What is Sustainable Living?
Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary defines sustainable living as
“any lifestyle based on energy-saving and environmental responsibility”
Wikipedia.org defines it as “a lifestyle that could, hypothetically, be sustained unmodified for many generations without exhausting any natural resources.” It further says “The term can be applied to individuals or societies. Its adherents most often hold true sustainability as a goal or guide, and make lifestyle tradeoffs favoring sustainability where practical.”
Wikipedia says that these tradeoffs “involve transport, housing, energy, and diet” and states that Lester R. Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, concisely summarizes the situation as “sustaining progress depends on shifting from a fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy to a renewable energy-based, diversified transport, reuse/recycle economy.”
What do these definitions come down to? Sustainable living is a goal, one that can never be totally realized in an industrialized, developed society, but one that can certainly be attempted. And the more we strive toward that goal, the better off we, our society and our planet are.
In fact, some say that sustainability is not enough. That what we need to do is go beyond sustainability, to begin restoring the planet. This is presumably impossible to do with such resources as fossil fuels, but we can begin to restore our air, our water and our soil.
North Americans, and to a lesser extent most members of other developed countries, have an advantage in trying to live more sustainable lives. The reason? There is already a huge amount of excess in our lives. Excess energy use, excess water use, excess food use, excess stuff.
Ecological footprint The “ecological footprint” of a human on the earth is measured by the amount of biologically productive area (land and sea) needed to support the person. The unit is called a “global hectare” (or “global acre”) and it represents an average of all productive area on Planet Earth. In industrial countries, that footprint (number of global hectares needed to support a person) is high; in many “undeveloped” countries that footprint is far smaller.
For example, the ecological footprint of someone in the United States, on the average, is about 24. (Only the United Arab Emirates is higher, with a footprint of 25.9) That means that 24 biologically productive acres around the world are necessary to support that one person with their food, transportation, shelter, goods and services.
In Afghanistan, however, the ecological footprint is 0.2, which means that the average person needs—at their current level—to be supported by only 0.2 global hectares over the course of a year.
Worldwide, based on the current population of the planet, there exist only 4.5 biologically productive acres per person. That means that for everyone on the planet to live at the current level of the average American, we would need 5.5 planets.
Here’s a list of selected national footprints:
Country Ecological Footprint
United Arab Emirates 25.9
United States 24.0
New Zealand 14.8
United Kingdom 13.8
Global Footprint Network
For more information on world and national ecological footprints.
Ecological Footprint Quiz
Calculate your own footprint.
The high “footprint” in highly-developed (perhaps even over-developed?) countries gives us a lot of slack, and room to cut back on our use of energy and natural resources. But why would we want to do that?
Many environmentalists feel that those individuals who are the most committed to the health of the planet and the lives of future generations are already living their lives as sustainably as possible. Unfortunately, it’s a very small minority. It’s the rest of us who need to make changes in order to improve the state of the planet. Those of us who may care, but who just haven’t seen how we can afford to be “sustainable”.
But why should we even want to live sustainably? Why should we do without the things and lifestyle we’re used to into order to supposedly benefit some abstract future? After all, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush once said that “the American way of life is non-negotiable”. Wasn’t he speaking for most of us when he said that? Why should we give up anything?
Save money, help the planet Well, the pleasant surprise for many of us is that because of the excess and slack built into our system, we really don’t have to give up much, if anything, in order to live sustainably. In fact, by living a more sustainable lifestyle, we can gain a lot.
You don’t have to live more sustainably for the sake of the planet; just do it for yourself.
By using less fossil fuel energy and fewer resources, you’ll save money. Potentially lots of money. You’ll probably eat healthier and get healthier. You’ll have more contact with your family and your neighbors. And, yes, you can likely even enjoy life more. All this and, as a bonus and without any sacrifice, you’ll be helping the planet and the environment as well.
Not a bad deal, eh?
Can you buy yourself green? There are many websites, magazines and newspaper articles telling you how you can live “greener” by buying things. Buy this refrigerator or this article of clothing or this car or this new home or this amazing new gadget and you’ll be a greener or more sustainable person.
That isn’t what this website is about. Yes, there are “things” that are more sustainable than “other things”. But most of us don’t need more things, we need fewer things. So we’ll try to minimize the number of things we mention in this website that you can buy for sustainability reasons.
This also isn’t a website about buying or building a new “green” home. We assume that you, like most others, are staying where you are, or someplace similar, and that you just want to know how you can save money and energy in your present, standard designed and built, home. We assume that you don’t want to spend more money; you want to spend less money.
We think this website will help.