What is a Sustainable Lifestyle?

We hear the term sustainable lifestyle a lot these days, but what is living sustainably and how achievable is it?

A sustainable lifestyle is understanding how our lifestyle choices impact the world around us and making choices that can help protect our planet for future generations[1]. Our planet has limited natural resources and can only withstand a certain amount of temperature increase before it becomes completely inhabitable[2]. We are already experiencing some of the consequences of global warming so now, more than ever, it is important to evaluate our lifestyles to see how we can reduce our environmental impact.

It’s no secret that just 100 companies in the world have been responsible for 71% of the global greenhouse gas emissions released since 1998[3], so it is easy to feel like making individual changes is a losing battle. However, as individuals, our actions and what we choose to consume can not only influence the behaviours of those around us but also influence the companies we are buying from and even government and policymakers.

Knowing where to start can feel daunting so it is important to remember that living sustainably is not a quick fix. Lifestyle changes do not have to be drastic and what is possible for one person might not be for the next. Understanding how different areas of our lives impact the planet allows us to acknowledge where we can make some changes to help reduce our environmental impact. These changes often come with several other benefits as well.

Consumption



The amount we consume, in Western society, has become an increasing problem for the environment. Instead of buying an item with the intention of it lasting a lifetime, or at least a significant number of years, it has now become the norm for items to be disposed of ending up in landfills - some after being used only a few times[4]. Fast fashion is a prime example of this. Nowadays trends are changing so quickly that new clothes we purchase are only worn for a short amount of time before they are no longer popular, some are worn for just one event and then never again. The mass production of garments is damaging to the environment throughout the entire supply chain and causes serious pollution[5].

Clothing is just one example of the current overconsumption. Nowadays it is much easier to replace most items such as homeware, with new items, than it is to repair them. Even items that still work are encouraged to be replaced. Look at mobile phones: Phone contracts encourage individuals to upgrade to a newer version despite the current one still working.

Looking at which brands we choose to spend our money on and investing in those that are more sustainable will not only help reduce our carbon footprint but by consuming less of what we do not need and purchasing items that are designed to last means we can save money in the long run. Opting for sustainable brands usually means smaller businesses are being supported at the same time. Not to forget, purchasing second-hand or utilising what you already own is the most sustainable option of them all, and most affordable.

Travel



It is great how much we can travel. It means we can get to work, see friends, and visit different countries. However, the transportation we rely on, such as flights and cars, run off fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere with Co2[6]. It is a concern, but it does not mean we have to stay at home (we have had enough of that the past year). Instead, we can change a few things about the way we travel to reduce the impact.

After a year of working from home, many of us have enjoyed cutting out a long commute. Sticking with the new home/office balance and travelling into work fewer times can help save on those carbon emissions. When needing to travel in, utilising public transport or sharing lifts can help reduce the number of cars on the road. Cycling or walking where possible is a great alternative for reducing your carbon emissions and can also come with many health benefits[7].

When travelling abroad it is important to be mindful of the impact of flights and try to make other conscious choices when planning holidays. Using eco-friendly travel companies is a great place to start. When away, eating locally, walking where possible and respecting the places you visit means you can immerse yourself into the culture and experience different parts of the world without causing as much damage to it.

Food



It is no secret that what we eat has a massive strain on our planet’s natural resources and has a damaging effect on the environment. It accounts for a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions, with more than half of these emissions coming from animal products[8]. At the same time diseases relating to poor diets cause roughly 11 million deaths a year[9]. Including more plant-based foods and eating local produce will help reduce the environmental impact of our diets. In fact, food is the most powerful single means by which we, as individuals, can optimise our health and achieve climate stability[9]. It is not just the food we eat but the food we do not eat as well. Every bit of wasted food also comes at a cost to the environment and our wallets. Assessing the types of foods we eat, and reducing waste, can save us money, improve our health, and of course reduce our environmental impact.

Summary

Our lifestyles have a huge impact on the environment which means there is a lot we can do to reduce it. Knowing where to start is often the most overwhelming part but it is important to remember that becoming more sustainable will not be achieved overnight. Implementing small changes including cutting down on our consumption, being more mindful of how we travel, and eating a more plant-based diet will accumulate to a much more sustainable lifestyle overall and one we can maintain.

References

  1. Lubowiecki-Vikuk A, Dąbrowska, A., & Machnik, A. Responsible consumer and lifestyle: Sustainability insights. 2020; Sustainable production and consumption, 25, 91–101.
  2. CJ R. Only 12 years left to readjust for the 1.5-degree climate change option – Says International Panel on Climate Change report: Current commentary. Science Progress. 2019; 2019:73-87.
  3. Griffin DP. The Carbon Majors Database. 2017.
  4. Wiedmann T, Lenzen, M., Keyßer, L. T., & Steinberger, J. K. Scientists’ warning on affluence. NCBI. 2020.
  5. Junghyun Jang EK, Eunha Chun & Euntaik Lee. A Study of a Social Content Model for Sustainable Development in the Fast Fashion Industry. 2012.
  6. CRANE R, SCWEITZER, L., & SCHWEITZER, L. Transport and Sustainability: The Role of the Built Environment. 2003; Built Environment (1978-), 29(3), 238-252.
  7. Rusul L. Abduljabbar SL, Hussein Dia. The role of micro-mobility in shaping sustainable cities: A systematic literature review. ScienceDirect. 2021.
  8. Nemecek JPT. Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. ScienceMag. 2018; Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 987-992.
  9. Huel Sustainable Nutrition Report UK 2020.

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