What is Being Sustainable?


By Ken Edwins

How do you define sustainability?

Webster’s dictionary defines sustainable as 1: Able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed 2: Involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources and 3: Able to last or continue for a long time.

These definitions of sustainable help us articulate and understand that we and our natural resources have limits. In fact, there is a movement within the sustainable community that focuses on and believes we need to limit our population and economic growth to a zero sum game. In other words, we should not have a population level that depletes resources beyond what the Earth can sustain.

The Huffington Post recently wrote that our planet had already consumed our allotment of natural resources we had for 2016.  We had five months left to the year end. In 1971 the date we reached out annual resources was December 24th; this year it was August 9th.

Over the years we have added to our understanding of sustainable the term “eco-friendly.” We believe that you can’t be sustainable in terms of resource utilization while destroying the environment. This would be counterproductive for the planet and its ability to sustain life as we know it. We are clearly already seeing negative consequences for the planet through the impact of human activity that has led to the development of climate change. Sustainable activity and environmentally friendly activity go hand in hand if we are going to talk about what it means to be sustainable.

It is easy to see why a healthy planet is needed as the backdrop for life. Yet, do we want to limit ourselves to thinking of being sustainable in such a way that it is connected with resource utilization and creating an eco-friendly environment only? While important, perhaps these don’t go far enough. I read somewhere where a person wrote that being sustainable might not be a complete exemplification of what me mean when we talk about a living ecosystem or human life. Rocks, it was pointed out, were the perfect example of what it meant to be sustainable. A rock perfectly fits all three definitions from Webster’s and in most cases has a perfect environment within which to exist.

There is a sense in the thinking we do about being sustainable/eco-friendly that what we mean is we want to create and protect an environment in which this organism we call our planet is treated in such a way that it might always sustain life. Yet, when we add the idea of life we mean our lives, plant and animal life and fundamentally the lives of our neighbors. Life has a spark of novelty and upward movement to it. It may not seem so on Monday mornings, yet most of us feel our best when we have accomplished something that makes our life or the lives of those close to us better. Life seems to be at its best when it moves upward beyond what has become tedious.

I would suggest that being sustainable means creating an eco-friendly environment in which life flourishes and in which we are able to live in such a way as to be able to become fulfilled as human beings while not detracting from the fulfillment of others.

At Green Living magazine, we know that part of the path to living a sustainable, fulfilled life is making conscious decisions each day about how we live.

1 Comment
  1. Some one or some organization needs to produce a list of what a single person or a famiily of four has a ration of for an entire year to achive sustainable living. Untiil people can understand “I can only have that many pounds of fish” or “I can only use that much gasoline” or “my car has to last 21 years” no one will be able to aim for these goals merely just try to use as little as possible, which is good, but how little is still too much?

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