Sustainable Living can be defined as an environment and lifestyle that provides the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter for sustaining human life. As it turns out, sustainability means something different to virtually everyone.
On one hand, sustainable living can mean going to work, having a sustainable income, paying bills, going shopping and supplying the necessities of life for you and your family; however, this is only sustainable as long as you have a paying job.
On the other hand, it can mean growing and harvesting food, using natural materials to build a shelter and make your own clothes; however, this is only sustainable as long as you have access to enough natural resources.
In the pure sense, sustainable living means the management of an environment and lifestyle that promotes the ability to sustain life throughout future generations. The human race, like any biological eco-system, must achieve a sustainable coexistence with nature before depleting any resource that is essential to our very survival. To accomplish this task, people must become aware of and manage their impact on nature (footprint) to ensure there are enough resources for long-term existence and future generations.
A Discipline and Art
Sustainable Living in the natural world is a discipline and art that requires more than just blind luck and hard work to achieve success. Throughout history, there are numerous examples of sustainable failures with only a few recorded successes. In fact, one might question whether any past or present culture has actually achieved sustainable success.
People generally wait to venture out on their own until they have gained the necessary knowledge and skills to sustain their own life because without this, the risk of life threatening failure increases dramatically.
Sustainable living requires knowledge that has often been forgotten or discarded through generations of living in an age of convenience where shopping has replaced growing and harvesting and where industrialization has replaced the synergy between man and nature. Sustainable living is not lifestyle where something is opened, used, and then discarded. It requires a commitment of time, resources and energy to develop and manage the most efficient use of natural resources. Every sustainable objective requires some forethought and planning to ensure success and even with this diligence, history has proven that success is not guaranteed.
In nature, sustainability describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Examples of sustainable biological systems include long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests.
For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of stewardship (the responsible management of resource use).
Someone can become more sustainable through housing (e.g. eco-villages, green building, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), food production (e.g. gardening, permaculture, hydroponics and sustainable agriculture), energy (e.g. using less energy, generating energy and returning it back to the grid, consuming products that require less energy to make), community (e.g. distributed labor, resource consolidation, and more efficient resource management) or by developing techniques that reduce the consumption of natural resources.
Today, sustainable living can involve, among other factors, consideration of regional and national laws, urban planning, and the choice of lifestyles. It often requires a trade-off between convenience, practicality and efficiency. The key is to find a balance that is manageable and maintainable over the long-term (i.e. sustainable).
Are We Living Sustainably?
For generations, humanity has known about the need to become sustainable yet we have still not done enough to ensure that future generations will enjoy a lifestyle that is equal to our own. Humanity continues to be wasteful and irresponsible with Earth's natural resources, creating a problem of paramount importance. A 2007 study entitled The Story of Stuff revealed “in the past 30 years, the human race has consumed 30% of Earth’s natural resources”. In addition:
The human population has also ballooned from only 2 billion people in the 1930’s to almost 7 billion today due, in part to the widespread use of oil, making it easier and cheaper to grow, harvest and transport food. This has created further strain on Earth’s natural resources as we clear-cut forests to build houses and expose land for farming, over-fish oceans, deplete soil of nutrients, and over-consume available sources of fresh water.
A few natural resources, such as the forests, can be replanted by mankind. Others, such as water, can be replenished by nature if given the time, but some, such as precious minerals, can never be replenished. Earth has a finite amount of oil, coal, and many other resources that are used to sustain life or manufacture our consumable goods. Until we achieve a sustainable balance with nature, the topic of sustainable living will continue to increase in importance with each and every year into our future.