The term sustainable living is thrown around by nearly everyone. The media, companies, and plenty of people you know will refer to it, but what does it mean?
Like so much, the term sustainability is much more complex than we give it credit for. I mean there is a simple version; “Trying to use minimal natural resources to maximise ecological balance”. But taken as an entire concept, there is a great deal of complexity. Take the idea of sustainability circles, which look like this:
This sees that sustainability can be broken down in multiple considerations (We’ll take a deeper look at some of these factors later in this article) that all add together to show how well society is dealing with the issue.
And deal with it we must. As a planet, we face an unprecedented challenge with the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and subsequent heating of the earth, due to human activities. We’re in a massive plastic environmental catastrophe, and our food is increasingly toxic.
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. The increasingly powerful voices of groups of environmentalists, like the climate group and grassroots movements like vegans, are starting to make a change.
Additionally, some countries are starting to make headway into the issues around how we generate our energy. Costa Rica is committed to being 100% carbon neutral in just two years.
So, yes, we've got serious environmental problems to resolve, but techniques and mindsets are being changed to give us a fighting chance (even if the political will is sometimes lacking). But how did we arrive here? What has tipped the balance to make things look so bleak?
Many people feel, incorrectly as it turns out, that the issue to climate change has come to light in the last 30 years or so. Scientists have been warning of increased temperatures for over a hundred years.
Human activity has been changing the ecology of our planet since we started chopping down trees. Albeit slowly, our ‘advancements’ let to a climate defining moment of the industrial revolution.
It was from 1780 to around 1840 that we began to shift from human power (and forced animal labour) to mechanical and electrical power. This initially meant steam, which was generated by burning wood and coal. Later gas and oil were used. This meant that during this period we chopped down trees and burned them while also releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
It’s hardly surprising then that atmospheric carbon is now far higher than at any point in the last 800,000 years.
Something needs to change and change quickly if we are to avoid massive loss of life on this planet.
What might a sustainable way of life look like?
If may seem difficult to imagine, in our consumerist and fairly self-centred society, but real and lasting change is possible.
Using the circles of sustainability we showed above, what needs to change to make this difference? The true complexity is that all four circles, ecology, economy, culture and politics are interlinked. Failure or success in one of these areas will have a knock-on effect in the other areas.
Right now this is where the greatest issues can be seen, but only because widespread political, cultural, and economic failures have pushed us here. The issues in our ecology are becoming more visible and affecting more people than ever before. Sadly, sometimes it’s only when people are personally affected by climate issues that they take notice of the problems.
Never known for taking quick and decisive action. The ability of our politicians to make effective change is hampered by private interest lobby groups and a severe lack of understanding of the issues at hand in some countries. When President Trump said that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer, he showed just how far we have to go.
It’s one thing to ask industrialised nations with a high GDP and social stability to find ways to increase sustainable living at a personal level, and quite another to ask countries with massive social and economic issues to make that same level of change. Additionally, some countries have contributed very little to global carbon level, and asking them to bear the cost carries difficult moral implications.
Often, how the culture of a country sees ecological issues is trickled down from the political and media spheres. A good example here is recycling, where governments who take steps to encourage good practise at an individual level see a real boost in personal proactive sustainable living in other areas.
Sustainable living at a personal level
OK, so we’ve seen how things look at international and national levels. What about at the personal level? We’ve looked at how veganism is linked to sustainable living in other articles, but diet is one of the key areas where personal change is possible.
Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger are making this a battleground for hearts and minds when it comes to cutting down the number of animal products in our diets. It’s quite something when 95% of all plant-based burgers in the US were brought by meat-eaters.
“If the average American cut just a quarter pound of beef a week from their diet, about one hamburger, it would be the equivalent of taking 10 million cars off the road for a year.” - Sujatha Bergen, Natural Resources Defence Council Health Campaigns Director.
We’ve all come up against that meat eater who says “I would be vegan, but I just can’t live without X”. By making plant-based products that are all but identical to their meat-based originals, positive change is a real possibility.
However, it does need to be said that many vegans have cut animal products simply by making a personal choice, rather than by using meal replacement products. What’s more important? Having a bacon roll in the morning or the wholesale destruction of all life on planet earth (OK, it’s not that simple, but serves to make a point).
Beyond diet lies a sea of additional personal choices. How do you shop? What lifestyle changes are you willing to make to cut energy use? Are you willing to cut plastic use in your household?
Your ethical standpoint will dictate, to a large degree, how far you are willing to go in this way. Do you feel that you have an ethical responsibility to reduce your impact on the environment? Many people place this moral burden on governments or private industry. They have a massive role to play, for sure, but so do you.
Love it or hate it, capitalism allows for personal choice. If enough people stop buying things that make use of animal products, plastic, or environmental toxins, they will become uneconomical to produce.
This is why, at many levels, positive change starts with you. It’s a big burden and requires, for many of us, large changes in our lifestyle that can be very hard. No one said it’s going to be easy.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Keep your buying profile as minimal as possible. Choose to do without, rather than buy that plastic covered product.
There are many steps you can take, many are common sense, but nearly all require you to change existing behaviour.
Making your lifestyle a more ethically led, moral, and sustainable one is not just possible, it’s vital.Vitally Vegan do what we can in the production and distribution of our range of vegan protein powders. If you have any questions about our mission and passion for the environment, please do get in touch.