Sustainability. The word itself has increasingly crept into our vocabulary. The concept, not quite so much. The practice, not nearly enough.
Even as sustainability has become a buzzword, not everyone quite understands what it means. One survey a few years ago by EcoPulse found that only 59 percent of consumers understood what the word “sustainable” meant, and 76 percent simply considered it “expensive.” But a Nielson poll that didn’t use the word had an interesting result: 73 percent of consumers said they would definitely change their consumption habits if it meant reducing their environmental impact.
Translation: people want to do what’s right. We just need the information in order to do so. Now, during this unique time on Earth, we have all been forced to take a pause as we wait out this global health crisis. The Japanese character for “crisis” is an amalgam of hardship+opportunity. We all have an opportunity to reassess how we have been living and make 2020 the year we truly incorporate sustainability into our lives.
What is sustainability?
So first things first, let’s agree on a definition. The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development has a good one: “Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Why does sustainability matter?
If the human species does not learn how to live sustainably on a global scale disaster will inevitably ensue -- one that cannot be overcome like the present global pandemic, in a few months or even years. You can’t fix a broken planet. But we have also recently learned that we can change our individual behavior for the collective good as long as we have the right information.
The signs are everywhere that our consumer society is not sustainable as presently constituted. Scientists have calculated that human’s collective demands are currently at 150 percent of the Earth’s renewable biocapacity. In simple terms, this means we are spending our planet’s resources faster than they can replenish.
The good news is each of us has the ability to change this trajectory. Let’s look at a few easy ways to get started in making 2020 the year we start living more sustainably, individually and collectively.
Do we need everything we buy? The answer is no, otherwise, we wouldn’t throw so much of it out. The average American consumer produces about 4.6 pounds of trash every day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning each of us produces on average 1,679 pounds of waste per year and 6,351 pounds per family. Each person throws out 80 pounds of clothes every year. And consider how many resources it takes to produce each pound of everything we throw away. To produce a single plastic bottle, for example, takes the equivalent of filling 1/4th of that same bottle with oil; it takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a single pair of denim jeans. Just pause a moment before every purchase you make and consider both your actual need and the planet’s needs.
Go by that great grandmotherly adage: buy once and buy well. Look for things that last in your life, not in the landfill. Take care of what you do have to get maximum use out of it. Get rid of plastic and polystyrene use: no more single-use plastic bottles, razors, straws, utensils, cups, bags, and to-go containers. Get a good water bottle and refill it. Buy bulk rice or nuts or whatever you can instead of packaged. And those laundry detergents or cleaning products that advertise themselves as “eco?” If they come in a big old plastic bottle, or in most kinds of packaging, they aren’t sustainably produced. Look for “zero waste” shops where you live that offer refillables on everything from toothpaste to household cleaners, or order such goods in bulk online (or learn how to make your own). Avoid any kind of unnecessary packaging, especially plastic. Once you start looking for waste, you begin to see it everywhere; but once you start the process of eliminating waste from your life, it actually becomes fun, and a lot easier than you might guess.
Don’t just recycle. Buy recycled materials.
Millions of people think they are doing their part simply by separating their trash into recycling bins. There are two problems with this. First, a lot of what we send to be recycled never gets recycled. One major waste collection operator, Waste Management, says that 25 percent of what it takes in for recycling is too contaminated to recycle. Meanwhile, China, formerly the biggest purchaser of recyclable waste on the planet, last year stopped buying (even before China’s ban, only 9 percent of discarded plastic was being recycled, while 12 percent was burned). Second, recycling only works if consumers are buying recycled goods.
Keep your eyes peeled for recycled products. This isn’t just paper goods, these days -- everything from clothing to furniture to bicycles to toys now utilizes recycled materials. Take what we do at Aura 7 as just one example. Athletic wear is among the least sustainably produced of all clothing. Cotton is water and energy-intensive to produce, while synthetics are petroleum-based and non-biodegradable. We use biodegradable fabrics, some of which are made from recycled fishing nets.
Sustainability will become more than a poorly understood word but a meaningful action globally as we all begin to incorporate its practice into everything we do.
See Aura 7's sustainably produced activewear for a way to move more lightly on the Earth, as well as access to yoga tutorials and other eco-conscious resources.