Sustainability & sustainable living

What is sustainability?

Simply put, sustainability is the factor we look for in order for something to go on existing forever. It impacts on social activities and institutions as well as healthcare matters. Sustainability is, of course, a big subject within the field of environmentalism. This is because so many economic activities of humans have put the sustainability of the whole world in jeopardy, according to the latest climate change science. Many now see the social and ecological aspects of sustainable living starting to converge, as more and more human activity is measured according to its sustainability rather than its economic reward alone.

 Why does sustainability matter?

Without the ability to live in a sustainable manner, life would no longer exist. If you assume that there are finite resources on the planet, then simply using them all up means that they can no longer be called upon in future. However, sustainable use of them means being able to continue so doing. In short, if the human race is not behaving in a sustainable manner, either socially with one another or in terms of the farming of natural resources, then it is slowly but surely killing itself.

How can sustainability be measured?

There are several quantitative methodologies for measuring the sustainability, or otherwise, of a practice or project. Nearly all work on a similar principle, that of recording the environmental and social impacts and measuring them against their rewards which will use include an economic benefit. To some, however, only looking at the environmental aspects of sustainability are what counts at this time given the climate change emergency that several governments around the world have declared. Under the United Nations definition of sustainability measurement, there are over 140 indicators to look into that range from air quality to water poverty.

How does sustainability work?

In order for something to be truly sustainable, it must have zero impact on the environment or people. Therefore, you could consider an economy which grows crops for food without needing fertilisers derived from another resource, such as fossil fuels, to be operating sustainably. However, only so long as the soil replenishes itself naturally for new crops to be grown once they have been harvested without a loss of performance. In architecture, sustainability often works by designing buildings which have no requirement to be heated, lit or cooled, so they are sustainable in the long term. The use of replenishable materials is a similar factor in the sustainability of manufactured products.

How can I achieve my own sustainability goals?

For individuals who wish to live more sustainably, lowering their overall level of consumption, especially in wealthy, Western countries, is a good first step. Only using resources at a minimal level, such as showering rather than drawing a bath, is another good measure. Walking or using public transport rather than driving a fossil fuel-driven car is advisable as is eating less meat and recycling more.

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Concerned with the welfare of all animals, other than human-beings, animal welfare is a political and social movement that started as early as the seventeenth century. In 1822, a bill was brought before the UK parliament that was concerned with the treatment of cattle – the first animal welfare legislation of its kind in the world despite some safeguards that had been brought in by the people of Massachusetts over a century before. Societies like the RSPCA sprang up in the UK which aimed to protect animals and to campaign for greater protections for them. These days, animal welfare tends to be concerned with farmed livestock, animals which are used in scientific research, zoo creatures, pets and circus as well as other working animals. Some people also include wild animals, too. Several successful campaigns have been staged which have highlighted issues of animal abuse in all of these areas. Today, many people will only buy meat from sources which have a high animal welfare reputation that is independently assessed.
Community living is where a group of people reside among one another to form a community that is based on certain shared demographics, interests or ideologies. In some cases, lots of people live under the same roof sharing everything which is usually referred to as a commune. In other instances, looser interpretations are commonplace where a group of families and individuals live close to one another but independently from each other, only helping out each other on an informal basis here and there. Essentially, community living boils down to residing in a community that requires people to take an active part in. Therefore, it differs from simply living in a town or city close to other individuals but who you have no meaningful interactions with.
In short, mindfulness is the ability to pay proper attention to the here and now. Psychologists usually describe it as living in the present moment, with less emotional energy being expended on things that have passed or which may – or may not – occur in the future. Various techniques are used by people to achieve a greater level of present-moment living. In most cases, modern methods for achieving mindfulness are based on Buddhist concepts, such as sati. In large numbers, people practise mindfulness by meditating and paying more attention to positive things in their lives to reduce stress. These mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques which have a proven scientific effect.
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