When most people think of sustainability, they think of products that are reusable, compostable and a zero waste lifestyle. Unfortunately, living a sustainable lifestyle isn’t as simple as purchasing a reusable water bottle, a bamboo toothbrush and some eco makeup wipes. Although those are all great items to own and a great place to start, there is much more to sustainability than just reducing waste.
When we talk about sustainability there are actually three pillars we are referring to. These pillars are People, Planet and Profit.
Every person in the world requires resources to survive and with over 7 billion people on the planet and that number rising year upon year, it’s no surprise that the strain on the earth to supply these resources is also growing. Taking a total approach to sustainability using the three pillars is great because if you focus on social and environmental issues, profitability will often follow.
So let’s dive into what each pillar means:
The social aspect of sustainability is focused on balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the group. Some ways that we can ensure social sustainability is by companies providing a good working environment for their employees. This includes the recognition of the importance of mental health, providing employees with a living wage, sufficient holiday days (a good work/ life balance – hello 4 day working weeks), access to healthcare, insurance and fair working hours. Another way we, as a society can improve the social aspect of sustainability is by sourcing ingredients and products from ethical suppliers. That means the abolishment of slave labour, child labour and any form of exploitation at any point in the supply chain.
Environmental sustainability occurs when an organisations processes, systems and activities reduce negative impact on the environment. This is the part of sustainability that people are the most familiar with. When we talk about environmental sustainability, we usually touch on air pollution, de-forestation, landfill and the over reliance on non-renewable resources e.g. fossil fuels. According to a report published in 2017, Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Until these companies start taking responsibility and drastically change how they run their organisations, we will not make much progress towards a healthy planet. Which, in turn affects our efforts for a healthy people.
A sustainable economy can only happen when we tackle the major misdistribution of wealth. Over a third of the world’s population still live in poverty with limited access to food, energy or water. Personal wealth is distributed so unevenly that the richest 2% of adults own more than 50% of the world’s assets while the poorest half hold only 1% of wealth. This misdistribution is one of the biggest indicators that we are living in an unsustainable environment. Economic sustainability involves making sure that the business makes a profit, but also that the businesses operations don’t create social or environmental issues that harm the planet and strains it’s resources.
In the words of AOC, “You don’t make a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars” The owners of these large companies live their lavish lifestyles off the backs of underpaid exploited workers and they get away with it. To change the society, we need to work together. You create the world you live in by spending money. The companies you give your money to the most run the world. So imagine if we started spending our money with independent retailers and small business owners!
So what can we do as individuals to help move towards a more sustainable future?
For starters, you can avoid shopping with huge retailers whenever possible. Now, I know this isn’t easy and it’s definitely not possible 100% of the time. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get my weekly shop at Tesco. However, huge companies that support this fast fashion/fast food culture we have found ourselves in tend to use slave labour, child labour, they underpay their workers, farm their food unsustainably and their products tend to be pretty poor quality. This will continue to happen unless collectively we take a stand and start choosing to shop more sustainably.
I know shopping in charity shops may not be the most fashionable thing to do but that’s where morals and ethics come into play. Again, I’d be lying if I said I never buy new clothes and I shop fully sustainably. I don’t. I’m not here to preach to you because I am not perfect, but I am trying and that’s all I ask of you. We need to educate ourselves, make changes to our lifestyles and work together towards a better future.
I have created a list below of some of the swaps I have made in my everyday life in order to live more sustainably, I hope this list gives you some ideas of ways you can be more sustainable:
- I sell, donate, or swap clothes that would otherwise end up in landfill
- I use soap bars instead of soap that comes in plastic pumps
- I use facial soap bars for cleansing instead of cleansers that come in plastic bottles
- I use shampoo and conditioner bars instead of plastic bottles
- I have a reusable water bottle
- I have a reusable travel mug that I use at coffee shops
- I have swapped fully to re-usable period underwear instead of tampons or pads that end up in landfill
- I have limited the amount I purchase from fast fashion companies
- I tailor clothes that don’t fit quite right instead of throwing them away
- I buy products that can be refilled so the containers don’t go to landfill
- I make products that can be refilled so that the containers can be used time and time again
- I use reusable makeup/ cleansing pads
- I try and eat seasonal produce as much as possible to reduce air miles
- My business is ZERO plastic
- I only ship products to the UK and Channel Islands to limit my businesses carbon footprint
- I shop with small businesses whenever I can and anytime, I want something I look for a small business first
- If I can walk somewhere, I will, instead of using the car.
- I am not vegan, but I limit my intake of meat and eat more plant-based foods regularly
- I plan my meals out before doing my weekly food shop to avoid any food going off and in turn, this reduces the amount of food waste I produce as most of what I buy gets waste. (Never go shopping when hungry!)
- I turn off the electrics whenever they’re not in use to avoid useless excess
Remember, you are never too small to make a difference. Start out by making a few smaller changes to your everyday life and once you’ve adjusted make a few more. That has worked for me and I love learning about new ways I can live more sustainably.
If you’ve made it to the end, thank you. This has only been a very basic, very brief introduction to sustainability but I hope you’ve learned something and continue to educate yourself on sustainability!