What is Sustainability? Does it have meaning anymore?

What is sustainability

Great question, isn’t it? What is sustainability? Before we get into that I want to call out a few things. First and foremost it’s CONTROVERSIAL and that’s a fact! If you are not interested in the controversial talk, then skip right down to the red font to start your reading.

The concept of sustainability has been taken over by and used to the advantage of many politicians and industrialized powers as well as social influencers and companies whose main concern is ranking up their followers and customer base. It has become a selling point because it’s what the people are “into” and want to hear.

I am a very objective and humble person which I feel is one of my best qualities. I am always willing to change my views and have an open mind if confronted with facts and substantial evidence; even if it contradicts how I feel or think on a subject. I bring this up because I am encountering more and more people who are completely opposed to the idea of sustainability! Rather than dismissing their thoughts or getting angry, I want to welcome them and see what value I can find and how I can apply it to my content.

Someone who is against the concept of sustainability commented links to multiple videos on how global warming is a fluke on my Facebook. I watched the reports and listened to the podcasts, one with a  Mr. Jim Steele on a Corbett report.  He had some interesting views and really made me think. A few key things that stuck out to me are bulleted below.
  • He stated, “Sea levels rising is not due to global warming but actually caused by natural cycles.” Which we don’t know enough about.
  • He stated, “We don’t really understand natural variability.” Natural cycles change and cause changes. The current models we have predicting climate change have false predictions and are in no way accurate. Basically saying these “false results” are driving fear into the people and causing everyone to look at the wrong types of issues like global warming, etc.
  • He stated, “Politics of this climate war is making us not understand natural variability and the ways humans are really causing change.”
  • He stated , “Ground water extraction is actually the causes of sea levels rising. As we extract intense amounts of ground water, we actually cause the land to sink.” (This is true, just look at California!)
I listened with an open mind and constantly thought, "Hmm that could be true".  Some of these insights seem very plausible (after researching there was "some truth" to the statements). But my natural response is, "You know what else is plausible?" ๐Ÿ‘‡ 
  • We are developing beyond what we can reasonably sustain. This is a fact. You can’t deplete natural resources that don’t renew themselves and expect that everything is going to be ok. Regardless of whether or not solar is part of some “Political Agenda”, these non-renewables will run out some day. Then what? This is not sustainable! Which is why renewable energy is something that needs to be at the forefront. Oh and to the guy who said, “Solar is not renewable the sun will die”…buddy, we will be dead when the sun dies so that wasn’t the most valid point.
  • Plastic pollution is increasing at a disgusting rate leading to disturbingly real consequences that are happening right now in front of our very eyes. The problem is in the way plastic is manufactured, the product itself and the fact that most of itโ€™s not even getting recycled. It is a linear system that has screwed us. If anything, there should be a GIANT FOCUS on ending the production of plastic…hmm wonder when that’s coming?
  • Unsustainable reliability on NON-Renewable energy sources that not only create harmful emissions but disrupt the earth during extraction. There is also major disruption caused by setting up these gigantic drilling facilities. I’m sorry, but if someone is going to tell me drilling down into the earth with machines to extract fossil fuels has no negative impact then, I would like to see come concrete proof please. Like I said I am open and objective.
  • While we are unsustainably using these resources (which pollute the air with chemicals that are causing the greenhouse gas effects which many think is a hoax) we are also industrializing more, mass producing more and therefore, creating more waste. More waste leads to more pollution. More pollution leads to more loss of wildlife, more negative changes in our environment, our oceans and more negative impacts on our species and earth as a whole. Here enter the zero waste movement which I 100% support and am doing my best to realistically work these principles into my everyday life. I feel like this movement could not possibly be driven by some corrupt puppeteer because it represents buying less!

What I am saying here is, I don’t give a crap about politics and I don’t care about sides or oppositions. There is enough people out there who spend all their time on these subjects (many times ripping other people apart) and I am not one of them. What I do care about is the OBVIOUS. If you look at everything as a whole and apply common sense, you will see that the path this world is on is not a sustainable one. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing because it is not working.

Now, if we can only get people to let go of comfort and convenience and actually stand for change by changing their habits then we would be in a much better place.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?

I can tell you with confidence it cannot be summed up in a one sentence answer. Currently there is no “one size fits all definition” because of how extensive the use of the word is to describe different processes. It can get convoluted looking at all the different views and opinions out there. But If you step back and look at the big picture, then sustainability as a whole can most certainly be defined.

The three pillars/principles of sustainability

  • Environmental Sustainability (Planet)
  • Societal Sustainability (People)
  • Economical Sustainability (Profit)

In simplest form, the word sustainability means the ABILITY to SUSTAIN something at a constant level.

When it comes to applying that definition to actual life it becomes more complicated than a one-dimensional concept. I hope by looking at a few examples, you can start to paint a picture of the more three-dimensional concept that sustainability represents and form your own definition.

Solar and Renewable Energy

Let’s look at our first example, solar power. We are all, for the most part, familiar with solar panels. Solar ENERGY is a sustainable option because it is a renewable resource. It does not cast-off pollution and it is inexhaustible, meaning doesn’t run out. This is due to the fact that it uses sunlight to generate energy (1). Therefore, we can meet the needs of the present without compromising the future from meeting their needs. This is, in and of itself, sustainability.

Sustainability is the ABILITY to SUSTAIN something at a constant level. “We are able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future from meeting their needs.

1987 Brundtland Commission Report

What is not sustainable?

  • Oil (fossil fuel) Crude oil, or petroleum 
  • Natural gas (fossil fuel) Methane
  • Coal (fossil fuel)
  • Nuclear energy
  • Fossil Fuels definition –fuels or energy created out of organic matter trapped between layers of the earth. This matter is millions of years old and highly combustible (2)

The above list reflects a good chunk of the non-renewable energy sources utilized today. They are considered non-renewable because they are finite or limited. In simple terms, THEY RUN OUT. It took millions of years to make them and it’s going to take just as long to make them again. So, when you remove coal and other fossil fuels, what you have taken away is NOT going to get replenished. This is the opposite of sustainable. This not only negatively impacts future generations but actually pollutes the present-day generation and therefore, is in no way the best option. This is why selecting renewable energy sources is so critical (more to come on these and the ins and outs of your options). Check out this website for a Pros and Cons list on non-renewable energy.

Transportation

Another example is transportation. Taking the bus is a more sustainable option then taking your own car. This is due to the fact that emissions from one bus is better than emissions of 50 cars (the general number of passengers a bus holds). Since the bus doesn’t create as much pollution as 50 cars, it is the more sustainable option of the two. If everyone took public transportation instead of their own individual car, our air quality would be in better shape (3, 4). However, not all of us are in a position to take a bus, myself included, so it depends on your area and circumstances.

An even better option would be riding a bicycle. A bicycle creates ZERO emissions and therefore would be the most sustainable option since it will have zero negative effects on air quality and for the most part zero negative effects on future generations. Go the extra mile and take great care of your bike for years and years to come (instead of ditching it when a newer one comes out) and you will be a sustainable super star (insert Molly Shannon “Superstar” meme here)

You may be wondering, “Hey, what about electric cars?” First off, I am 100% electric over standard gas/diesel vehicles. Over its lifetime and EC(electric car) has a smaller carbon footprint (5). But, when it comes to electric cars, its more complicated than you think. They are NOT always zero or low emissions. If you know for a fact that the energy source that is charging your cars battery comes from solar, wind power or another RENEWABLE resource, then feel good about yourself. You and your electric car rock!

However, if your charging your battery and that energy is being produced by a NON-RENEWABLE resource, then somewhere emissions and pollution is being exhausted into the air(6). So, maybe on your end it looks like zero emissions when in fact, on the back end, your little electric car is releasing pollution on some power plant you can’t see. On top of this, the electric car batteries are only partially recycled or not recycled at all due to the type of chemicals they are made up of. The battery remains end up in landfills or incinerated which is NOT “green” and has proven to be a major issue that needs to be solved in the near future(7). In the end, if you have an electric car and are charging it from an energy source that is RENEWABLE, then my friend, you are making a sustainable decision. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Toilet Paper

Let’s throw one more example in here, shall we? Toilet paper. Yup, I know you have heard of it and maybe already use it. TREE FREE TEE PEE. I use bamboo toilet paper because as of right now I “believe” it is the most sustainable option out there. I am currently looking into recycled toilet paper as well and will be elaborating on all the options and their pros and cons in upcoming weeks.

Bamboo is a highly renewable resource as it has been deemed the fastest growing plant in the world, growing up to 35 inches per day and can grow in a variety of climates around the world. Therefore, replenishment and restoration of the crop is super-efficient and over consumption is more avoidable. Cool fact coming at you, not only can bamboo grow in soil with poor quality but it can actually enhance the quality of that same soil.

The product itself breaks down easier and degrades faster than regular toilet paper. It also takes significantly less water to produce then regular toilet paper and produces 30% fewer emissions than regular TP production which is a big WIN! By using bamboo toilet paper, we are utilizing a crop that is sustainable. Having the ability to keep up with the needs of the present without compromising the availability of the resource to the future. Are you starting to see a trend here? Present….future….

There is a caveat to this however, as with anything it seems. Make sure your bamboo TP is accredited by the FSC (Forrest Stewardship Council) non-profit council that “promotes responsible management of the world’s forests”(8). It has been discovered that deforestation is taking place in order to make room for bamboo crops, and we DON’T want to support companies doing that! While bamboo is technically a grass, the FSC stamp still holds clout until proven otherwise. And for your health and safety I recommend purchasing toilet paper that has not been bleached. Look for labels of PCF or TCF (Processed chlorine- free and totally chlorine-free).

There is a lot of information to be uncovered about these sustainable toilet paper options, including bamboo and recycled TP. I will take a deep dive with you in the weeks to come and expose the truth behind all the options.

I am curious what other alternatives will come out for toilet paper or how we can ensure these “sustainable” options are actually being grown and processed sustainably. Most of today’s bamboo TP is made in China. From an environmental standpoint, shipping and transportation all the way from China is not ideal for someone like me who lives in the USA. But right now I feel this is the best choice I can make. Aside from the use of a bidet and re-usable toilet cloths (I am not quite there yet!)

OH, and please remember TOILET PAPER SHOULD NOT BE WRAPPED IN PLASTIC or anything that is not compostable! What is the point of buying an environmentally friendly toilet tissue if it’s going to be packaged in NON environmentally friendly packaging?

Here is a good read for more on TP Click here


Let’s recap our 3 examples of sustainability.

Energy- Solar energy is sustainable because it is using renewable sources that don’t pollute and don’t run out. It provides energy and electricity for the present without depleting resources for the future

Transportation-Taking a bike when possible is sustainable because it provides the transportation you need yet creates ZERO pollution and has no negative impact on the future. Another sustainable option is using an electric car that is charged solely on renewable energy.

Toilet paper- Using bamboo toilet paper is more sustainable then using regular toilet paper because bamboo is a highly renewable crop, uses less water to make and doesn’t require cutting down trees. It can also be grown all over the world. Therefore, by using bamboo we are supporting a crop that can replenish itself extremely fast. This is a much more sustainable option than buying regular toilet paper made from cutting down trees that take years and years to regrow (if any are replanted).

This is not an all-encompassing explanation by any means. But hopefully this article has given you a good foot in the door to the world and concept of sustainability. I look forward to meeting again on our next topic “Sustainable Products”.

Until next time!

Chelsea

UPCOMING TOPICS

-Sustainable Products

-Sustainable Water

-Solar

SOURCES

  1. EnergyMatters.com
  2. EnergyWarden.com
  3. EPA.GOV
  4. National express transit
  5. EarthJustice.ORG
  6. YouMatter.World
  7. USA Today

PRODUCT LINKS LIBRARY

Leave a Reply