What do we mean by 'sustainable'?

The word sustainable means ‘capable of being supported or upheld’ or ‘able to be maintained or kept going, as an action or process’.

The way it is used today often refers to our lifestyle behaviours such as goods we purchase and how, or how much, we consume. In 1987, the United Nations termed sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Pretty much everything we do consumes natural resources in some way. The obvious ones are driving our cars uses petrol or diesel, both of which are from crude oil – an extracted finite natural resource. Even if you have an electric car, that still needs to be charged, so unless you’re on a fully green traffic, your electricity will be generated from oil or natural gas.

Our food needs to be grown – vegetables and grain require watering (and pesticides unless organic), rearing animals for meat requires use of land, as well as feed to be grown (which requires additional land) and water.

Our phones and electronics require precious metals dug from the earth. Not only is the metal a finite resource, but the process often requires deforestation or changes to the land, as well as processing which requires chemicals and energy.

And our clothes – growing cotton accounts for 2.5% of land use but 10% of water use. Polyester is made from crude oil, therefore uses natural resources and requires processing. Viscose and Tencel are made from tree pulp, so arguably better than polyester, but they still require the significant use of chemicals and energy to process them.

Everything we do and everything we consume affects the world around us. The challenge is, that as a species we are consuming more, and faster, and the world is running out of finite resources/ clean air/ clean water etc… If we carry on going the way we have been, we will run out.

So sustainable means producing, creating and consuming goods in a way that means we won’t run out – creating something that can be upheld, maintained and continued.

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