An Introductory Guide to Living Sustainably

Steps Towards a Healthier Lifestyle

Dr Tobias Fox

Human Psychology, Philosophy and Human Potential.

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‘‘Unless a commonly held resource e.g. a cow pasture, is regulated in some fashion, we take advantage of and abuse the situation to our individual benefit, to the detriment of all. Individually we will continue to add more cows to the common pasture until our standard of living declines and the ecosystem fails’’ (Garrett Hardin, 1968).

However, that doesn’t have to be our fate. It does mean though that we have to change the way that we do everything. The current model of taking from the earth, making new products that are quickly sent to the landfill, must be replaced with a cyclical model in which resources are continuously reused, and there is no waste. We have to focus on changing to these methods for the next 2-4 decades.

What Does it Mean to Live Sustainably?

Sustainability involves the inner actions between humans and nature, the economic perspective as well as social aspects of fairness and equity.

Sustainability Definition - ‘sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ (Brundtland Comission, 1987).

If humans are to survive then embracing sustainability in all of its forms is crucial. However, even sustainability is actually not enough. We need to move beyond sustainability because it involves the idea moving from scarcity and minimalism to a world that is regenerating with enrichment.

If you asked someone how their relationship is with their girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife and they responded, ‘sustainable’ does it sound like a compliment? We need to move beyond sustainability to thrivability - a world that is thriving with abundance and enrichment.

Sustainability involves finding methods for humans to develop and grow within the bounds that nature provides. Thriving on the other hand includes not only sustaining the environment, but also restoring it to its former health, while at the same time providing a multitude of possibilities where we can each express ourselves and grow. 

Why do we need to change? We are discovering that all webs of life, all food chains are interconnected. Because of the misunderstanding that we have had regarding our place in the world, all ecosystems are in decline. The problems weren’t created intentionally. In fact, we have been oblivious to the potential harm that we were causing until recently. We were just trying to survive, make a living and then those actions expanded to the point of greed. It is our place now, to deal with the ramifications of centuries of abuse to nature and to each other. 

The idea of becoming sustainable will not be possible unless everyone plays his or her role. This is the generation for change. It doesn’t matter if you are 17 or 70, you are one of the people that will help change the world.

Why This is the Decade of Urgency

Given that it takes 30-40 years to implement infrastructure changes, everything must be change by 2050 if we are to maintain control of the weather. Recently scientists have noticed that their predictive changes, e.g. the rate of melting of the ice caps, are happening more quickly than they had originally predicted. 

Understanding all aspects of our existence and the impact we have on each other, other cultures and other species, is clearly paramount. We have the opportunity right now to bring everything in the earths ecosystem back to a natural equilibrium, to sustainability and to stably reach a caring capacity. How will we do this? Not only do we have to consider future generations but also simultaneously address the wellbeing of all other species and cultures.

Not only do we want to live sustainably, but we need to develop a restoration to bring all ecosystems back to their former self. Our agricultural land, the oceans, all wet lands, all lands. 

Now is the time to change and change is hard. We resist. But this is where you come in!

How Can You Make A Difference?

The main problem is how we live, and how we think. It all ties into what we eat, what we buy, how we build our houses, the chemicals we put on our grass, how we choose to use technology. This is where you become important. Everything begins with you. You changing one household, one person, one family at a time.

Practical Things You Can Start Doing Immediately

For most people, the change to a sustainable lifestyle can be a daunting one. LYFE has touched before on how habits are formed, and anybody who’s ever tried to make a change in their lifestyle knows how difficult that can be. However, the world is changing rapidly and ‘sustainable swaps’ are plentiful. 

The first, and arguably easiest, step to make is to make a quick observation of the items that you use every day that are single use. A single use item is an item that we throw away immediately after we are finished with it. Perhaps you drink water from a plastic bottle or you remove your makeup with a wipe. Finding long life items to replace those single use items is a way to live more sustainably without making sacrifices. Reusable cups and bottles now come in fantastic designs, machine-washable makeup pads are better both environmentally and for your skin and are plastic straws even socially acceptable any more? Writing this piece during the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be amiss to not mention how impactful it is to wear a reusable face mask. Designs are plentiful and wearing something stylish on your face can be fun and expressive. Since the pandemic, single use plastic has seen a huge spike, with thousands found littering the streets of London every day. 

Plastic packaging can feel omni-present if you are shopping mostly in supermarkets, but a quick diversification of where you shop can make a big difference. Refilling stations are becoming more and more popular, once a thing of just cinema pick and mix, you can now bring your own containers to top up your everyday items at plenty of shops. Glass jars are a great option to store household goods, plus when used properly they can prolong the life of your items. Reusable containers are also a great option for toiletries and cleaning products, products that we have come to accept in plastic packaging as a-given. Purchasing with a brand that uses glass or metal packaging as standard or making the effort to top up your pre-existing plastic can make a significant cut in your own carbon footprint.

The next thing to consider is the way in which you chose to eat. There are plenty of small changes that can be made to your diet that can massively reduce your own carbon footprint. A move towards a plant-based diet would be the first thing to consider. It might surprise you to learn that the dairy industry is responsible for 2% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the US and the UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow report illustrated that the livestock industry contributes more to environmentally damaging emissions than cars, planes and all other transport combined. Luckily, plant-based options are increasingly plentiful and a vegan diet need not be difficult. Learning a little basic cookery can help, as well as reframing what a meal looks like for you – especially if you are used to a ‘meat and two veg’ plate. Exploring vegan recipes online and on Instagram and getting excited about your new diet can ensure that the transition is quick and painless. Keep in mind that the only vitamin that a plant-based diet can not naturally provide is B12, so make sure you are supplementing or consuming fortified foods (plant milks are usually fortified as standard).

The next step when looking specifically at your diet can be a focus on food waste. If global food waste was a country it would be the third biggest net contributor to carbon emissions, so this is an important one to consider. Consider why you are throwing away the food that you do. Perhaps you could get creative with the parts of vegetables that you would not usually eat, a broccoli stalk soup is a great place to start. Perhaps you aren’t planning your meals and allowing food to go out of date, a little food plan and writing a shopping list beforehand can easily solve that. A very common issue is that we are used to fruit and veg having to ‘look’ a certain way to be seen as edible. It is interesting to note that ‘restaurant grade’ food is actually a lower category than ‘supermarket grade’ food. A chef is able to create delicious food out of ingredients that simply don’t look right – and so are you!

Finally, and perhaps most pertinently given recent news stories, is the changes you can make in terms of the way in which you consume fashion and clothing. The fashion and textiles industries when viewed as a single entity become the second most polluting industry in the world. Its impact is far reaching from landfill usage to chemical runoff from dyes to greenhouse gas emissions. When it comes to fashion, however, there is also a very real human cost. Sweat shop conditions are commonplace and those who work there are also going to be the first to be experiencing the real effects of climate change. 

Changing the way you shop for clothing can be difficult and it often involves ignoring a lot of social signals that you are being fed but there are plenty of ways to still feel stylish without compromising on sustainability. There are plenty of specifically sustainable fashion brands out there, from brands focusing on sustainable materials to platforms offering clothing rental. Shopping second hand can be a really easy swap to make, as depop receives a £62M investment and charity shops open back up again. Very simply rewearing your old clothes, swapping with friends and family and making clothing repairs are all also the most sustainable choices you can make.

It might not happen overnight and it shouldn’t. Making change in life is about accepting failure and whatever changes you are able to make are impactful ones. Take small baby steps and give yourself credit for doing so along the way.

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