What is sustainability? Is it just a buzzword? A new marketing trick? Or a lifestyle?
The word sustainability is commonly used in the media, politics, and advertising. So, if you’re trying to understand what sustainability means and why sustainability is important, that’s great news.
In truth, sustainability is a complicated concept. In this post, we’ll answer the questions: what is sustainability, what does sustainability mean in everyday life, and why is sustainability important?
Let’s jump in!
What is Sustainability?
Still asking, what is sustainability? It’s not a simple term to define, but here’s our simplest explanation of what sustainability means.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability means meeting the needs and requirements of the present without limiting future generation’s ability to meet their needs and demands.
In other words, sustainability means living within the limitations of the planet, society, and economy.
The Three Pillars of Sustainability
Sustainability divides into three categories: environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability.
The key thing to remember is that all three pillars are deeply connected.
For example, damage to the environment through deforestation is linked to more frequent natural disasters, such as flooding, landslides, and drought. Natural disasters have a huge impact on people’s lives and social security. They also impact the economy because individuals or governments need to rebuild damaged urban areas, fund emergency aid, and pay for medical care.
What is environmental sustainability? Environmental sustainability means living within the natural resources of the planet. To live an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, we need to consume resources at an equal rate to the rate at which they can be produced.
Let’s imagine you have a 20-litre supply of drinking water. Your water tank will refill every ten days. Drinking 4 litres of water each day would be unsustainable because you’re going to run out after just five days. Therefore, limiting your water consumption to 2-litres of water per day would be a sustainable solution.
Now imagine that your water tank is the world’s supply of drinking water. Using freshwater faster than it can be replaced is unsustainable because it will cause water shortages in the future.
What is sustainability in society? Social sustainability means living in a way that can be maintained in the long term.
A rapidly expanding city that’s mostly powered by fossil fuels and produces little of its own goods is unsustainable in the long term. Meanwhile, a gradually expanding city that produces most of its own energy, food, and other goods could be sustained for generations.
Economic sustainability is the trickiest of the three pillars. What does sustainability mean in an economic sense?
Generally, the term applies to larger companies and nations and their ability to use profit to drive the economy. In an economically sustainable society, the profits from businesses and government would pay citizens' wages, fund public services, and enable more social and economic development.
Also Read: What is Corporate Social Responsibility?
What Does Sustainability Mean in Everyday Life?
Let me give you an example.
Heavy reliance on fossil fuels for energy and petrol is considered unsustainable. Because we use the resources faster than they can be replaced, it limits access to future generations. Additionally, the damage caused to the environment by extracting fossil fuels and the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels will impact the health and livelihood of future generations.
On the other hand, sunlight and wind are renewable energy sources that can’t be used up. Likewise, the manufacturing and maintenance of solar panels and wind turbines have a relatively low impact. Especially when you compare to the environmental damage and pollution that fossil fuels cause. Therefore, powering our homes, offices, and vehicles with renewable energy is sustainable.
Also Read: Six tips to make your office eco-friendly.
To give you another example, modern society’s current dependence on single-use plastics is unsustainable.
- Plastic is mostly made from non-renewable resources such as crude oil and coal.
- Plastic takes hundreds, or even thousands, of years to break down, taking up large areas of landfill sites.
- Plastic releases toxic chemicals into the soil, oceans, and waterways. These chemicals include ‘forever chemicals’ (persistent organic pollutants or POPs), which are commonly found in PVC plastics and don’t break down. Plastic waste, therefore, impacts the quality of essential resources such as water which will affect future generations. At the same time, irresponsible plastic disposal regularly threatens wildlife species.
Why is Sustainability Important?
Despite the huge debates surrounding sustainability, the reason that it’s so important is quite simple. It’s impossible to maintain the current quality of human life, biodiversity, and natural ecosystems without making sustainable changes.
Eventually, fossil fuels and freshwater supplies will run out, wildlife species will become extinct, and natural resources polluted. That’s why it’s so important to start living more sustainably, as individuals and as societies, right now.
Eco-Friendly Living vs Sustainability: What’s the difference?
What is sustainability and what is eco-friendly living? Sustainability, as we defined above, is a complex concept that includes a range of activities. But its focus is on balancing economic and social development with the natural environment while maintaining resources for future generations.
Eco-friendly living is much simpler. It means living in a way that does not harm the planet. Often, choosing to live an eco-friendly lifestyle and purchasing eco-friendly products will be more sustainable. But the two terms are not 100% interchangeable.
Also Read: Top ten eco-friendly living tips.