What does sustainable mean seems like a simple question.
But, when Juliet said, “Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo” she didn’t mean “Romeo where are you?” as many people believe, she meant “Why are you called Romeo?”
The English language is a funny thing and it can often be hard to know exactly what someone means without asking.
Thus, it’s important to define the word “sustainable” so that we all have a common understanding.
It’s a word we use an awful lot here at Whole People and mostly we mean; “an action taken today to meet our needs which doesn’t impact on the needs of future generations.”
In essence, we use it in the sense of sustainable development as part of economic growth and this includes sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, sustainable growth, sustainable practices, etc. in search of environmental sustainability to tackle issues such as the climate crisis and create a sustainable future.
Where Did Our Definition Of Sustainable Come From?
In 1987, the Brundtland Report, defined the idea of ecological sustainability and thus, environmental sustainability now had another string to its bow.
It was the first time that an international group had set out a vision of a sustainable future for the planet. It helped to form the sustainable development goals that form the basis of many political campaigns today.
Leading up to that point – it wasn’t that no one had ever considered caring for the planet, it’s just that they’d been looking at little bits, such as “fossil fuels”, of it rather than the whole of the global economy.
Are There Other Definitions Of Sustainable?
Yes, there are.
The dictionary says it means “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level” or, perhaps, “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding the depletion of natural resources”.
These are both perfectly adequate definitions too. The idea is to focus on the resources we use and to ensure that the things we take can be replenished.
This should lead to a more sustainable world and combat problems such as our rate of energy consumption, global warming and help develop practices that improve everything from the fashion industry to building sustainable cities to creating zero emissions.
What Does Sustainable Mean And Does It Matter?
Until fairly recently, from a historical perspective, there weren’t very many human beings on the planet.
Those that did exist lived in harmony with the natural world. They grew and ate their own food and created their clothes from natural resources which would automatically replenish themselves. Such practices did not create climate change, air pollution, or even much of a supply chain.
Sustainability was easy then – it was natural. Then the industrial revolution arrived and for the first time, human beings started to focus their efforts on processes that were not sustainable.
At first, this didn’t matter very much. Though our processes weren’t all that effective, there still weren’t very many of us to have an impact.
Then the 20th century arrived, and everything changed. It was the century of invention and human population growth.
We began to use oil and coal to create electricity on a mass scale. Billions would no longer work the soil and live in harmony with mother earth but would, instead, move into cities to further the needs of industry.
It was this action that meant for the first time, humanity’s actions were simply unsustainable, we were taking far more from the planet than it could ever hope to replenish naturally.
We Can Return To A Sustainable Planet
Humanity is not lost. Despite the dire warnings of some, there is still time to change the path we’re on. Sustainable living is the key to positive changes that bring man and nature back into balance.
We are part of a huge interdependent eco-system where our every action is a choice between a sustainable world and what we have now.
We can all contribute to this sustainable planet, opting for a reusable straw rather than a disposable one, for example, may seem small but when this happens a billion times over? Millions of tons of oil are not turned into plastics. Those plastics, in turn, are never made to be dumped into our oceans.
In our oceans fish and other creatures can thrive without plastic contamination. And so on…
Sustainable means choosing actions that make life good for us today but without taking away from the world that our children and their children will inherit.
One great sustainable strategy is to forego fast-fashion and shop for clothing at online thrift stores.
You can make a difference, we all can and we all must if we want the human race to continue.
A great place to start your journey to sustainability is right in your own home. Check out Christine Liu’s book Sustainable Home. Or This is a Good Guide for a Sustainable Lifestyle by Marieke Eyskoot.
If you’d like to access more tools and ideas for living your best sustainable life then check out our Natural Living Guide.