going into environmental sustainability, let’s look at sustainability in general, first. For something to be ‘sustainable’, it has to be maintainable in the same way. For instance, if you spend less money than you make every month, you are living a sustainable lifestyle. To live sustainably, you use your resources in a way that allows you to enjoy the same resources and a similar lifestyle in the future as well.
The same applies to groups, and the most extensive ‘group’ we can think of is all of humanity. To live sustainably in this respect means: using our resources so that future generations can still enjoy them as well. Which ‘resources’, you wonder? In short: our planet. ‘Sustainable’ means that people, planet, and profit are in harmony. To use the language of policymakers: sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (definition by The World Commission on Environment and Development). The Canadian Haida summed it up in a well-known proverb: “We do not inherit the world from our (ancestral) parents, but borrow the world from our children.”
All this talking about sustainability isn’t just smart marketing; it is a much-needed debate, as our current lifestyle is far from sustainable. Take global warming: we are emitting more greenhouse gases than ever. The increased quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere traps heat. As a result, the temperature on earth has been rising over the past 140 years, the so-called greenhouse effect. If we keep doing this, we will make our planet uninhabitable. Our current ways are not just a little unsustainable. They are far, far from sustainable. If we are 100 euros short every month on a 3000 euro budget, this is not sustainable. But we might consider not eating out or shopping less and all will be fine. But what if we are 3000 euros short on a 100 dollar budget?
Such is the current balance of our greenhouse emissions. We are emitting far more than we can afford, so we have to reduce drastically. As Bill Gates bluntly states: “Climate change is like a bathtub slowly filling up with water. Even if we manage to turn off the tap so that only a small stream comes out, the tub will eventually overflow.” But we are not without hope. We can still prevent additional global warming, and yes, every 0.1 degree makes an actual difference. All we have to do is get to zero by 2050 – net-zero to be precise: the small amount of CO₂ emissions that we absolutely cannot get rid of by 2050, we have to capture or store underground. Challenging, but doable.
So what does sustainability look like in our everyday lives? In general, living sustainably should mean that everything you do is emissions-free: the things you buy, how you warm your house, how you get around. You probably won’t be carbon neutral overnight. In Belgium, for example, the CO₂ emissions per inhabitant are 7.27 tonnes/year. Converted, that is over 600 kilograms per month, or 20 kilograms every single day. That is a long #PathToZero emissions. To get there, you need insights, actions and time.
What is causing the majority of your emissions? When you know the root cause, you know which changes have the biggest impact. There are plenty of tools to get insight into your personal emissions. For example, Scone has a simple calculator to calculate your emissions and to see how you compare to the national average.
Once you have a clear picture of your carbon footprint, you can use the three R’s to help guide your lifestyle changes: Reduce: Reduce consumption and reduce your amount of waste. If you can’t reduce… Reuse: … think about reusing or repairing what you already have. Recycle: Last but not least, recycle so that existing materials are used in new products.
What simple changes can you make in your daily life to follow the Rs?