There is no right way to be sustainable, because it means different things to different people.
I am studying a Masters in Environment and Development, which focuses on sustainability issues and climate change, so you’d think I’d be perfectly ‘sustainable’ considering I am a somewhat of an ‘expert’ in the field. Yet, I’m not! We live in a society where plastic is inescapable, where the world requires us to consume and the latest ‘sustainable’ products are expensive and not widely accessible to all.
So, what does sustainability mean to me?
The answer is going to be different for everyone, because ‘sustainability’ is very personal and is something that you have to discover for yourself. I often find that when people refer to living sustainably, they focus on minimizing their waste and carbon footprint; reducing consumption all together; offsetting their travels or switching to a bamboo toothbrush. Yet, whilst these micro changes are environmentally friendly, it isn’t going to solve the impending issue, that is, climate change.
There are two types of sustainability – personal sustainability and environmental sustainability
On the flip side, others feel that ‘sustainability’ is just a buzz word, that often seems too difficult or unattainable. But throughout my own sustainable journey and learning it throughout my studies, I have realized that there are two types of sustainability – personal sustainability and environmental sustainability.
Personal sustainability is so important, and it should come before environmental sustainability (I personally think so anyway). So, what do I mean by personal sustainability? I’m talking about health, happiness and overall well-being. We have all heard before that you need to look after yourself before you can help anyone else. It’s the same with sustainability, you need to be focusing on what makes you healthy and happy, to be able to help the planet in the same way. Health and happiness are the pillars of a good life. If we are able to fulfill those needs, then that is when it can lead us to environmental sustainability.
Environmental sustainability is even more pressing. For many years, we have watched the state of our planet deteriorate, and now irreversible ecological changes are settling in. Earth is a fixed habitat – it doesn’t get any bigger or better just because our way of life requires it too. Resources are finite, yet our consumption seems infinite. This is where individual sustainable actions really count. But it’s those actions that look different for everyone as it depends on where we live, what we have access to and if we are fortunate to be able to focus on lessening our impact on the world. For me, I find the biggest way I can tread lighter on this planet is by living a vegetarian lifestyle, by consuming out of necessity rather than mindlessly and by flying as little as I can. But there are so many other ways that we can be more mindful and be more sustainable, therefore everyone’s sustainable journey looks different – and that’s okay!
For me, these two concepts of sustainability are closely linked and supporting sustainability is a big part of who I am which brings me unmeasurable joy. I feel as though I have a pretty good idea about what it means to me, and so I have some questions you may want to ask yourself to help you get started on your sustainability journey.
- What are the top three things in life that bring you immense joy?
- What are the top three things that are toxic to your well-being? This may be physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
- Of the things that bring you joy, how often to do actively make time for them? Do you prioritize them in your life?
If you already do, that’s fab! Some things may be easier to prioritise than others, but that doesn’t mean the harder aspects should be ignored. If you have noted them in your top tree, they must deserve some attention! Remember, filling your own cup is so important and is a building block to open yourself to live more sustainably. You don’t have to do everything all at once, maybe take one item you want to focus on and write down some ways you can prioritize it.
Once you feel like you have a good footing on your personal sustainability, then you can start to think about how you want to become more environmentally friendly.
What is something that you have noticed to be an environmental issue, is there anything that you can do to help?
Remember that we can’t solve climate change on our own, so focus on what you can do to help. Is there a lot of litter where you live? Maybe go on a walk with a friend and litter pick! Or incorporate a few vegetarian meals into your meal plans.
I hope these questions help you discover what sustainability is for you and that you can bring yourself to your full potential and inspire the world in anyway you can.
Just a gentle reminder – you cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do.
Until next time,
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